The former Detroit Lions second-round draft pick, who is in his second season with the Patriots, has played some solid football for the organization this year. Seeing it locking him up for the foreseeable future at a reported cost of $4.4 million does therefore not come as too big a surprise.
What does the deal mean from a New England point of view, though? Let’s take a closer look at it to find out.
New England feels confident in his development: Tavai has developed nicely since arriving in New England in September 2021, and he is now a starter-level member of the Patriots defense. His new contract extension is a sign that the team feels that he will continue playing a valuable role moving forward, be it on defense or special teams.
The top two off-ball linebackers are now under contract beyond 2022: With Tavai now signed for the next two seasons, the Patriots have their current top two at the off-the-ball linebacker position signed beyond this year. Ja’Whaun Bentley is under contract through 2023, with Tavai locked up through 2024 now.
The two other off-ball ‘backers used by the Patriots this season, on the other hand, are headed for unrestricted free agency: Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan, who are the third and fourth options in terms of playing time, are both in need of new deals. They are still scheduled to enter unrestricted fee agency in March.
Additionally, the team has three linebackers on its practice squad that will have to be signed to reserve/futures deals once the season is over: Jamie Collins, Cameron McGrone and Calvin Munson.
Their list of UFAs-to-be decreases by one: With Tavai no longer headed for the open market, the Patriots have 17 players remaining on their list of unrestricted free agents-to-be. While most of those should be relatively easy re-signings, it also includes some important members of the team who could cash in once made available to other clubs.
The big names are wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor, running back Damien Harris, offensive tackles Isaiah Wynn and Yodny Cajuste, cornerback Jonathan Jones, and core special teamers Matthew Slater and Joe Cardona. Additionally, safety Devin McCourty will see his contract void on the first day of the 2023 league year.
Linebacker remains a potential draft target: Despite Tavai now being in the fold for two additional seasons, the Patriots will not just punt on the linebacker position in the draft. After all, the need to get younger and faster on defense remains, especially considering that both Mack Wilson and Raekwon McMillan — two of the faster players the team has at the position — are not guaranteed to be brought back.
How big of a need the position really will turn out to be will be seen over the coming weeks and months, but Tavai signing a new deal should not have too big an impact on New England’s long-term plans in that area.
Their 2023/24 cap will only be minimally impacted...: As noted above, Tavai’s deal is for $4.4 million. Further details will have to become available to make any definitive judgement how it will impact the Patriots’ books the next two seasons, but given that reported values are typically on the upper end of the actual cost associated with a deal we can say with some confidence that his cap impact will be limited.
...and their 2022 cap as well: New England gave Tavai an $850,000 signing bonus, per a report by ESPN’s Mike Reiss, and it will be split up over 2023 and 2024 seasons as well as the remainder of his 2022 contract. Accordingly, the team’s current salary cap number will be decreasing by $283,000 plus an additional $100,000 from incentives from his previous deal.
As a result, New England is now left with only $557,350 in cap space according to Miguel Benzan.