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Patriots restructure S Devin McCourty’s contract to free up a ton of cap space; are extensions coming?

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Are the Patriots preparing to make a big move to extend their key free agents?

The New England Patriots have restructured the contract of safety Devin McCourty, converting his base salary into a signing bonus, per the Globe’s Ben Volin. This move reduces McCourty’s cap hit in 2016, while increasing his cost over the remainder of his contract.

This is a pretty standard move- converting base salary into a signing bonus- that the Patriots and other teams around the league do in order to free up cap space. The big question is why?

The restructure frees up $2.8 million in cap space, bringing the team’s open cap space to $11.0 million, per Miguel at Pats Cap. This also accounts for the extension of Rob Ninkovich not affecting the team’s cap space in any real way.

And while this is by no means official, we can use Ninkovich as a kind of pivot point for contracts. Players that are currently slated to have a greater cap hit in 2016 than Ninkovich was prior to his new detail will likely see their cap hit decrease with an extension, while those with a lesser cap hit in 2016 will see their cap hit increase.

Those that would see their cap hit reduce with an extension are linebacker Dont’a Hightower, edge defender Jabaal Sheard, and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Pretty much every other pending free agent would see their cap hit increase, such as linebackers Jamie Collins and Barkevious Mingo and defensive backs Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, and Duron Harmon.

Offensive tackle Marcus Cannon and tight end Martellus Bennett could either increase or decrease based upon how they are perceived by the team, as would the deals for veteran defensive tackle Alan Branch and edge defender Chris Long (Long’s would likely increase, in my opinion).

So when we see McCourty restructure, we have to note that this is just one piece of the puzzle and there might not be anything immediately in the pipeline for Hightower, Collins, or Sheard. The deals for Ninkovich, McCourty, Slater, and Freeny are all part of the roster management mosaic, as head coach Bill Belichick would say, and there are likely a bunch of other micro-signings in the works.

Also, the fact that Hightower and Sheard would end up reducing their cap hits with extensions means that the McCourty amendment has no impact on the Patriots ability to come to terms with those two. If you feel the need to get hyped about a possible extension, turn your focus to Collins, even though there are zero signs that anything is close to terms on that front.

The Patriots seem to be focused on getting extensions with the core special teams players (Slater, Freeny) and the elderly (Patrick Chung, Slater, Ninkovich...sorry, I had to use that adjective), so extensions for players like Branch, Long, James Develin, and Brandon Bolden wouldn’t surprise me.

Look at this move as being more about setting up the salary cap to give the team as much freedom as possible without a specific subsequent signing in mind.