The New England Patriots don’t have a lot of cap space this off-season, but they do have some that they can work with. With linebacker Jerod Mayo retiring, the Pats cap space will increase by about $12 million. With a couple roster moves they could be at a little less than $20 million. The moves that I have in mind are cutting wide receivers Brandon Lafell ($2,675,000 savings), and Scott Chandler ($2,050,000 savings), a restructure of receiver Danny Amendola’s contract (cap number of $6.8 million) and extensions for linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont’a Hightower, defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard and maybe even defensive end Chandler Jones. The cap savings for the first three could be huge considering their cap numbers range from 6.8 million to 7.7 million.
2016 New England Patriots Off-Season Outlook
Dion Lewis, who was signed long term, was great last season up until his ACL injury. Blount was also productive until he was injured, but is still not a major receiving threat. James White is a bit of a liability running the ball, but one of the best catching backs in the league.
Best options: Lamar Miller, Matt Forte, Legarrette Blount, Chris Ivory, Doug Martin, Alfred Morris.
Lamar Miller is the best combination of youth, skill and desire. All of these backs, except for Blount, truly desire to be on a winning team. The most realistic scenario is the Pats re-sign Blount and roll with Lewis, Blount and White, and hope the injury bug doesn’t strike again. But the rich could get richer if New England grabs a hungry back like Miller, Forte, or Morris.
Deep Threat Wide Receiver
Brandon Lafell is not that guy. Way too many drops, and he’s just not a good enough deep threat for quarterback Tom Brady. There are limited options for the Patriots in the off-season
Best options: Alshon Jeffrey, Travis Benjamin, Marvin Jones, Rishad Matthews
Travis Benjamin had the best deep threat numbers of these four receivers. With passes thrown 20 yards or longer, he had eight catches for about 350 yards and four touchdowns. Two of those touchdowns were passes thrown longer than 41 yards. However, at under six feet tall, he doesn’t have great size. The two with the best size are Matthews and Jeffrey, but Jeffrey is expensive and an unlikely target. Look for the Patriots to make an under the radar signing, add a deep threat through the draft, or maybe convince one of those receivers to take a “Super Bowl” discount.
Nate Solder regressed in 2014, and then got injured in the 2015 season. Solder might need to be replaced at left tackle, or moved to right tackle, if the Pats decide to bring in a different left tackle. However, New England has Sebastian Vollmer to play right tackle, and he’s one of the best in the league at that position. Solder is expensive, so to save money and open up cap space, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for the Patriots to cut him.
Best option: Donald Penn
Donald Penn is an older left tackle, but he has played at a top 10 talent level for the Raiders in his two years there. A two-year deal would benefit both Penn and the Pats, because it would give the team the flexibility to get rid of him if he regresses or if they draft a tackle that is ready to take over. It’s difficult to see Penn with the Patriots however, if he is going to command a big contract.
Last season the Patriots were close to repeating as Super Bowl champs. There are a lot of “ifs” and “maybes”, but it didn’t happen. 2016 is a different season, and New England will largely have most of the same team. They don’t have the money to spend big, but they can find enough cap room to re-sign their running backs, lock up Hightower and Collins long term, and fill in the rest of their team. How well they draft will also be key in building for the future, and it wouldn’t hurt to add some depth at some positions.