The New England Patriots currently have a little more than $13 million in cap space leading into the 2018 season, per Miguel of Boston Sports Journal. Bernd looked at six players that could be released as salary cap casualties, but there are other ways to create cap space that are also likely to take place.
There are currently eight players with projected base salaries of greater than $4 million and four players with cap hits over greater than $10 million, both greater than the team’s five-year average.
Since 2013, only ten players have had base salaries of greater than $4 million, with Nate Solder and Rob Gronkowski the only players to exceed it multiple times over that time frame. No player even exceeded $4 million for a base salary in 2014 as Devin McCourty led the team with a $3.92 million base salary.
Tom Brady has a projected base salary of $14 million in 2018, while Stephon Gilmore ($8.5 million), Brandin Cooks ($8.5 million), Gronkowski ($8 million), McCourty ($7.5 million), Dont’a Hightower ($5.75 million), Dwayne Allen ($4.5 million), and Marcus Cannon ($4 million) all exceed that $4 million milestone.
Part of the increase in total has to do with the rising salary cap, with the top five base salaries averaging roughly 3% of the salary cap over the past five years. But even 3% of the projected 2018 salary cap of $178 million is $5.25 million, which six players exceed.
And the top five cap hits average roughly 6.1% of the salary cap over the past five years, which is roughly $10.9 million- a level that Brady, Gilmore, McCourty, and Gronkowski all exceed. The top five Patriots cap hits average 7.4% of the 2018 salary cap. When you add in the projected cap hit for a player like Nate Solder, the Patriots could have five players over their usual average level.
I expect the Patriots to try and reduce the base salaries of a few of these players to create additional cap space and to add years on to their contracts. Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks are prime candidates for extensions, as are Rob Gronkowski and Devin McCourty to reduce their cap hit and tack on a year or two at the end. The Patriots just signed Gilmore and Hightower last year so they are less likely to restructure. A few other players with smaller cap hits, like Martellus Bennett or Dwayne Allen, could also restructure to create more cap space.
Extending or restructuring players like Brady, Cooks, Gronkowski, and McCourty could free up at least $15 million in cap space and give the team a lot more breathing room heading onto free agency without having to get rid of any talent on the roster.