The New England Patriots have already made some cap-clearing moves this offseason. They traded Shaq Mason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and restructured the contract of defensive lineman Henry Anderson, and also saved some money by signing Devin McCourty to a new one-year contract before the start of free agency.
However, they are not done yet. Why can this be said with such confidence? Simply because the Patriots have to create more cap space if they want to keep operating throughout the offseason.
Their reported trade for Miami Dolphins wide receiver DeVante Parker already forces New England to make some follow-up transactions. Unless the two years remaining on Parker’s contract were altered in any way, New England needs to create almost $900,000 in additional cap space to fit him in.
Add the fact that the draft class needs to be signed as well, and the Patriots are looking at almost $3.8 million in additional cap space that has to be created even with the top-51 rule in place. The question therefore becomes how they will do it.
We already looked at some potential moves before the start of free agency, so let’s revisit three weeks into the NFL’s 2022 league year. In order to do that, we are using this table created by salary cap expert Miguel Benzan.
Obviously, this list includes only transactions that are deemed as realistic. Cutting a player like wide receiver Kendrick Bourne would create considerable savings, for example, but such a move will not happen to create cap space. Likewise, one player might fall into more than one category but the list below features only our best guesses as to what might transpire over the coming days or weeks.
S Cody Davis: Davis led the Patriots in special teams tackles last season, but his return is no guarantee. Not only is he carrying a $2.3 million salary cap charge, he also might be partly at fault for the team’s struggles in punt protection last year: as the personal protector, Davis is responsible for setting the blocking. On his watch, New England allowed a league-high three punts to get blocked. | Net cap savings: $975,000 | Dead money: $500,000
WR Nelson Agholor: On the surface, the DeVante Parker trade is bad news for Nelson Agholor’s outlook. However, there is an argument to be made that a contract extension might be a more realistic outcome than a release or trade: cutting Agholor would save only roughly more money while also creating a $10 million dead cap number; trading him would solve those issues but it seems unlikely a team would be willing to give up assets to take on the 28-year-old. | Net cap savings: $3.94 million | Dead money: --
P Jake Bailey: The Patriots could make the surprising move and either cut or trade Bailey to save $3.16 million versus a minimal dead cap charge ($72,520), but it depends on how they view his most recent performance compared to his 2020 All-Pro season. If they think the more inconsistent 2021 was an outlier, Bailey will likely stay put and is a candidate to see a new deal come his way. If not, a release or trade is indeed an option. For our purposes, however, we are going with the first scenario. | Net cap savings: $2.41 million | Dead money: --
WR Kendrick Bourne: Signing players to extensions is putting more pressure on the 2023 payroll, but it would make sense in a lot of cases — especially considering that the Patriots did not sign any big-money free agents this year. Kendrick Bourne is therefore among those extension candidates. He made an immediate impact in Year 1 as a Patriot, establishing himself as one of quarterback Mac Jones’ favorite targets and a popular locker room presence. Bourne will not be going anywhere in 2022; in fact, adding another year to his deal would make sense. | Net cap savings: $1.8 million | Dead money: --
DT Davon Godchaux: Another player added last offseason who can be seen as a candidate for an extension, Godchaux played a starter-level role along New England’s defensive line in 2021. However, he is already entering the final season of the two-year pact he signed with the Patriots last March. Taking care of the 27-year-old at this point in time looks like a good move that also will clear some cap space. | Net cap savings: $2.7 million | Dead money: --
TE Hunter Henry: Henry delivered an impressive first season after signing a three-year, $37.5 million contract last March — a contract that includes a $15 million cap hit this year. Signing Henry to an extension might help bring that number down, and give the Patriots more financial flexibility while keeping him under contract for three (or more) instead of two additional seasons. | Net cap savings: $5 million | Dead money: --
LB Matthew Judon: Converting parts of Judon’s non-guaranteed $11 million salary into a fully-guaranteed signing bonus spread out over the remaining three years of his contract was already seen as the most realistic move on this list ahead of free agency, and little has changed since. After all, it would be an easy way to save the Patriots considerable cap space. In fact, the conversion alone would be enough to pay for DeVante Parker, the draft class and additional expenses. | Net cap savings: $6.64 million | Dead money: --
DB Jalen Mills: Mills and his $4.5 million salary are in the same position as Matthew Judon. The salary-to-signing bonus conversion would be pushing the can down the road by increasing New England’s payroll in both 2023 and 2024, but with the cap expected to keep increasing by a significant amount over the next few years such a move would not necessarily be a short-sighted one. | Net cap savings: $2.31 million | Dead money: --
WR N’Keal Harry: Harry’s days with the Patriots are numbered, not just because DeVante Parker was just added to the equation. The question is how the inevitable breakup will happen. From New England’s perspective a trade is the most favorable option because it would create more net cap savings ($1.17 million) than a release ($493,111). That said, it always takes two to tango and finding a partner willing to give up assets to take on the talented but thus far underwhelming wideout is no guarantee. | Net cap savings: $1.17 million | Dead money: $1.34 million
QB Jarrett Stidham: With Mac Jones firmly entrenched as the starting quarterback and with fellow backup Brian Hoyer re-signed on a two-year contract, the odds of Stidham getting traded are high. Sending the former fourth-round pick elsewhere will likely not yield the same return, but anything is better than a straight-up release from a compensation perspective — especially because the cap implications would be the same. | Net cap savings: $140,000 | Dead money: $159,028
CB Joejuan Williams: A second-round pick just three years ago, Williams was listed in the “roster cuts” category ahead of free agency. With J.C. Jackson having left for Los Angeles and no significant reinforcements brought aboard in free agency, however, holding onto him might make sense unless a trade can be worked out. Finding a willing partner will not be easy, though. | Net cap savings: $573,636 | Dead money: $709,846
The Patriots, as noted above, are in dire need of some additional resources. They have multiple options to accomplish that goal, with Matthew Judon in particular being a player to watch: converting his salary into a signing bonus would create significant cap space without any follow-up moves needed.
Considering that such conversions can oftentimes be a unilateral decision — i.e. the Patriots would not have to enter contract talks with Judon’s camp to do it — it would be the easiest move to create space for the next major items on the to-do list: finishing the DeVante Parker trade, signing the draft picks qualifying for top-51 status, and making additional moves either in free agency or on the trade market.
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