NEPD Staff Writer: Matthew Jones
One thing that often gets overlooked during roster projections is the short and long term impact of the salary cap. Here is a look at my current Patriots roster, as well as all the cap savings that could occur if the Patriots cut or released certain players.
Changes since last week:
Added RB Jeff Demps, WR Deion Branch, TE Daniel Fells, CB Will Allen, and SS Nate Ebner to active roster. Removed WR Donte’ Stallworth, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, and SS James Ihedigbo from active roster. Moved RB Brandon Bolden from active roster to practice squad. Moved CB Alfonzo Dennard from active roster to injured list.
Quarterback (3): Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett
Running Back (4): Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, Danny Woodhead, Jeff Demps
Wide Receiver (6): Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Julian Edelman, Jabar Gaffney, Deion Branch, Matthew Slater
Tight End (3): Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells
Offensive Tackle (3): Nate Solder, Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon
Guard (4): Logan Mankins, Brian Waters, Donald Thomas, Dan Connolly
Center (2): Nick McDonald, Ryan Wendell
Defensive Line (10): Vince Wilfork, Kyle Love, Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick, Jonathan Fanene, Jake Bequette, Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott
Linebacker (6): Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes, Bobby Carpenter, Dont’a Hightower, Tracy White, Niko Koutovides
Cornerback (5): Devin McCourty, Ras-I Dowling, Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore, Will Allen
Safety (4): Pat Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner
Specialist (3): Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
Injured/PUP: WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Jake Ballard, TE Brad Herman (IR), OT Kyle Hix (IR), OT Markus Zusevics, C Jamey Richard (IR), DT Myron Pryor, LB Dane Fletcher (IR), CB Alfonzo Dennard (IR)
Toughest cuts: FB Spencer Larsen, WR Donte’ Stallworth, TE Visanthe Shiancoe, TE Alex Silvestro, DT Gerard Warren, DE Justin Francis, LB Jeff Tarpinian, CB Marquice Cole, SS James Ihedigbo
Other cuts: FB Eric Kettani, WR Britt Davis, WR Jesse Holley, TE Tyler Urban, OL Derek Dennis, OL Kyle Hill, OL Matt Kopa, OL Dan Koppen, OL Dustin Waldron, OL Darrion Weems, DT Marcus Harrison, DE Tim Bulman, LB Aaron Lavarias, LB Mike Rivera, CB Ross Ventrone, FS Sergio Brown, SS Josh Barrett, SS Derrick Martin, K Chris Koepplin
Practice squad: RB Brandon Bolden, WR Jeremy Ebert, TE Alex Silvestro, OT Matt Kopa, OG Jeremiah Warren, DT Marcus Forston, LB Jeff Tarpinian, CB Malcolm Williams
Although many of New England’s roster spots are already filled, there are a number of interesting roster battles to watch throughout the rest of preseason. Head coach Bill Belichick is notoriously averse to making personnel decisions based on factors unrelated to performance or player development, but financial considerations nonetheless play into decision-making throughout the league and can be an effective tool when predicting future transactions. The Patriots are notorious for signing a high percentage of players to undisclosed contracts, but Jason over at NY Jets Cap (www.NYJetsCap.com) has done a fantastic job of tracking AFC East contracts on his website. Most noteworthy are his “cap savings” and “dead money” categories, which list the non-guaranteed and guaranteed amounts of each player’s total cap figure. This article will examine various positional battles from a financial perspective in order to provide a new perspective on some of New England’s personnel options.
Quarterback: Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett are locks to return to the team, but New England may be receptive to shopping quarterback Brian Hoyer. At this point, it appears unlikely that the club will be able to find a suitor for Hoyer, an impending free agent, but a trade would save the team the entirety of Hoyer’s $1.927 million restricted free agency tender.
Projected savings: None
Dead money: None
Running Back: 2011 draft picks Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen should be safe along with change-of-pace back Danny Woodhead. Jeff Demps’ contract inormation has yet to be released, but he is the team’s most explosive kick return option and is projected to make the roster as well. New England will have a difficult decision to make regarding undrafted free agent Brandon Bolden, who was reportedly impressive in training camp. Carrying five running backs on the final roster seems excessive, and Bolden is their least-explosive player. Cutting him would save $380,000 against just $15,000 in dead money; Bolden would still be a practice-squad favorite if he clears waivers.
Projected savings: $380,000 (Brandon Bolden)
Dead money: $15,000 (Brandon Bolden)
Fullback: New England has three fullbacks currently on roster, but none of them appears likely to make the final roster. Tony Fiammetta is on the reserve/left squad list, Spencer Larsen has yet to appear in a preseason game, and Eric Kettani is considered more of a practice squad candidate at this point.
Projected savings: $1,605,000 (Tony Fiammetta $640,000, Spencer Larsen $575,000, Eric Kettani $390,000)
Dead money: $310,000 (Spencer Larsen $250,000, Tony Fiammetta $60,000)
Wide Receiver: Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker are safe, and Jabar Gaffney appears likely to make the team as well. Releasing Julian Edelman or Matthew Slater would also be very surprising. One of the Patriots’ most interesting storylines of 2012 thus far is whether Deion Branch or Donte’ Stallworth will make the final roster. Stallworth is the younger, more athletic player, and appears more likely to make the final team financially as well: New England would save $565,000 by cutting him, but $1.075 million by cutting Branch. However, based on Branch’s contributions last night, Stallworth may be out of a job as New England trims their roster. Receivers Jeremy Ebert ($353,850) and Jesse Holley ($540,000) are unlikely to make the final team.
Projected savings: $1,458,850 (Donte’ Stallworth $565,000, Jeremy Ebert $353,850, Jesse Holley $540,000)
Dead money: $73,200 (Jeremy Ebert $48,200, Donte’ Stallworth $25,000)
Summary changes which incorporate the Branch-over-Stallworth move:
Summary: By cutting all of the players mentioned above, New England would save a total of $16,945,105 (not counting the top 53 rule) with just $1,671,619 in dead money. Other potential cap casualties include (cap savings/dead money)
WR Deion Branch ($1,075,000/$250,000)
Tight End: Daniel Fells was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list on Saturday and is a near lock to make the final roster after signing a three-year contract this offseason. New England has $400,000 in guaranteed money owed to Visanthe Shiancoe but may not be able to carry four tight ends on the final roster; Shiancoe has also been unable to practice lately. Tyler Urban is almost a lock to be released, and Alex Silvestro appears to be more of a practice squad option at this point.
Projected savings: $1,580,000 (Visanthe Shiancoe $800,000, Alex Silvestro $390,000, Tyler Urban $390,000)
Dead money: $400,000 (Visanthe Shiancoe)
Offensive Tackle: Now that Sebastian Vollmer has been removed from the physically-unable-to-perform list, New England’s offensive tackle rotation appears set; the Patriots should carry just three tackles into the season: Vollmer, Nate Solder, and Marcus Cannon. The other four tackles on roster (Kyle Hill, Kyle Hix, Matt Kopa, Dustin Waldron, and Darrion Weems) are more likely practice squad candidates. Contract information for Hill and Waldron is not available at this point, but I have conservatively projected them as having signed $390,000 contracts.
Projected savings: $2,030,120 (Matt Kopa $473,120, Kyle Hill $390,000*, Dustin Waldron $390,000*, Darrion Weems $390,000, Kyle Hix $387,000)
Dead money: $6,000 (Kyle Hix)
* indicates an estimation
(Note: Kyle Hix was released on August 20th with an injury settlement and will be placed on injured reserve if he clears waivers.)
Offensive Guard: The most important storyline to monitor is whether or not veteran right guard Brian Waters will return in 2012; if he retires the Patriots will save $2.25 million in cap space. Otherwise, look for New England to cut guards Derek Dennis and Jeremiah Warren with only a minor loss of $28,000 in dead money (Warren.) Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, and Brian Waters should be the other three guards on roster, while Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald have positional versatility along the line. Warren is a practice squad candidate.
Projected savings: $758,000 (Derek Dennis $390,000, Jeremiah Warren $368,000)
Dead money: $28,000 (Jeremiah Warren)
Center: Dan Koppen has struggled through training camp and may have a hard time finding a roster spot as an aging player without the flexbility to slide over to guard. Koppen is owed $350,000 in guaranteed money but releasing him would also save the Patriots $838,000. Ryan Wendell and Nick McDonald should make the final team.
Projected savings: $838,000 (Dan Koppen)
Dead money: $350,000 (Dan Koppen)
Defensive Tackle: New England is deep at defensive tackle, with Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love locked in as starters and a substantial financial investment made in Jonathan Fanene. Myron Pryor is on the PUP list, which leaves five additional defensive tackles battling for roster spots: Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick, Marcus Forston, Marcus Harrison, and Gerard Warren. Brace and Deaderick possess the best combination of youth and talent, but at this point it is too early to determine which players will make the cut; cutting Brace would save $785,000 (albeit with $260,000 in dead money), while cutting Deaderick would save just over $538,000.
Projected savings: $1,556,453 (Marcus Harrison $623,120, Gerard Warren $550,000, Marcus Forston $383,333)
Dead money: $60,000 (Gerard Warren $50,000, Marcus Forston $10,000)
Defensive End: New England currently has a number of talented defensive ends on the roster despite losing their most productive pass rushers in free agency last offseason (Mark Anderson and Andre Carter.) First-round pick Chandler Jones and third-round pick Jake Bequette will be on the final roster, and Rob Ninkovich is projected as the starting left end. Trevor Scott and Jermaine Cunningham have been working with the second team in preseason and will most likely make the roster as well. That leaves Tim Bulman and Justin Francis as the likely cuts. Francis is a candidate for the practice squad.
Projected savings: $922,333 (Tim Bulman $540,000, Justin Francis $382,333)
Dead money: $10,000 (Justin Francis)
Linebacker: The Patriots’ three starting linebackers entering 2012 are Jerod Mayo (weak), Brandon Spikes (middle), and Dont’a Hightower (strong.) Bobby Carpenter has been playing extensively in preseason and looks likely to make the final roster as well. There are a number of spots up for grabs; Niko Koutouvides, Aaron Lavarias, Mike Rivera, Jeff Tarpinian, and Tracy White are all contending for one or two spots. Look for Koutouvides and either Tarpinian or White to land on the final roster, with Lavarias, Rivera, and Tarpinian contending for practice squad spots. Although White has missed substantial practice time, he is a core special teams player; White makes the team when his special teams value is combined with Tarpinian’s struggles this week as well as what would amount to $365,000 in dead money if the Patriots cut White.
Projected savings: $1,261,240 (Jeff Tarpinian $465,000, Aaron Lavarias $398,120, Mike Rivera $398,120)
Dead money: None
Cornerback: New England’s first-string cornerbacks this preseason have been Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, with Sterling Moore and Ras-I Dowling rotating in with the second team. Unless New England opts to keep six cornerbacks on roster, the fifth spot is up for grabs between Will Allen (veteran leadership, can play free safety), Marquice Cole (core special teams player), and Alfonzo Dennard (rookie with upside.) Dennard is a candidate to land on injured reserve as well. For the sake of this projection, Marquice Cole is cut along with Ross Ventrone and Malcolm Williams because Cole does not offer much on defense.
Projected savings: $1,493,120 (Marquice Cole $630,000, Ross Ventrone $473,120, Malcolm Williams $390,000)
Dead money: $25,000 (Marquice Cole)
Safety: New England currently has eight safeties on roster: Patrick Chung, Steve Gregory, Tavon Wilson, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown, Nate Ebner, James Ihedigbo, and Derrick Martin. The first three will be New England’s primary safety rotation, with one or two spots left over on the 53-man roster. Keeping Will Allen would allow New England to use their fifth safety spot elsewhere. Barrett, Brown, and Martin are almost locks to be cut, while Ebner and Ihedigbo are battling for the fourth safety spot. Finances may be the difference there: Ebner has $96,600 in guaranteed money and cap savings of just $317,550, while cutting Ihedigbo would save $580,000 with just $25,000 in dead money.
Projected savings: $3,056,409 (Josh Barrett $1,008,000, James Ihedigbo $580,000, Derrick Martin $540,000, Sergio Brown $538,409)
Dead money: $169,419 (Josh Barrett $125,000, James Ihedigbo $25,000, Sergio Brown $19,419)
Specialists: Backup kicker Chris Koepplin will not make the team barring injury to Stephen Gostkowski.
Projected savings: $395,580 (Chris Koepplin)
Dead money: None
Summary: By cutting all of the players mentioned above, New England would save a total of $17,455,105 (not counting the top 53 rulte) with just $1,671,619 in dead money. Other potential cap casualties include (cap savings/dead money)
WR Donte’ Stallworth ($565,000/$25,000)
OG Brian Waters ($2,250,000/$0) (possible retirement)
DT Ron Brace ($785,000/$260,000)
DT Brandon Deaderick ($538,045/$20,150)
LB Niko Koutouvides ($548,120/$65,000)
LB Tracy White ($625,000/$365,000)
CB Will Allen ($565,000/$15,000)
CB Alfonzo Dennard ($346, 614/$57,848)
SS Nate Ebner ($317,550/$96,600)