In this section we look at the Roster composition, Free Agents we want to retain and those we want to go after.
Estimated cap space 2021 after rookie pool: $ 59,871,320.00
This cap space is just temporary, because – as I mentioned before – we have some other opportunities to increase it before we start to spend money. I have a 7 point list of our to do´s.
Decide who has to be cut and cut them.
Are there any opportunities to restructure some contracts?
Check who could be traded and trade them.
Decide whom to bring back from our own free agents.
Make clear at which positions do we need new players.
Decide if you want to fill the holes from FA or from Draft.
Make the calls.
It is never easy to cut players, but nobody said being a GM is always a pleasant job. Although before we start with the cuts, unfortunately, I predict we will have 2 retirements.
Marcus Cannon, RT: His career start wasn’t the easiest because of his medical history, but then he became a reliable starter RT. His opt-out was 100% understandable, but that 1 year away from football was enough for him to make the decision to hang up his cleats. His retirement means almost $6.3M plus.
Dont’a Hightower, LB: I’m not saying it will happen for sure, but now I think he will retire as well. His absence was a sensible loss for the defense this year. He and Devin McCourty are the two leaders of the Patriots’ defense. He opted-out as well and I don’t believe he will return for 2021. With this move, he will free up more than $9.1M in the cap.
Beau Allen, NT: He was the next NT plan for the Patriots, but he was injured and the team will be looking for another player who can fill the hole in the middle of the Dline. $2M extra to the cap space.
Matt LaCosse, TE: I must admit, I didn’t understand why BB signed him and why some people had high hopes for him (they might know much more about him than I did), but he wasn’t really great and since we have Izzo and the two rookies (and actually we still need someone better than LaCosse) cutting him is an easy choice to make. Plus $1.3M.
Dan Vitale, FB: He came here to replace James Develin, but he opted-out and a German guy just stole the show this year. Additionally, the team drafted Dalton Keene last year who could play FB as well. We don’t need more players for that position, the cut means extra $1.2M.
Akeem Spence, DL: Spence didn’t play too much this year and I think the team can replace him from FA or draft, so with this move, we free up $1.1M.
Jacob Dolegala, QB: He is just a PS player, but we can find someone to replace him and there is time to reshuffle the QB room. Adds another $780,000 to the cap space.
Justin Rohrwasser, K:After his draft there were some waives around him and maybe these waives flushed him away. Unfortunately, he didn’t live up with the 5th round expectations, which we could see when the team signed Robert Aguayo late in the year. His release will give us $660,000 plus.
Brandon Bolden, RB: First I wanted to keep him, but we have a good group and 4+1 RB would be enough for the final roster. Hard decision, because he is a valuable ST player too, but his cut will give us another $707,500.
That’s it. I won’t cut more people. You can argue with me if those players were the right ones or I might forget to cut someone you wouldn´t want to see anymore, but cutting too many people would generate more holes and we already have some holes to fill. With these cuts/retirements we created $23.3M extra cap space.
I was thinking a lot about who could be a potential target here, but I have only one name: Stephon Gilmore.
It is actually a contract extension, where we can lower the cap number for 2021. Gilmore wasn’t the same player as last year, but he is still an animal on the field. Yes, he is over 30, but he still plays at a very high level. With him on the field plays J.C. Jackson better as well and with these two guys on the field, we could have one of the best CB tandems in the NFL in 2021 again. It is not easy to predict what kind of money Gilmore is looking for, especially if he is rating himself higher than the team does. I would say Gilmore is not a top 5 cornerback at the moment (yes, some of you want to kill me now), but he is in the top 10 of his position. Why is it so important? Because this little difference could mean millions per year. The average yearly salary of the top 5 is $17.9M. This number is a little different for the 5-10th place, $14.3M per year. Everybody in the top 10 is younger than Gilmore except Patrick Peterson, who is at the same age and he is a free agent, so his numbers could help us to find Gilmore’s level. Unfortunately, we can’t wait for Peterson. I would add 2 extra years to Gilmore’s contract and at the end it would be a 3 years / $42M deal, with $20M guaranteed. This move will lower Gilmore’s cap hit from $16.2M to $13.5M, so we can add $2.7M to our cap space.
Possible Contract Restructure
This will be very short. If Gilmore accepts our offer then I wouldn’t trade anyone. If he is not accepting it, then we can make a draft-day trade, for example pairing him with our 15th pick and we can jump into the top 10. Or just trade him somewhere for a 2nd round pick. However, I hope it won’t happen and he will sign the extension.
Ok, we reached the point where we have the most cap space. We made the cuts, restructured a contract, did everything to increase our space to sign new/old players. But before we start to spend our money, let’s take a look on our actual cap space:
Estimated cap space after cuts, retirements and contract restructure: $ 85,927,467.00
Sign back our own free agents:
If cutting players was hard, then deciding which players we should bring back is even harder. There could be players who are very important or playing really well, but they could be so good, that they find themselves out of our price range. This will be the case with some of our players now. On the other hand, there are players who don´t play such a role for the team to keep them or we could have an upgrade for the same amount of money. Although we have more than $85M cap space we can´t bring back everyone, because we still need to sign some guys in free agency, but we have a really strong starting point.
Players I won´t bring back:
Joe Thuney, LG: Let’s start with the biggest name on our list. I love Thuney, as mentioned earlier. He is one of our cornerstones in the offense. Playing great, durable, great teammate. But he will probably be looking for big money and this likely means $14-15M per year. I know offense starts at the Oline, but this is too high and actually, the Patriots are famous for OL development and talent scouting. We already have Onwenu, who could switch back to his original college spot or we could let Wynn play LG, or we just bring someone else on board. Last year he reportedly didn’t want to sign the offers the Patriots gave him. I don’t know what kind of money was in those offers but I guess it should be at least $11-12M/year. I don’t think he will change his mind, even if in 2021 there will be a bigger drop in the cap number and therefore fewer teams could afford his services. This is the hardest decision for me, I really tried to push him under the cap.
Rex Burkhead, RB: I really liked him, he played effectively and gave us some really nice moments, but I think our RB group is quite good without him. The Harris – Michel duo has potential, J.J. Taylor showed flashes, and I’m hoping – spoiler alert – White will sign a new contract with us. I like this group enough to not bring Burkhead back. In real life, I can imagine that for a lower salary, he will be back.
Cam Newton, QB: Although he was not good in the passing game, he still made a good impression on me. He was a leader, he was committed to bringing the Pats as far as he could. The reason I won’t bring him back is the direction where I feel like the Patriots will go with the position. If Belichick would target Trey Lance from NDSU on the draft, I would bring back Newton for a one year contract as starter and mentor. They have a similar style and it could be a great match. I personally am not so high on Lance and I would go in a different direction and not bring Newton back. If Newton did come back in real life, I wouldn´t be sad. He earned one more year with better skill players around him.
Brian Hoyer, QB: It is a consensus that I don’t think he’ll be back. He was several times inactive and he is not the youngest QB out there. Some analysts see him as a coaching candidate. Stidham is still here, but we need a redo in the QB room.
John Simon, Edge: This wasn’t Simons‘ year, he was not the presence he was in 2019. I would bring someone else instead of him.
Adam Butler, DT: Yes, he was the other hard decision to make, because he really showed his potential. He is not on the top DT level, but he could still grow and could be better. Unfortunately because of his ceiling, he will get more money from other teams. Malcolm Brown was too expensive for Belichick with the 3-year/$15M contract he signed with the Saints and Butler is better than Brown (I know they are different types of players). I would say he could get around $7-9M per year somewhere else.
Jermaine Eluemunor, T: He saw some action during the season, but he didn’t leave such an impression in me, that I want to resign him.
Damiere Byrd, WR: He had some flashes through the season (he was also well known for his relationship with Newton since they spent time together at the Panthers), but we already have a few number 2 and 3 receivers on the roster. It could be that Belichick will bring him back for another year with a lower contract, but I won’t.
I will let the following 4 players go as well: Terrence Brooks, S, Brandon Copeland, LB, Donte Moncrief, WR, Quincy Adeboyejo, WR
Players I will bring back:
Jason McCourty, CB: My favorite player is his brother, Devin, who already declared he wants to be back next year. So I guess Jason will be ready to play one more year with his twin brother together. He lost a step, but he is still a valuable rotational player. I would give him a 1-year contract and $4M ($2M guaranteed).
James White, RB: He is in the same category for me as Edelman, I can’t imagine he is in a different jersey. Because of personal tragedy during the year, he wasn’t the same as he usually was, but he is still the best third-down/receiving back on the roster. I would like to see him back at 2 year/$6M ($2M guaranteed), where in the first year the cap number would be $2,5M.
Lawrence Guy, DL: I guess you already knew I would bring him back when I let Butler go. Guy is just a perfect match for our team. In the last 4 years, he became the leader of our Dline. He is not the youngest, but still a very important piece of the defense. I gave him a 2-year contract for $7,5M ($2,5M guaranteed). Cap number for the first year is $3,5M.
David Andrews, C: There will be some other good centers available in free agency, but Andrews is our center and I think he will stay in Foxborough. We can’t let both starters go and Andrews is the cheaper choice. We will have a new QB or QBs and I guess they will be very happy with a center who already knows the system. He will be only 29 when the season starts, which is not much for an Olineman. I gave him a 4-year contract for $28M ($14M guaranteed) and with a cap number of $6M for 2021.
Cody Davis, S: I would bring back Davis for one more year because he was quite active in our special team (70% + in 8 games) and he got few snaps in the defense too. His cap number is $1.4M.
Justin Bethel, CB: Another ST team member, the second-best after Slater. I hope Slater will come back for his last year, but we still need leaders in this unit. I would keep him for two more years for $3M, cap hit for 2021 $1.5M.
Shilique Calhoun, DE: 2020 was his better year in New England, he got snaps during special team plays and registered 2 sacks in the defense. We could use him as a rotational player for two more years for $3M ($500,000 guaranteed), with a cap hit of $1.5M in 2021.
Nick Folk, K: I know some people have concerns with his kick power, but 2020 was his best year when he kicked field goals (28/26 = 92.9%) and he made 90% of his extra points (which was obviously down from his 100% in 2019). The competition is already there (Aguayo), but I would retain him for the next two seasons for $5M ($1M guaranteed), with a cap hit of $2.5M in 2021.
Carl Davis, DT: Despite the fact Davis didn’t get much time in the defense I would keep him for one more year. He could be at least a safety option in the middle of the Dline. With a very little pay rise, I would give him $950,000.
James Ferentz, OL: Ferentz is not yet near a starter level but with 3 years already in New England, he has the system knowledge and could be an option for the interior Oline if something happens. 1 year $850,000.
Deatrich Wise Jr, DL: Personally I am a fan of his since he was drafted, or at least I am crossing my fingers for him. In 2020 he found some success, which was necessary for me to keep him around. He is a reliable rotational player as a 3-4 DE or a 4-3 DT. I would give him a 3-year contract for $9M ($3M guaranteed), with a cap hit of $2.5M in 2021.
Jacob Johnson, FB: Since I live and coach in Germany, I am a big supporter of his. It was really nice to see him growing into his role as a starter. He still has a lot to learn, but he made key blocks during the year and scored his first TD as well. There is no question he would get a new contract for $850,000.
J.C. Jackson, CB: Many of the analysts are arguing if he should get a first or a second-round RFA tender. I am not on their side. If we are talking about young talents, there is always a risk that extending one year later could cost millions. Of course, there is a possibility that Jackson won’t be so good again and he can’t repeat this 9 INT season, but I think he could be our future number 1 corner. If we can keep Gilmore too, we will have one of the best cornerback tandems in the league, with one of the best slot corner (Jones). I am not sure what will happen after next year with our safety group, since McCourty and Chung are near to the end of their respected carrier, so we should keep at least the corner room together. I will be ecstatic with this scenario, so I am pulling the trigger. I give Jackson a 4-year contract for $52M ($25M guaranteed), with a cap hit of $12M for 2021. With this contract, he will have a top 10 yearly salary, even when I don’t think he is already there (rather top 15). I would put my faith in him and hope he will be even better and he will prove me right.
That’s it, ladies and gentlemen, we signed 13 contracts which have a sum for the 2021 season of $40.05M. I didn’t say we couldn’t bring back more of our own guys, but I tried to find the balance. We let some better guys go (Thuney, Butler), but we could retain Guy, Andrews, Jackson, therefore we still have a strong group of core players and young talents.
Estimated cap space after signing our own free agents back: $ 45.877.467,00
With more than $45M cap space we have some room because that number is higher than the starting point was one year ago. You are right, we have holes to fill, but with this amount, we can look around and be a little more open-minded than during the last few off-seasons. We would have 66 players under contract.
Merrimack Valley native and lifelong fan of the New England Patriots. My earliest memories of the Patriots were attending as a child with my dad, the off-season practice at Phillips Academy. I was at the Patriots game at Harvard Stadium in 1970 where Bob “Harpo” Gladieux was called out of the stands by the stadium announcer over the PA to play in the game. Analyzing the draft since ESPN first started to televise it in 1980 and former writer for the Lowell Sun Newspaper.