How important is the 2020 NFL Draft to the New England Patriots?
Let us count the ways.
First, the Patriots need a post-Tom Brady plan at quarterback: Should they trade up to draft a “premium” QB like Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert or nab a signal-caller in the middle rounds and roll with Jarrett Stidham as the starter?
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Oh, and they could also use some extra cap space.
According to ESPN’s Field Yates, the Patriots enter Thursday’s draft with the least amount of cap space in the NFL at just over $1 million.
Cap space by team entering the draft (23-32):— Field Yates (@FieldYates) April 21, 2020
23. ARI: $8,933,375
24. LV: $7,690,618
25. CIN: $7,454,685
26. CAR: $7,008,210
27. PIT: $5,767,814
28. NO: $4,067,357
29. ATL: $2,232,688
30. KC: $1,475,171
31. LAR: $1,382,085
32. NE: $1,076,775
New England signed restricted free agents Jermaine Eluemunor and Adam Butler last week to put them up against the cap. The amount of dead money the Patriots are paying to Brady, Antonio Brown and other non-roster players in 2020 also isn’t helping their cause.
In fact, the Pats currently don’t have enough cap space to sign their 2020 draft class if they don’t trade any picks or make any other moves, according to Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.
Of course, New England almost certainly will maneuver in and around the draft to free up some cash.
How can they do this, you ask? There’s one obvious answer: trade or restructure the contract of Joe Thuney.
The offensive guard, who carries a $14.8 million cap hit in 2020, reportedly isn’t close to an extension with New England, so a restructure may not be possible.
But if New England trades Thuney ahead of the draft, it will free up nearly $14 million in cap space, per Benzan.
Q: How much cap space would trading Joe Thuney for a draft pick(s) create? Would there be any dead money?— Cap Space=$650,989 (@patscap) April 19, 2020
A: $14.031M since a player with a 750K salary would then take his place on the Top 51 list.
That would put the Patriots in the middle of the NFL pack in terms of cap space and give them ample wiggle room to sign free agents or make trades after the draft.
Simply put, trading Thuney is the easiest path to New England creating ample cap space.
As Benzan adds, however, the Patriots aren't necessarily in a time crunch: They have until the start of training camp to sign their 2020 draft class, meaning they could release or trade other players to free up room any time between now and July.
Q: By when do the Pats need to create cap space?— Cap Space=$650,989 (@patscap) April 1, 2020
A: Before they sign the 2020 draft class which could be done right before training camp. Before then, if they wish to acquire a player whose 2020 cap number would be more than $1.9M then they would need to create cap space
If New England wants to add a big-name player via trade or free agency, though, don't expect Thuney and his $14.8 million cap hit to be on the books.
Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of the NFL Draft. This Wednesday at 5 p.m., stream the NBC Sports On the Clock: NFL Mock Draft special on the MyTeams app and on NBCSportsBoston.com.