The league stripped the Patriots of a third-round pick (still waiting for official announcement and explanation by the way) and restored $6.55M worth of cap space over the weekend.
This is not a “you win some, you lose some…” deal.
It’s more like “you lose some and … sometimes you get a refund that you are owed…”
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Regardless, the team now has $7.79M in cap space. Because of dead cap space gobbled up by Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski, Michael Bennett and Brown, the Patriots have had to scrimp this offseason.
Now that they’re a little bit flush, there are a lot of thoughts on how they should spend their dough. When news of the reimbursement was announced, Patriots Twitter echoed with pleas of “#CLOWNEY?!?!?!”
But Jadeveon Clowney — a 27-year-old, card-carrying, game-wrecker with an array of skills that would make Bill Belichick get tingly — isn’t real likely. Nor are Snacks Harrison and Markus Golden, two other talented defensive players still on the market.
The least sexy, most practical option — squatting on most of it — is the likeliest scenario. That’s because the $7.79M is going to evaporate pretty quickly.
Start with the “per game roster bonuses” the Patriots use as a staple of their contracts.
Cam Newton has $700,000 worth of those in his deal ($43,750 per game). Since he only played two games last season, most of the $700,000 isn’t included in the Patriots cap yet. Every game he plays past last year’s output will hit the cap.
Overall, the Patriots have $15.6M in per game roster bonuses allocated. For most guys, that’s no big deal cap-wise. Julian Edelman has $900,000 in per game bonuses but since he played 16 games last year, it’s expected he’ll earn that money so it’s already counting against the cap.
But the Patriots — in contrast to teams like the Ravens and Steelers who have no money allocated to players in per game roster bonuses — will have a few players like Newton, David Andrews ($400K total), and Adrian Phillips ($500K total) who will have money hitting the cap as the year progresses.
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I asked Jason Fitzgerald from OverTheCap.com about the per-game roster bonuses and the Pats newfound dough.
“They should be OK with the (per game bonuses) since most are already counting on the cap,” he replied. “It would be more of a problem if most were not counting (i.e. a player missed all of 2019). … “Still, it’s not a ton of cap space. They will need to account for $1M or so for the practice squad. Another $2M or so for the increase from 51 to 55 players (through the offseason, only the 51 most expensive players count against the cap; all 55 on the active roster count once the first week of the season arrives). Players injured in preseason (will need settlements and payouts). Basically it’s cap room they need to function during the year. It’s not money to go out and spend everywhere.”
Clowney started his offseason hoping for $20M per year. He reportedly dropped his “asking price” to more than $17M. It was nice for the Patriots that Newton decided to sign the ultimate “prove-it” contract with the team for a base salary of $1.05M but that’s almost certainly not going to happen with Clowney.
First, he’s not coming off a three-year stretch of injuries as Newton is. Second, the outcry about how Newton got taken advantage of isn’t going to make the next big-name player likely to take pennies on the dollar to play for New England.
Besides all that, Clowney was all set with playing for Bill O’Brien and reportedly nixed a trade to the Dolphins because he didn’t want to play for Brian Flores, who also came up with the Patriots. Signing on to play for Belichick himself for a team-friendly contract?
Stranger things have happened but it will take all of Bill’s persuasiveness to pull off a Clowney signing.
And if that were to occur, the team would almost certainly have to get Joe Thuney to agree to a long-term deal, since he’s currently on the franchise tag and counting $14.78M against the cap.
The Patriots have until Wednesday to get a new deal done with Thuney or he’s locked in for the $14.78M for 2020. The team said in March it wanted to get a deal done but it hasn’t yet come to fruition which is the case with a lot of new deals. The problem? The pandemic.
Uncertainty over how great the revenue shortfall will be in 2020 because of missed games, fan-free stadiums, etc., has made teams reticent to write deals not knowing what the salary cap is going to look like.
Players like Thuney, meanwhile, are now facing the prospect of a cap that’s going to probably flatten and possibly drop over the next few seasons. And that may happen regardless of whether the new TV and gambling deals come in.
So it is a little bit of a buyer’s market for the Patriots when it comes to Thuney. If he wanted to avoid the uncertainty of the open market in 2021 and beyond, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to do something now. He’d be selling his services low but he’d have certainty. But he’d also be missing out on the chance that a vaccine materializes in two months, all returns to normal, TV and gambling deals come in and the league is flush.
Right now — as we’ve all come to realize — there are no sure things. But if you want to make a bet? Bet on the Patriots being boring with this dough.