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New Orleans Saints v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The New England Patriots made their first major move of the offseason on Monday. The team released veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy one year into the two-year, $12 million contract he singed last March.

The move, which has already been made official by the team, will likely not be the last of its kind made between now and the start of free agency on March 16. Time will tell what else the Patriots will do, but for now let’s focus on Van Noy’s release and how it impacts the club moving forward.

The Patriots almost double their salary cap space

While he was coming off a solid season, Van Noy’s $7.39 million salary cap hit for the 2022 season was a definitive problem. The Patriots, after all, were in a tight cap situation entering this week, and have a long list of free agents in need of new contracts.

As noted above, more cap-creating moves are expected to follow. As for Van Noy’s, meanwhile, it almost doubles the Patriots’ available resources: the team created $4.294 million in gross cap savings, with a net of $4.23 million. According to Miguel Benzan, it is now $9.54 million under the cap.

While releasing him also puts $2.45 million into the dead money column, the move gives New England more financial wiggle room with nine days to go until the start of free agency.

New England loses some experienced depth

A look at the post-Van Noy depth chart at the linebacker position shows that releasing the 30-year-old puts some pressure on the Patriots’ edge group:

Edge linebackers: Matthew Judon, Kyle Van Noy, Josh Uche, Chase Winovich, Ronnie Perkins

Move linebackers: Dont’a Hightower*, Jamie Collins Sr.*

Off-the-ball linebackers: Ja’Whaun Bentley*, Raekwon McMillan, Anfernee Jennings, Cameron McGrone, Harvey Langi, Jahlani Tavai, Terez Hall

*unrestricted free agents

Van Noy was a starter-level defender for the Patriots in 2021, and the team will needs its young guard to step up to replace him (more on that in a second). Furthermore, his release could be just the first of a series of major changes at the linebacker position: Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins and Ja’Whaun Bentley are all set to become unrestricted free agents next week.

There is a realistic chance that New England’s linebacker group will look drastically different in 2022.

The team’s young guard needs to step up

Van Noy was on the field for 76.1 percent of the Patriots’ defensive snaps in 2021, second among the front-line defenders behind Matthew Judon. Needless to say that his release creates a sizable hole — one that likely has to be filled by the young players on the roster: Josh Uche, Chase Winovich and Ronnie Perkins.

All three were selected on the second day of the draft and with the expectations of taking over prominent roles at one point in the future: Uche was selected in Round 2 in 2020, while Winovich and Perkins were picked in the third rounds in 2019 and 2021, respectively. So far, however, the three youngsters have to leave a significant mark on the team.

Last season, for example, saw Uche and Winovich play only 21.3 and 10 percent of defensive snaps. Perkins was essentially on a redshirt year and has yet to participate in an NFL game.

The experienced depth ahead of them put them in a difficult spot, but with Van Noy now gone the door is open for one of the three to walk through and take over a starting role. Uche appears to be the leading candidate based on his upside and experience in the system, but Perkins cannot be counted out either after playing some impressive football at the University of Oklahoma.

Regardless of who takes over, however, one thing is clear: the Patriots need to finally see some production out of their young edge linebackers.

Van Noy will not factor into the compensatory draft picks formula

With free agency coming up a lot of the talk will be about compensatory draft choices: the league awards these picks to compensate teams for losing players in free agency; each club can earn four extra selections in the following year’s draft through this process.

Van Noy, however, will not factor into it. Why? Only players entering free agency because of an expired contract are counted as part of the compensatory formula. Since Van Noy was released, however, he will not be included.