So, the New England Patriots have signed Cam Newton. People are justifiably excited considering that the former NFL MVP signed for a comparatively low one-year deal worth a maximum of $7.5 million. Lost in the excitement though, is the fact that the pact puts further pressure on a Patriots salary cap situation that was already bad: signing Newton may not force the team to make an immediate follow-up move — his eventual cap number could be as low as $1.05 million — but New England still cannot afford to head into the regular season with less than $1 million in salary cap space available.
With that said, here are three possible ways the team could clear some cap space to create more financial wiggle room after adding the 31-year-old quarterback.
Extend or trade guard Joe Thuney
Thuney signed his franchise tender shortly after the Patriots placed it on him, meaning that he is currently essentially playing under a one-year, $14.8 million contract. It makes little sense for the Patriots to keep Thuney at that number, especially with the cap issues they are currently having. The 27-year-old has proven to be a fantastic player, and an important piece of the offensive line, so losing him would really hurt.
The problem is that they have had time to negotiate with him on an extension and if they are as far apart as the reports suggest, why would there be optimism they could bring him back next season? If he was moved before the deadline to sign players under the franchise tag, July 15th, it would make a lot of sense for them to do it. There’s an outside chance they could work out a deal, and that would be the best-case option because him playing under the tag this season would put plenty of stress on the cap and not guarantee a return next year
Extend cornerback Stephon Gilmore
Gilmore has two years left on his contract, and, after having cap charges of under $10 million for each of the last three seasons, will count $18.7 million and $19.7 million against the cap in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Coming off a season in which he was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, combined with the fact that he is only 29, he appears to be a prime candidate for a contract extension.
Tack a few more years on at the back of the deal, give him a nice signing bonus spread out over its duration, and lower his cap hit fo create a little more flexibility.
Extend (or trade) linebacker Dont’a Hightower
I would like to go on record as saying I am 100 percent against trading Hightower, but people talk about moving on from him, so it’s at least in the realm of possibilities. Hightower is going into the final year of his contract, and his cap charge for the season is $12.4 million. With a dead cap number of only $2.5 million, they would get a ton of cap relief by trading him. Obviously, however, their defense — one that already saw the departures of Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins earlier this offseason — would suffer quite a bit if the team captain gets moved.
Signing him to an extension, therefore, would probably make a lot more sense from New England’s perspective. Heading into the season at age 30, a two- or three-year deal added to the current one would probably make him a Patriot for life, and give the club some cap relief to operate with during the season.
In my opinion, these are the three most likely scenarios to be tackled by the Patriots. Of course, they are probably going to cut tackle Marcus Cannon or something like that instead, but, they do make the most sense to me. I would be excited about any extension, but I would also understand a Thuney trade for the right price. A Hightower trade would gut me, so let’s hope that isn’t even in consideration. Whatever the move is, expect New England to do something between now and early September to improve their miserable financial situation — and to put the bet possible team around Cam Newton.
Pat is a host of the Patriot Nation Podcast
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