Hannable: Bigger Patriots moves may need to wait until internal housekeeping matters are taken care of

Ryan Hannable
March 13, 2019 - 10:34 pm

It’s been three full days of the legal tampering period and official start of free agency and the Patriots haven’t exactly done much.

They have made five moves, all of which have been bringing back familiar role players — Phillip Dorsett, Matthew Slater, Brandon Bolden, Jason McCourty and John Simon. There’s nothing wrong with making these moves, as they go a long way during the year, but they have taken up a good chunk of the team’s cap space.

Going into Wednesday, the team had roughly $12-13 million in cap space and that doesn’t figure the Dorsett, Bolden, McCourty and Simon deals. While they won’t be huge cap hits, they will add up and leave the Patriots in a tough spot when it comes to adding other players at the moment, especially bigger names. It’s hard to imagine they have any room to play with following Wednesday’s moves and room has to be created at the very least to sign the 2019 draft class.

Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to free up some cap space.

For starters, Tom Brady still hasn’t signed a contract extension with his deal set to expire at the end of the this season. This has been a conversation since even before the Super Bowl and by all accounts is something that will get done. After all, he’s taking up $27 million in cap space. Extending him will allow the team to spread out his $27 million cap hit and could free up potentially around $5 million.

This seems like a lock to happen, and happen soon.

Then, there are players who could potentially be released to free up more space. Adrian Clayborn comes to mind first, as if he were to be released the Patriots would save around $4 million against the cap and his production from last year doesn’t seem to be worth his nearly $6 million cap hit this year. 

Smaller releases could also be considered like Elandon Roberts (roughly $2 million in cap savings), Brian Hoyer ($1.5 million in cap savings) and Brandon King (just over $1 million in cap savings).

Lastly, some players could re-do their contracts in order to count less against the cap, which happens a good amount in today’s NFL. Players with high cap hits could be looked to first, but it may be easier said than done. Dont’a Hightower, who has a cap hit of $10 million, will not be willing to take less, according to NESN’s Doug Kyed from the combine. Kyed also added Wednesday Devin McCourty, who has a cap hit of $13.4 million, hasn’t been approached regarding taking less money.

Rob Gronkowski's situation also should be factored in as well, as his cap hit of close to $12 million has the potential to be lowered, or even taken off the books.

This isn’t to say moves cannot be made over the next few days until any of the above happen. The organization can put off making things official, so the lack of cap space shouldn’t prohibit any moves from being made, it’s just something that has to be on its minds.

The most glaring need on the roster is still wide receiver, as even with Dorsett being brought back, a veteran or two are still needed. In addition, a swing tackle, and edge rusher are also needs that should be addressed before the start of the draft, so it isn’t like the team can call it an offseason after Thursday and just prepare for the draft.

So, while the Patriots will still be active in searching for players to add to the roster via free agency, they need to start being active in freeing up some cap space so these players can actually be added.

Related: Phillip Dorsett reportedly will return to Patriots on one-year deal

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