The New England Patriots are heading into one of the biggest offseasons in recent memory: the team has 19 players scheduled to enter free agency, with 16 of them hitting the open market under the unrestricted label — including core members of the 2019 team such as quarterback Tom Brady, guard Joe Thuney, linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins, safety Devin McCourty and special teamers Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner.
While re-signing at least some members of this group is imperative, the team also needs to fill some of its holes: the Patriots have to improve their offensive skill position groups, which could impact Brady’s free agency as well, and also need add cheap high-upside talent to an aging roster. Add it all up, and you see that Bill Belichick and the rest of the organization’s front office have their work cut out for them over the next few months.
In order to address all those points, New England needs capital and a look at the following breakdown shows that while resources are limited at the moment the team is in a position to still build a strong roster heading into the 2020 campaign.
Salary cap space
According to the number one source for Patriots salary cap breakdowns, PatsCap’s Miguel Benzan, the team currently is projected to have $29,224,286 in available cap space when calculated against a $200 million threshold. This does not seem like a lot, especially when compared to the rest of the league. After all, Over The Cap lists 20 teams with more cap space available than the Patriots heading into the offseason:
That being said, the Patriots are in a position to increase their salary cap flexibility quite a bit by the time free agency opens on March 18.
The obvious way of doing that is by releasing players from the current payroll. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu ($6.5 million gross savings), cornerback Jason McCourty ($4 million) and kicker Stephen Gostkowski ($3.9 million) are potential candidates to be let go in order to increase New England’s cap space. Of course, that does not mean the team is willing to go that route considering that all three are projected to play big roles in 2020.
Instead, the Patriots could also opt to restructure/extend their contracts or those of other players with a high salary cap impact. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower, who is entering the final year of his contract, is a candidate for an extension which in turn could bring his cap hit of $12.4 million down significantly. The same goes for cornerback Stephon Gilmore ($18.7 million cap hit) and even the aforementioned Sanu.
Of course, there are two other ways to increase cap space as well:
1.) Outstanding grievances: New England is currently waiting for the results of four grievances which could net the team up to $12.6 million in additional cap space. Ex-Patriots Antonio Brown ($9 million) and Aaron Hernandez ($3.25 million) are responsible for the biggest share.
2.) Re-signing Tom Brady: If the Patriots fail to bring back the future Hall of Famer by the time free agency begins, a $13.5 million signing bonus proration would hit the books (as things currently stand, this number is included in Miguel’s calculations). In case the two sides come to an agreement before March 18, 4:00 pm, however, this number will be cut in half which would give New England an additional $6.75 million to work with.
Ahead of last year’s trade deadline, the Patriots sent their second-round selection to the Atlanta Falcons to acquire Mohamed Sanu in hopes of kickstarting a struggling passing offense. The move did not have the desired effect but it did impact the team’s outlook entering the 2020 draft: the second-round selection sent to Atlanta turned out to be the 55th overall pick, which would have been worth roughly 101 points on Rich Hill’s draft value chart.
As a result of this and other trades, and putting into account Over The Cap’s compensatory picks projection, the Patriots are headed into draft season with a capital of 405 points. While this is sufficient to get some impact players onto the team, it also is among the lesser valuable portfolios in the league at the moment: 22 teams’ combined draft picks are worth more than what New England currently is expected to have available in late April.
All in all, the Patriots enter draft season with the following 12 picks at their disposal — four of which expected to come the team’s way via the NFL’s draft compensatory formula:
- Round 1: 23rd overall
- Round 3: 87th overall
- Round 3: 97th overall (compensatory)*
- Round 3: 99th overall (compensatory)*
- Round 4: 122nd overall (via Chicago)*
- Round 6: 195th overall (via Denver)*
- Round 6: 205th overall (via Houston)*
- Round 6: 212th overall (compensatory)*
- Round 6: 213th overall (compensatory)*
- Round 7: 230th overall (via Atlanta)*
- Round 7: 235th overall (via Philadelphia)*
- Round 7: 241st overall (via Seattle)*
*projected overall slot
As pointed out yesterday, the Patriots are in good position to move around the board early in the draft if they feel the need to fill the gap between their first-round pick and them returning to the clock in round three. A trade-down from the 23rd overall selection certainly seems possible as things currently stand — something that can also be said for a move up from the 87th selection in combination with other available assets.
Combined offseason resources
If we combine each team’s available cap space and its draft value, we can see that the Patriots are in the lower half in both categories — having similar resources to work with as the champions in the AFC’s and NFC’s northern divisions (the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers, respectively):
This is all a matter of perspective, however: among the 12 teams in the playoff picture last season, the Patriots rank sixth in both draft capital and salary cap space available — with the potential to jump up to fifth in the later category depending on just the outstanding grievances and Brady’s contractual situation before the start of the new league year.