The first half of their season being in the books gives us an opportunity to take stock of the New England Patriots and where they currently finds themselves. That is true from a performance perspective, as well as a financial one: with their 10 pre-bye games already played, and only seven more to go this year, we are now able to look at which players are in position to earn their contract incentives in 2023.
Miguel Benzan, friend of Pats Pulpit and the No. 1 source for Patriots salary cap information, posted a breakdown of where things currently stand. Let’s expand a bit further.
On pace to earn full incentives
The following players have played enough snaps for the Patriots through the first 10 weeks of the season to meet their thresholds if able to keep up the pace:
- S Jabrill Peppers: Playing-time incentives ($1M)
- LB Jahlani Tavai: Playing-time incentives ($1M)
Of the 22 players who have some sort of incentive in their contract, only two are on pace to earn the full amount. Jabrill Peppers and Jahlani Tavai have been crucial to the Patriots’ defensive operation, and two of the best players on this side of the ball. Their playing-time shares look the part: Peppers and Tavai have been on the field for 94.5 and 72.1 percent of defensive snaps, respectively.
On pace to earn partial incentives
The following players have not done enough to meet all the escalators in their respective contracts. However, they are on pace to earn parts of the incentives in their deals:
- OT Trent Brown: Playing-time incentives ($750k of $6.25M)
- DT Lawrence Guy Sr.: Playing-time incentives ($2.25M of $3.5M)
- LB Mack Wilson Sr.: Playing-time incentives ($200k of $600k)
- DE Deatrich Wise Jr.: Playing-time incentives ($1M of $2M)
Whereas starting left tackle Trent Brown has missed time due to injury this season, he would play close to 100 percent of offensive snaps under normal circumstances. So far, he only stands at 67.2 percent, which has impacted his ability to earn the full incentive amount in his contract.
The other three players listed here, on the other hand, are all rotational options. Interior defensive linemen Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise Jr. are regular parts of that rotation, having played 50.2 and 65.8 percent of snaps so far, but their output is still not enough to earn them all of their contract incentives.
Mack Wilson, meanwhile, is probably feeling good about where he is at. Not only is he a core special teamer (66.2%), he also has seen regular snaps as a third linebacker behind Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai; as such, he has played 25.3 percent of snaps through 10 weeks.
Not on pace or unable to earn incentives
The following players are either not on pace to earn any incentives, or unable to do so because of injury. They are the vast majority of players mentioned here:
- OT Calvin Anderson (IR): Playing-time incentives
- LB Chris Board: Playing-time incentives
- WR Kendrick Bourne (IR): Receiving yards/receptions incentives
- LS Joe Cardona: Playoff appearance incentive
- DT Daniel Ekuale (IR): Playing-time incentives
- RB Ezekiel Elliott: Scrimmage yards/playing-time incentives
- OL James Ferentz (PS): Playing-time incentives
- TE Mike Gesicki: Receiving yards/receptions incentives
- ED Matthew Judon (IR): Playing-time incentives
- LB Raekwon McMillan (IR): Playing-time incentives
- S Jalen Mills: Playing-time incentives
- RB/WR Ty Montgomery II: Playing-time incentives
- WR DeVante Parker: Receiving yards/receptions/playing-time incentives
- S Adrian Phillips: Playing-time incentives
- OL Riley Reiff (IR-D): Playing-time incentives
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster: Receiving yards incentives
Also not in a position to earn any incentives are running back James Robinson and defensive lineman Trey Flowers, both of whom have been released by the team.
This portion of the list can be seen as a reflection of the issues that have plagued the Patriots so far this season, with players either missing time because of injury and/or failing to live up to expectations. The first category is occupied, among others, by wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who had been on pace to earn $1.25 million of a possible $1.5 million before a torn ACL ended his season.
The second group features players such as tight end Mike Gesicki or safety Adrian Phillips, who have played only minor roles relative to their contractual goals so far. Those who belong in both categories, meanwhile, are headed by wide receivers: DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster both had to sit out games because of injury, but also did not provide much of a boost to the team’s struggling offense even when healthy.
As a result of all those factors, roughly $43.9 million of up to $51.63 million in incentives — 85.1 percent — is currently considered unlikely or impossible to be earned:
My current categorization of the likelihood of the Patriots incentives being earned this season pic.twitter.com/jic7JhtrSR— Miguel Benzan Patriots Cap Space is 1,942,016 (@patscap) November 13, 2023
The NFL differentiates between likely to be earned (LTBE) and not likely to be earned (NLTBE) incentives, depending on what a player had been able to do the previous year. If a wide receiver caught 50 passes, for example, every incentive set below that mark would fall into the LTBE category and count against that year’s salary cap; everything above is NLTBE and would hit the cap depending on whether those goals are reached.
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