The New England Patriots received some good news this past Saturday. According to ESPN’s Mike Reiss, the team officially created an additional $6.55 million in cap space following settlements with Antonio Brown and the estate of Aaron Hernandez. Freeing up money is fantastic news for a previously cash-strapped Patriots team, but what should they do with their newfound financial freedom?
Cap Space Options for New England Patriots
Trade for David Njoku
The 2019 New England Patriots just didn’t look right on offense. While there were several culprits for the underwhelming attack, one of the biggest factors was the uninspiring tight end room. The trio of Matt LaCosse, Ryan Izzo, and Ben Watson left a lot to be desired and formed arguably the worst tight end group in the entire NFL. Quite simply, the Patriots weren’t prepared for life without Rob Gronkowski.
The Patriots addressed the need for young tight ends in the NFL Draft with Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene. Both players hold plenty of promise for the future, but they probably won’t do much of anything in 2020. Tight end is a notoriously difficult position, and most players need a season or two before they’re ready to contribute at the NFL level. This learning curve should only be steeper thanks to the shortened offseason.
Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku is openly frustrated with the team and is looking for a new home. The former first-round pick has flashed his natural talent on several occasions, but he never managed to reach his ceiling with Cleveland. If traded, Njoku would carry a $1.7 million cap hit and would immediately be the best tight end on the roster for Week 1. Even with Cam Newton in town, this offense could still use more playmakers. Njoku is probably the best offensive weapon available, and he’d hardly cost anything to obtain.
Sign an Edge Rusher
The Patriots lost a lot of defensive talent during free agency. While the secondary is mostly intact, several key members of the front seven departed for greener pastures. Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins, Elandon Roberts, and Danny Shelton all played pivotal roles on the 2019 Patriots, and all will playing elsewhere in 2020.
As of this posting, the Patriots primarily filled these holes with low-cost veterans and draft picks. Defensive tackle Beau Allen figures to be the one-for-one replacement for Shelton, while Brandon Copeland has primarily been a backup throughout his career. Rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings are both intriguing prospects, but it’s going to be hard for them (and any rookie, for that matter) to make an impact right out of the gate.
Surprisingly, there are still plenty of interesting unsigned edge defenders. Former first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney is still available, and his presence essentially froze the entire edge defender market. New England probably can’t afford Clowney, but they might be able to get someone like Everson Griffen or Markus Golden. These players, while not one-for-one replacements, would immediately bolster a front seven that lost a good amount of talent.
Do Nothing With the Patriots Cap Space
Doing nothing is the most boring option, but it’s probably the smartest. $7.75 million sounds like a lot of money, but that number could decrease throughout the season. Every team in the league needs to have some money available throughout the season in order to sign players when injury inevitably strikes. The odds of players missing time is particularly high in 2020, thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Even if the Patriots get lucky and stay relatively healthy, they’ll still need some spending money throughout the season. Cam Newton carries a hilariously low cap number in the upcoming season, but it could increase as the season progresses. Most of the financial burden from Newton’s incentive-laden deal would affect the 2021 cap, with one notable exception.
Newton only played two games last year, and he earns money for exceeding last years’ game total. According to @patscap, the Patriots need to have $612,500 as a cushion for each additional game Newton plays. This money will add up over time and eat into New England’s finances.
Even if Newton doesn’t play all 16 games, the Patriots are probably better off rolling their cap space into 2021. Thanks to COVID-19, the 2021 salary cap will be a lot lower than previously expected. While the exact number is yet to be determined, it’s safe to assume that several teams won’t be in the position to make big moves on the market. This is fantastic news for the Patriots, as they have plenty of money coming off the books in 2020. More cap space in a buyers’ market is always a good thing, especially when talented players like Allen Robinson and Curtis Samuel are set to hit free agency.
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