When all was said and done, and the dust had settled on the 2021 NFL Draft, the New England Patriots welcomed eight new players to the fold. While they all still remain unsigned as of Thursday afternoon, the rookie wage scale that was introduced by the league in 2011 creates a pretty-straight forward situation when speaking about their contracts and salary cap impact.
While some negotiation still has to happen before a deal is signed, the framework is already very much in place. As a result of this, we also already have a good understanding of how much money it will eventually cost New England to sign its eight drafted rookies.
So, what is it? As the following graphic by Patriots salary cap expert Miguel Benzan illustrates, the team will have to calculate with roughly $3.19 million to gets its draft class signed:
As can be seen, there is a significant difference between the first two players drafted by the team — first-round quarterback Mac Jones and second-round defensive tackle Christian Barmore — and the rest of the class. Obviously their cap impacts are higher to begin with due to their draft statuses, but they also fall under the Top 51 rule: only a team’s 51 most expensive contracts are counted against a team’s salary cap during the offseason.
While Jones and Barmore qualify and are bumping two other players from the Top 51 list, the other six draft picks do not. What does this mean, though?
As the graphic above shows, the entirety of the Jones and Barmore contracts will be counted versus New England’s cap once signed. The deals for Ronnie Perkins, Rhamondre Stevenson and the other draft selections, meanwhile, will have only their signing bonus prorations hit the books.
The same is obviously also true for free agency signings. Whether they are veterans or rookies such as recently signed kicker Quinn Nordin, they have to make the Top 51 or at least be handed a signing bonus in order to change New England’s cap number during the offseason.
This will all change once the Top 51 rule expires on roster cutdown day in September — at that point point all 53 active players plus those on injured reserve and practice squads will be counted. For now, however, it limits the impact the Patriots’ draft class will have on the salary cap. And given that they are currently $15.5 million under the spending threshold, they have plenty of room to fit them all in and account for any future adjustments as well.