The New England Patriots entered the 2018 offseason with three blue-chip free agents in LT Nate Solder, RB Dion Lewis, and CB Malcolm Butler, and one extremely clutch wide receiver in Danny Amendola.
Butler was as good as gone when Patriots head coach Bill Belichick benched him in the Super Bowl, but there was a chance the Patriots would be able to retain the other three.
Unfortunately for New England, and fortunately for the players, teams around the league opened up their checkbooks for these four players and all of them left the nest.
Solder became the highest-paid offensive lineman in the NFL, slated to make $15.5 million per season over the next four years, nearly two million more than the second-ranked offensive lineman (Washington LT Trent Williams at $13.6 million per year).
Butler will make $12.25 million per year, the 10th-most in the NFL for a cornerback, which is exactly what he wanted and what was too expensive for New England.
Amendola is scheduled to make $6 million per year, which is $500,000 more than what Julian Edelman is expected to make.
The Patriots were never going to match these lofty contracts and Belichick is happy that all four were able to get this opportunity.
“Malcolm, Dion, Nate, Danny, all of them. Those people worked hard,” Belichick said, via the Providence Journal. “They competed well. They performed well. They signed contracts that were better than what we were able to give them. They all did a great job for us. We wouldn’t have had success we had without the contributions of those, and many other players.”
One contract of question is Dion Lewis, who will make $4.95 million per year with the Tennessee Titans, the 11th-most for a running back in the NFL (he can also make an average of $750,000 more in incentives). When healthy, which has always been a problem, Lewis is a top five running back in the NFL. For reference, James White makes $4 million per year for the Patriots.
New England hasn’t shied away from players with injury histories in the past, especially when their performance on the field warrants it. While the Patriots were lucky to get a full year of Lewis in 2017, I don’t think many would have complained if New England gave him $5 million per year with an extra chunk of money in per-game bonuses if he remains healthy.
But, hey, that’s why Belichick makes the big bucks and Rex Burkhead’s 3-year, $9.25 million extension could prove to be a bargain in the long run.
New England is looking to replace all of these players, with Jason McCourty stepping in for Butler, Cordarrelle Patterson and the return of Edelman replacing Amendola, and Jeremy Hill and Burkhead taking over for Lewis. Solder’s replacement is likely to be LaAdrian Waddle, but that is subject to change.
This turnover could create a new look for New England in 2018, but don’t expect Belichick to dwell too long on these changes.
“We lost several players in free agency,” Belichick added. “That’s the NFL. Every team goes through that.”