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2021 NFL free agency: Signing Jonnu Smith, Matthew Judon costs Patriots only $12 million in cap space this year

Related: Early contract details show how the Patriots are bolstering their middle class

Baltimore Ravens Training Camp Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Based on first reports, the New England Patriots spent more than $200 million in total contractual value on the first day of the legal tampering period alone: they signed seven outside players and also kept two of their in-house free agents in the fold. As always, however, the initially reported numbers show only a fragment of the picture and need more details to be properly assessed.

Those details, at least when it comes to three more of the deals signed by the Patriots early during the legal tampering period, were reported by Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle on Tuesday: the free agency pacts of tight end Jonnu Smith, linebacker Matthew Judon and defensive tackle Davon Godchaux have now been broken down more thoroughly. While not every incentive is known at this point, this builds a foundation to work with.

Miguel Benzan, better known as Pats Cap on Twitter, then went on to outline the three deals in greater detail. Let’s take a look at them.

TE Jonnu Smith: Four years, $49.9 million

  • Salary: $31 million
  • Signing bonus: $15 million
  • Roster bonuses: $3.9 million
  • Cap numbers: $5.69 million (2021), $13.75 million (2022), $14.75 million (2023), $15.75 million (2024)

The first free agent the Patriots signed after the opening of the legal tampering window, Jonnu Smith will have a comparatively small salary cap number of $5.69 million this year. Even though his cap hit will rise significantly the following three years, the financial structure of his deal pretty much makes the 25-year-old a roster lock through the 2023 season: only if he is a post-June 1 trade that year will New England generate more cap savings than dead money by moving on from him before the final year of his pact.

For a more comprehensive breakdown, please take a look at this graphic.

DT Davon Godchaux: Two years, $14.3 million

  • Salary: $7.5 million
  • Signing bonus: $5.5 million
  • Roster bonuses: $1.3 million
  • Cap numbers: $4.06 million (2021), $10.25 million (2022)

As they did with other free agent signings this year, the Patriots kept Godchaux’s salary cap hit in 2021 purposefully low. Next year will be interesting for him and the team, though, given that his cap number will more than double to $10.25 million. While that jump is significant, there is a realistic chance New England will still feel comfortable with that number in a changed league-wide salary cap landscape.

For a more comprehensive breakdown, please take a look at this graphic.

LB Matthew Judon: Four years, $54.4 million

  • Salary: $32.5 million
  • Signing bonus: $18 million
  • Roster bonuses: $1.3 million
  • Cap numbers: $6.38 million (2021), $16.5 million (2022), $16.5 million (2023), $15 million (2024)

As is the case with Jonnu Smith and his similarly structured contract, Matthew Judon’s salary cap number for the 2021 season will also be rather a reasonable one at $6.38 million — seventh highest on the team at the moment. While that number will climb to $16.5 million next season and stay high through the rest of the pact, the expected increase in the league-wide cap will make back-loading the deal a good move from the Patriots’ point of view.

For a more comprehensive breakdown, please take a look at this graphic.

Patriots analysis

The entire league is expecting the salary cap to increase quite a bit once new TV deals are signed, which means that more money will be available after the 2021 season. Seeing the Patriots use their contract structures to reflect this should therefore not be a surprise: they are keeping cap hits low in 2021 before allowing them to increase in future years. This, in turn, allows them to have Smith, Godchaux and Judon under contract at a combined cap hit of just $16.1 million this season.

That said, New England has always structured its deals that way in order to keep maximum flexibility near their end. The difference this year is that the jump between the first two years is at times more significant than in years past.