Patriots

Patriots have been busy leading up to Tuesday trade deadline

Patriots have been busy leading up to Tuesday trade deadline

The Patriots have been actively preparing for Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline for weeks.

A source says they’ve spoken to virtually every team in the league and had conversations on more than two dozen players in play at a variety of positions.

It would be an upset if they don’t make some kind of move not just because of the amount of advance work they’ve done but also because they were making trade deadline moves when the rest of the league was still regarding that day as another Tuesday afternoon in October.

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The names they’ve been linked to so far are recognizable ones: Denver’s Demaryius Thomas was mentioned by NFL Network’s Mike Giardi. Jay Glazer further reported the Patriots are willing to give up a high draft pick for a “bona fide premium wide receiver.” 

I don’t know what that combination of words exactly means, but calling the 31-year-old Thomas a “bona fide premium wide receiver” is aggressive. He’s entering his decline and has always struggled with drops (four this season, one for every 10 receptions in his career.

He’s earning an $8.5 million base salary this year or $531,250 per game so that would mean the Patriots would pay him $3.71M for seven games of work. Seems high. For them.

Other wideouts that could be on the move are DeSean Jackson (Tampa Bay) and Pierre Garcon (San Francisco).

Jackson is also 31 and his $10M salary means the Patriots would be laying out even more per game if they signed him. He is a free agent at the end of the year, though, so if he signs with another team in free agency after 2018 the Pats may get a minimal reward in the compensatory pick formula in 2020.

The most interesting target could be Garcon. He’s 32 and falling apart a bit physically. Shoulder and knee issues kept him out of Sunday’s game against Arizona, a neck injury landed him on IR in 2017. But he has a more manageable base salary than the Thomas or Jackson ($6.625M) and the Niners owe the Patriots a decade of favors for gift-wrapping Jimmy Garoppolo to them last year at the trade deadline.

Why is a receiver even on the Patriots wish list with Josh Gordon doing more than anyone could have projected, Julian Edelman back from suspension and the Phillip Dorsett/Chris Hogan tandem returned to complementary roles where they are most effective?

Perhaps because all of those players need backup? Gordon is a slip-up away from being suspended, the 32-year-old Edelman’s playing style invites calamity and Hogan goes down like a bag of hammers every time he gets tackled.

Between those three, the somewhat injured Gronk and the totally injured Michel, athletic tape will be used.

Which brings us back to Garcon, who may be less durable than all of them.

So it’s a quandary if a “premium, bona fide, USDA, Angus wide receiver” is in the Patriots sights.

Cap damage will be done and the Patriots don’t have a ton of it. And the Patriots – always cognizant of value and keeping draft resources – would be putting the match to a draft pick on a less-than-sure thing.

Then there’s the learning curve. Gordon’s managed it well but his doing so and the praise he’s gotten for accomplishing something others have rarely done in the past just underscores the fact it’s not a plug-and-play position for the Patriots.

The Patriots paid Brandin Cooks $1.5M in salary and bonuses in 2017. When he was due $8.5M in salary this year – same as Thomas – the team shipped him to the Rams and got a first-round pick back.

The compensation for Cooks looks terrific on a spreadsheet. He was essentially a no-cost, all-upside rental since the team initially sacrificed a first-rounder to get him.

But if the wideout concern for the Patriots remains this high on Halloween, it’s worth debating whether keeping him around for $531,250 per week and forgoing the first-rounder they got back from the Rams would have been a smoother move than trying to trade for Demaryius Thomas.

If the Patriots are even actively doing that.

Talks are just talk until there’s action. 

 

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Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

Report: Patriots kicker Justin Rohrwasser removed controversial tattoo

"I knew I had to have it totally taken off of my body."

In April, that's what Patriots rookie kicker Justin Rohrwasser told WBZ's Steve Burton about a controversial Three Percenters tattoo on his left arm that gained instant notoriety after he was drafted by New England.

Well, it appears he has followed through on that promise.

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According to TMZ Sports, the 23-year-old has had the tattoo removed. The report states that Rohrwasser started the painful removal process right after the NFL Draft.

After the Patriots selected the Marshall kicker in the fifth round of the draft, there was a public outcry about the tattoo displaying the logo of the right-wing militia group, which has been described as racist and anti-government. Rohrwasser had said he got the tattoo when he was 18 as a way to support the military, but didn't realize its other use.

"It's shameful that I had it on there ignorantly," Rohrwasser told Burton. "I'm sorry for all my (friends) and family that have to defend me. Putting them in that compromising position is one of the biggest regrets I'll ever have. To them, I'm sorry. I'm going to learn from this. I'm going to take ownership of it. This is not who I am. No matter what, that's not who I am. Hopefully, you will all find that out."

Though he might still face questions about the tattoo when the Patriots open training camp later this month, removing the tattoo should keep the issue from being a huge distraction during his first NFL season.

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How Cam Newton's 'up to' $7.5 million contract fits under Patriots salary cap

How did the Patriots pull this off? How did a team that had no financial breathing room, no salary-cap space, go ahead and sign Cam Newton to a contract that's worth up to $7.5 million?

The key words there are "up to."

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Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio drew up a deal that would pay Newton the way other quarterback reclamation projects have been paid, if he performs. In the meantime, his salary-cap figure for 2020 comes in at just a smidgen higher than that of long-snapper Joe Cardona.

Let that sink in.

ALPHABET SOUP

Understanding how the Patriots were able to pull that off — pay Newton the going rate for a quarterback looking to revive his career, while simultaneously getting his salary on their books when they had next to no cap space — requires an understanding of the letters "NLTBE."

That acronym stands for "not likely to be earned," and it describes the majority of the incentives Newton received in his new deal with the Patriots. By NFL rule, NLTBE incentives do not count against the salary cap immediately. NLTBE incentive markers are markers that a player didn't achieve the season prior. If those markers are reached, then that incentive payment hits the following season's salary cap.

(As you might guess, LTBE incentive markers are markers a player did hit the season prior. LTBE incentives are counted against the cap upon the player's deal being signed.)

For example, if a player did not throw for 3,000 yards in 2019 but would be paid a $1 million bonus for reaching the 3,000-yard passing mark in 2020, that would be considered an incentive that is NLTBE. It would not count against the 2020 cap. If that 3,000-yard mark is reached in 2020, it would count toward the 2021 cap.

We can deduce then that the $5.75 million in available incentives included in Newton's deal did not count against the Patriots cap for 2020. They couldn't. The team didn't have enough cap space on hand to give him that kind of money in LTBE incentives. The Patriots had less than $1 million in space prior to agreeing to terms with Newton, per Patriots cap expert Miguel Benzan.

We don't yet know the specific markers Newton has to hit to earn his 2020 incentives, but because he played in only two games last season, the Patriots could have given him very reasonable numbers to reach and they still wouldn't count against the cap immediately because they'd be NLTBE. 

For instance, New England could've given Newton bonuses for playing in three games, passing for 600 yards and throwing one touchdown. Because he didn't hit any of those numbers in 2019 — he played in just two games and threw for 572 yards without any touchdowns — they'd all be considered NLTBE and not counted against the 2020 cap. In all likelihood, though, it's going to be a little more difficult than that for Newton to reach the incentives laid out for him.

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WARNING: MATH AHEAD

So if $5.75 million of Newton's "up to" $7.5 million contract with the Patriots won't count against the cap, what will?

Newton's veteran-minimum $1.05 million contract, for one, will count. That's the minimum under the new collective bargaining agreement for players with at least seven years of NFL service.

Additionally, two games of Newton's $700,000 in per-game roster bonuses will count against the cap. If he's provided $700,000 total in per-game roster bonuses, that means he'll be owed $43,750 for each of the 16 regular-season games he's on the Patriots roster. Two games of per-game roster bonus — $87,500 — counts against the 2020 cap because it's LTBE; he played in two games in 2019. The rest of those per-game roster bonuses are considered NLTBE but will count against the cap with each game he plays. So if he plays in all 16 games, by the end of the 2020 season, his cap number will be $1.75 million. Active roster bonuses are the only earned NLTBE incentives that hit a current year's cap, Benzan relayed. 

Therefore, Newton's cap number for New England in 2020 — his base salary plus two games of roster bonuses — comes to $1,137,500. That's slightly more than the $1.08 million cap number assigned to Cardona and the $1.05 million number assigned to fellow quarterback Brian Hoyer for this coming season. It's slightly less than fullback Dan Vitale's 2020 cap hit of $1,287,500. 

Now the question is, how did the Patriots fit Newton under their cap if they had less than $1 million in cap space left prior to landing him? His cap number is over $1 million, isn't it?

It is. But there's an accounting rule the NFL uses to include only the contracts of the players with the top-51 base salaries against a team's cap until active rosters are finalized.

Newton's cap number replaces what was the No. 51 salary on the 90-man roster prior to Newton's signing. According to Benzan, that No. 51 slot was assigned to outside linebacker Tashawn Bower. Because the difference in cap numbers between Newton and Bower is only a few hundred thousand dollars, the Patriots had enough space to add Newton once Bower fell below the No. 51 spot.

If the Patriots were snug up against the cap before, they're even more so now. By Benzan's estimates, they have $263,489 left in cap room. To handle regular in-season spending, they'll need to clear out more space eventually. Re-working Joe Thuney's contract to reduce his nearly $15 million cap hit, for instance, could free up some significant cap room quickly. 

MAXING OUT

If Newton makes the team, plays, and plays well, he may have a chance to reach the full $7.5 million value of the deal. But why $7.5 million? Why settle there?

Marcus Mariota is getting a $7.5 million base salary to be the No. 2 for the Raiders in 2020. Teddy Bridgewater made about that much in 2019 from the Saints. Both were passers in need of a fresh start. Both carried a certain level of uncertainty.

The same is true for Newton in New England, though his résumé is vastly more impressive than that of either of those other quarterbacks when they signed their contracts.

It's the definition of a low-risk, high-reward deal. It just required a little bit of creativity to get it in under the minimal amount of cap space the Patriots had available for 2020.