How do Patriots stack up against the salary cap?

How do Patriots stack up against the salary cap?
February 20, 2014, 2:15 pm
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The 2014 salary cap is projected to be set at about $130 million.

This is great news for NFL’s cap experts who’ve been trying to shoehorn their player salaries in under the number before the league year begins on March 11. And it’s found money seeing as, in December, the 2014 cap was projected to be $126M. The deal cut with CBS for Thursday Night Football created an influx of cash that probably helped the cap number rise.

What does this mean for the Patriots? Good things.

I lean on my friend Miguel Benzan when it comes to making sense of the Patriots financials that make my head swim.

Miguel, who’s been tracking the Patriots salary cap with great diligence and accuracy for more than a decade did work last week projecting where the Patriots were relative to the cap and how they could save some dough with some very simple tweaks and roster moves.

Prior to news the cap would be $130M, Miguel had the Patriots at just over $7M in cap space (that includes the rollover of $4.1M in 2013 cap space into 2014). With this projected increase, the Patriots are now around $11M under the cap.

They do, of course, have some pressing personnel issues in free agency confronting them. Whether to franchise Aqib Talib, get him into a long-term deal or let him walk is the first. How much they’ll commit to Julian Edelman is the second. There are others but these are the most obvious.

The easiest way to clear more room, as Miguel also points out in his story, is releasing Isaac Sopoaga. He’s on the books for $2M. That’s a layup.

The other simple move would be to release Steve Gregory for another $2M in cap savings and the Patriots would be at $15M under the cap.

New England is also carrying some fat 2014 cap numbers among their most important players. Bills are coming due for three 30-somethings – Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins and Tom Brady – and decisions will have to be made whether to present them with restructure ideas to clear money.

Brady has a $14.8M cap number (his contract’s already been tinkered with so that only $2M of that is salary this season), Mankins is at $10.5M and Wilfork is at $11.6M.

The next tier of high cap numbers are Jerod Mayo ($7,287,500) and Rob Gronkowski ($5.4M).

The much-discussed contract for Danny Amendola has a $4.7M cap hit this year. Guard Dan Connolly’s deal is the next in line at $4.083M against the cap.

Extensions or restructures for Wilfork and Connolly – both in the final years of their deals – would also be fairly obvious savings moves. And Amendola could be asked to take a haircut as well.

The notion of releasing Wilfork has been broached. If that were to happen, the Patriots would save $7.58M against the cap.

Personally, I think Wilfork is an extremely valuable part of the team and still has it in him to play at a Pro Bowl level. That $11.6M, though, is hard to commit to with the probability of him still being Big Vince brought down to even a 75 percent likelihood.

Think about it: if Wilfork gets injured again and is compromised, the Patriots will have committed $14M in salary and $22M in cap space to him over the final two years of his contract. The Patriots cannot be liking the possibility of that staring them in the face.

My guess is there will be hard feelings if the Pats approach either Wilfork or Mankins with any proposal that costs them money. Both men went through the wringer to get the deals they are currently in. Neither will want to cough money back up.

But that’s all details. Keeping it relative to today’s news, the Patriots are now at about $11M under. A few easy moves and restructures can get them close to $20M under.
 
Enough to franchise Talib. Enough to work out a long-term deal with him that accounts for his injury history with playing time incentives. Definitely enough to re-sign Julian Edelman. Maybe both.
 
But the Patriots are not in bad financial shape at all.