NFL Rumors: How Patriots stayed under salary cap with Cam Newton deal

NFL Rumors: How Patriots stayed under salary cap with Cam Newton deal

The New England Patriots entered last weekend with just $651,000 in cap space, the lowest amount of any NFL team.

So, how the heck were they able to sign a former NFL MVP?

It's a fair question after New England reportedly inked free-agent quarterback Cam Newton to a one-year contract Sunday. We discovered more details on Newton's deal Wednesday, per reports: He has a base salary of $1.05 million ($550,000 of which is guaranteed) with incentives that can bring his earnings up to $7.5 million.

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According to salary cap expert Miguel Benzan, the Patriots have $263,489 in available cap space following Newton's signing. If you're wondering how Newton's deal cost New England less than $400,000 in cap space, Benzan would like to refer you to the "Rule of 51."

The "Rule of 51" in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement is pretty straightforward: During the offseason, only the players with the 51 largest cap hits for the season are counted toward the salary cap.

Newton's deal -- which carries a $1.14 million cap hit, per Benzan -- bumps practice squad defensive lineman Tashawn Bower out of the top 51, meaning his $750,000 deal currently doesn't count against the cap.

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So, the Patriots effectively replaced Bower's contract with that of Newton, a difference of just under $400,000.

The "Rule of 51" only applies to the offseason, so Bill Belichick may have to do more maneuvering before the regular season begins. But as Benzan recently pointed out, Newton's incentives could be classified as "not likely to be earned," which means they wouldn't count against New England's 2020 salary cap even if he reaches them.

In any case, it's remarkable (or "disgusting," if you ask Richard Sherman) that New England was able to land a three-time Pro Bowl QB like Newton for such a discount.

The 31-year-old was hampered by shoulder and foot injuries over the last two seasons, though, which apparently scared other teams away before the Patriots swooped in Sunday.

Why Chris Simms thinks RB Lamar MIller will play big role for Patriots

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Why Chris Simms thinks RB Lamar MIller will play big role for Patriots

Over the past 12 seasons, the Patriots have had eight different players lead the team in rushing yards.

Only Sony Michel, Legarrette Blount, Stevan Ridley and BenJarvus Green-Ellis have repeated, while Dion Lewis, Jonas Gray, Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris each led New England for one season over that stretch.

So could there be another changing of the guard in the 2020 season?

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Michel is starting training camp on the PUP list and his availability for Week 1 is reportedly in question, potentially leaving the door open for one of the team's other running backs to hit the ground running when the season opens next month. And while James White, Rex Burkhead and Damien Harris are the incumbents on the roster, a newcomer could take the opportunity and — pun definitely intended — run with it.

Lamar Miller reached agreement on a one-year contract with the Patriots on Monday, but just a year removed from tearing his ACL in a preseason game with the Texans, he's a long-shot, right? NBC Sports NFL analyst Chris Simms doesn't think so, telling Mike Florio on NBC Sports Network's "Pro Football Talk" that he thinks Miller can recapture the form that made him a Pro Bowler in his last full season (2018).

"I'm going to say he has a significant role. Lamar Miller didn't play last year, but two years ago, (he) was very impressive," Simms said. "I mean, he's a home run hitter. He can bounce it outside and take it 70 yards up the sideline. He's always been that type of player. Unfortunately, like the guy we just talked about (Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette), he's been on some teams — the Dolphins, the Houston Texans — who have had just crap offensive lines in front of him.

"So his stats are never going to tell you how good he is, but the fact he knows that system, being from Billy O'Brien and then going into New England, he'll have the jump-start there. And you know them, they're never going to have a true bell-cow, but I think he will be a part of that rotation and have a serious role this year."

Even if the stats don't tell Miller's full story, they still paint the picture of a solid running back.. Prior to the ACL injury, the 29-year-old had rushed for at least 850 yards in five straight seasons, only missing four games over that stretch. He's also busted off a pair of 97-yard touchdown runs over his NFL career, something that Mike Florio pointed out while illustrating what a low-risk, high-reward addition Miller could be.

"If he's healthy, who knows what he can do for New England?" Florio added. "And it's going to be one of those situations where we say 'Bill Belichick, the genius, at it again.' A guy who's just out there, waiting to be signed and Belichick does it."

Patriots Talk Podcast: Don Yee and the remedy for college football’s ‘industrial complex’ | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Patriots Talk Podcast: Malcolm Butler would be poster child for Don Yee's NFL feeder camp

Patriots Talk Podcast: Malcolm Butler would be poster child for Don Yee's NFL feeder camp

The New England Patriots took a chance on Malcolm Butler, and he rewarded them with the game-winning interception in Super Bowl XLIX.

But what if there are more Malcolm Butler types who are going undiscovered?

That's part of Don Yee's inspiration for launching HUB Football. The powerful agent of former Patriots quarterbacks Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo is spearheading a "1-2 day strategically intensive, professional football development and teaching camp" to connect undrafted players and other NFL hopefuls with clubs that can use their services.

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On the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast, Yee joined Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran to explain why Butler is the perfect example of a player who would benefit from the HUB Football model.

"There's a lot of guys that can play," Yee told Curran. "It's just sometimes the opportunity meeting the timing, and the exposure."

"It's tremendous credit to Malcolm and the Patriots coaching staff that that even happened. Tremendous. And as you know, because of that, it changed NFL history, right?"

Patriots Talk Podcast: Don Yee and the remedy for college football’s ‘industrial complex’ | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Butler went undrafted out of Division II West Alabama in 2014, but the Patriots invited him to their rookie minicamp, where he impressed enough to earn a three-year contract. The rest is history: Butler intercepted Russell Wilson on the goal line to seal the Patriots' dramatic Super Bowl XLIX win over the Seattle Seahawks and spent four seasons in New England before moving on to the Tennessee Titans in 2018.

As Yee pointed out, though, several circumstances had to line up for Butler to even join the Patriots in the first place.

"That event is the result of Malcolm being unemployed but staying in shape and believing in himself," Yee said. "It also was contingent on whomever his agent was at that point probably begging any teams to give him a look of any kind.

"It also was contingent on somebody in New England keeping an eye on him and saying, 'Hey, why don't we at least invest a little bit of money and take a look at this guy?' And then it was contingent on the efforts of the coaching staff and their belief."

"So, a lot of little things that ultimately became big things had to connect for that moment to happen in the Super Bowl, which literally changed a lot of narratives."

Yee's HUB Football initiative aims to make it much easier for teams like the Patriots to find players like Butler by putting players in the best possible position to land an NFL gig.

"We want to make it far more efficient and really, truly customize the product to exactly what an NFL general manager wants to see," Yee said. "How it is conducted, the timing, the types of people invited. So, it's not going to be all comers. We will vet the players that are interested. This is a product really only for those players that truly have NFL type of ability."

Butler is far from the only undrafted player to find success in the NFL. (Ever heard of Antonio Gates, James Harrison or Priest Holmes?) But there likely are similarly talented players who never got their chance due to unfortunate timing or any number of other circumstances.

Yee's product hopes to uncover more diamonds in the rough and make Butler's story more of a norm than an exception.

Check out the latest episode of the Patriots Talk Podcast on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network or on YouTube.