The New England Patriots as well as the rest of the NFL will have several free agents set to hit the market in March. Free agency will begin at 4PM, March 9th. Teams can start to release players sometime in February 8th. Released veterans can then be immediately signed by another team while players with less than 4 accrued seasons go through the waiver season.

Some basic definitions –

Accrued Season
The number of accrued seasons determines the free agency status for the player. To gain an accrued season the player must be at full pay status for a minimum of 6 regular season games. They player does not gain an accrued season if the player is on Reserve PUP, Commissioner’s Exempt List, or a team’s practice squad. Games on IR do count in the accrued season calculation.

Exclusive Rights Free Agent – ERFA
A player with 2 or less accrued seasons at the completion of their contract.

Restricted Free Agent
A player with 3 or less accrued seasons at the completion of their contract. The team can choose one of three right of refusal tenders on the player. A first round tender, second round tender, or original draft position tender. Each tender has an assigned contract value amount. Another team can attempt to sign the player to a new contract, but the original team has the right to match it. If the original team does not match they will receive draft value equaling the original tender. If a team places a 1st round tender on a RFA and another team signs that player to a tender offer and the player’s old team does not match the player’s old team will get the new team’s 2017 first round pick. If a team places a 2nd round tender on a RFA and another team signs that player to a tender offer and the player’s old team does not match the player’s old team will get the new team’s 2017 second round pick. If a team places a low round tender on a RFA and another team signs that player to a tender offer and the player’s old team does not match the player’s old team will get the new team’s draft selection at the player’s original draft round. The player’s old team will not receive any draft picks if the player was undrafted.

The minimum increase in RFA tenders is 5% while the maximum increase is 10%. If the increase in the League Cap is between 5% and 10% then the increase in the RFA tenders will equal that increase. Last year’s low RFA tender was $1.671 million. So the range for the low RFA tender in 2017 will be between $1.755 and $1.838 million. Last year’s second-round RFA tender was $2.553 million. So the range for the 2nd round RFA tender in 2017 will be between $2.681 and $2.808 million. Last year’s first-round RFA tender was $3.635 million. So the range for the 1st round RFA tender in 2017 will be between $3.817 and $3.999 million.RFAs can negotiate with other teams starting at the beginning of the League Year. The RFA tender is not guaranteed so the player can then be waived without any dead money. The deadline to sign RFAs to offer sheets is 4PM April 21st, a Friday.

This look at the 2017 Patriots free agency will examine the Patriots RFAs. I had earlier looked at the ERFAs.

The below graphic lists the 3 Patriots players who are scheduled to become restricted free agents (RFAs) at the start of the 2017 League Year.

2017 Patriots Restricted Free Agents

RFAs

TE Michael Williams Williams has three accrued seasons (2013, 2015 and 2016). I do not expect the Patriots to tender him. Why? His name does not appear on the Patriots roster on the Patriots website. Whenever a player on IR has not been listed on the Patriots roster he has either been waived immediately after the start of the League Year or has not been tendered. If I happen to be wrong, the Patriots will probably reach a one-year deal with Michael Williams. His 2017 salary will be $540,000. It will not be not guaranteed. If the Patriots do not tender Michael Williams, he will then become a street free agent at the start of free agency and the Patriots will not receive any compensation (2017 or 2018) if he signs elsewhere. Level of confidence that Michael Williams will not get tendered at any RFA tender level – 100% since $1.755 million is a bit much for a player coming off IR.

OT Cameron Fleming Fleming has three accrued seasons (2014, 2015 and 2016 ). I expect the Patriots to tender him at the low tender level. His 2017 salary will be between $1.755 and $1.838 million. Fleming’s salary will not be not guaranteed. If the Patriots do not tender Cameron Fleming, he will then become a street free agent at the start of free agency and the Patriots will not receive any compensation (2017 or 2018) if he signs elsewhere. If the Patriots tender Cameron Fleming and another team signs him to an offer sheet and the Patriots do not match that offer sheet, the Patriots will receive his new team’s 2017 fourth round pick. If a team has multiple fourth-round picks, they must give up their assigned pick or a pick that is better than their assigned pick. If a team does not have a fourth-round pick, they must give up a pick in the 3rd round. Level of confidence that Cameron Fleming will get tendered – 90%. My confidence level will go to 100% if the Patriots release LaAdrian Waddle before the start of free agency. I doubt that the Patriots will tender Fleming at the second or first round levels. Cap space taken up – between $1.3 million and $1.4 million because the Patriots should have 51 players with cap hits of at least $465,000 when the 2017 League Year begins. In March of 2017 we will be in the period where not everyone’s salary is counted against the cap. Only the salaries of the players with the 51 highest cap numbers will be. Given that Marcus Cannon, the Patriots starting right tackle, is not signed past the 2016 season I doubt that Fleming will agree to an extension in the early part of 2017 that does not pay him like a starter if he happens to become a starter in 2018.

CB Malcolm Butler Butler has three accrued seasons (2014, 2015 and 2016 ). I expect the Patriots to tender him at the first round tender level. His 2017 salary will be between $3.817 and $3.999 million. Butler’s salary will not be not guaranteed. If the Patriots do not tender Malcolm Butler, he will then become a street free agent at the start of free agency and the Patriots will not receive any compensation (2017 or 2018) if he signs elsewhere. If the Patriots tender Malcolm Butler and another team signs him to an offer sheet and the Patriots do not match that offer sheet, the Patriots will receive his new team’s 2017 first round pick. If a team like the Cleveland Browns has multiple first-round picks, they must give up their assigned pick or a pick that is better than their assigned pick. If a team like the Los Angeles Rams does not have a first-round pick, they must acquire a first-round pick that is better than their assigned first round pick in order to sign Butler to an offer sheet. A team like the Minnesota Vikings who does not have a first-round pick does not acquire a first-round pick that is better than their assigned first round pick they can not sign Butler to an offer sheet. Level of confidence that Malcolm Butler will get tendered at the first round tender level – 100%. There is no chance that the Patriots will tender Butler at the low tender level since that would mean not receiving any compensation back for losing a starting cornerback. I doubt that the Patriots will tender Butler at the second round levels because a 2nd round pick is not enough return for a top cornerback.  Cap space taken up – between $3.4 million and $3.5 million because the Patriots should have 51 players with cap hits of at least $465,000 when the 2017 League Year begins. In March of 2017 we will be in the period where not everyone’s salary is counted against the cap. Only the salaries of the players with the 51 highest cap numbers will be.

If given a 1st round tender Butler would be making over $230K a week or about 4M for the year. He has made about $2M so far in NFL career.

The below shows what I consider a fair deal between Butler and the Patriots. In exchange for not having to play under a RFA tender in 2017 and a franchise tag in 2018 and passing on his injury risk to the Patriots Butler receives a great deal of upfront cash in 2017 and is paid as a top 10 cornerback.

Proposing a Malcolm Butler deal

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