We are in the Patriots’ silent spring. Aside from the ongoing mud wrestle Tom Brady’s engaged in with the NFL and the noise surrounding that, it’s quiet with the football team.
Minimal personnel outflow. An interesting haul of B-list free agents. A workmanlike draft of players who won’t likely make much impact in their rookie seasons.
But this calm precedes a roster storm the team is facing over the next nine months.
Nine players of major consequence are entering the final year of their contracts. On offense, it’s not a crisis. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer is the only expiring contract.
Defensively? Different story. Linebackers Donta Hightower and Jamie Collins, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, defensive backs Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon and Malcolm Butler (restricted free agent) are all expiring. As is special teams ace and captain Matthew Slater.
But wait, there’s still more. A bunch of the free agent/trade imports the Patriots made are here on one-year deals: tight ends Martellus Bennett and Clay Harbor, defensive linemen Chris Long and Terrance Knighton and guard Jonathan Cooper.
Add in OL Marcus Cannon, RB LeGarrette Blount, DL Alan Branch, WR Aaron Dobson, RB Brandon Bolden, LB Jonathan Freeny, FB James Develin, WR Chris Harper, TE Michael Williams, G Cameron Fleming and lower-tier free agent signings like DT Markus Kuhn, WR Nate Washington, LB Ramon Humber, CB E.J. Biggers and DE Frank Kearse and overall there are 30 (!!) players with expiring deals.
A few of those players won’t even make it through the summer with the team. And the fact others, like Bennett, Long, Knighton, Cooper, Blount and Washington, are on one-year “show us” deals isn’t bad. It’s smart.
But the volume of consequential players – especially on defense – who’ll be looking for new deals means there’s an interesting dance for Bill Belichick and Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio to engage in.
The Patriots have to do what’s best for their football team. But some of the players whose contracts are up are obligated to do what’s best for themselves business-wise.
And a lot of them are in line for their second contracts. They are facing what will probably be the most pivotal financial period in their lives over the next few months.
Consider a player like Jamie Collins. A second-round pick in 2013, his initial contract was for $3.76M. You take out taxes, agent fees, expenses, etc. and how much money do you think Collins has to show for the three seasons in which he’s been a rising star in the league? Certainly not enough to feel financially comfortable for the rest of his life.
But – barring catastrophic injury – Collins’ next contract is going to be a huge financial haul that should set up him and his family for decades.
By comparison, Lavonte David of the Buccaneers signed a five-year $50M contract with more than $25M guaranteed last August. Both play outside linebacker at a high level. Both were initially second-round picks (David, No. 58 in 2012; Collins, No. 52 in 2013).
Then there are players like Harmon and Ryan – good rising players who are not going to be paid like stars and may never be Pro Bowlers but are going to play in the league for a long time. Last season, Ryan took a huge step forward, starting opposite Malcolm Butler, putting up some outstanding advanced statistics and increasing his profile around the league. Harmon had a similar year. Ryan will have made $2.77M by the end of his rookie deal; Harmon will make $2.71M.
Unlike Collins, who is a freak talent and is going to get teams throwing tens of millions at him, Ryan and Harmon have a little more uncertainty. If the Patriots present them with offers prior to this year, do they take the security of knowing they are program mainstays or do they wait it out and test the market.
Ryan can look at a player like Buster Skrine who signed a $25M deal with the Jets last year and say, “Whoa… that could be me.” Harmon will have to see the offer he gets from the Patriots and compare it to the one the team gave his good friend Devin McCourty last year ($47.5M). Is Harmon half the player McCourty is? One-third? Will another team see in Harmon the potential to be comparable to McCourty?
Hightower, a former first-round pick, is more financially set than the other guys staring at second contracts. Hightower was down to make $7.724M from 2012-15. The Patriots picked up his fifth-year option for 2016 which will pay him $7.75M. So he’s in position to make more than $15M by the end of the season. He’s another player who could command more than $50M in a new deal if he goes to free agency. Would he be willing to take the security of staying in New England for a deal that may not be as lucrative as what he could command on the open market?
That’s what Jerod Mayo did and it proved to be the right move. Mayo – who came into the league under the previous CBA that was more lucrative for rookie first-rounders – agreed to a five-year extension in December of 2011 before his fourth NFL season was up, 15 months before he would have become a free agent. The extension was worth $48.5M. Mayo wound up on season-ending IR in 2013, 2014 and 2015 and he renegotiated his deal a couple of times but there was good security built into that deal. He retired recently having made more than $42M in the NFL.
We could go on with individual situations – Malcolm Butler could reasonably expect to make more than Janoris Jenkins who signed with the Giants for $62M this offseason, but Butler’s two years from unrestricted free agency and making less than $1M in salary this year; Jabaal Sheard needed to prove himself after a slow start to his career in Cleveland led him to a the two-year, $11M deal he signed with the Patriots. He’s en route to doing that and is – thanks to signing that short-term deal – in line to get another crack to cash in while in his prime.
And nobody should begrudge these players for doing so. We all know by now the future physical peril they put themselves in and we will never run out of stories related to young men who blew their money thinking it would never dry up. The players owe it to themselves and their families to make sure they are compensated as well as they can be.
Belichick, Caserio and the Krafts are aware of that too. Their chore is to do right by as many of these guys as they can against a hard salary cap and make sure the team isn’t mortgaged to its eyeballs.
It’s as complex a contractual puzzle as I can recall.
WALTHAM, Mass. – The Boston Celtics brought in six players for workouts on Wednesday. Here’s a glimpse at each player, all of whom are considered potential second-round selections or prospects likely to go undrafted.
6-8, 220, Florida
Summary: Was second-team All-SEC by coaches and third-team all-conference by the AP. Led Gators in scoring (14.3) and rebounds (8.3) for the second and third consecutive seasons, respectively.
Projected draft status: Second round.
6-8, 225, Northeastern
Summary: Averaged 16.4 points, 7.0 rebounds while shooting 34.8 percent on 3s. Underwent season-ending back surgery that sidelined him for the 2013-2014 season. Bounced back with a pair of solid seasons, the last of which earned him a spot of on the NABC All-District Second team as well as the All-CAA Second team.
Projected draft status: Late second, undrafted.
6-5, 216, Georgia Tech
Summary: Averaged 16.7 points, shooting 45.4 percent from the field while dishing out a team-high 3.3 assists per game. Has a knack for getting to the free throw line, evident by him ranking 13th in free throws made and 18th in free throw attempts.
Projected draft status: Undrafted, maybe late second round.
6-5, 200, Miami
Summary: A transfer from Texas, McClellan averaged 16.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.6 assists for Miami this past season while shooting 50.4 percent from the field and 40.6 percent on 3s. Has a lot of tools that are intriguing to the NBA, but consistency and decision-making are areas of uncertainty about where he’ll eventually land.
Projected draft status: Second round pick.
7-0, 260, Virginia
Summary: Turned a few heads during Portsmouth Invitational when he averaged 12 points per game. Appeared in all 37 games this season with Virginia, but only had seven starts. Shot a team-best 60.1 percent from the field and was second on the team with 22 blocked shots.
Projected draft status: Undrafted.
6-8, 260, Stony Brook
Position: Power forward
Summary: The best player in Stony Brook history, Warney was a double-double machine this season in which he averaged 19.8 points and 10.8 rebounds to go with 3.0 blocked shots. An Honorable mention All-American, Warney was the America East Player and Defensive Player of the Year. Does not have much of a face-the-basket game but does provide a nice strong presence defensively.
Projected draft status: Second round to undrafted.
The moments following the final round of the NFL draft are always a whirlwind because the work done by those in their respective war rooms isn't finished. Every year, coaches and personnel staffers work their phones calling undrafted free-agents in order to round out their rosters with passed-over talent.
Arizona State receiver and running back D.J. Foster was one of those fielding calls on Saturday, giving his cell battery a workout. The Cardinals, Texans and Patriots all came calling, and he was leaning toward what he considered his hometown team in Arizona.
Then the Patriots deployed their top recruiting weapon: coach Bill Belichick.
You can watch Foster's draft day ordeal here with this video put together by 12News.com in Phoenix.
When he's made his decision he gets a call from one team employee telling him how "fired up" they are to have him on board. Then Belichick calls again, his mission accomplished, to first congratulate Foster and then order him to be in shape for rookie minicamp.
Foster was barely in elementary school when Belichick and Tom Brady helped the Patriots win their first Super Bowl. Ever since, they've been one of the most consistently successful teams in football.
That track record couldn't have hurt Foster in his decision-making process, but it seems as though he was proposed the best financial deal by the Patriots. They're also a team that won't be afraid to try players at multiple positions. The fact that Foster considers himself both a running back and a receiver could be seen as beneficial in regards to him making the team. Being labeled a "'tweener" isn't always a detriment.
In the Patriots offense, there is room for a player with Foster's skill set. Perhaps he will work alongside Dion Lewis and James White as a "sub back," who specializes in the passing game and poses a threat either lined up in the backfield or out wide like a receiver. The other option would be for Foster to serve as a full-time receiver -- something he focused on last season -- who might be best suited for the slot. As an undrafted rookie, he'll also likely be expected to contribute in the kicking game in some way shape or form.