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An early peek at some likely cap casualties for the Patriots this offseason

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Once the offseason commences, NFL general managers will begin shedding burdensome contracts like New Years resolution calories. Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio will be no different — especially considering this upcoming offseason is shaping up to be drastically different than last year’s.

Last spring, the Patriots’ available cap space reached it’s peak at just over $60.3 million. Give or take a few hundred thousand dollars in either direction, the club is on track to have about one-fifth of that amount available to them in March of 2018.

Of course, exactly which positions the team will need to address, whether via free agency or the draft, will be thoroughly dissected as the new league year approaches. Here is the batch of expected cap space-creating transactions that will provide the Patriots with the breathing room they’ll need to shape the roster.

Keep in mind that with each player that gets released, another takes his place in the team’s top-51 contracts that count against the cap. The term “net cap space” refers to the amount of space the player’s release creates after replacing him with a player earning the league minimum ($480,000 in 2018). Also, the totals reflect the release of each player on the day before the start of the 2018 league year. This for two reasons:

  1. So that roster bonuses due to players during the first week of the league year are reflected.
  2. To establish that each player is being released prior to June 1st — an important point to note for players signed beyond 2018 whose release would create an acceleration of future dead money.

Martellus Bennett

Net cap savings if cut: $5,707,500 — Dead Money: $0

The Patriots made their valuation of the 10-year veteran tight end known last offseason by letting him walk in free agency. With a $2 million roster bonus due on the first day of the 2018 league year, and $4.45 million in cash due over the course of next season, there is absolutely no chance that the two-time Patriot will be on the roster next season, unless it’s on a renegotiated, team-friendly deal. Cutting Bennett will also clear $6.5 million off of the books in 2019.

Dwayne Allen

Net cap savings if cut: $4,520,000 — Dead Money: $0

It was certainly a long shot that the 2011 Mackey Award winner’s future in New England would last beyond this season, given that he is scheduled to receive $5 million in cash next year, and $7.4 million in 2019. While his run blocking has been quite solid as of late, his eight catches for 60 yards and one touchdown through 14 games simply haven’t lived up to his cap figure this season, which stands as the ninth largest on the team.

Alan Branch

Net cap savings if cut: 3,145,000 — Dead money: $1,000,000

After playing at such a high level since his arrival in 2014, the two-time Super Bowl Champion has seen his snap total decrease in 2017, as well as his play. Next year will be Branch’s 12th in the league, and it seems that his retirement is a far more likely outcome than the Patriots paying his $1 million roster bonus on the first day of the league year.

Shea McClellin

Net cap savings if cut: $1,870,000 — Dead money: $833,334

After a 2016 season in which McClellin made a remarkably small amount of splash plays on defense, the Patriots were presented with an opportunity to save $2.35 million against on this season’s cap with a post-June 1st release. They kept him, only to see him land on IR before the start of the regular season. They should not pass up such an opportunity again in 2018.

Mike Gillislee

Net cap savings if cut: $1,732,500 — Dead money: $0

Heading into the offseason, just about the only thing going for Gillislee is that he is one of just two running backs, along with James White, who are under contract with the Patriots in 2018. With Rex Burkhead rendering his skill set redundant this year, leading to a lengthy streak of healthy scratches, the more than $1.7 million of cap space his release would create could go a long way towards inking Rex, or current lead-back Dion Lewis, to an agreement.

David Harris

Net cap savings if cut: $1,676,250 — Dead money: $625,000

The possibility that Harris, now an 11-year NFL veteran, would remain a Patriot beyond the 2017 season actually didn’t appear to be as crazy as it sounded prior to details of his two-year contract emerged in late June. There was no roster bonus “trigger” during the first week of the 2018 league year, and the club gave him a $1.5 million signing bonus. However, the team’s future intentions were made clear after Harris logged seven total defensive snaps through the first three weeks. He has also been a healthy scratch three times so far this season, even with the bevy of injuries to the club’s linebacker position.

Phillip Dorsett

Net cap savings if cut: $1,064,373 — Dead money: $0

Despite having ample opportunity, the production just isn’t there for Dorsett. The former first-round draft choice has just 12 targets in 306 offensive snaps — a percentage lower than Dwayne Allen’s. And without providing any additional value on specials teams, it’s tough to make a case for him in 2018 given that his release would add over $1 million in cap space.

Kenny Britt

Net cap savings if cut: $973,125 — Dead money: $0

The Patriots and Britt are just getting acquainted with each other, and by all accounts the big-bodied veteran pass-catcher is immersing himself in the playbook — including the other wide receiver positions, as he was only utilized as an “X” in Cleveland. Given what his skill set could potentially bring to the offense, the $1.5-2 million in cash he could earn in 2018 is quite modest. $150,000 is due to him in the form of a roster bonus on the first day of the league year, so if the team feels the fit just isn’t right, they can save almost $1 million on next year’s cap with his release.

Jordan Richards

Net cap savings if cut: $221,294 — Dead money: $239,827

We’ve seen enough, right? It’s time to move on from the Stanford product, and the positive cap savings is simply a bonus. A release would place Richards squarely in the growing “bust” category of notable second-round draft selections under Bill Belichick — a section of the draft that has also yielded Patriot stars like Rob Gronkowski, Sebastian Vollmer, and Jamie Collins.

Just for fun, here is a list of Patriots who, if released, would create additional net cap space in 2018.

***Disclaimer: Under no circumstances is this list to be considered predictive.***

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_PP