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One sneaky way all the Patriots’ 2017 free agents might help the team

If some of New England’s upcoming free agents play well and land big contracts somewhere else next season, the Patriots could land some nice compensatory draft picks as a result.

File this one under "Not Exactly Breaking News, Buddy" – the Patriots are going to have a whole boatload of players that need new contracts for the 2017 season.

There’s all the homegrown talent, like the linebacker wrecking crew of Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, starting cornerbacks Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan, safety Duron Harmon, and tackle Marcus Cannon.

Then there’s a few slick free-agent signings that New England signed to short-term deals in the last couple years, like Jabaal Sheard.

And then, there’s Trader Bill’s class of 2016 "This guy was really good at one point in time but for whatever reason it wasn’t working out with their old team" guys.

Here’s that list of guys that New England either signed to a one-year deal or acquired in the final year of their current contract:  Chris Long, Martellus Bennett, Jonathan Cooper, and Barkevious MingoDonald Brown was part of this crew too, but he’s already been cut.

The popular narrative right now seems to be that New England is loading up with talent for another 2007-esque Super Bowl run, especially with Tom Brady constantly in an MMA fight with Father Time and probably only having a couple years left in his career.

And that very well may be the case.  The defense is stacked six ways to Sunday, and aside from the offensive line problems that look like they’re not going away anytime soon, the Patriots are loaded on offense too.

Back to the expiring contracts thing, though – the hope with taking a one-year rental on a player like Martellus Bennett and Barkevious Mingo is that they rediscover what made them so hyped up in the first place, and either sign an extension to stay in New England or leave with a Super Bowl ring and someone else can overpay them.

Which brings us to what happens if some of these guys end up balling out this year and then cash in with a big contract somewhere else – like Akiem Hicks did last year, for example - and how it could help New England mitigate the draft damage caused by their Deflategate punishments in next year’s draft.

What, you didn’t forget that the NFL took the Patriots’ 2017 fourth-round pick too, did you?

So as it stands right now, New England has to forfeit their own fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft, but they do have Seattle’s fourth-rounder.  But if any (or all) of these guys we mentioned above have a career season, and then sign with another team, then New England just might receive a compensatory pick (or picks, as in more than one) as a consolation prize.  Guess where compensatory picks fall in the draft?

Anywhere from a third-round pick, like the one the Lions got last year when Ndamukong Suh left for Miami , or the fourth-rounder that Cleveland will have for losing Alex Mack this offseason, all the way down to seventh-round picks, depending on the player that left.

So with a few players in the Patriots’ upcoming free agent class likely to command Scrooge McDuck-type contracts, even with the Patriots projected to have over $60 million in cap room next offseason, there’s just no way to pay everyone, and that’s doubly true if those players like Chris Long and Barkevious Mingo play great ball this year.

But let’s assume, just to make things easy, that the Patriots will crunch the numbers to keep the players they drafted (Hightower, Collins, etc) like they did with Devin McCourty, and let all the free agent acquisitions from this year walk next year – Bennett, Long, Sheard, Cooper, and Mingo.

Even if only one of those guys turns in a good season, there’s a solid chance New England could still get a comp pick out of it.  Like if it turns out Jabaal Sheard beats his own sack number from last year and keeps up the pressure, or if Martellus Bennett’s 2016 season looks more like his 2014 season (916 yards and 6 TDs) than his 2015 season (439 yards, 3 TDs), or if Barkevious Mingo finds a home in Belichick’s hybrid defense and logs a double-digit sack season, or…you get the idea.

Odds are, not all of these guys will play great (obviously), but it seems kind of silly to think they’ll all faceplant.

And if a couple of them turn out to be all that they were cracked up to be, and New England lets them parlay that into a big payday at the FREE AGENCY CHAMPION OF 2017, getting a decent compensatory pick – or picks - will surely help ease the sting of the NFL docking the Patriots’ fourth-rounder.

Obviously, the point is to win football games, not just sign guys in hopes of playing the comp pick game.

But somebody at Patriot Place was surely evil-laughing to themselves when they realized that some of these signings and trades just might help the team win and put that missing fourth-rounder back in New England’s pocket.