It is only few more days and we can welcome the new NFL league year on March 17th. On this day not just the new league year starts but the 2021 free agency as well. As we already know the Patriots has one of the biggest cap space this year, so we can expect on some notable moves. Yesterday was the last day, teams were able to use their franchise tags. Why is it so important for us? The Patriots is in glaring need to sign some WRs and/or TE and make their new QB’s life easier than it was in 2020. Unfortunately for us, 2 of the 3 top WRs (Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin) got franchise tagged, which left Kenny Golladay alone on the big stage and with that in mind we could expect his price tag will go even higher. I wouldn’t be surprised if someone would give him a $20M+ per year contract.
Since my first article in this topic (playing a GM) few weeks ago, we got some news about the opt-outs, etc and I decided to take a pre-FA shot and spend the money what the Pats has. My numbers in this article are based on the numbers from my GM-article. Although, I must confess, despite all my caution I‘ve made a mistake at the rookie pool part, which I will correct now. I don’t say, what you will read now, will be very realistic in general, but from financial standpoint it will be. I won’t be so detailed in the basics as I was in my previous article, so if you are interested in every detail please click on the link and read it.
The financial numbers are based on @patscap‘s (Miguel Benzan) numbers, but will be little bit different, since he already calculated a 1st round tender ($4.873.000) for J.C. Jackson and an ERFA tender ($850.000) for Jacob Johnson. I didn’t do it at this stage, so my number will be higher. Additionally the latest news confirm, that the cap for the 2021 season will be $182,5M, which is different from that $180M, what I was calculating with last time.
Another difference compared to my last calculation I had, is the adjutments part. I had to lower the number from $5,5M to $3,7M. Nothing else has changed. You can see the dead money spreadsheet in my old article as well.
As I wrote above I had to correct myself regarding the rookie pool. Last time I forgot to decrease the cap hits according to the top51 rule or with the salary. I explain it littlebit, because I didn’t do it last time and I want to share the knowledge, what I’ve got from Miguel, with everyone who reads me. The top51 rule means the following: from the start of the new league year until the first week of the regular season, only the 51 most expensive contracts count against the cap. The next thing is the salary question: For players outside the top51 group, their salary ($660.000) won’t count against the cap, only the signing bonus prorations, roster bonuses and offseason workout bonuses. Those two things will lower the rookie pool with several millions of dollars.
Last time I was calculating with the full $8,9M, but I should calculate with only $2M. Great for the cap space. Please don’t forget this amount could change when the team makes trades which include picks. I will adjust accordingly the numbers if we will have a trade in this scenario. After we substract the rookie pool from our current cap space we will have the following amount:
Actual cap space: $67.641.839,00
Last time I retired Cannon and Hightower and cut Beau Allen (DT), Matt LaCosse (TE), Dan Vitale (FB), Akeem Spence (DL), Jacon Dolegala (QB), Justin Rohrwasser (K), Brandon Bolden (RB). I will change here one thing, Hightower won’t retire, he will come back and will be a terror for the opposing offenses and the young players will get a true leader back. With these cuts we will get another $14,2M
3. Contract restructures:
Last time I kept Stephon Gilmore and restructured his contract. My heart is bleeding but I will trade him this time (more about the trade soon). Instead I will work on Hightower’s contract. His cap number for 2021 now is $12.445.313. He will be 31 next week (March 12th), which doesn’t mean he is old, but he is on the wrong side of 30. Although he had 1 year off, so the team will get back a player who is in full health.
I restructured the contract so, that I built in a voidable year. Voidable year is an extra year, where the player is not supposed to play anymore, but with it the team can devide the numbers with one extra year. I tell you what does it mean in our case. Hghtower would get almost $12,5M for 2021. In the new structure his contract gets 2 extra years and he will get $24M, which would accounted $8M per year against the cap. That would be very low for a player and leader on Hightower’s level. In reality he will play only 2 years for that $24M, which is already a nice $12M per year salary. So despite his cap number would be at $12M level, it would count against the cap only $8M. In this case we won $4,4M.
- Stephon Gilmore, CB: In my GM article I didn’t make any trades, now I will trade Stephon Gilmore to the
Dallas Cowboys. I started to write this article before the „Dak Prescott stays in Dallas“ news came out. They were my top destination for Gilmore, but with this Prescott contract I doubt they would give Gilmore the money he wants. No problem, I started to look around and find a team, which is as well in need of veteran CB help. They lost their mentor in free agency (or at least Richard Sherman will test the market) and I would give them another top tier cornerback in exchange for their second round pick. Yes, this team is the 49ers. They have the cap space to give Gilmore what he needs and they have a higher second round pick a well. With the trade we saved $6.563.750,00.
And here comes the first change in our rookie pool. The basic cap hit for the 43rd pick is $1.153.956. As I wrote earlier, the rookie will replace someone from the top51 group, that is why I lower his cap hit number with $780.000 and we will get a final amount of $373.956.
- Trent Brown, OT: This is another move, where I had to update my writing. I’ve never thought the team will bring back Brown and another interesting part is the one year stint. Brown restructured his contract to be able to come to Foxboro. Because of these changes (lenght and money), he won’t be part of the comp. pick formula. So he is a pure one year trade. What the team gave up for him is piece of cacke, a 5th rounder in 2022, but got back a 7th rounder in 2022. The contract is worth up to $11M, but I guess there will be incentives as well, so I will calculate with a lower number. We still don’t know the details, so I take my shot. I will take $10M for him.
Since we don’t have other trades until this minute, we can calculate our new cap space.
Actual cap space: $82.476.946,00
5. Resign the own free agents:
I will make here some changes as well. First of all, I will bring back Cam Newton (QB) and will bring back Jermaine Eluemunor (OT), but won’t bring back James White (RB) and James Ferentz (OL). Nick Folk will get little pay rise as well.
- Cam Newton, QB: Since my GM article, I wrote one about the Brady-effect, where I checked Cam’s numbers as well. It showed, that despite all Cam’s mistakes and the missing power of the receiver/tight end groups, the team played on a level which could be developed to a playoff contender level with some more weapons and defense boost. Bringing back Cam would give the Patriots a known commodity and for Cam a full offseason and a season without covid, so he could show what he can do with more weapon and time. He is a good leader, so he could serve as a mentor for the rookie QB. I would give him a 2 years / $15M contract with another $5M in incentives.
- Jermaine Eluemunor, OT: I was watching some of his plays again from 2020 and will say he wasn’t bad as a RT. He could be a good backup or an ok starter if we need him to jump in. He might give the team enough safety at the RT position, that Onwenu could switch to LG position.
If you are interested in my other own free agent signings, please read the GM article, where I explain all of my choices little bit.
So, after we signed back 13 players and we spent $46,2M, we still have plenty of money.
Cap space after own FA signings: $36.276.946,00
6. Find the week spots in the roster:
Finding the holes are key part of the whole offseason. Let’s go through our positions and see where should we concentrate.
- QB: Very important to fix it. With the resign of Cam Newton it looks like the need here is not so high anymore, but the team still needs someone for the future. I believe Cam could be a good mentor and he is an immediate starter for the team. He knows the system and the coaches know him better than last season. I think the team would choose a veteran QB so, that he can teach the newby, therefor we should search for a QB with the same tools/style as Cam has. I still think Mac Jones fits very good to the Patriots, but not with Cam in pair. This is just a hint for you, in which direction I will go in the draft.
- WR: Upgrade much needed. We need to add 1-2 WR to the group because this was one of the weak spots last year. We still don’t know when Edelman could come back, the news are not really promising. Harry didn’t show until now why he was picked at 32, but I would give him another year to prove. Jacoby Meyers is a lock, as the best WR from last season. Olszewski is someone who can be a good 3-4. WR, but he brings tremendous value in the special teams as returner. We need a true nr.1 guy and more.
- TE: If your best TE is Izzo, then you have a problem. I don’t say he is bad, but in an ideal situation he would be your nr.2 or nr.3. Keene and Asiasi will might make the second year leap, but it is not sure, so upgrade needed. We will have plenty of options in FA and some interesting options in the Draft.
- RB: We will need here someone who can replace White. In general the guys here are good, but we should fill up a group with depth.
- OL: After I brought back Andrews and the team traded for Brown, I feel pretty confident here for short term. Long term we might need to look around a little bit. For me there are 3 people with huge question marks. What will happen with Wynn? The team has to make a decision soon about the 5th year option which could be around $10M for Wynn. If he is healthy it is a no brainer. The other two are Justin Herron and Yodny Cajuste. If they could develope, than we have two good – at least strong back up level – OTs for the future.
- DL: Guy is a fantastic player for the Patriots (that is why we signed him back), but he won’t be younger. Wise is rather rotational player than starter, but still valuable piece. Our nr.1 NT now is … well we don’t have starter at NT position, which is a very important spot in Belichick´s 3-4 plays. I can see some addition here.
- Edge: Winovich and Uche could give us two good edge players. Uche will be only in his second year (lot to learn), but Wino is quite good as rusher (he still needs to improve to be a 3 down option). Hightower could be an option here too. Still there is room for upgrade.
- LB: With Hightower returning, this position is already not so hot. Ok, outside of Hightower there is Bentley, Hall and Jennings maybe plus some depth guys. This is not so bad, alone Hightower will increase the potency of this group and the whole defense. I won’t mind to find here someone.
- CB: With Gilmore’s departure we have a hole, what we have to fill. In this scenario J.C. Jackson will be our nr.1 corner, but we need a nr.2 CB who could be the nr.1 if Jackson won’t be able to take over that role.
- S: Chung and McCourty might play their last year in the league. The Patriots drafted Dugger, who could be a potential replacement for Chung or even for McCourty. Williams could play more safety, since he is not in a good position on the cornerback depth chart. Adrian Phillips another good player for the year. I won’t move big dollars for this position, maybe on the draft in the 4-5. round I would pick a project player if there is someone good.
- K: We have Foles, no reason to worry.
- P: If you have a Pro Bowler punter, you are in good hands.
- LS: Cardona is good. Period.
7. Free agency:
Well, let‘ start to fill the wholes. We already know what are our position needs. We just don’t know where the new players will come from, if it will be FA or Draft. First thing first, let‘s dig deep in FA, don’t forget, we have $36M to spend, minus some reserve for the season. I will go here sometimes in different directions as I did in my GM article.
- DaQuan Jones, NT: We need someone who can fix the middle of the Dline, Jones can be that player. During the last 5 years he missed games only in 2017, every other year he had no major injuries, which makes this pick even better. Rushing the passer is not his best ability, he had 3 sacks in the last 3 years, but he is good against the run, he can eat up space, he can play in 2-gap scheme and that is what we need now. He will get a 3 year $23M contract too, but with $15M guaranteed. For the 2021 season we can count with $6M cap number.
- Marvin Jones Jr, WR: He might not be the sexiest pick, but he could give the WR room veteran leadership and experience. The soon to be 31 year old receiver can play from the slot or outside, he will be a valuable piece in the offense. During the last two seasons he made 31 20+ yards plays and had 18 TDs. In 2020 he almost reached the 1.000 receiving yards, so he will get a 3 year $30M ($15M guaranteed) with a cap number of $8M for 2021.
- Curtis Samuel, WR: Yes, another WR from free agency. This signing gives Belichick and McDaniels a swiss army knife type of a player. Samuel can run, he can catch, you can use him in different ways. He is a big play guy too, in 2020 he had 13 20+ yards plays. He isn’t a number 1 type guy, but he has so much to offer in a good system. He will be only 25 years old, which means he has many years left. We give him a long, 5 year contract with a value of $50M ($30M guaranteed) with a cap number of $7,5M in 2021.
- Kyle van Noy, LB: He is still a Dolphin, the team wants to trade him first, but I don’t think it would happen, so at the end they will let him go. This signing would make such sense, I can’t ignore the opportunity to have him back. He knows the system, the system knows him, he is versatile, can play on the line, off the line, he can rush the passer. Belichick showed to the world what things he can do. Bringing him back, would give the Patriots the Hightower – van Noy tandem, which could make the defense great again (sorry for that) and give two great mentors for the younger guys. 2 year contract for $16M ($5M guaranteed) and a cap number of $7M for 2021.
- Gareon Conley, CB: Let’s just go on the Belichick-way, with the former first round prospect. Conley is better suited for man coverage, which will fit for the Patriots defense. He ran 4,44 at the Combine and had a very good 6,68 3-cone drill time, which is very important for great Coach Bill. Jason McCourty has a 1 year contract only and there might be another movements in the secondary, so bringing another promising young guy in the building won’t be bad. 1 year $2,5M.
We are done on free agency. The WR group got some much needed upgrade and we made the secondary little younger as well with a possible longer term solution. With Guy and DeQuan Jones, the middle of the Dline is stronger now and one level behind them, the van Noy – Hightower tandem will give us big boost. These 5 signings will cost us $31M. Let’s take a look on our cap situation.
Cap space after FA signings: $5,276,946
The last part is here, the draft. But before I make my picks, I need to prove why I gave the title „Going wild on FA/Draft“ to this article. Maybe for some of you, signing back Cam was wild enough or passing on Kenny Golladay. I don’t know. But I have something left for you. I will do few trades before I pick my players. For the trades I am using now Rich Hill’s value chart, because I read often, that this chart fits better to the modern era.
- 1. Patriots gets: 1/7 (425 points); Lions gets: 1/15 + 2022/1 (440 points)
- 2. Patriots gets: 2/1 + 3/1 + 4/25 (280 points); Jaguars gets: 2/11 + 2/14 + 2022/4 (279 points)
- 3. Patriots gets: 3/14 (58 points); Chargers gets: 3/33 + N’Keal Harry (62 points)
- 4. Patriots gets: 3/27 (44 points); Vikings gets: 4th comp pick + JoeJuan Williams (42 points)
Aftre the 4 trades, we have five picks in the first three rounds and another six picks on day 3. As you can see our rookie pool has changed as well, it will costs us $1,3M more. Additionally we have to see what influences the two players trade have. Harry’s trade would decrease our cap space with $700.000 (originally I wanted to trade here our second 4th round comp pick, but before putting my article online came the final information in this topic and had to react quickly), but at least Williams trade makes us $389.000 plus, so our cap space will be the following.
Final cap space: $3,570,543
- 1/7: Who will I pick here? A QB or someone else? There are two players on this year’s draft where I read the following: „generational talent“. One of these guys is long gone, Trevor Lawrence, but with a little luck the other one is still on the board. I came up for Kyle Pitts, TE, Florida. After I took two veteran WRs from FA and didn’t invest in TE, it was a must to do. Hunter Henry is a great possibility in real life, but for me he is too pricey and Jonnu Smith has the same profile as Devin Asiasi. In Asiasi we have a move TE, but we don’t have the bigger bodied player. Pitts is not Gronk when we are talking about blocking, but he has already experience as inline TE and he is a tremendous receiving TE and a missmatch and can be a terror for the opposing defenses.
- 2/1: Bacause I traded Stephon Gilmore to the 49ers, the team needs a starter caliber cornerback. I took Greg Newsome II from Northwestern. The young, 6‘0 tall, player can play zone and man coverages as well. He recently ran an official 4,38 40-yard dash on his Pro Day, which showcases his speed. With McCourty and Conley on the board, he could have time to arrive into the NFL, but he has the potential to be a starter very quick.
- 3/1:As we are going into the second half of day 2, I take here a WR and make our WR group ready for the season. His father was part of the Brady 6, played QB in the NFL. Let me introduce you the latest addition from Clemson, Amari Rodgers. He made himself big on Senior Bowl, I really loved what I saw from him. He fits very good to the Pats system. He will play mostly from the slot, but he is able to play outside as well. I see him as Edelman successor.
- 3/14:Somewhere I have to pick a young QB prospect. The time is now. I’ve heard very different opinions about this young man, but I think he won’t last too long. He had a very good Senior Bowl week, he was the MVP as well. I picked Kellen Mond from Texas A&M. His style fits very good to Cam Newton, the two could build a strong relationship. Mond is not ready for the starting role, but behind Cam he have time to develop and the Pats has time to adjust the playbook to these two QBs.
- 3/27:Time to strengthen the DL as well. My pick here is Cameron Sample from Tulane. Sample had a really good week on the Senior Bowl, he was named the Defensive MVP after the game. He offers the flexibilty to play at different positions in the defensive line. Sample was a DT in Tulane, but he can play DE in a 3-4 system as well. He is a fighter, he was only a two-star recruit out of high school and got only one FBS offer. That was Tulane, which he accepted. If you watch his production, you can see a straight line of development in his college career. He is able to rush the passer, to deflect the ball and to play against the run. One pick earlier we picked our nose tackle, now we pick our rush DT.
- 4/15:I can’t wait any longer, because I am afraid the guy will be gone. Our first small school prospect arrives. Quinn Meinerz from Wisconsin-Whitewater, the D-III IOL who made a name during the Senior Bowl trainings. Unfortunately he broke a bone in his hand and Brian Flores didn’t let him play, but he made enough to rise on the boards. He is a center, but he can play guard too. Meinerz doesn’t stop, he has the fighter attitude which could bring him far in the NFL. He might not be the best technician, but the coaches at the Patriots could elevate him into another dimension.
- 4/25: If we have some luck, we are able to get a very electrifying, young player, who will replace James White. Demetric Felton from UCLA was one of the biggest winner of the Senior Bowl week. He showed versatility to be able to play RB but he is a reliable receiver as well. He and Curtis Samuel will be pain in the a**es, Patriots is the perfect place for the 5’10 tall running back.
- 5/14: The team still needs a defensive end, so I will pick another small school player, who showed his skills on the Senior Bowl. Elerson Smith, from University of Northern Iowa, is 6‘6 and 262 pounds. In 2019 Smith was one of the best defensive players on the FCS level, he earned first team All-American honor as well, which speaks for itself. He is a long edge player, who can play in multiple positions. At Northern Iowa he was used primary as a 7-tech, 9-tech DE, but he was put inside to 5-tech as well in passing downs. He is athletic but not elite, his first step could be quicker, but he can compensate those a littlebit with good football IQ.
- 6/2: I was very happy when I signed DeQuan Jones, but one NT won’t be enough, so I took here Tedarrel Slaton from Florida. Slaton is a huge player, he is 6‘5 and 358 pounds. If we have luck he could be our new Vince Wilfork. He can play 2-gap and he is good against the run. Then why so late? Because he is inconsistent. But no problem, he has time to shine and be consistent enough to get more playing time.
- 6/11: There is no draft without a safety pick. This year the new guy comes from Georgia and his name is Richard LeCounte III. He is more of a center field safety, who could pair up with Dugger in the future. He made 7 INTs during his last two seasons and 3 in five games during his senior season. Unfortunately he injured and couldn’t finish the year. This late addition could be a steal if he could develop behind Devin McCourty.
- 7/15: Another small school name, but he is really unknown. Unfortunately, because he deserves to be mentioned as a late round prospect. He comes from the FCS level, from the University of South Dakota. Jacob Matthew is 6‘3 and 250 pounds and plays as LB/Edge in the Coyotes‘ defense. He has positional versatility, since he plays usually as edge player, but has experience as LB in 4-3 system as well. In 2019 he made 53 tackles, 11,5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 pass deflections. This year the season started few weeks ago only, the team played only two games until now, but Matthew had a sack and recovered 2 fumbles. He is a great man off the field as well, could be a culture fit.
This was my pre-FA edition of roster movings. Thank you very much for your attention. Please let me know your thoughts, write me a comment here or on Twitter. If you liked the article please share it and follow me on Twitter or subscribe on my blog to get the latest writings immediately.