Sunday, March 26, 2017

Understanding The Patriots Cap Space

The salary cap for all National Football League teams in 2017 is a mammoth $167 million, though some, like the New England Patriots, have rolled over cap space from 2016 and have a nice layer of frosting to coat their 2017 cake.

The Patriots current salary cap stands at $173,298,888, of which their current roster absorbs $146,840,777.

One doesn't have to be a math professor to calculate that the Patriots have just shy of $26.5 million of cap space left to work with, a number that has some fans of the team salivating at the possibilities for adding impact players, while others count that as a sizable "rainy day fund" which will come in handy for signing draft picks and other vital role players in the coming months..

...and still others see an opportunity to roll that money over into 2018, when that money will be a huge kicker to offset the contracts coming due on some key players to prevent them from hitting the open market - for certain, the only limitation foreseen by any dreamer is by their imagination.

The very first scenario that comes to the mind of most Patriots' fans is the ongoing Malcolm Butler saga, who was negotiating with the New Orleans Saints in an effort to obtain a huge payday in restricted free agency - but that appears all but dead in the wake of a couple of different factors.

First, the Saints have a grand total of $12.5 million left in cap space for this season, and, secondly, being that they have two first round draft picks, they will need almost $8 million of that total to sign their rookie class after the draft in late-April - and even if they do manage to unload one of their high draft picks to New England, it will relieve only a minute amount of available cap space.

For sure, there are other teams who have much more capital and leverage to work with than the Saints, but no team other than the Saints were willing to satisfy the first-round tender that Patriots' head ball coach and defacto general manager placed on Butler - and even that was in anticipation of making Butler part of a package to entice the Saints to send wide receiver Brandin Cooks to Foxborough.

In the end, the Patriots ended up sending a first-round pick to New Orleans in exchange for Cooks, which combined with deals that they made with Indianapolis for Dwayne Allen and to Carolina for Kony Ealy, made the projected amount that the Patriots will need to sign their own draft picks a number so meager that it is below the average mean wage for a middle class laborer in the United States.

But how does that work?  Essentially, the salary cap is the combined salaries of the top 51 players on a team, known simply as the "Rule of 51", with several players toward the bottom of that list making the league minimum, dependent only on the number of years the player has accrued.

For example, defensive back Justin Coleman's cap hit for 2017 is $615K, which makes him the 51st player on that list.  The Patriots' first draft pick is actually in the third round, the standard contract for the draft spot being $643k, which would replace Coleman in the top 51 - so if you were to drop Coleman's salary from the list, even though he is still on the team, and replace his salary with the 96th overall draft pick, the salary cap would take a hit of only $28k.

Going down the list, we find that the 103rd overall pick in the third round (compensatory pick) will cost the team $640k in cap space the first year, which would replace Brandon King's salary on the list and cost the Patriots a mere $25k.  The 183rd overall pick would cost the Patriots $515k, so that salary plus any subsequent salaries would not displace a current player on the list of 51, meaning that the total cap hit for New England to sign their entire draft class would amount to $53k.

Belichick spends more than that bringing players in for a workout and a cup of coffee.

It would be different had Belichick not shipped his top three draft picks off to other teams, but what he got in return was a deep threat that will take the top off of opposing defenses in Cooks for $1.5 million this season with a club option for 2018, a thus far underachieving edge rusher with a ton of potential in Kony Ealy for $903k and with an expiring contract, and an athletic "move" tight end in Dwayne Allen for $5 million...

...proving once again that Belichick is the master salary cap manipulator and roster builder, known for bringing is players who have either been misused by or represented a salary burden to their former team and plugs them into his system and adjusts his playbook according to their skill set and with next to no guaranteed money left on their deals.

In this light, Belichick is the consummate scavenger, picking clean the bones of cap-strapped teams and putting those players in a position where they are assured of success so long as they do their job.

So with all of the cap space available to the Patriots and the free agent market as dry as a popcorn fart, what is left for Belichick to do with all of that money?

Well, there are those who believe that there are still major players to be signed, players such as Adrian Peterson, Victor Cruz, Jonathan Hankins or even old friend Darrelle Revis - but if the Patriots needed them or wanted them, there are still former Patriots floating around in free agency that are rated above these name players, and are already familiar with the schemes - not to mention that any player brought in is a risk in that they may indeed be washed up.

Peterson wants a ton of money and his off-the-field name isn't the best in the NFL.  Cruz has all the explosiveness of a can of flat soda, Hankins has alienated his potential base by insisting on a multi-year contract with a lot of guaranteed money and Revis fell off the face of the planet last season and has insulted safeties everywhere by telling the world that he's "willing to move to safety", as his cover skills have eroded... if Belichick were even tempted at this point to bring in players at those positions, he has only to use the speed dial function on his phone to call LeGarrette Blount, Michael Floyd, Vince Wilfork and offer Butler a long-term contract.  It's a simple as that.

Of course, Belichick most likely isn't done wheeling and dealing, but barring a major deal that brings either a tenured veteran or a high-round draft pick into the fold, Belichick will again hold a serious amount of leverage at both the 2017 trade deadline and the start of free agency in 2018.

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