The New England Patriots’ coaching staff had last week off but will have to turn its attention quickly to what lies ahead. The NFL’s scouting combine in Indianapolis will take place next month, with free agency awaiting only a bit further down the line: the new league year will begin exactly one month from today, on March 18 at 4:00 pm Eastern. At that point in time, a total of 19 of the Patriots’ current player contracts is set to expire.
One month ahead of that fateful day, however, all remains quiet on the Foxborough front and there have not been any substantial news about negotiations or the like. That, however, is standard procedure at this point of the year for the Patriots. As noted above, after all, there is a combine to prepare for before thinking free agency. And if anything, that combine could help New England’s decision makers get a clearer picture on some of its players.
The biggest of which is of course quarterback Tom Brady. Contract negotiations between the future Hall of Famer and the Patriots’ front office have not started yet, but according to Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston the expectation is that talks will began during or immediately after the combine. At that point, both parties should have a clearer picture about the 42-year-old’s market through the behind-the-scenes chatter going on in Indianapolis.
The same will likely also hold true for the other big names on the Patriots’ list of impending free agents. However, the team’s eventual approach to negotiations still has to be different given that only Brady has a $13.5 million dead cap number hitting New England’s books if he remains unsigned the moment the new league year begins. This means that Bill Belichick and company operate under a different schedule when it comes to the quarterback.
As a result, the Patriots will only follow their familiar playbook in regards to the non-Brady players about to hit the open market. The Joe Thuneys, Kyle Van Noys and Devin McCourtys: they will likely allow at least two of them to test the market and make official visits while simultaneously keeping an open line of dialogue. New England used this way of negotiating numerous times in the past, often with positive results including McCourty’s first stint as a free agent back in 2015.
The team’s virtual inactivity at this point in the process should therefore fall under the “business as usual”-category as the Patriots are following their established offseason timeline even with some core players in need of new contracts. Consequently, the next few weeks will see the team try to get itself in a good shape heading into free agency:
1.) The Patriots will tackle the combine not just scouting players but also getting a feel for Brady’s and other players’ markets.
2.) The Patriots will engage in contract talks with Brady early to try to have an answer or feel for his mindset as soon as possible.
3.) The Patriots will get some first deals — think: Matthew Slater — as well as potential extensions and cuts done before March 18 to put themselves in a comfortable salary cap position.
4.) The Patriots will see some of their players test free agency — Joe Thuney, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins are the most likely candidates — while keeping an open discourse.
At the end of the day, New England has followed a similar plan in the past and it has served the club well. While cornerstone players such as Thuney and Van Noy are likely departures under this set of circumstances given the Patriots’ salary cap situation in combination with the overall body of free agents to be re-signed, other deals will be struck with Brady the top priority at this time considering the structure of his current contract and his $13.5 signing bonus proration coming up.
For now, however, the Patriots remain quiet as they set the stage for what is about to come — or to speak in Internet lingo: Bill Belichick doesn’t sleep. He waits.