Friday Bag: What will Patriots do with all the cap space they'll have in 2017?

Friday Bag: What will Patriots do with all the cap space they'll have in 2017?

FOXBORO -- Every Friday Tom E. Curran, Mike Giardi and Phil Perry will take your Patriots questions on Twitter and answer them as a joint mailbag -- or a Friday Bag, as they call it. 

Got questions? Tweet the guys using the hashtag #FridayBag. But for now, have at this week's Bag while you put a dent in your couch and pick away at whatever's leftover from yesterday's feast.

TC: Tremendous question, Chris. The team will certainly make efforts to retain, in my opinion, Dont'a Hightower, Malcolm Butler, Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, James Develin, Marcus Cannon, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. We’ll see on Barkevious Mingo and Chris Long. Jabaal Sheard and Alan Branch don’t figure to be high-priority guys at this juncture. The best corner on the market is Trumaine Johnson of the Rams and Browns wideout Terrelle Pryor is also up after the year. So are Jamie Collins and Chandler Jones. Just pointing that out . . .

TC: As in a not-very-good player, Mike? He’s a sixth-round rookie that’s played seven games. He’s going to get picked on in coverage because he’s short, but he can improve there and likely will. I’d have him watch every single snap that Zach Thomas took in Miami and see if he can’t model his game after that similarly-sized player. The game’s changed since Thomas -- a fifth-rounder from Texas Tech in 1996 -- was great, but that would be a high-ceiling comparison. Who knows what he’ll become but the 6-foot-2 Guyton and 6-foot-3 Alexander were much different types of linebackers.

TC: It’s a mix. I don’t think the defense as a whole has been playing its best. I think most people would be in agreement. The offensive styles of the teams they’ve faced have led to them playing a style that isn’t suited to make them look good. They’ve not made a lot of impact plays as a group – sacks, picks, forced fumbles – but their red-zone defense when the field compresses has continued to be something they can point to as evidence they’re achieving their ultimate aims in preventing points. Within the scheme, there are plays to be made, though, and guys haven’t done it. So that’s on players. There are communication and technique misses and then – in the cases of Sheard and Collins – there are cases of players that clearly weren’t able to do what the coaching staff wanted them to do for whatever reasons. That’s got to be on both sides.

TC: I don’t know if they’re the best or not, but there’s probably no team in the league they wouldn’t be favored against this weekend on a neutral field. They lost one game since Brady’s been back, and they were on the goal line against a very good team when the thing ended. There was the late Edelman fumble and some awful defense played on two of the Baldwin touchdowns. Fixable issues. They’ll be better than they’ve been.

TC: I would say 6:15 a.m.

TC: The Jets were not going to be denied when it came to re-signing Revis. The Patriots weren’t a true stalking horse since they pushed away from the table once they realized the landscape, but they were – along with several other teams – after Revis’ services. The Jets offer blew everyone else away and it came early. But they knew it had to be big and it was.

TC: Absolutely. Matt Patricia is a really smart guy, well-respected by other coaches and – among the players I speak with – very well-liked. Prior to SB49, Matt Chatham said, "Matt Patricia has every bit as much to do with the Patriots defensive success as anyone in Foxboro. What plays teams run with their players, how well they’re prepared to execute those plays, and when specifically to call them . . . that’s what it’s all about. Your puppet won’t work without a great puppeteer." The defense is still trying to figure out a number of things – including personnel – at a later-than-normal juncture of the season. Guys haven’t played at the level they expected. If he’s responsible for the successes, he’s responsible for the failures as well. That’s the way it’s worked for several decades.

PP: Tom must be bored on his Friday. The guy clearly can't get enough Here's what we know on Branch. He's appealing, and until that appeal is heard -- and until that appeal has been denied -- he will be eligible to play. Appeals are typically heard on the fourth Tuesday following issuance of the notice of discipline, per the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. However, hearings can be rescheduled if both sides are in agreement that a change in date is for the better. Branch might push for an earlier hearing to ensure that his playoff eligibility is not endangered. We're working on figuring out exactly where things stand with this particular situation at the moment. 

PP: We've received a lot of great feedback on Episode 77 of Quick Slants the Podcast with Jerod Mayo. He was incredibly candid in discussing what it's like to play for Bill Belichick, how captains factor into the coach-to-player lines of communication, and how the new generation of athletes are too concerned about what's happening on Twitter. All good stuff. Give it a listen if you haven't already. That's right up there with my favorites of all time. (We have some very good ones that actually never made it to air -- or the ether or whatever -- right before the 2015 draft when we were still figuring out if we could podcast without putting people to sleep. Tom predicted the Geneo Grissom pick, as he did on multiple different platforms for us, on one of those lost pods. Believe it was the first time we heard that name uttered in this region.) My favorite might be from this summer, Episode 59, when Tom and Terrance Knighton had a great conversation about how Knighton perceives his role in the national discussion on race. Knighton may not have been the player he was in Denver or Washington, but he was always insightful, and he seemed to provide a good measure of leadership for some of the younger players along that defensive line. From a media perspective, had he stuck around, he would have been a great source of big-picture insight on the week-to-week temperature of the locker room in my opinion.

PP: It's been an interesting season for Long, who looked like the team's most productive pass-rusher early on but has since seen his sack total stuck at one. He has however continued to be an effective player. He's seen more snaps than any front-seven player on the team, and he leads the defense in total quarterback pressures (sacks, hits and hurries) with 36, according to Pro Football Focus. "He’s given us a lot of good snaps,' Belichick said Friday." He plays hard, plays with good technique, is a smart, aware player. He’s given us plays in the passing game. He’s given us plays in the running game. Like every player, there are things he can work on." Not necessarily ebullient praise, but given how often Long's been used, it's safe to say he's one of their most trusted defenders.

PP: You're not the only one who was confused, Dan. Mayo was among those who felt like the Patriots should have been more aggressive at the end of the first half last week. That was due in part to the conditions.It was a monsoon at that point. Belichick explained that he didn't want to give the ball back to San Fran, and a quick three-and-out with some clock-stoppages thanks to incomplete passes may have put Belichick's defense in a tough spot. In general, you'll see them get more aggressive than they were that day. They still believe in that end-of-the-first-half-start-of-the-second-half momentum swing.

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

File Photo

Report: Cam Fleming visiting the Cowboys

There's one gigantic hole to fill on the Patriots offensive line.

Replacing Nate Solder is no easy task and it's not exactly clear how the Pats will yet.

NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport was first to report the Patriots would like to bring back Waddle or Fleming.

It now appears that one of the former backup tackle is taking a serious look elsewhere, according to Ian Rapoport. 

It's not the best offensive line free agency market this season, so the Pats may prefer to bring back a guy they are familar with.

If Fleming is off the board, Waddle still remains as an option for New England.



How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

AP Photo

How the compensatory pick formula may impact Patriots free-agent calls

How highly do the Patriots value their mid-round draft picks? We'll find out as the run on NFL free agents continues this week. 

If Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio plan to make any signings from outside the organization, they'll have to factor into that decision what they will be giving up. Money and cap space matter . . . sure. But there is draft capital at stake.  

The Patriots are currently projected to land two third-round compensatory picks in 2019 after losing both Malcolm Butler and Nate Solder in free agency. There's real value there, and the decision-makers at One Patriot Place may be reluctant to give that up. 

Recent Patriots third-round picks include Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, Joe Thuney, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Geneo Grissom, Duron Harmon and Logan Ryan. 


Before we get into how the Patriots might lose those third-round comp picks if they remain active in free-agency, it's worth noting how comp picks are assigned. 

The compensatory-pick formula the league uses has never been published, but we know the basics. It's based on free agents lost and free agents acquired in a given year by a particular team. The level of those players is taken into consideration -- based on salary, playing time and other factors -- and then picks are issued to teams who have lost more (or better) free agents than they acquired. Only free agents whose contracts have expired (not players who've been released) qualify for the compensatory-pick formula.'s Nick Korte is the best in the business when it comes to predicting how many picks teams will land based on their free-agent losses and acquisitions, and he has the Patriots down for two third-rounders in 2019 and nothing else. 

That may sound surprising given the Patriots lost Dion Lewis and Danny Amendola in addition to Butler and Solder, but that's the way the formula broke, according to Korte. The Adrian Clayborn signing (given a sixth-round value by OTC) cancelled out the Amendola loss (sixth-round value). The Matt Tobin signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Lewis loss (sixth-round value). And the Jeremy Hill signing (seventh-round value) cancelled out the Johnson Bademosi loss (sixth-round value). 

Why do Tobin and Hill cancel out Amendola and Lewis, despite being lower-value moves? Here's how OTC describes the process. (Free agents who qualify for the comp-pick formula are known as Compensatory Free Agents or CFAs.)

1. A CFA gained by a team cancels out the highest-valued available CFA lost that has the same round valuation of the CFA gained.

2. If there is no available CFA lost in the same round as the CFA gained, the CFA gained will instead cancel out the highest-available CFA lost with a lower round value.

3. A CFA gained will only cancel out a CFA lost with a higher draft order if there are no other CFAs lost available to cancel out. 

That final point is key. An example? The Seahawks recently signed CFA Jaron Brown, a seventh-round value. The only Seahawks "CFAs lost" available to cancel out the move were Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham, both fourth-round values. Even though there's a three-round difference between Brown and Richardson, per Korte's projections, those moves still will cancel each other out. 

With that in mind, the Patriots may want to tread lightly when it comes to signing free agents who will qualify toward the comp-pick formula. They could lose out on the third-rounders they've received for Solder and Butler even if they sign a lower-value free agent.

Players like Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro or Raiders linebacker NaVorro Bowman would count toward the comp-pick formula. Would their value to the team be such that losing a 2019 third-round pick wouldn't matter to the Patriots? Or would their comp-pick impact hurt their chances of being picked up in New England? My guess would be the latter. 

The good news for the Patriots is that re-signing their own players -- like offensive tackles LaAdrian Waddle and/or Cam Fleming -- doesn't impact the comp-pick setup. Neither does signing players who've been released, meaning the Patriots could theoretically make a splash by signing Ndamukong Suh or Eric Ebron and they'd retain their comp picks.

Given the Patriots made just four draft picks last year, and since comp picks can be traded now (that rule was changed last year), it would come as little surprise if retaining those picks weighed heavily on Belichick and Caserio's decisions as they move through the remainder of the offseason.