Last Wednesday, the NFL officially left 2020 behind to turn its calendar to the 2021 league year. This meant not just that free agency and the trading period officially began, but also that the 32 clubs had to abide the top-51 salary cap rules: a team’s 51 most expensive contracts combined would have to fit under the $182.5 million spending cap.
As opposed to other teams that were hurt by the cap being set significantly lower than last season’s, the New England Patriots had no issues in this area. Even after being the most aggressive team in football during the 52-hour legal tampering period leading up to the new league year, they still had around $30.5 million to operate with on March 17th.
That number was not meant to last, however. Signing additional outside free agents such as Kyle Van Noy, and retaining in-house options like center David Andrews and, most recently, running back James White brought it down quite a bit.
Add the re-worked contract for trade acquisition Trent Brown and New England is left with only a fraction of the cap space it entered the new league year let alone the legal tampering period with.
According to Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan, the Patriots have roughly $11.547 million in cap space as of Wednesday afternoon. That number includes all of the team’s reported transactions at this point in time except the still not officially processed retirement of safety Patrick Chung (a move that could increase or decrease the cap depending on when it is filed).
All in all, New England invested $78.5 million in salary cap space since starting its spending spree with the Brown trade earlier this month. That number is substantial and pushed the Patriots from their top-three rank in cap space: after entering the legal tampering window among the most financially potent teams in the league — only the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Jets had more resources available — they are currently only ranked 15th in a league-wide comparison.
Is this a reason to worry, though? No.
For one, the Patriots can create additional salary cap space by releasing top-51 players like tight end Matt LaCosse, fullback Danny Vitale or defensive tackle Akeem Spence. They could optionally also decide to trade star cornerback Stephon Gilmore, even though such a move would naturally weaken the backend of their defense.
Drastic measures such as a Gilmore trade are not needed, though, given that New England is not in a bad financial spot despite its heavy spending over the last few days. After all, as Miguel recently pointed out on social media, the Patriots have had an average of $9.2 million in cap space entering free agency over the last eight years (excluding the Coronavirus opt-out aftermath of 2020).
Even with the draft class commanding around $3.2 million in cap space as the picks are currently distributed, 2021 will be in line with previous years in that regard:
- 2013: $10 million
- 2014: $6 million
- 2015: $8.9 million
- 2016: $8.9 million
- 2017: $14.1 million
- 2018: $8.9 million
- 2019: $7.5 million
- 2020: $33.4 million*
*including eight Coronavirus opt-outs
The Patriots had plenty of money to spend heading into free agency, and they sure did just that. While some contracts given out by them have been a bit more hotly debated than others, there is no denying Bill Belichick and company used their available resources to build a team that is in a far better spot today than it was before free agency.
If you want to show support for Miguel’s work, please click here to donate to his chosen charity, the Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity.