Patriots

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top edge rushers available

2020 NFL Draft player rankings: Top edge rushers available

Just like last year, the 2020 NFL Draft class appears to be loaded with talented edge rushers. It also includes one of the most coveted prospects at the position in recent memory.

There's a strong chance the New England Patriots look to bolster their pass rush at the draft following the departures of linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. 

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If the Patriots plan on running a 3-4 scheme, drafting an edge rusher in the early rounds could become a priority. Their 2019 third-round selection Chase Winovich is the only defensive end they have signed through next offseason.

Fortunately for New England, there are some attractive options out there to fill the void. Here are the top five edge rushers in the 2020 NFL Draft.

1. Chase Young

College: Ohio State
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 32 solo tackles, 16.5 sacks, six forced fumbles

Young is projected to go as early as No. 2 overall and it isn't difficult to see why. The 6-foot-5, 264-pounder is an athletic freak with his rare blend of size, length, and explosiveness. He's elite in his ability to both rush the passer and defend the run. The scariest part is he still needs to add some moves to his pass-rush repertoire, yet he still was able to rack up a whopping 16.5 sacks in 2019. Young has perennial Pro Bowler written all over him.

Projected Round: Early First

2. K'Lavon Chaisson

College: LSU
Class: Redshirt sophomore
2019 stats: 34 solo tackles, 6.5 sacks, one forced fumble

Like Young, Chaisson is another freak athlete with game-breaking pass-rush ability. His athleticism and versatility make him a coveted prospect as he can play off-ball and look like a natural in coverage or stick his hand in the dirt. Either way, Chaisson will be a problem for opposing offenses in the NFL and may have some Pro Bowl appearances in his future.

NBC Sports Boston's own Phil Perry has Chaisson marked down as a Prototypical Patriot. Here's what he has to say about the LSU product:

"Chaisson's physical skill set could get him drafted in the top half of the first round, which means the Patriots may never have a chance to get him with their first pick at No. 23 overall. Still, if he's there, he'd be worth considering. He's a dynamic athlete who has the traits to become an effective pass-rusher with a little more polish. He's already good to go against the run, which the Patriots would appreciate.

"His tools didn't necessarily translate to big-time production in the SEC, which could be cause for concern, but he was still named First-Team All-SEC by coaches, and he has high-end football character. He was a captain for the Tigers and wore No. 18 at LSU, which is reserved for players who've exhibited a selfless attitude and are considered the epitome of an LSU football player."

Projected Round: First

3. A.J. Epenesa

College: Iowa
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 32 solo tackles, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles

Epenesa is far from a perfect prospect but his size (6-5, 275), as well as his blend of power and technique, make him a coveted one. Although he isn't exactly a freak athlete like the two guys above him on this list, Epenesa still has the potential to be an excellent NFL pass rusher.

Projected Round: Late First or Early Second

4. Yetur Gross-Matos

College: Penn State
Class: Junior
2019 stats: 24 solo tackles, 9.5 sacks

With all of the talk surrounding the previous three edge rushers on this list, Gross-Matos probably isn't getting the attention he deserves. He's an agile 6-5, 266 defender whose combination of size and athleticism should make him an NFL starter soon. In 2019, Gross-Matos was named to the First-Team All-Big Ten for the second consecutive year.

Projected Round: Late First or Early Second

5. Terrell Lewis

College: Alabama
Class: Redshirt junior
2019 stats: 21 solo tackles, six sacks

With Lewis, the concern isn't whether he has the skills to be a solid NFL starter. It's whether he has the durability. The 6-5, 262-pounder played in only 26 games with the Crimson Tide after suffering a torn elbow ligament in 2017 and a torn ACL in 2018. If he's gotten over his injury woes, Lewis' ceiling is remarkably high. He's a freakish athlete who needs some fine-tuning as a rusher, but there's no reason to believe the second-team All-SEC selection can't succeed as a pro if he can just stay healthy.

Here's what Phil Perry had to say about Lewis in his Prototypical Patriots series:

"Lewis would be a big-bodied outside linebacker in this scheme, but that's worked before. With 34-inch arms and 10-inch hands, he has some Willie McGinest-type size to be able to control the point of attack. Lewis is explosive as well, which he proved at the combine with a 37-inch vertical (82nd percentile for linebackers) and a 124-inch broad jump (88th). But he's more than a physical prototype.

"Like Jennings, he has the Alabama pedigree. And like Jennings, he produced — perhaps even to a greater level. He had a pressure rate of 19.8 percent, per Pro Football Focus, which was third in the class of edge rushers with at least 100 pass-rushing snaps. The fact that Lewis has the ability to cover, at that size, is incredibly intriguing. And the fact that he had a strong 2019 after a knee injury forced him to miss all of 2018? That might indicate his best football is still ahead of him."

Projected Round: Second

 

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

"I knew I had to have it totally taken off of my body."

In April, that's what Patriots rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser told WBZ's Steve Burton about a controversial Three Percenters tattoo on his left arm that gained instant notoriety after he was drafted by New England.

Well, it appears he has followed through on that promise.

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According to TMZ Sports, the 23-year-old has had the tattoo removed. The report states that Rohrwasser started the painful removal process right after the NFL Draft.

After the Patriots selected the Marshall kicker in the fifth round of the draft, there was a public outcry about the tattoo displaying the logo of the right-wing militia group, which has been described as racist and anti-government. Rohrwasser had said he got the tattoo when he was 18 as a way to support the military, but didn't realize its other use.

"It's shameful that I had it on there ignorantly," Rohrwasser told Burton. "I'm sorry for all my (friends) and family that have to defend me. Putting them in that compromising position is one of the biggest regrets I'll ever have. To them, I'm sorry. I'm going to learn from this. I'm going to take ownership of it. This is not who I am. No matter what, that's not who I am. Hopefully, you will all find that out."

Though he might still face questions about the tattoo when the Patriots open training camp later this month, removing the tattoo should keep the issue from being a huge distraction during his first NFL season.

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How did the Patriots pull this off? How did a team that had no financial breathing room, no salary-cap space, go ahead and sign Cam Newton to a contract that's worth up to $7.5 million?

The key words there are "up to."

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Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio drew up a deal that would pay Newton the way other quarterback reclamation projects have been paid, if he performs. In the meantime, his salary-cap figure for 2020 comes in at just a smidgen higher than that of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Let that sink in.

ALPHABET SOUP

Understanding how the Patriots were able to pull that off — pay Newton the going rate for a quarterback looking to revive his career, while simultaneously getting his salary on their books when they had next to no cap space — requires an understanding of the letters "NLTBE."

That acronym stands for "not likely to be earned," and it describes the majority of the incentives Newton received in his new deal with the Patriots. By NFL rule, NLTBE incentives do not count against the salary cap immediately. NLTBE incentive markers are markers that a player didn't achieve the season prior. If those markers are reached, then that incentive payment hits the following season's salary cap.

(As you might guess, LTBE incentive markers are markers a player did hit the season prior. LTBE incentives are counted against the cap upon the player's deal being signed.)

For example, if a player did not throw for 3,000 yards in 2019 but would be paid a $1 million bonus for reaching the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2020, that would be considered an incentive that is NLTBE. It would not count against the 2020 cap. If that 3,000-yard mark is reached in 2020, it would count toward the 2021 cap.

We can deduce then that the $5.75 million in available incentives included in Newton's deal did not count against the Patriots cap for 2020. They couldn't. The team didn't have enough cap space on hand to give him that kind of money in LTBE incentives. The Patriots had less than $1 million in space prior to agreeing to terms with Newton, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.

We don't yet know the specific markers Newton has to hit to earn his 2020 incentives, but because he played in only two games last season, the Patriots could have given him very reasonable numbers to reach and they still wouldn't count against the cap immediately because they'd be NLTBE. 

For instance, New England could've given Newton bonuses for playing in three games, passing for 600 yards and throwing one touchdown. Because he didn't hit any of those numbers in 2019 — he played in just two games and threw for 572 yards without any touchdowns — they'd all be considered NLTBE and not counted against the 2020 cap. In all likelihood, though, it's going to be a little more difficult than that for Newton to reach the incentives laid out for him.

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WARNING: MATH AHEAD

So if $5.75 million of Newton's "up to" $7.5 million contract with the Patriots won't count against the cap, what will?

Newton's veteran-minimum $1.05 million contract, for one, will count. That's the minimum under the new collective bargaining agreement for players with at least seven years of NFL service.

Additionally, two games of Newton's $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses will count against the cap. If he's provided $700,000 total in per-game roster bonuses, that means he'll be owed $43,750 for each of the 16 regular-season games he's on the Patriots roster. Two games of per-game roster bonus — $87,500 — counts against the 2020 cap because it's LTBE; he played in two games in 2019. The rest of those per-game roster bonuses are considered NLTBE but will count against the cap with each game he plays. So if he plays in all 16 games, by the end of the 2020 season, his cap number will be $1.75 million. Active roster bonuses are the only earned NLTBE incentives that hit a current year's cap, Benzan relayed. 

Therefore, Newton's cap number for New England in 2020 — his base salary plus two games of roster bonuses — comes to $1,137,500. That's slightly more than the $1.08 million cap number assigned to Cardona and the $1.05 million number assigned to fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer for this coming season. It's slightly less than fullback Dan Vitale's 2020 cap hit of $1,287,500. 

Now the question is, how did the Patriots fit Newton under their cap if they had less than $1 million in cap space left prior to landing him? His cap number is over $1 million, isn't it?

It is. But there's an accounting rule the NFL uses to include only the contracts of the players with the top-51 base salaries against a team's cap until active rosters are finalized.

Newton's cap number replaces what was the No. 51 salary on the 90-man roster prior to Newton's signing. According to Benzan, that No. 51 slot was assigned to outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Because the difference in cap numbers between Newton and Bower is only a few hundred thousand dollars, the Patriots had enough space to add Newton once Bower fell below the No. 51 spot.

If the Patriots were snug up against the cap before, they're even more so now. By Benzan's estimates, they have $263,489 left in cap room. To handle regular in-season spending, they'll need to clear out more space eventually. Re-working Joe Thuney's contract to reduce his nearly $15 million cap hit, for instance, could free up some significant cap room quickly. 

MAXING OUT

If Newton makes the team, plays, and plays well, he may have a chance to reach the full $7.5 million value of the deal. But why $7.5 million? Why settle there?

Marcus Mariota is getting a $7.5 million base salary to be the No. 2 for the Raiders in 2020. Teddy Bridgewater made about that much in 2019 from the Saints. Both were passers in need of a fresh start. Both carried a certain level of uncertainty.

The same is true for Newton in New England, though his résumé is vastly more impressive than that of either of those other quarterbacks when they signed their contracts.

It's the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. It just required a little bit of creativity to get it in under the minimal amount of cap space the Patriots had available for 2020.