Veteran interior offensive lineman James Ferentz will be staying put in 2023. The pending free agent and the New England Patriots reached an agreement on a new one-year contract extension through 2023, that will prevent him from hitting the open market next week.
The deal did not come as too big a surprise — in fact, we predicted just this outcome last month. What does it mean from the team’s perspective, though? Let’s find out.
The interior offensive line is a lot more stable than last year. During the 2022 offseason, the Patriots rebuilt their interior O-line by letting left guard Ted Karras leave in free agency and trading right guard Shaq Mason to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; only center David Andrews stayed put. Fast forward 12 months, and the unit is in a different condition: Andrews will be back, as will be last year’s starting guards Cole Strange and Michael Onwenu.
Locking up Ferentz now also insures that the top backup will be in the fold for 2023 (as will be de facto No. 5 Kody Russey). While there is no guarantee the 33-year-old will be IOL4 again — more on that in a second — he offers a baseline level of skill and experience that does have apparent value to the organization.
New England locks up another member of its free agency class. The market is not set to open until next Monday with the so-called legal tampering period preceding free agency proper. However, the Patriots have already taken care of several of their pending FAs — Ferentz being the latest among them.
They previously also re-signed special teams captain Matthew Slater to a one-year pact, and offensive tackle Conor McDermott to a new two-year deal. They also addressed exclusive-rights free agent wide receiver Kristian Wilkerson by releasing him (he has since been claimed off waivers by the Indianapolis Colts).
With Ferentz joining Slater and McDermott on the re-signees list, 17 free agents plus safety Devin McCourty, whose contract will void on Mar. 15, are left to be accounted for.
The Patriots’ salary cap will likely not take too big a hit... Ferentz’s contract history with the Patriots is filled with one-year deals, and his new extension — including a $1.165 million base salary and $200,000 in guarantees — falls into the same category. While the final structure is yet to be revealed, New England’s salary cap will not take too big a hit regardless.
In fact, as a player with more than four credited seasons on his résumé, Ferentz might have received a veteran salary benefit deal yet again. Basically speaking, this would allow the Patriots to reduce his cap hit by treating parts of it as a benefit.
They did the same last year. While Ferentz re-signed on a one-year, $1.08 million deal, his actual salary cap number was just $935,000: only his $40,000 signing bonus plus $895,000 of his $1.04 million salary were counted against the team’s books. The rest was, as mentioned above, a benefit.
...while Ferentz will again not be guaranteed a spot on the team. Entering the 10th season of his NFL career, Ferentz is what he is: a solid “break glass in case of emergency” option along the interior offensive line, but not much more. His potential for growth is virtually non-existent at this stage in his career.
As a consequence of this and his veteran minimum contract Ferentz is no lock to make the 53-man roster this fall. If the team sees some growth out of its younger O-linemen such as Kody Russey or Chasen Hines, or invests additional resources in the form of free agents or draft picks, parting ways with him is an option despite his new extension.
Look no further than 2022 for an example of that. Ferentz re-signed in the offseason on the aforementioned one-year deal, but was released as part of final roster cutdowns. He eventually found his way back to the practice squad and active roster, but his new contract did still not prevent the team from cutting him (and thus exposing him to the rest of the league) in the first place.