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Patriots’ dead money list filled with what-could-have-been players

New England has plenty of unfulfilled potential on its list of dead contracts money.

Baltimore Ravens v New England Patriots
FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 12: Malcolm Mitchell #19 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the second half against the Baltimore Ravens at Gillette Stadium on December 12, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

One of the pillars of the New England Patriots dynasty is the club’s ability to manage its finances. While the Patriots are — as opposed to a popular myth — not afraid to pay market value to keep or acquire talent, they are arguably the smartest organization in the NFL year-in and year-out when it comes to spending cash and evaluating cost based on a players’ possible contributions in the team’s system.

As a result of this, New England has also generally been able to keep its so-called dead money to a minimum — and 2019 is no exception. As things stand right now, the reigning world champions have only $706,368 of their salary cap space invested in players that are no longer on the team (at least on the contracts they originally signed). Just five clubs in the league have less dead money than that.

The Patriots’ number is also clearly below the NFL average of $4.42 million and the best in the AFC East by almost $2 million. The comparatively miniscule total amount is not the only thing that stands out when looking at New England’s dead cap payroll: the names listed on it also are a who’s who of what-could-have-been players (names and dead cap number via the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan).

CB Cyrus Jones ($278,491)

DT Vincent Valentine ($161,355)

WR Malcolm Mitchell ($144,498)

QB Danny Etling ($78,021)*

RB Ralph Webb ($13,334)

DT John Atkins ($8,334)

DE Trent Harris ($6,667)*

LB Harvey Langi ($5,000)

WR Darren Andrews ($3,334)

OT Cole Croston ($2,000)*

CB A.J. Moore ($2,000)

DT Frank Herron ($1,667)*

TE Shane Wimann ($1,667)

*signed to future contracts for the 2019 season

While not all of the 13 players listed under the Patriots’ dead cap are no longer with the team — Danny Etling, Trent Harris, Cole Croston and Frank Herron were all released at one point last year but signed to the practice squad and later future contracts —, the four biggest names are gone off New England’s roster: Cyrus Jones, Vincent Valentine, Malcolm Mitchell and Harvey Langi.

All four of them displayed tremendous potential during their short Patriots tenures, but neither was able to stay on the club for one reason or another. Cyrus Jones, a second-round draft pick in 2016, struggled during his rookie campaign but appeared to bounce back nicely the following year before an ACL injury in the preseason finale ended his season. He was released during 2018’s roster cuts and is now with the Baltimore Ravens.

Vincent Valentine and Malcolm Mitchell also saw injuries derail their careers. Valentine, a current Arizona Cardinal and third-round pick the same year as Jones and Mitchell entered the league, spent almost all of 2017 on injured reserve with a knee injury and never was able to regain the form he showed just one year earlier. The same goes for Mitchell, one of the biggest what-if stories in recent Patriots memory: as a rookie he carved out a role as a rotational third/fourth wide receiver, but chronic knee injuries forced him to sit out 2017 before his release a year later.

Harvey Langi, meanwhile, had outside forces impact his stint in New England. The former undrafted free agent was involved in a car crash two months into his 2017 rookie season and subsequently placed on the non-football reserve list. While he was able to get back onto the field for the following spring’s offseason workouts, New England released Langi as part of their roster cutdowns. He is currently under contract with the New York Jets.

All four players showed tremendous potential early on in their careers but have not been able to keep it going for an extended period of time. While the Patriots have fared just well without them, the cloud of “what could have been” still hangs around their names.