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Analyzing the New England Patriots’ potential cap casualties

The Patriots have more salary cap space at their disposal this season then at any other time in the Belichick era, and they can create more if they want to. Here is how. 

NFL: New England Patriots at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

There are a lot of ways to spend $61.5 million.

That is the estimated amount of salary cap space Bill Belichick and the Patriots possess this season, and it has Patriots fans buzzing. It has almost the familiar anticipatory atmosphere of a massive Powerball Jackpot. In the days leading up to the drawing, you just can’t keep your imagination from running wild. You calculate the tax figures and payment options in head. Do you take the lump sum? Annuitize it? You dream of ways you’ll spend your winnings, what life will be like, and the positive changes you’ll make personally and in the world around you.

There’s no shame in admitting that at some point, in that same lottery-winning mindset, you have imagined yourself at the helm of the Patriots organization, armed with the $61.5 million, calling the shots and weighing the risks and rewards of big name signings in search of assembling the perfect roster. Who hasn't?

Bill Belichick has neither the time, nor the patience for such fruitless day-dreaming exercises.

With Bill, it doesn't matter how much scrill is at his fingertips. All the cap flexibility in the world won't save a player who is one year too old, one step too slow, and making one dollar too much. If a player's cap figure doesn't align with his production, he becomes replaceable.

Above all, the NFL is a business. The players know this. They are well aware that as warm and friendly as the NFL experience can be, every player has his day where the cold, business-minded side of the league comes calling. When examining the names and numbers below, do so with the same detatched prudence utitlized each offseason by NFL front offices — the same unemotional "leave our personal relationship at the door"-style business tact that Bill belichick is known for.

33 of the 53 (including the three ERFAs yet to be tendered) players currently on the Patriots 2017 roster would create even more cap space if they are released. Mind you, these numbers, along with the rest of the numbers in this piece assume that the release of any of these players comes before the earning of any roster bonuses due, and before June 1st.

It is also important to remember these factors regarding the list below.

1. To accurately calculate the cap space created by releasing a player, you must replace that player with a player earning the minimum salary ($465,000).

2. Although some of the players listed below are expected to be cut, and others would be full on fan base flabbergasters, they are simply being catalogued by how much cap space their release would create. The list is not a projection, nor is it ranking the probability of any player to be cut.

3. To keep things a little cleaner, these numbers are all calculated as if the cuts are taking place before the start of the league year to avoid any March roster bonuses a player might be due, and also to avoid any post-June 1st salary cap ramifications — a topic in and of itself that is worthy of its own article.

Nate Solder - LT

Current 2017 cap charge: $11,166,418

Savings if cut: $6,999,750

2017 Dead Money Cap Charge if cut: $4,166,418

In the final year of his contract, the lack of future dead money would make cutting Solder a profitable endeavor if the team was hard up against the cap and needed breathing room, and had a worthy left tackle waiting in the wings. Since neither of those situations pertain to the Patriots in 2017, Brady’s blindside protector should remain exactly that come September.

Danny Amendola - WR

Current 2017 cap charge: $7,791,668

Savings if cut: $5,910,000

2017 Dead Money Cap Charge if cut: $1,416,668

The clutch Super Bowl 51 performer has been projected as the team’s most likely 2017 cap casualty since restructuring his deal for the second as a Patriot in 2016. He’ll need to do so again this offseason to be back in Foxborough in 2017.

Sebastian Vollmer - RT

Current 2017 cap charge: $2,225,000

Savings if cut: $2,225,000

2017 dead money cap charge if cut: $0

With pictures recently surfacing of Vollmer looking particularly svelte for an NFL tackle, the oft-injured German appears to be hanging up the pads. He remains on the roster currently because of a technical provision in the CBA that states any player spending the entire previous season on the PUP-reserve list has his contract toll to the following year automatically.

Julian Edelman - WR

Current 2017 cap charge: $5,750,000

Savings if cut: $4,035,000

2017 dead money cap charge if cut: $1,250,000

Put the torches and pitchforks away, this is one of those aforementioned statements of fact, not a projection. Edelman does turn 31 in May, so it will be interesting to see the club’s approach to contract negotiations with Brady’s most targeted pass-catcher. A seventh round pick who, at the completion of this contract, will have roughly made a modest $20.2 million over his nine-year career. Not bad, but not even close to other top wide receivers around the league. Considering as well his role as one of the the biggest weapons on two Super Bowl winning offenses, one couldn’t blame him if he wants to maximize what little “cash in” potential he has left. Even with his age and injury history, 2018 free agency should provide him that opportunity.

Patrick Chung - SS

Current 2017 cap charge: $4,500,000

Savings if cut: $1,635,000

2017 dead money cap charge if cut: $2,400,000

Perhaps it is because his 2015 performance was so outstanding that is felt as if Chung's play dipped somewhat in 2016. Not to an unacceptable level by any means, just more in line with his contract, which was among 2015’s best bang-for-the-buck values in football. The 2017 season will the ninth of his career, but the physical toll of an NFL season is different for every player. Chung has earned his striped by being tasked with the in-the-box assignments, constantly seeking out and playing to contact. That many hits adds up. Even so, he played a remarkable 97.2% of the team's defensive snaps in 2016. However, this year brings a strong inbound crop of rookie draft prospects at the safety position, and the proverbial clock is always ticking on aging veterans in in New England.

Shea McClellan - LB

Current 2017 cap charge: $3,283,333

Savings if cut: $1,151,666

2017 dead money cap charge if cut: $1,666,667

Following the trade of Jamie Collins, McClellan eventually integrated into the team's rotation of off-the-line linebackers to help fill the void, although unspectacularly. He participated in just over 35% of the team's defensive snaps in 2016. There isn't a single aspect of his game or anything that he provides on the field that is above average. Simply put, you cannot be as unnoticeable as he was in 2016 and justify his 2017 cap charge of $3,283,333.

Here’s the entire list of players who, if cut (pre-June 1st and before any roster bonuses are due to the player), will create cap space in 2017:

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter - @b7phillips