Will Pats exceed these skill position budgets in free agency?


The New England Patriots are projected to have ample cap space in 2021 -- the third-most in the NFL, in fact.

But extra cash doesn't necessarily portend a spending spree.

In his Wednesday mailbag for The MMQB, Albert Breer shared some interesting insight into the Patriots' fiscal approach, noting that Bill Belichick's club historically has set maximum budgets for players at each skill position.

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From Breer:

"The high-water mark for receivers remains $9 million per year, set by Randy Moss in 2008, and matched by Julian Edelman on his last extension in 2019. The number at tight end is also $9 million per, set by Rob Gronkowski in 2012 (though Gronk added incentives along the way). And at tailback? It’s $5 million per, set in 2005 by Corey Dillon."

That the Patriots haven't spent more than $9 million per year on a wide receiver or tight end or more than $5 million annually on a running back -- while making nine Super Bowls and winning six -- is pretty remarkable.

For context, 28 NFL wide receivers and 16 running backs currently are above those thresholds, and not all are All-Pros: The likes of Tyrell Williams, Tyler Boyd, Duke Johnson and Giovani Bernard are in that grouping.


Breer added an important caveat, though: Having Tom Brady at quarterback made it much easier for New England to search for bargains in the skill position aisle, because the GOAT could keep the offense running smoothly without truly elite offensive weapons.

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But Cam Newton's struggles at quarterback this season -- the Patriots rank 29th in the NFL in passing yards per game -- have exposed the offense's lack of quality pass-catchers. So, unless Belichick plans on coaxing Brady back to New England, he may be motivated to exceed these budgets in 2021 free agency by pursuing a high-end wide receiver or running back.

If the Patriots end up going that route, just know it will be a departure from how they've approached roster-building over the last two decades.