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Looking Ahead: Potential Cap Casualties for the Patriots this offseason

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As we are only just removed from the legendary Super Bowl comeback by the team from New England, it may not in the front of our minds, but the off-season is here. And with that comes the NFL Combine, free agency, the NFL Draft and so much more. So, we will take a look at six players who are under contract for the Patriots in 2017 that may not make it to week one.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The now-reigning Super Bowl champions will not have an easy offseason in front of them. From dealing with Dont’a Hightower and Malcolm Butler now free agents (among many others) to finding the right deal (potentially) for Jimmy Garoppolo, this has the makings of being a very eventful and even emotional offseason for some. In this specific article, we will look at six players who are currently under contract for the team in 2017 and determine whether or not they will stay with New England come the start of the regular season.

1. Wide receiver Danny Amendola

2016 Regular season stats: 12 games played, 29 targets, 23 receptions, 243 yards, four touchdowns

2016 Postseason stats: Three games played, 15 targets, 10 receptions, 90 yards, one touchdown

2017 Contract breakdown (per Overthecap.com): $6,000,000 base salary, $1,416,668 prorated bonus, $500,000 roster bonus. Cap number is $7,791,668. Post-June 1st dead money is $1,416,668, cap savings is $6,375,000.

Every year it seems that Amendola is on a list like this. This past season, Amendola was an infrequent contributor in the regular season as he missed four games due to an ankle injury and only had 23 receptions in the 12 games he did play. While he did come up big in the Super Bowl, it’s hard to look past his current contract situation. He is 31 years old and the team is in a much better situation with their wide receiver depth then this time last year. Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell are all under contract for 2017 and Amendola plays a limited slot role.

Even though Amendola contributed somewhat on special teams (five kick returns, 18 punt returns), it still does not justify him being paid like a top-25 wide receiver (currently has the 22nd highest salary cap hit among wide receivers for 2017 according to OTC). With that being said, Amendola seems to have the trust of Tom Brady, as seen with his eight reception, 78 yard and one touchdown performance in the Super Bowl. There is simply no way Amendola is brought back in 2017 with this current contract.

As we saw last year, Amendola took a pay-cut of nearly $4,000,000 to stay on the team (his cap hit went from $6,804,166 to $2,916,666, a savings of $3,887,500). It is likely he will need to do it again if he wants any chance of staying with the team. It’s possible he will agree to another pay-cut. But if he doesn’t, then he could very well be on his way out. But considering he is useful for their depth chart and he can provide on special teams, restructuring is the best way to go.

Verdict – RESTRUCTURE

2. Offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer

2016 Regular season stats: Zero games played (physically unable to perform)

2016 Postseason stats: Zero games played (physically unable to perform)

2017 Contract breakdown (per Overthecap.com): $2,250,000 base salary. Cap number is $2,250,000. Post-June 1st dead money is $0, cap savings is $2,250,000

First & foremost, thank you to Miguel Benzen (@Patscap) for clarifying that Vollmer was not in a free agent but in fact still under contract for 2017. The reasoning behind that, as he explained, was because his contract was tolled a year due to him sitting out last season.

I will first pre-face this by saying I believe Vollmer will not retire and that he will play in 2017, despite some speculation. If that is the case, he is under contract with the Patriots for next season. Vollmer did not play at all in the 2016-2017 season due to an injury that required surgery. It did however; give Marcus Cannon the chance to eventually shine at right tackle. So with Cannon at right tackle and Nate Solder at left tackle, the team is set on their starting tackles.

Prior to this season, Vollmer was viewed as a very reliable offensive tackle that could both the left and right tackle position in a pinch. But after his latest injury and subsequent surgery, it’s fair to wonder what he has left. He is 32 years old and will be 33 before the beginning of the season. But looking at his contract, he is very affordable for 2017 at only $2.25 million.

I believe Vollmer would fit in well as the Patriots swing tackle, which would allow Solder and Cannon to stay at their positions even if one of them went down. Offensive tackle became a strength for the Patriots this past season as opposed to previously being a weakness. Having Vollmer as a back-up only adds to the great situation the Patriots are in moving forward.

Verdict – KEEP

3. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny

2016 Regular season stats: Five games played, 10 combined tackles (six solo tackles, four assisted), one forced fumble.

2016 Postseason stats: Zero games played (injured reserve)

2017 Contract breakdown (per Overthecap.com): $1,000,000 base salary ($240,000 is guaranteed), $433,334 prorated bonus, $440,000 roster bonus. Cap number is $1,798,333. Post-June 1st dead money is $673,333, cap savings is $1,125,000.

Prior to this past, the Patriots gave Freeny a two-year, $4.1 million dollar contract extension, which included a $1.3 million dollar signing bonus prorated over 2016,2017 & 2018. This past season, Freeny did not play much as he suffered a season-ending injury early in 2016. In the five games he did play, he did not make much of an impact with only an average of two tackles per game. And while the Patriots’ have some questions at linebacker this off-season, it’s fair to wonder if Freeny is part of their plan going forward.

As of right now, his $1,798,333 cap hit for 2017 ranks 26th among inside linebackers, according to OTC. That seems high for a linebacker of Freeny’s talents coupled with the fact he is coming off major surgery. The Patriots have Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin under contract for 2017 at the linebacker position, along with Dont’a Hightower all but certain to be back with the team one way or another. So while linebacker may be a position of need for the team, Freeny hasn’t done much to justify he deserves a spot on this team next season.

While the team may only save just under $500,000 by cutting his after his dead cap hit ($1,125,000 - $673,333 = $451,667), the roster spot that would occupy is another valuable takeaway if released. Between free agency, the draft and the trade market (where the team was able get Van Noy from), there is likely a better player who is worth using the roster spot for.

Verdict – CUT

4. Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle

2016 Regular season stats: Two games played, zero started.

2016 Postseason stats: Zero games played (healthy scratch).

2017 Contract breakdown (per Overthecap.com): $800,000 base salary. $125,000 prorated bonus, $350,000 roster bonus ($150,000 is due on third day of 2017 NFL year), $25,000 workout bonus. Cap number is $1,125,000. Pre-June 1st dead money is $125,000, cap savings is $1,000,000.

For me, this is a rather easy one. LaAdrian Waddle only played in two games this past season while being a healthy scratch for the rest. He functioned as the team’s number four offensive tackle, behind starters Cannon and Solder and swing tackle Cameron Fleming. Fleming is a restricted free agent this offseason who is likely to be brought back. Waddle was only active when Cannon or Solder was out for a game and barely played even when active.

The contract Waddle signed last offseason is a bit more complicated than a usual one we see. On the third day of the 2017 NFL year (March 11th), $150,000 of Waddle’s roster bonus is due. Because of that, I see Waddle being released before then because it would be pointless for a team to pay someone $150,000 when he likely won’t be on the team for following season.

With Vollmer likely coming back (see above) and Fleming also likely to return, the team will have four offensive tackles on the roster and probably won’t need a fifth. But if they did, Waddle likely won’t be the guy for that spot. Expect to see Waddle looking for a new team in next four-to-five weeks.

Verdict – CUT

5. Edge defender Rob Ninkovich

2016 Regular season stats: 12 games played, 32 combined tackles (17 solo tackles, 15 assisted), four sacks, one forced fumble, two pass deflections.

2016 Postseason stats: Three games played, six combined tackles (two solo, four assisted), one pass deflection.

2017 Contract breakdown (per Overthecap.com): $1,000,000 base salary. $950,000 prorated bonus, $400,000 roster bonus ($25,000 per game on 46-man roster), $100,000 workout bonus. Cap number is $2,350,000. Post-June 1st dead money is $950,000, cap savings is $1,400,000.

While Ninkovich dealt with a triceps injury to begin the season, his four game suspension is what kept him out for a quarter of the season. He was suspended for violating the PED (performance enhancing drugs) policy. And when he did return, he didn’t necessarily make headlines for his play. In 12 regular season games, he did have four sacks but was non-existent for the most part throughout the postseason.

But before this past season, Ninkovich had only missed one regular season game since joining the team in 2009 (seven seasons) and had accumulated 42 sacks during that time period (six per year on average). He has been a mainstay on the Patriots defense as an edge rusher (4-3 defensive end/outside linebacker) for many years and has been welcome with open arms by Patriots nation as well.

He may not have had a season that fills the stat sheet, but he was once again someone who the Patriots could count on for veteran guidance and dependability throughout the season. And with Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard free agents this offseason, the Patriots edge rusher/defensive end core looks thin. Also, the Patriots signed Ninkovich to a one-year extension back in September. Ninkovich may not be an “eight-to-10 sack per year” player, but he is reliable and is a leader on this defense. Considering he is only counting for $2.35 million against the cap for 2017, Ninkovich is well worth that amount.

Verdict – KEEP

6. Safety Jordan Richards

2016 Regular season stats: 11 games played, three total tackles (one solo, two assisted).

2016 Postseason stats: Zero games (healthy scratch).

2017 Contract breakdown (per Overthecap.com): $772,414 base salary. $239,827 prorated bonus. Cap number is $1,012,241. Post-June 1st dead money is $239,827, cap savings is $772,414.

A 2015 second round draft pick out of Stanford, Richards saw his role reduce this past season. He had played in 14 games his rookie season as opposed to only 11 this season. He was a healthy scratch for the last couple of games in the regular season along with sitting out in the postseason as well. Even when he did suit up, he barely saw the field and did not contribute much on specials teams either.

Even though the Patriots main nickel safety, Duron Harmon is slated to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason, I have a feeling the team either re-signs him or finds another safety to take his place either through the draft or free agency. The fact that Richards was a healthy scratch for a good amount of games between the end of the regular season and postseason does not bode well for his future.

The team has not been afraid to let go of players that don’t contribute, no matter where they were drafted or how much they make. That includes Dominique Easley (2014 first round pick), Richard Seymour (traded to Raiders) and Randy Moss (traded to Vikings) among other moves. Richards simply hasn’t lived up to expectations after being a high draft pick in 2015, let alone being able to suit up for the team in the playoffs. While the team will save just over $500,000 from releasing him post-June 1st ($772,414 - $239,827 = $532,587), like Waddle, his roster spot is worth more than what he provides to the team.

Verdict - CUT