Ever find yourself scrounging for change in your car, flicking aside calcified french fries and scraping up the back of your hand as you reach under the seat for something that could be a nickel, could be a quarter?

That’s about where the Patriots were a couple of weeks back. Tight to the 2020 salary cap with barely any cash in their wallet to spend.

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Now? Thanks to cap credits and a spate of opt outs, the Patriots are — in relation to the cap — pretty flush. They have nearly $25M in cap space and that windfall is burning a hole in the pockets of some folks who’d love to see the team go on a spending spree.

Jadeveon Clowney? Git ‘em. Snacks Harrison? Him too. Anybody not nailed down is fair game.

For a Patriots team that saw its two most important defensive players — Dont’a Hightower and Patrick Chung — and starting right tackle Marcus Cannon opt out this week, the need to reload is there.

But the smarter play for the Patriots would be to sit on the bulk of that money and roll most of that cap space into 2021.

There are a couple of reasons for that. First, the cap is going down in 2021. It may drop down to $175M. The Patriots are already in a good spot cap-wise for next year with an estimated $50M in cap room available against a $175M cap even before the opt-out money gets rolled over.


When teams all around the league find themselves forced to release players they’d prefer to keep all because of the falling cap, the Patriots will be in a good spot to add talent because they have the money to do so.

Second, the newly-realized cap space is — to a degree — an apparition. Hightower’s cap hit this year was $12.4M with an $8M salary and other bonuses. His hit in 2021 will be about $10M. Same with Cannon’s $9.5M and Chung’s $4.8M. If those players all come back, their cap hits essentially go with them unless they renegotiate, retire or are released. 

Meanwhile, there are several key Patriots whose contracts are up at the end of this year: James White, Joe Thuney, Rex Burkhead, Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy among them. The Patriots are going to need that dough next offseason to get some of those players re-signed.

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Now some of the $25M could be allocated to signing players this year to short-term deals. The Patriots may have the depth to withstand the loss of Chung, but the losses of Hightower and Cannon are going to highlight some of the experienced depth issues they have at those spots.

Right now, it’s not a great market for a team in need. Players are reporting and some are landing in quarantine after testing Covid-positive. Opt-outs will continue until early next week. Depth is vital because the looming threat of a player unexpectedly testing positive and being removed from the team for at least five days (if he is asymptomatic and has two negative tests in succession) will be ever-present.

But when teams do need to trim their rosters, a lot of cuts may be made with the cap in mind. A valuable player with a significant cap hit in 2021 may get turned out because teams are wary of what next year brings. And that’s when the Patriots windfall can come into play.

A player like Clowney who’s hoping for $16M or more may not be interested in a one-year deal. A team like the Patriots may not be interested in throwing that much money at a player for a one-year rental, especially if he’s had no offseason to get assimilated.

But plug-and-play veterans willing to sign on one-year deals after being released unexpectedly could entice the Patriots. And they have money now that they didn’t have a few weeks back to bring players like that aboard.