Necessary Roughness

Playing a GM – Patriots offseason moves 2021

First time in the last decade the Patriots didn`t get into the playoffs. Ok, it is what it is. We didn’t have Brady, we had league high opt-outs before the season, we lost some key players in FA and we had some additional injuries.

The team has problems on both sides of the line of scrimmage, which wouldn’t be easy to solve in one offseason, but I try at least to fill the gaps and start some kind of rebuilding. I am sure with Belichick as HC/GM the team can manage to be in the playoff again within a year or 2 (maybe I am too optimistic, but I don’t think we are so deep as it sometimes looks). We still have some key players, some of the opt-outs will come back, we have the 15th pick on the draft and have almost $69M cap space.

In this post I try to put myself into the position of a GM‘s (let’s say now I will play Belichick the GM). Right, we all know that nobody can project what BB will do, but since I have nothing to lose, I can show you my thoughts. For the financial parts I used numbers from @patscap, overthecap.com and from spotrac.com. Ok, let’s start!

Basics:

Everything starts with the cap situation. We still don’t know what will be the exact cap number for the 2021 season, the only sure thing is, that it can’t be lower than $175M. Since @patscap uses this number as basic, I planned to do the same, but the latest news suggest that the final cap number could be a little bit higher, around $180M. Because I want to be optimistic and I hope owners will accept that extra $5M, I will calculate with this amount.

Every team has some numbers which can increase or decrease their cap space (cap space is the net amount of money which they can use to sign old or new players). Most of the time teams have carryovers from the previous season which we have to add to the cap number. In our case this number is an additional $19,57M. The next category we have to check is the stand of the LTBE/NLTBE incentives in the contracts. LTBE = Likely to be earn, NLTBE = Not likely to be earn. All LTBE incentives count for the actual year (means in our case, those were counted for 2020), but if a player misses some time (or even goes to IR) it can happen, that those LTBE levels won’t be reached. After those not reached LTBE incentives the team will get a credit in the next year (in our case credit will come for 2021). Every NLTBE incentives will be counted for the next season if they are reached during the actual season. Let’s show you a simple example. Julian Edelman had $500k incentives after every 10 catches counts from catch 60th. If we say the incentives after the 60th, 70th and 80th catches were LTBE incentives, then it means $1,5M were counted againts the 2020 cap. Yes, unfortunately Edelman got injured and had only 21 catches during the 2020 season. So we have 3 levels of LTBE incentives which were not reached. This means the Patriots will get back $1,5M in the 2021 season. So we have to check the stand of those LTBE/NLTBE incentives, because they could give the team extra cap space or they can lower it if some NLTBE were reached. In our case (based on @patscap´s numbers) the Patriots will get $5,51M back. Next category is the PPE (Proven Performance Escalator), which is for players who enter into their 4th season. There are three levels of qualifications (Article 7, Section 4 of the 2020 CBA governs the PPS), what I won’t explain long in this post, but I might write about it in the future. Short: it depends on the played snaps (percentage) during the season. What is important for us, that we have nobody in 2021 who will be eligible for extra money from the PPE (last year we had Deatrich Wise). There is usually some amount of dead money too. These dead money amounts are cap commitments after players who are not anymore with the team. Based on the data from spotrac.com, Patriots will have $863.689 in dead money. The last part of the basic numbers is the amount of salaries (this number contains the salaries of the 8 opt-out players as well). This number is – based again on @patscap´s estimations – $135.377.000. Ok, Miguel´s actual number is higher, but only because he counted a 1st round RFA tender ($4.873.000) for JC Jackson and an ERFA tender ($850.000) for Jacob Johnson, which I will bring in later. That’s all. Very easy, isn’t it? Ok, I am just joking. Let’s see the numbers in spreadsheets:

Ok, so this will be our starting point, before we make any trade/cut/restructure/etc. We have bit more than $68M, which is a very good amount compared to last year, when the team had at this point $37M less. Yes, Patriots had $31,8M at the same period of last year.

Let’s see a spreadsheet about the dead money:

Last year we had $7,7M dead money without Tom Brady´s $13,5M, which is another huge difference. Yes, the team got back money from the AB and Hernandez grievances, but even with those money they had far worse cap situation than they have now.

Estimated cap space 2021   $ 68.839.311,00

That is great, I am happy, because theoretically the team has a lot to spend. At the moment – based on the numbers from Spotrac.com – the Patriots has the 4th highest cap space after Jacksonville ($74,6M), Indianapolis ($73,7M) and Jets ($70,5M). But! We have to see every direction where this money should go. This $68M is not only for the rookies or the new signings, but we have lot of free agents as well. Some are more important, some are not so important, but a chunk of the money will and have to go to resign few of our own free agents.

Not a short list I have to admit, but this is how business is working. At the end of the list we have J.C. Jackson who will be a restricted free agent (RFA), which means the team can put a tender on him. It can be a first- or a second- or an original round tender. If another team wants the player they will offer him a contract, the Patriots has the opportunity to match that offer and retain the player for the same (or higher) money what the other team offered him. Or the team won´t match the offer and they will get a first or second round pick from the other team (in Jackson´s case there is no original round pick, since he was an UDFA). If no other team makes an offer for the player, the Patriots has to pay for an exact amount of money (see below). In Jacob Johnson´s situation, he is ERFA (exclusive restricted free agent). The team can offer him a new contract which has to reach the veteran minimum salary, which is $850.000 for Johnson because of the two years in the NFL.

As we can see the free agency could hit our Oline and Dline quite hard. Andrews and Thuney are cornerstone pieces in our Oline. Butler and Guy were the heart of the Dline. Additionally Wise could leave town as well, who was this year a valuable rotational player and in Simon and Calhoun the team could loose two of their rotational edge players too. Justin Bethel is an interesting name to watch, because our (I hope) future HOF special team captain, Slater made no decision if he will come back for one more year. He has actually one year left from his contract, but he won´t be younger and his body could already show problems after 13 seasons. So in a bad situation we could loose not just one but two Pro Bowler ST players.

We will come back to this names soon. Let’s roll. If a team wants to increase their cap space, they can cut or trade players. You cut/trade someone who won´t fit in your system anymore or because he is too expensive. There are other possibilities to lower the cap hit, since the team can extend or restructure a contract. Of course only if the player is ok with it. Take a look on the most expensive players in 2021:

Well, as we can see the 10 most expensive players would take more than 60% of the actual salary commitments. For some players I would pay the money without any hesitation, but there are few players where we should try to come to an agreement to lower those numbers. Cannon and Hightower might retire, so there would be no need to talk, the team could save there quite an amount of money. The other big question is what Edelman is planning. There were speculations about Edelman might follow Brady to the Bucs, but he posted some promising words on IG few days earlier, in which he mentioned, he is ready for the next year. If there is one player in our offense whose salary is untouchable, then it is Julian Edelman´s (ok, and Slater´s). McCourty wants to play one more year and at the moment I don´t see other player in the back end who can lead them on such a high level, than Devin does. Gilmore is still one of the top10 corners in the League, but I would try to lower his numbers.

If you cut or trade a player there would stay some amount of dead money, but usually you will have net saving at the end. In our next spreadsheet we will go through the list of the biggest net savings. I will decrease the net savings with $780.000 each, because I am presuming a player to takes their place on the top51 list.

Players with stars after their names are – based on overthecap.com´s database – players outside of the top51 list, so those numbers should not be lowered with $780.000. According – again – overthecap.com, Patriots has at the moment 62 players under contract for 2021.

We have one more thing to do, before we start our wannabe GM activity. Patriots has some draft picks, which will need a rookie pool. Every draft pick has an own cap number, so this is easy to calculate. After this step we will be able to determine our cap space and we will be set to launch our journey.

So ladies and gentlemans congratulations, you’ve reached the end of the first part of my post. Thank you that you are still with me here. Before we move on, let´s take a look on our cap space after we decreased it with the rookie pool.

Estimated cap space 2021 after rookie pool   $ 59.871.320,00

Let’s roll

This cap space is just temporary, because – as I mentioned before – we have some other opportunities to increase it before we start to spend money. I have a 7 points list about our to do´s.

1. Decide who has to be cut and cut them!

2. Are there any opportunities to resctructure some contracts?

3. Check who could be traded and trade them!

4. Decide whom to bring back from our own free agents!

5. Make clear at which positions do we need new players!

6. Decide if you want to fill the holes from FA or from Draft!

7. Make the calls!

1. Cuts (retirements):

It is never easy to cut players, but nobody told being a GM is always a pleasure job. Altough before we start with the cuts, unfortunately we will have 2 retirements.

That’s it. I won’t cut more people. You can argue with me if those players were the right ones or I might forgot to cut someone you wouldn´t want to see anymore, but cutting too many people would generate more holes and we already have some holes to fill. With these cuts/retirements we created $23,3M extra cap space.

2. Contract restructure:

I was thinking a lot who could be here a potential target, but I have only one name: Stephon Gilmore.

It is actually a contract extension, where we can lower the cap number for 2021. Gilmore wasn’t the same player like last year, but he is still an animal on the field. Yes he is over 30, but he still plays on a very high level. With him on the field plays J.C. Jackson better as well and with this two guys on the field we could have one of the best CB tandems in the NFL in 2021 again. It is not easy to predict what kind of money Gilmore is looking for, especially if he is rating himself higher than the team does. I would say Gilmore is not a top5 cornerback at the moment (yes, some of you want to kill me now), but he is in the top10 of his position. Why is it so important? Because this little difference could mean millions per year. The average yearly salary of the top5 is $17,9M. This number is a little different for the 5-10th place, $14,3M per year. Everybody in the top10 is younger than Gilmore except Patrick Peterson, who is at the same age and he is a free agent, so his numbers could help us to find Gilmore’s level. Unfortunately we can’t wait for Peterson. I would add 2 extra years to Gilmore’s contract and at the end it would be a 3 years / $42M deal, with $20M guaranteed. This move will lower Gilmore’s cap hit from $16,2M to $13,5M, so we can add $2,7M to our cap space.

3. Trade:

This will be very short. If Gilmore accepts our offer then I wouldn’t trade anyone. If he is not accepting it, then we can make a draft day trade, for example pairing him with our 15th pick and we can jump into the top 10. Or just trade him somewhere for a 2nd round pick. However I hope it won’t happen and he will sign the extension.

Ok, we reached the point where we have the most cap space. We made the cuts, restructured a contract, did everything to increase our space to sign new/old players. But before we start to spend our money, let’t take a look on our actual cap space:

Estimated cap space after cuts, retirements and contract restructure: $ 85.927.467,00

4. Sign back our own free agents:

If cutting players was hard, then deciding which players we should bring back is even harder. There could be players who are very important or playing really good, but they could be so good, that they find themself out of our price range. This will be the case at some of our players now. On the other hand there are players who don´t play such a role in the team to keep them or we could have an upgrade for the same amount of money. Although we have more than $85M cap space we can´t bring back everyone, because we still need to sign some guy from FA, but we have a really strong starting point.

Players I won´t bring back:

Players I will bring back:

That’s it ladies and gentleman, we signed 13 contracts which have a sum for the 2021 season of $40,05M. I don’t say we couldn’t bring back more of our own guys, but I tried to find the balance. We left some better guys go (Thuney, Butler), but we could retain Guy, Andrews, Jackson, therefore we still have a strong group of core players and young talents.

Estimated cap space after signing our own free agents back: $ 45.877.467,00

5. Defining the holes on our current roster:

With more than $45M cap space we have some luxury, because that number is higher than the starting point was one year ago. You are right, we have holes to fill, but with this amount we can look around more open minded than during the last few offseasons. We have 66 players under contract, check the spreadsheets:

Is our roster strong enough? Definitely not. Despite the fact we have 64 players under contract for the next season, there are several positions where we need more or less upgrade.

As you can see the team has many spots to fill up with better players, but we have some groups which don’t really need upgrade. There will be positions where I would prefer experience over draft, but you will see some opposit cases as well. This could change from analyst to analyst. My first thought here is, that we have now too many holes to make really big money signings. I think the team should try to sign better players with mid range salary, which can give strong support for the new QB or QBs on the offense. In the defense the team should and I am sure they will upgrade the front 7.

6 & 7. Decide and pull the trigger:

First there is the free agency, the place to spend money in big way. Again, we have almost $46M, but please don’t forget, from this amount we should keep $4-5M for the in season moves. This will give us $41-42M to spend:

Hopefully after all these signings we still have some money for the season. The cap number of this 6 contracts in 2021 will be $43M, which will gives us almost $3M cap space remaining. That is an ok amount, since we will have more money after the final roster cuts, so we can concentrate on the Draft.

We still need a QB, a TE wouldn´t be bad either and an Edge/DE position is one to watch. Please don´t forget, if the team will make any trade with the picks, it will change the rookie pool and therefore our cap space too.

The draft is always full with questionmarks, you really don’t know if your pick will live up to your expectations. Good, the first few picks are usually really good, but we saw some 1/1 busts. And you can find real gems later (199th for example), but you need to evaluate the players and you hope those evaluations are correct. You buy the past success on free agency and you „buy“ the future success on draft. Neither is a sure thing.

Wow, we did it. Applause for everyone of us. As you can see I tried to fix the Oline, brought two veteran WR on the board and got another young TE. This whole package should help Jones to arrive into the NFL. This offense is now better than one year ago. In defense I took only two players from FA, but these two will bring us a lot of experience and I am sure with them in the team we could see some development on this side of the LOS too. For me this scenario would be a good path back to the playoffs. Let´s see how Belichick and the Patriots front office is thinking.

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