clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2017 NFL league year, free agency begin today; what to expect from the Patriots?

New, comments

The 2016 season officially ends today. We are on to 2017.

Happy new year! Today at 4:00 p.m. ET, the NFL calendar turns another page, as the 2017 league year officially begins. For the entire league, this means the following:

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must exercise options for 2017 on all players who have option clauses in their 2016 contracts.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2016 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

Top-51 Begins. All clubs must be under the 2017 salary cap prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time.

All 2016 player contracts will expire at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

The 2017 league year and free agency period begin at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

Trading period for 2017 begins at 4:00 p.m., New York time, after expiration of all 2016 contracts.

What specifically does it mean for the New England Patriots? Let's go through it step by step.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must exercise options for 2017 on all players who have option clauses in their 2016 contracts.

Last season, the Patriots had five players entering the new league year with options in their respective contracts. This year, the team only has one and it has already been declined by the team that held his rights before he came to New England via trade: defensive end Barkevious Mingo, who was selected sixth overall in the 2013 draft by the Cleveland Browns.

Under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams have the ability to pick up a first round draft pick's fifth year option prior to the player's fourth year in the league. While the Patriots have traded their own 2013 first round pick to the Minnesota Vikings, they did have one qualifying player on their 2016 roster: Mingo. However, with the Browns having already elected not to pick up the contract option, the 26-year old becomes an unrestricted free agent today.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts and to whom they desire to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.

The following Patriots players are restricted free agents:

CB Malcolm Butler

OT Cameron Fleming

TE Michael Williams

Tight end Michael Williams is the lone player of the three not have been offered a tender sheet yet. According to Jeff Howe, though, the team is close to re-signing him to a new contract which would make the tender obsolete – at least if signed prior to 4:00 p.m. ET today.

Cornerback Malcolm Butler did receive a tender sheet: New England placed the first round tender on him, which will pay the 27-year old a non-guaranteed salary of $3.91 million in 2017. If a team signs the Pro Bowl cornerback to an offer sheet and the Patriots refuse to match it, that team would have to part with its first round pick.

Offensive tackle Cameron Fleming, on the other hand, was tendered at the original round level. This means that he will receive a non-guaranteed $1.797 million this season, while another team would have to give up its fourth round draft pick to acquire him.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit a Minimum Salary Tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2016 contracts and who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

The following Patriots players are exclusive rights free agents:

CB Justin Coleman

SS Brandon King

TE Matt Lengel

Prior to the start of the new league year, those players can only sign contracts with the Patriots, provided they receive a minimum salary one-year offer. Two of the three have already received them: Cornerback Justin Coleman and tight end Matt Lengel have both been tendered on Tuesday.

This leaves special teams standout Brandon King as the lone exclusive rights free agent in a position to enter free agency. However, at this point, it seems likely that the team is trying to work out an extension and will use the tender only if no agreement is reached prior to 4:00 p.m. ET.

Top-51 Begins. All clubs must be under the 2017 salary cap prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time.

The 2017 salary cap has been set at $167 million. All clubs have to be under this number by the start of the new league year. Right now, according to patscap.com, the Patriots are under the cap by about $50.4 million, a number that already includes the salary cap implications of yesterday’s trade for Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen.

Top-51 means that only a team's top 51 contracts count against the salary cap.

All 2016 player contracts will expire at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

The Patriots currently have 51 players under contract for the 2017 season, plus two more – Butler and Fleming – once they have signed their tender sheets. If King and Williams, as is expected, are also at least tendered today, the following players are left to hit the open market:

TE Martellus Bennett

RB LeGarrette Blount

RB Brandon Bolden

DT Alan Branch

WR Michael Floyd

FS Duron Harmon

LB Dont’a Hightower

DE Chris Long

DE Barkevious Mingo

CB Logan Ryan

TE Greg Scruggs

DE Jabaal Sheard

Two of the 12 players above have already made it clear that they will not return to New England next season: Tight end Martellus Bennett and defensive edge Chris Long will both move on after one year with the Patriots. The rest of the unrestricted free agents could very well return to Foxboro after having tested free agency waters – but expect at least some of the names above to wear different jerseys next season.

The 2017 league year and free agency period begin at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

The free agency frenzy begins and teams can officially offer contracts to players who are officially allowed to sign them; something both parties were prohibited to do during the "legal tampering period".

Trading period for 2017 begins at 4:00 p.m., New York time, after expiration of all 2016 contracts.

Just yesterday, the Patriots agreed to moving a fourth round pick to the Colts in exchange for tight end Dwayne Allen and a sixth round selection. The trade will become official once the new league year starts. It remains to be seen whether or not this is the lone trade to happen this week.


Today will be a busy day. Make sure to check Pats Pulpit – and particularly our free agency tracker – regularly to stay up to date on the latest news and rumors.