Later this month, the NFL's 2018 draft will take place at the Dallas Cowboys' AT&T Stadium. As things currently stand, the New England Patriots are projected to be on the clock seven times over the course of the event's three days with the following picks being allotted to the Super Bowl runner-ups:
Of course, considering the history of the Patriots under head coach and de-facto general manager Bill Belichick, chances are that the eventual board looks highly different once the draft is said and done. After all, the team has never shied away from moving up and down or investing draft picks to acquire players from other teams. There are no indications that 2018 will be any different.
However, a spending spree like last year's – the Patriots traded away all but four of their selections – will probably not be happening again. This, in turn, makes it a bit easier to project how much money the team will ultimately need to fit all of its rookie picks under a salary cap number that currently sits at $7.44 million (according to the Boston Sports Journal's Miguel Benzan).
Let's start by taking a look at the situation as of right now: the Patriots' seven draft picks are currently worth around $6.03 million (per OverTheCap).
This rookie pool, however, would not hit New England's salary cap space in its entirety if the team made all of the selections (disclaimer: it won't). The NFL is currently operating under the “rule of 51” and only a team's 51 highest salary cap hits are counted. As a result, no picks below the 75th overall selection, which carries a cap hit of $720,916, would be on the Patriots' books until the rule gets lifted shortly before September's opening day.
All of the higher selections – which would currently be New England's top three choices – would hit the books and bump lower-value contracts from the 51. If that were to happen today, the Patriots would need roughly $3.74 million to sign its draft class for a net salary cap loss of $1.68 million:
1-31-31 ($1,755,959) would replace TE Will Tye ($705,000)
2-11-43 ($1,185,614) would replace DE Deatrich Wise Jr. ($700,140)
2-31-63 ($800,166) would replace LB Elandon Roberts ($655,089)
The next-lowest ranked contracts belong to running back Brandon Bolden and defensive edge Geneo Grissom, who are both on the Patriots' payroll with a salary cap hit of $720,000 each. Unless the team picks more players who will be on the books with higher cap hits (as noted above, selections higher than the 75th overall), they will continue to count against the cap
New England would be in need of some additional money, though, to fit the rest of its rookie class under the cap come September and the end of the top-51 rule.
Of course, it would be a surprise to see the Patriots stay put and draft a player in each of their seven slots. What could therefore be expected from the team? Judging by past drafts, New England might move out of the 31st overall spot: Only twice since 2010 did the team make a pick with its originally scheduled first-round choice. But even if such a move were to happen, the salary cap implications would likely be relatively minimal.
Say the Patriots opt to make a trade with old friend Bob Quinn, general manager of the Detroit Lions, to move up to the 20th overall selection. Such a move would cost the Patriots roughly $400,000 in additional salary cap space (without considering what the team might have to give up to climb up 11 slots). A trade-down of 11 spots, meanwhile, would save the team around $550,000.
With all that in mind, we can say that the Patriots will likely need between $1.5 and $3.0 million net salary cap space to sign its draft class, with an additional $1.0 to $2.5 million needed once the “rule of 51” ends. But now that this projection is out, New England will probably make moves to make it worthless. Doing the unexpected is an integral part of the Patriot Way after all.