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Perry: With free agency underway, where did the Patriots' money go?

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It would only be natural for Patriots fans to look at J.C. Jackson's new contract with the Chargers and wonder how that particular Los Angeles franchise can fit all its stars on the roster. 

Not only did the Chargers pay Jackson near the top of the corner market, but they also traded for star pass-rusher Khalil Mack and his contract. They re-signed receiver Mike Williams to a deal that gives him $20 million per year. Having a good quarterback on a rookie contract in Justin Herbert helps make it all possible, of course.

But the Patriots have a quarterback on a rookie deal, and they're shopping for value items this offseason. So where did the money go?

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A strong middle class has long been a staple to the way in which the Patriots have tried to build their teams under Bill Belichick. But it seems as now that commitments made to their middle class are part of the reason the team has been relatively quiet in the early stages of free agency this offseason.

According to Over The Cap, the Patriots are scheduled to spend a greater percentage of their salary cap on veteran "middle-tier" contracts than anyone in 2022. (A middle-tier contract for OTC is a deal that pays between $4.1 million and $10.6 million.) They're tied with the Jaguars and Seahawks for the greatest number of middle-tier veterans currently under contract.

 

The Patriots don't have a single player on an "elite-tier" contract (which pays between $20.6 million and $46.7 million, by OTC's definition), but they have four players on "high-tier" contracts (which pay between $10.7 and $20.3 million). And if you were to combine the "elite" and "high-tier" contracts for all teams, the Patriots would rank third in the NFL in 2022 cap percentage allotted to those to categories.

So when looking for where the Patriots have spent their cash, look at the veterans on the roster, many of whom were acquired last offseason as the Patriots spent to expedite their turnaround from 7-9 and missing the playoffs in 2020. 

Working backwards from the 2019 draft, unless Wynn gets a new deal that keeps him in Foxboro beyond 2022, the Patriots will likely have 12 consecutive first and second-round picks not see their second contract in New England.

Phil Perry on the Pats' cap situation

No team has more middle-tier veteran contracts at the moment than them with Isaiah Wynn, Davon Godchaux, Shaq Mason, Jonathan Jones, Devin McCourty, Kendrick Bourne, David Andrews, Deatrich Wise, Jalen Mills and Lawrence Guy. 

They have more 2022 cap dollars spent on high-end contracts than all but two teams with Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are currently 28th in the NFL in cap spending on rookie contracts, per OTC, which may help explain the need for so many middle-class veterans. Misses in the draft created holes that needed money to fix. Working backwards from the 2019 draft, unless Wynn gets a new deal that keeps him in Foxboro beyond 2022, the Patriots will likely have 12 consecutive first and second-round picks not see their second contract in New England.

Projected offensive starters

(Bolded players on rookie deals)

  • Mac Jones
  • Damien Harris
  • Nelson Agholor
  • Kendrick Bourne
  • Jakobi Meyers
  • Hunter Henry
  • David Andrews
  • Mike Onwenu
  • Shaq Mason
  • Isaiah Wynn
  • Justin Herron

Projected defensive starters

(Bolded players on rookie deals)

  • Lawrence Guy
  • Davon Godchaux
  • Christian Barmore
  • Matt Judon
  • Josh Uche
  • Raekwon McMillan
  • Jonathan Jones
  • Jalen Mills
  • Adrian Phillips
  • Kyle Dugger
  • Devin McCourty

As the Chargers and many others have shown over the years, having a quarterback on a rookie contract should allow for some aggressive offseason spending. And there are ways in which the Patriots could clear cap space in order to pay a big-name or two to complement Mac Jones ahead of his second season.

But thanks in part to the money they've spent over the last few years to spread veterans all over their locker room, they've been slower to jump at big roster-altering moves this offseason.