Jadeveon Clowney would still have been available. The same goes for Damon Harrison, Logan Ryan or Clay Matthews. Taylor Gabriel, Jabaal Sheard and Alec Ogletree also remain unaccounted for. The New England Patriots, however, had different plans in mind: instead of going after star power to fill the vacant spots on their 80-man training camp roster, they decided to do follow a familiar pattern and go bargain shopping.
The Patriots originally had eight open spots to fill after a series of players opt-outs due to the Coronavirus pandemic, and north of $35 million in salary cap space to operate with. While the resources would have been sufficient to invest in big-name talent, Bill Belichick and company had a different plan in mind by either bringing back some of their undrafted rookie free agents or by adding depth at comparatively minimal cost.
A look at the eight players brought aboard to fill the opt-out spots as well as their respective 2020 salary cap hits illustrates this:
- WR Will Hastings: $610,000
- QB Brian Lewerke: $610,000
- WR Isaiah Zuber: $610,000
- CB Michael Jackson: $675,000
- TE Jordan Leggett*: $825,000**
- DT Darius Kilgo*: $825,000**
- RB Lamar Miller*: TBD
- C Tyler Gauthier*: $675,000**
*not yet officially announced by the team
**projection via Miguel Benzan
While no details about Lamar Miller’s one-year deal with the club are available as of Tuesday morning, the expectation is that the 29-year-old will not break the bank. While he was able to surpass 1,000 yards from scrimmage in five of his last six seasons, Miller also is coming off a torn ACL that cost him his entire 2019 campaign. The value of his contract with the Patriots will likely reflect his injury and age — and the fact that he remained an unrestricted free agent for almost five months.
When his deal is officially announced, though, Miller should become the third player of the eight listed above to actually count against the team’s books for the moment under the NFL’s top-51 rule: only Jordan and Darius Kilgo, whose signings are not yet official either, will earn enough to push other players off the list. The combined salary cap impact by those brought aboard to fill the roster spots previously held by the likes of Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, and company is therefore limited.
As a result, the Patriots still have $33.43 million to work with. While a portion of that could theoretically still be used on contractual expenses and free agents, the expectation is that New England will address in-season expenses with that money and roll a significant portion over to the 2021 offseason — one that could see the salary cap stay stagnant or even decrease due to the financial impact Covid-19 will have on the league’s revenue.