With the swivel of a pen swiveled across the final page of a top-of-the-market contract in March of this year, Stephon Gilmore instantly guaranteed himself $31 million. It was the largest deal ever agreed to between Bill Belichick and a free agent. The five-year pact carries a maximum value of $65 million.
It’s the rarity in which the Patriots have struck these types of contracts that has brought upon their reputation of frugality. They’ve also made no effort to disguise their distaste for players who, when seeking high-end deals, allow their effort level to be effected by the negotiation process.
Even the signing of Gilmore has some Patriots detractors wondering why the same gold-plated olive branch hasn't been extended to a player like Malcolm Butler, who has been instrumental in bringing two Super Bowls to Foxborough.
Admittedly, a portion of the sentiment designating the Patriots as penny-pinchers is true. From 2013-2016 they were among the bottom five teams in the NFL in the cash spending department. This is of course bolstered by the fact that their quarterback hasn’t held them over the coals and demanded a contract north of $20 million in average per year value.
The breathing room Brady’s contract creates, along with the team’s prudent transaction history in free agency, has allowed the Patriots to create the largest “middle class” roster in the league — and it was last week’s extension of Brady’s trusted center David Andrews that officially gave New England the lead in that category.
“The lead?” you might be thinking. Yes. It’s now quantifiable.
Diagnosing the actual value of the NFL’s “middle class” was simple once each roster’s contracts were sorted into these 2017 cap hit categories:
- $1-3 million
- $3-6 million
- $6-9 million
- $9-12 million
- $12-15 million
- $15+ million
It was tedious work, but after a lengthy binge on overthecap.com, it was done. It was as this point, after quite a few hours of counting and sorting, that a major issue arose: rookie contracts.
If the goal is to establish which teams are truly making the decisions to pay players above the CBA-mandated minimums based on their NFL experience (or more technically stated, their amount of credited seasons), then you must you filter out contracts for which the team had no choice but to invest that dollar amount in the player.
With the “slotted” nature of rookie deals, a team isn’t forced to make a real financial decision about the roster. So to properly illustrate which teams are devoting resources to the various salary cap hit ranges, any player currently on their rookie deal had to be removed out of the data.
On the contrary, any players currently playing on a restricted free agent tender or fifth year option were included in the data because their team was put in a position to make a financial decision on them. The same logic was applied to players playing on any type of franchise or transition tag.
Here’s how it broke down:
- As of Monday May 15th, there were 717 cap hits of $1 million or more that fit the above criteria.
- 22.4 per team. That’s 43% of the average 53-man roster.
- 476 were between $1-6 million.
- 241 were $6 million or above.
- This leaves 979 spots for 53-man rosters which are currently being filled with players who have cap hits below $1 million.
Given these figures, the $1-6 million cap hit range appears to be the appropriate category when looking to define the NFL’s “middle class”.
The extension of David Andrews, assuming the first year cap hit will fall into the $1-3 million range, gives New England 30 players who aren’t on a rookie deal with a 2017 cap hit of $1 million or more — currently the most in the NFL.
Here’s where each team stands in that department:
Within that group of 30 players, 25 fall into the now quantifiable “middle class” category with cap hits between $1-6 million — which also leads the NFL.
Here’s how each team’s “middle class” is broken down:
If you haven’t gone blind yet, you’ll see that the Patriots trail only San Francisco in terms of qualifying cap hits between $1-3 million. And they lead the NFL in the “upper middle class” between $3-6.
What does this say about the way the Patriots structure their roster? After coupling this information with their recent activity in free agency, one thing becomes certain: They aren’t nearly as cheap as so many have thought.
P.S. For the truly sick, I’ve included my main data chart and graph overall graph below. I’ll be keeping this data updated moving forward. I have begun compiling 2018 numbers as well. If you have any questions or see anything I may have missed, please follow me on Twitter @BPhillips_NFL and shoot me a message or a Tweet!