NEPD Editor: James Christensen
It seems that few teams have been able to master the NFL salary cap like the New England Patriots. Sustaining success over a decade without having to blow things up.
Other teams haven’t been so lucky. The New York Jets for example, are currently looking at a $19+ million deficit after a 6-10 season.
What do the Patriots have to work with in 2013?
CURRENT CAP FIGURES
After carrying over $5 million from the 2012 salary cap, the Patriots have between $16-18 million in room, depending on who runs the calculations. NYJetsCap.com, for example, has the Patriots closer to $16 million, while John Clayton of ESPN.com has them over $18 million.
With their picks in the 2013 NFL Draft the Patriots will accrue about $3.5 million in cap charges, although I’m sure that will change with the inevitable draft-day trades.
That leaves the Patriots with around $13-$15 million in room to re-sign or tender current players and target other teams’ free agents.
The Patriots have three key players that will hit unrestricted free agency this March if they aren’t re-signed: Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer and Aqib Talib. You could also add Julian Edelman and Kyle Arrington to that list, although their price tags shouldn’t be nearly as high.
With Tom Brady’s $21+ million cap charge looming over the Patriots in both 2013 and 2014, the Patriots are a bit hamstrung with what they can do. They can squeeze a few dollars out of Tom’s contract again if they extend him again, but it remains to be seen if they will commit to Brady into his 40’s.
Add Jonathan Fanene and Chad Johnson’s dead money – over $4 million this year, although it remains to be seen if the Patriots can recoup any of Fanene’s bonus – and things don’t look pretty. As it currently stands, the Patriots might be hard-pressed to sign two of their big names, let alone three, if the players want to push for maximum value.
Welker stands to earn over $11 million if he receives the franchise tag again, which would realistically end all hopes of signing the other two players. However, if they can minimize his cap hit in 2013 with some creative bonus structures, the Patriots could conceivably sign both Welker and one other of the key free agents.
If the Patriots want to get all three under contract, without a big concession from one of the three players in question, the Patriots front office is going to need to look at some restructuring. Luckily, that might not be a big problem.
Logan Mankins and Vince Wilfork both signed hefty extensions recently. Wilfork has two years remaining on his deal, while Mankins still has four.
The Patriots would be able to guarantee the 2013 salary for each player, thus converting them to signing bonuses when it comes to cap charges. Signing bonuses can be amortized over the remaining years of the contract, thus buying some room for New England.
When all is said and done, the Patriots could free up about $7 million by a simple reconstruction of each player’s contract – pushing more of a cap hit into 2014 and beyond – where the salary cap should start growing again.
There aren’t many cuts that would make sense – or cap room – for the Patriots. Spencer Larsen (750k) and Daniel Fells ($1m) are two possibilities, but their replacements aren’t going to be much cheaper.
If Belichick, Caserio and company can squeeze $7 million out of Wilfork and Mankins’ contracts while being frugal elsewhere, the Patriots have a real chance at re-signing all three major free agents this off-season.
Your turn – rank the three free agents in order of priority. Who would you sign first?
Thanks to the guys at Rotoworld for their excellent contract database.