Even before the final pick of the 2020 NFL draft was announced, the New England Patriots were already busy communicating and negotiating with players who potentially would go unselected. While they were not able to get all of their targeted prospects on board — the team missed out on LSU tight end Thaddeus Moss, for example, who ended up signing a deal with the Washington Redskins — they still ended up with 15 free agency additions.
While the Patriots do have an active 16-year streak of at least one undrafted player making their opening day roster, the players brought on through rookie free agency are obviously not guaranteed to make the 53-man squad come roster cutdown day. What they are guaranteed, however, are some portions of the contracts they ended up signing with the organization — and in some cases those are rather sizable.
Four players stand out in particular when it comes to the guarantees included in their rookie deals, considering that they all received more than $100,000 (via ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss): linebacker De’Jon Harris leads the team with $140,000 in guarantees, split between his signing bonus ($15,000) and salary ($125,000); defensive tackle Bill Murray has received $125,000; wide receiver Isaiah Zuber and running back J.J. Taylor $100,000 each.
While an increasing salary cap allows New England to hand out more guarantees each year, seeing four players get more than $100,000 is still noteworthy considering that last year’s undrafted rookie class had just one player falling under this category: tight end Andrew Beck received $115,000, split between a $15k signing bonus and a $100k salary guarantee. Despite this financial investment, however, Beck ended up not making the Patriots’ roster.
And this is the key to breaking down guaranteed money handed out to undrafted free agents: it is not necessarily a reflection of a players’ chances of making the cut, but rather shows how much of a competition a team faced on the open market. In the case of Harris, Murry and company, the assumption is that more teams than just the Patriots were interested in obtaining their services, leading to the club reaching deep into its pockets.
Guarantees are the only way to properly gauge the interest players have generated on the open market, and how they are viewed around the league. Every undrafted rookie, after all, signs the same three-year deal that includes base salaries of $610k, $780k and $895k over each of those three seasons. The guaranteed portions of each contract are therefore the only aspect differentiating them, and the ones that have an impact on the salary cap.
All in all, the guarantees handed out by the Patriots to their undrafted rookie class look as follows:
- LB De’Jon Harris: $140,000 ($15,000 signing bonus)
- DT Bill Murray: $125,000 ($10,000 signing bonus)
- WR Isaiah Zuber: $100,000 ($10,000 signing bonus)
- RB J.J. Taylor: $100,000 ($7,500 signing bonus)
- TE Jake Burt $85,000 ($5,000 signing bonus)
- TE Rashod Berry: $82,500 ($7,500 signing bonus)
- LB Kyahva Tezino: $70,000 ($10,000 signing bonus)
- WR Will Hastings: $57,500 ($7,500 signing bonus)
- CB Myles Bryant: $50,000 ($5,000 signing bonus)
- DE Nick Coe: $40,000 ($5,000 signing bonus)
- QB J’Mar Smith: $30,000 ($5,000 signing bonus)
- DT Courtney Wallace: $20,000 ($4,000 signing bonus)
- WR Sean Riley: $15,000 ($5,000 signing bonus)
- QB Brian Lewerke: $2,500 ($2,500 signing bonus)
- WR Jeff Thomas: $2,500 ($2,500 signing bonus)
Teams were allowed to hand out $123,279 in combined signing bonus money this year, according to CBS Sports’ Joel Corry. The Patriots are coming in at $101,500 — well below the threshold.