The Patriot’s do not have a lot of money to work with this offseason.
According to ESPN Boston’s projections, they have a $4.1 million rollover from 2013 and currently have $123.8 million tied up in their roster (plus or minus about $2 million after the draft). With NFL salary cap projections set at about $126-130 million and the Patriots current rollover, they would have about $7-10 million to spend on new players as stands.
That number can and should change, which can be done in two ways: restructuring contracts and releasing players.
The first way to do this is by restructuring Vince Wilfork’s deal. He is currently due $11.6 Million on the books for next season. After being injured for most of last year, he does not have a lot of leverage in negotiations. It may be in Wilfork’s best interest to restructure his deal if he wishes to stay in New England. If they release him, they would get $8 Million back to use on other potential free agents. And since they played without Wilfork for most of the season, they learned how to win without him.
Despite this, the Patriots want Wilfork back because he is one of the premier Defensive Tackles in the league and a game changer. Expect both sides to work together and get a deal done that will save the Patriots $1-3 million this season.
If Wilfork restructures his deal, look to release Tommy Kelly in favor of Chris Jones, Joe Vallano, and Sealver Siliga who all exceeded expectations in the absence of Kelly and Wilfork. Those three players are all also due under $600 thousand this seasons. Kelly’s cap hit would be over $2.6 million (more than the three of them combined) and cutting him would save the team $2.15 million. Although he is a proven veteran, with the Patriots depth at Defensive Tackle, Kelly is not needed.
Another Nose Tackle, Isaac Sopoaga, is a player they should look to release. They signed him to fill up room in the middle when Wilfork went down. Unfortunately, he ended up being a huge bust. He is due $3.5 million this year, and if he is cut, it will save the Patriots $2.5 million. For a guy who would see very limited playing time this season, this would be an easy way to save money.
Adrian Wilson is another guy who is in a similar situation. The Patriots signed him last year with hopes he would emerge as the hard-hitting safety they have been looking for since Rodney Harrison, but early in the pre-season, fans saw this wasn’t going to be the case. He barely made it out of the preseason, and ended up spending the regular season on injured reserve. It is very unlikely he comes back next year—and if they cut him, they will save almost $1.2 million.
Another move would be to cut Dan Connolly. According to the Bleacher Report, this is almost a no-brainer. Connolly is due almost $4 million dollars this next season, despite his average performance. The Patriots have a lot of offensive line depth, and with Volmer coming back, Cannon playing strong, and the draft coming up, I would not be surprised to see Connolly get cut pending Ryan Wendell’s situation. This would save the Patriots $3 million towards the cap.
The Patriots could also save a couple million by restructuring Logan Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski’s giant contracts. Both players were pro-bowlers last season, so they have little incentive to take less money in 2014. However, if the Patriots were to extend their deals and backload their contracts, they could save maybe $2 million on this season books, so expect the Patriots to do so.
The Patriots will also save money by cutting guys come draft time and picking up undrafted free agents (with rookie contracts of $420 thousand) to fill in the role. For example, it would be unlikely to see guys like D.J. Williams left on the roster come next season. The Patriots should be able to find another $1 million though this method.
And finally, the Patriots can save money depending on their offseason plans. If they plan to sign one of the many big named free agent safeties on the market like Donte Whitner, Chris Clemons, Jarius Byrd, or T.J Ward, they could release Gregory to free up some money to make the deals.
In a perfect world, the Patriots should be looking at around $22-24 million they can spend on free agents. NESN also did a similar estimate stating the Patriots should have about $15-30 million to spend. They may be entitled to more if the NFL lets them free (or partially free) of Hernandez’s $8 million of dead cap space. As I’ve mentioned in my previous articles ( Why the Patriots need to re-sign Aqib Talib and Re-signing Edelman is a must for Patriots) most of the money should be spent on Talib and Edelman, or a player with similar value. They also need to find another center or interior lineman. After those contracts, they should still have a little money left over. In my next article, I will tell you how I think the Patriots should allocate the rest of that money. But given that figure, let me know how you would spend it in the comments below.