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What the financials tell us about the Patriots’ release of Antonio Garcia

NFL: Combine Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into this offseason, perhaps no position on the Patriots’ roster garnered more questions than offensive tackle — a situation exacerbated by the departure of veteran left tackle Nate Solder for New York.

In the past month, just about all of those questions have been answered in some capacity. Two weeks before the draft, it was reported that 2017 third round pick Antonio Garcia was fully recovered from a blood clot issue that cost him his rookie season, and that he was back up to 290 pounds — just 10-15 pounds short of his ideal playing weight. He was to join re-signed swing tackle LaAdrian Waddle, 23rd overall pick Isaiah Wynn, and the mountainous Trent Brown, who was acquired from San Francisco in one of a myriad of draft day trades enacted by Bill Belichick.

Friday’s surprise news of the release of Garcia — who at this time last year was thought to be the heir apparent to Nate Solder — provided further context as to why the team invested so heavily and expeditiously to turn a position that was a gaping hole just weeks ago, to a position of perceived depth. And when examining the salary cap ramifications of Friday’s news, the 24-year-old’s release tells us exactly how the team felt about Garcia’s future.

Prior to Friday, Garcia’s 2018 cap figure was $778,538, consisting of a $555,000 salary, a $27,000 workout bonus, and a $196,538 signing bonus proration. His release triggers the escalation of his 2019 and 2020 signing bonus prorations, leaving a 2018 cap figure of $589,614.

If the team thought that Garcia’s health issue was completely behind him, and he just needed more time to get back to full strength, one would think it would be a wise, low-risk investment to retain him by stashing him on the NFI list for a second consecutive season. In that scenario, the split salary provision in his rookie contract would once again be activated like it was in 2017, when his salary was reduced from $465,000 to $348,000.

In 2018, Garcia’s split salary figure would have been $363,000 if he were put on the NFI list, making his salary cap figure $586,538 — just $3,076 less than the $589,614 total dead money cap figure that was generated by his release on Friday.

Had the Patriots saw a shred of potential in a player they drafted at a premium position to possibly be their starter of the future, they could have easily absorbed his meager 2018 split salary and workout bonus. A year from now, if after further evaluation they were unhappy with his progress, or if a player like Wynn or Brown managed to cement themselves in 2018 as the future incumbent starter, the team could simply release Garcia and accrue just $393,076 in dead money on next season’s books.

This is yet another excellent example of how additional insight can be gleaned by breaking down the financial decisions made by NFL teams. The bottom line is that the Patriots chose to cut bait with a young left tackle who was reportedly progressing nicely, just a year into his rookie season, instead of spending less than half a million in 2018 cash.

Does that not tell you everything you need to know regarding New England’s evaluation of Antonio Garcia’s future?

Correction: According to Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan, Garcia does not have a 2018 split salary provision in his contract, so stashing him on the NFI list would mean his 2018 cap figure would remain at $778,538. Nonetheless, the premise remains the same. The team simply sees no need to dole out even a small amount of 2018 cash for Garcia — a clear indication of their feelings about his future in the league.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter — @BPhillips_SB