NEPD Editor: Matthew Jones
When considering how New England should allocate their money in free agency this offseason, it’s important to weigh the impact that multi-year contracts will have on their cap flexibility in future seasons as well. Unfortunately for the Patriots, making long-term investments in players such as Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Aqib Talib, or outside free agent options may constrain their potential movements next offseason.
Read on for more information about the potential repercussions of this year’s free agent movements on next year’s possibilities.
Baltimore Ravens team president Dick Cass recently speculated that the salary cap “should not be much more than $122 million in 2014”, only a marginal increase over the 2013 season’s $121.1 million cap figure. Another incremental increase in the salary cap will challenge every team in the league, including New England, whose 2014 activity could be restricted by reaching new deals with any major 2013 free agents.
Right now, the New England Patriots have roughly $107 million invested towards their roster in 2014; this figure leaves them with roughly $15 million of salary cap room (less after this year’s moves, including their 2013 NFL Draft class.) New England could clear additional room by releasing players with significant cap savings, such as Dan Connolly ($3.00), Stephen Gostkowski ($3.00), Steve Gregory ($2.35), Daniel Fells ($1.85), along with fringe players who may not be on the roster; all in all, savings of $13-14 million are possible.
Of course, some of that available space will be earmarked for New England’s rookie classes this year and next, which should work out to around $8 million or more, and any deals lasting longer than one year which are signed this offseason will cut into the figure as well. Investments in players such as Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, or Aqib Talib would likely occupy upwards of $6 million each; Welker may demand over $8 million per year, Vollmer should be looking for at least as much as Kansas City Chiefs right tackle Eric Winston signed for last season (five years, $30 million), and there is a precedent for Talib to seek $8-10 million annually, the same amount Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith is reportedly searching for.
Clearly, signing all three players would take a significant bite out of New England’s available space in 2014; other current free agents the Patriots may be interested in signing to long-term contracts include running back Danny Woodhead, wide receiver Julian Edelman, offensive guard Donald Thomas, and cornerback Kyle Arrington, not to mention any outside free agents they are hoping to reach agreements with. These players would further limit the amount of cap space available to New England in 2014.
Fortunately, unlike this offseason, the Patriots will not be asked to sign any premier free agents. However, there are still a number of starters and role players which New England’s front office could be interested in re-signing; namely, starting center Ryan Wendell, starting defensive tackle Kyle Love, starting left end Rob Ninkovich, and starting middle linebacker Brandon Spikes.
The Patriots’ additional expiring contracts in 2014 are as follows: fullback Spencer Larsen, offensive guard Nick McDonald, defensive tackle Brandon Deaderick, defensive ends Marcus Benard and Jermaine Cunningham, linebacker Dane Fletcher (restricted), punter Zoltan Mesko, and long snapper Danny Aiken.
On top of the aforementioned names, foundational players such as Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Devin McCourty, and Nate Solder will be entering the final years of their current contracts. Barring any significant declines in production, these are all players with whom the Patriots should certainly be interested in locking up for additional time. It’s possible that New England will want to finalize deals with these players before their deals officially expire.