Time to talk: 10 ways Patriots can create more cap space before free agency opens

Ryan Hannable
February 19, 2019 - 11:19 pm
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Between now and March 13, the day free agency opens, don’t be surprised to see multiple bookkeeping moves for the Patriots.

Why? 

They are always looking to maximize values on all of their players and often this involves players restructuring contracts to take less money. In addition, this is the time for players to potentially sign contract extensions and in some cases retire.

Right now, the Patriots have roughly $20 million in cap space, which isn’t all that much heading into free agency, so they certainly will be looking for ways to increase this.

Here are 10 things to watch over the next few weeks for the Patriots, which would create more cap space. Some are long-shots, but when it comes to Bill Belichick everything is in play.

1. Tom Brady contract extension

This is an expected move for a few reasons. No. 1, Brady is only signed through the end of next season and No. 2, it would allow the Patriots to spread out his $27 million cap hit over potentially a few more seasons. The Patriots seem unlikely to allow Brady to go into a year without being signed past that season, and even more so have a player count for over 14 percent of their total cap.

2. Rob Gronkowski retire/contract restructure

Something will likely happen to Gronkowski’s over $11 million cap hit whether he retires or returns. It’s worth noting he only has a dead cap of $2 million, so that will certainly help the team if he does retire. If he returns, it seems like a new deal will be in order, as his 2018 output is not worth over $11 million to the Patriots.

3. Devin McCourty retire/contract restructure

As it stands now, McCourty is slated to have the third-highest cap hit next season at $13.4 million and it is hard to imagine the team going into the year with that being the case. There’s been talk of him potentially retiring, so it’s worth noting his dead cap is just under $4 million. Like Gronkowski, no matter what happens it seems very unlikely McCourty’s $13.4 million cap hit will still be there come March 13.

4. Dont’a Hightower contract restructure 

Hightower has a cap hit of just under $11 million, the fifth-highest on the team, and that just doesn’t feel right given his 2018 production. To his credit, he only missed one game, but only had 48 tackles, ninth on the team. In the case of some other players, this might be a reason to flat-out get released, but Hightower brings so much more to the defense that makes him worth keeping. Don’t be surprised if he takes a pay cut.

5. Dwayne Allen release/contract restructure 

The veteran tight end seems like a player who could potentially get cut. Allen has a cap hit of $7.3 million and no dead money. In his two seasons with the Patriots, he has just 13 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown, including just three catches all of 2018. By all accounts he’s a great locker room guy so a restructure could be possible, but it would not be a surprise to see the Patriots just move on.

6. Adrian Clayborn release

Clayborn was one of the biggest disappointments of the 2018 season. After being the Patriots’ biggest free-agent signing last offseason, he finished with 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks and was even a healthy scratch in two games. With a cap hit of just under $6 million and a dead cap of $2 million, he could be a player to get released in the coming weeks.

7. Elandon Roberts release

The Patriots have Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Ja’Whaun Bentley and Christian Sam along with Roberts at the linebacker position, which seems like one too many, so perhaps the team saves a little money by releasing Roberts and his $2 million cap hit. It seems like a low probability, but could potentially happen.

8. Julian Edelman contract extension

Like Brady, Edelman is only under contract through 2019, and he seems like a player who deserves a raise. Right now, Edelman only has a base salary of $2 million. That could be increased and also a few more years added, which could help spread out his $4.5 million 2019 cap hit.

9. Kyle Van Noy contract extension 

Van Noy also is only signed through 2019 and he proved his worth this past season. The versatile linebacker recorded 92 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 10 quarterback hits and an interception. He's also turned into one of the biggest leaders on the Patriots defense. A contract extension could potentially happen, which would spread out his almost $6 million cap hit.

10. Brian Hoyer release

Again, not a high probability of happening, but if the team was satisfied with Danny Etling’s progress and feels he is ready to backup Brady, Hoyer could be released. This would save $1.5 million against the cap.

Related: Drew Rosenhaus gives update on Rob Gronkowski's decision on whether to play in 2019 or retire

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