Patriots

What should the Patriots do with sudden cap windfall?

What should the Patriots do with sudden cap windfall?

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.

Tom E. Curran's Patriots Talk Podcast: Did Pats just become Cam Newton's team? | Listen and subscribe | Watch on YouTube

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.

Patriots' turnover at linebacker thrusts focus onto Ja'Whaun Bentley

Patriots' turnover at linebacker thrusts focus onto Ja'Whaun Bentley

Does it sound like an exaggeration to say the fortunes of the Patriots defense rest on Ja’Whaun Bentley?

Probably. But might as well say it anyway. Because they do.

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When Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Elandon Roberts fled the team in free agency, the linebacker level lost three guys who combined to take 1,829 defensive snaps in 2019 (81 percent of the plays for Van Noy and Collins and 20 percent for Roberts).

If Hightower — the brains and the brawn of the front-seven — was going to wreak his particular havoc, he needed liberation from the role of middle-of-the-defense traffic cop.

That’s where Bentley came in. If he could be “High” then “High” could be unleashed.

Now there’s no High either. And he played more than 700 snaps. So that’s 2,500 snaps from the linebacker group out the door. And three of the four players are very good-to-elite-level performers with complete understanding of how the Patriots want their defense executed.

So the Patriots lost almost their entire linebacker room; the 1B strength of the defense to the 1A strength that is their secondary. And the player left behind to stabilize things played just 27 percent of the defensive snaps last year.

Bentley didn’t just fall off the linebacking turnip truck. A fifth-round pick out of Purdue in 2018, he had a tremendous camp two years ago and was playing well in the early part of that season before a torn chest muscle ended his year after three games. He’s a good player. He just doesn’t have a long resume.

Jerod Mayo, the Patriots' inside linebackers coach and a guy who was thrust into the middle of things himself back in 2008 at the same position as Bentley, said don’t worry about the length of the resume.

“I’d say if you were to look at last year and look at his production per play, he was very productive when he was out there,” said Mayo. “And when you think about the players we had in that (linebacker) room in 2019, it was a crowded room. But when he did get an opportunity, for the most part, he performed well. So I look forward to giving him more opportunities, and hopefully he stays healthy and he's able to keep that production up.”

Patriots Talk Podcast: Measuring the toll that opt-outs took around the NFL | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Mayo, the 10th overall pick in 2008, was plunked down in the middle of the Patriots defense as a rookie and was the near-unanimous AP Defensive Rookie of the Year after making 128 tackles.

In terms of having a mentor, Bentley couldn’t be in better hands. (Disclosure, I did TV with Mayo for about eight years … but we never got along). And Mayo can mentor Bentley on being a mentor to drafted linebackers like Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings among others.

“You lose guys like Hightower and Kyle, … Elandon, … now Bentley is really the guy as far as mentoring the younger players,” said Mayo. “I think he's done a great job up until this point as far as his leadership ability, taking control of the huddle and all those things. I look forward to continue seeing that growth going forward. Obviously, we don't have on pads right now. It's not 100 degrees out there on a summer day, you're out there tired and all that stuff. But I look forward to seeing that development continue under strenuous situations. But just his role as far as the communicator at the second level and also just his mentorship role with the younger guys (is important)."

Even though Bentley was relegated to a supporting role in 2019, Mayo indicated that was more a reflection on the experience of the others than Bentley's shortcomings.

“Physically, he's bigger than some of those guys last year,” said Mayo. “He's faster than some of those guys last year. It's more now (about) making the game slow down for him, getting more reps in practice. That's why this time right now is so important. But physically, this guy is gifted. He's a big, fast, strong linebacker, and he's a smart guy as well. I'm excited. I'm excited to give him an opportunity to be out there for a while."

NFL Rumors: Patriots plan to sign TE Jordan Leggett, DT Darius Kilgo

NFL Rumors: Patriots plan to sign TE Jordan Leggett, DT Darius Kilgo

The New England Patriots have more open roster spots than any NFL team, but they're reportedly beginning to fill them.

The Patriots plan to sign tight end Jordan Leggett and defensive tackle Darius Kilgo assuming both free agents pass their COVID-19 tests and physicals, NFL Media's Ian Rapoport reported Monday.

New England hosted both players for visits last week, according to ESPN's Mike Reiss.

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Leggett began his NFL career with the New York Jets in 2017 but missed his entire rookie year due to a knee injury. He caught 14 passes for 114 yards and one touchdown during the 2018 campaign but hasn't played a regular-season snap since after spending the 2019 season on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' practice squad.

Still, the 25-year-old would add depth to a thin tight end group in New England: Ryan Izzo joins rookies Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene as the only tight ends on the roster after Matt LaCosse opted out of the 2020 season.

Kilgo has spent four NFL seasons on six different teams and spent part of the 2016 campaign in New England, earning a Super Bowl ring while finishing the season on the Patriots' practice squad.

The 28-year-old missed his 2019 season with the Detroit Lions due to injury and last played an NFL snap with the Tennessee Titans in 2018.