The Super Bowl is only four days behind us but the NFL – at least the 31 teams who are not having a championship parade in Philadelphia today – are already firmly on to the 2018 season. For the New England Patriots, this is a time of transition as there will be changes on both on the coaching staff and the team's roster.
In order for the latter to result in the best possible team, the Patriots will have to make personell moves to increase their current salary cap space of $13.14 million (per patscap.com's Miguel Benzan) – and letting the following five players go would help doing just that:
TE Martellus Bennett
2018 salary cap hit: $6,187,500
The most obvious cap casualty is tight end Martellus Bennett, who was claimed off waivers by the Patriots during the 2017 regular season but appeared in only two games for the team before being placed on injured reserve. Cutting the soon-to-be 31-year old would free up $6.19 million while not creating any dead money: Bennett's former team, the Green Bay Packers, is still on the hook for his contract's guarantees. Of course – as is the case with all players on this list – an extension or restructure could also lower the tight end's cap hit.
TE Dwayne Allen
2018 salary cap hit: $5,000,000
While he has been a productive blocking tight end for the Patriots last season, Dwayne Allen's contributions as a receiver were limited. Sure, with Rob Gronkowski ahead of him on the depth chart there was no need for Allen to play a big role as a pass catcher. But even when the league's best tight end was out, Allen did not see a lot of additional targets despite an increase in playing time. Is this worth the ninth-highest salary cap hit on the team? Probably not, which is why cutting Allen – a move that would save $5.0 million – is a realistic option at this point in time.
DT Alan Branch
2018 salary cap hit: $4,550,000
Last March, the Patriots re-signed Alan Branch to a two-year, $8.45 million contract. However, one year into his deal, it appears likely that the team will move on from the 33-year old. After all, Branch struggled with injuries this season and as a result slid down the depth chart until he was a healthy scratch for the Super Bowl. Considering that the Patriots would save $3.55 million when letting the veteran go, it would not be a surprise to see this move happen in the coming weeks.
LB David Harris
2018 salary cap hit: $2,750,000
It would be a surprise if the Patriots kept David Harris around for the 2018 season, especially on a $2.75 million salary cap hit. Despite being healthy all year long, the veteran offseason acquisition appeared in only 10 of a possible 19 games as he saw younger options like Marquis Flowers and Elandon Roberts earn more playing time. With potential cap savings of $2,13 million, Harris – despite his leadership and mentoring abilities – appears to be a no-brainer when it comes to offseason cuts.
RB Mike Gillislee
2018 salary cap hit: $2,181,250
The Patriots currently have only two pure running backs on their roster in James White and Mike Gillislee. It would therefore not be surprising to see the team play it safe and keep Gillislee around for the time being – despite him being a virtual no-factor in his first season since New England brought him aboard as a restricted free agent signing. Still, his potential cap savings of $2.18 million (aka his entire 2018 cap hit) could be used to invest in other running backs like upcoming free agents Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead.
WR Kenny Britt
2018 salary cap hit: $1,453,125
Kenny Britt was a late addition to the Patriots roster in 2017 as he was signed to a two-year deal in December. The veteran's contributions, however, where limited as he appeared in only three of a possible six games and caught a mere two passes in a rotational role. With Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell expected to come back from their respective injuries and with Danny Amendola a free agent, New England could use his roster spot and its resulting cap savings of $1.45 million elsewhere.
There are of course other players that could be released in order to generate more salary cap space like Shea McClellin ($2.35 million savings) to Jordan Richards ($941,120 savings). However, the combination of limited contributions in 2017 and high cap hits makes the men listed above the most likely to get the axe in order for the Patriots to gain significant additional money to work with.
Overall, the team would create roughly $17.62 in additional salary cap space (considering that six other players would take their spots on the top-51 roster). Combined with the $13.14 million already available, the Patriots would therefore have $30.76 million to work with entering free agency before any additional cuts or restructures – the 15th most in the NFL. Not the worst spot to be in.