The New England Patriots’ 2021 offseason projects to be a pivotal one that could shape the organization for years to come. Not only will the Patriots try to return to playoff contention after a disappointing 7-9 campaign, they also will have to find a long-term solution at the quarterback position after struggling mightily in Year One after Hall of Famer Tom Brady.
Along the way, New England will also have to re-sign parts of its big free agency class. A total of 23 players is currently headed for the open market, including offensive linemen David Andrews and Joe Thuney, running back James White, defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler, and cornerback Jason McCourty. Also on that list is New England’s starting quarterback of the 2020 season, Cam Newton.
Add it all up, and one can see that Bill Belichick and the rest of the organization’s front office have plenty of work to do over the coming weeks and months.
In order to do that, salary cap space and draft picks are of the utmost importance. Luckily for the Patriots, their offseason capital compares well to the rest of the league — and the following breakdown helps illustrate that.
Salary cap space
According to the number one source for Patriots salary cap breakdowns, Miguel Benzan, the team currently is projected to have $63,973,455 available when calculated against a projected salary cap of $180.5 million. New England is therefore among the league leaders in available financial resources: only three other clubs have more money to operate with at the moment than the Patriots.
With the salary cap projected to decrease significantly compared to 2020’s threshold of $198.2 million, New England is in a comparatively comfortable position. Other teams, as this list based on Over the Cap’s calculations, shows that 12 teams are beyond the spending ceiling at the moment:
As for the Patriots, they will need every dollar they can get considering that they a) have plenty of players headed for free agency, and b) will have to rebuild a roster with numerous holes on both sides of the ball. $64 million is plenty of money to work with, though, and New England could add even more cap space in case of some potential personnel moves.
Parting ways with right tackle Marcus Cannon after his 2020 opt-out, for example, would create savings of roughly $6.3 million against the cap. Furthermore, extending or trading cornerback Stephon Gilmore would also help bring his current cap number of $16.3 million down. The two are the most prominent but not the only players who could be seen as options to increase the Patriots’ cap room.
All in all, New England is in good financial shape after the 2020 offseason was a struggle in that regard. In fact, the team will have its most salary cap space available since 2017.
Back then, of course, the Patriots made one of the biggest splashes in free agency by signing star cornerback Stephon Gilmore to a five-year, $65 million free agency pact. The team also acquired defensive tackle Lawrence Guy (4/$20M) and extended both linebacker Dont’a Hightower (4/$43.5M) and safety Duron Harmon (4/$17M). Given the current state of New England’s roster, a similar level of activity should be expected this spring.
The Patriots picked near the bottom of the draft for much of the last two decades, but they are in a different position this year: after missing the playoffs in 2020, they are now scheduled to select 15th overall in late April. Including three projected compensatory picks coming from last year’s free agency — a number that could theoretically still jump to four — New England currently owns 10 selections this year:
- Round 1: No. 15
- Round 2: No. 46
- Round 3: No. 96*
- Round 4: No. 119*
- Round 4: No. 138*
- Round 4: No. 144*
- Round 5: No. 158*
- Round 6: No. 193*
- Round 6: No. 196*
- Round 7: No. 240*
*still subject to change until the official draft order is announced
Using Rich Hill’s draft value chart, we can calculate that the Patriots’ draft portfolio has a combined value of 555 points. For comparison, New England had just 405 points available last year. And after ranking 23rd in value, the team has now climbed up all the way to the 14th spot in the NFL:
While the Patriots are in the middle of the pack in terms of total draft value, holding the 15th overall selection and having other assets at their disposal gives them plenty of flexibility — from moving up and down the board to possibly adding some high-end prospects that can make a difference from Day One on. For a team in need to improve on both offense and defense, this kind of flexibility can be key.
Combined offseason resources
If we combine each team’s available cap space and draft value, we can see that the Patriots are in a good overall position: they are fourth in cap space, but have more draft capital than the third-ranked Indianapolis Colts and are coming off far better seasons than the 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars and the 2-14 New York Jets:
The Patriots’ cap space is the key to their offseason approach this year, but they still have some solid resources available in the draft as well. All in all, they can certainly feel good about where they are currently at from this perspective — something that was not the case one year ago, when the team had to suffer some noteworthy losses through the open market.