It has been a wild couple weeks in Foxboro since free agency began, with the Patriots initially quiet then having the an explosive couple days, watching Wes Welker bolt to Denver, and then within hours reporting that Danny Amendola had signed a five year deal. As the week went on, it got better and better, first with the strong addition of Leon Washington, a Pro Bowl kick returner that is going to help in one of the Patriots biggest areas of need. Adrian Wilson was brought in to help stabilize the secondary, and Aqib Talib was brought back to truly add the final piece to this porous secondary. NFL offenses are going to see a legit pass defense when they face the Patriots, which is something that hasn’t occurred since 2004.
The Patriots are still in play for other free agents, having met with and reportedly coming close to a deal with John Abraham, and they also met with Dwight Freeney that same day. Out of the two, I do believe the Abraham is a better fit for a Belichick defense, so hopefully that gets worked out. There were also rumblings that New England is in on Elvis Dumervil after his contract fiasco with Denver, but he is going to be looking for over eight million per year, and I just don’t see the Patriots going there.
There are still things that need to be taken care of, and it isn’t going to come cheap. Sebastian Vollmer is still a free agent, and if the Patriots want to bring him back, that is going to take a minimum of five million per year. As of today, it is reported that the Patriots have roughly 14 million dollars in cap room, which seems like a lot, but it really isn’t. Take five away for rookie contracts and you are already into single digits.
Bill Belichick said today that he “expects another flurry in free agency in about a week to ten days” which is an indicator that the Patriots are poising themselves for another push for strong veteran players or maybe even a bigger splash like Dumervil or Victor Cruz. With only nine million in space, it would seem that the Patriots have some ideas that we don’t know about. I decided to take a look at the Patriots salaries for 2013 (thanks PatsCap.com, great stuff) and a few player salaries jumped off the page.
If you want to go right down the list, the first player that needs to be looked at is Logan Mankins. I know, it seems like Mankins just got a new deal, but this is the third year of the six year deal Mankins signed, and having a guard that could be possibly be breaking down with a ten million dollar cap hit just isn’t going to fly. Mankins can’t simply be released either because that will result in a 12 million dollar cap hit and Mankins can still play, so letting him go doesn’t make sense for both reasons. I am by no means an expert on contracts, but it would make sense for the Patriots to sit down with Mankins and his agent and try to come up with a new deal to make it more cap friendly.
On the defensive side of the ball, the man carrying the big cap hit is Vince Wilfork, and his situation is more conducive to a new deal than Mankins. Wilfork’ deal is up after the 2014 season, and his 10.6 million dollar cap hit for 2013 is a major anchor on the Patriots ability to be a player for a game changing player in free agency or via trade. Wilfork’ contract doesn’t have the huge cap hit that Mankins does if they happen to release the player, but Wilfork is the key to what the Patriots do on defense, so he isn’t going anywhere. Wilfork is 31 years old, he is one of the few guys that have gotten paid at the top of the market by the Patriots, and he has a huge influence in the New England area. Maybe it is time to sit down and hammer out a new five year deal that is more cap friendly and will guarantee big Vince remaining in a Patriots uniform for the rest of his career.
Special teams could also be an area of focus in the contractual area. Heading into the 2013 season, there is a total of basically seven million tied up in punter Zoltan Mesko (1.9), kicker Stephen Gostkowski (3.4), and special teams captain Matt Slater (2.2). Mesko’ contract is up after the 2014 season. Getting Mesko’ cap number down almost a full million seems possible, and although that might not seem like much, it is because since the changes have occurred in the salary cap, teams are losing valuable players that can be had for cheap dollars. Slater is a great special team’s player, but for over two million dollars per year, he needs to be able to do more. Slater is worth more to them on the roster than not due to cap implications, but this is another player that has spent his whole career in New England and would seem like a smart player to extend long term.
Stephen Gostkowski is the player to watch going forward, especially over the next two months. Now, let me preface this by saying that if Gostkowski is cut, he will count for 1.6 million on the cap, which seems like a lot, but here is why it might make sense to move on. Gostkowski’ 3.4 million dollar cap hit is the eighth highest cap hit on the team. Last season, Gostkowski finished 21st in field goal accuracy, which for kickers is clearly an important number. To compare Gostkowski to one of his peers, let’s take a look at Ravens kicker Justin Tucker. Tucker, who was a rookie last season and accounts for only 460,000 on the Ravens cap, was 30 for 33, good for eighth in the league. Gostkowski had 52 touch backs on 111 kickoffs last season while Tucker had 49 touch backs on 88 kickoffs.
The truth of the matter is, the Ravens got a lot more bang for their buck from their kicker, and this will not go unnoticed in Foxboro. Minnesota had a similar situation with Blair Walsh, who was actually better than Tucker last season, so the Tucker situation isn’t an anomaly. If the Patriots draft a kicker, like say Caleb Sturgis out of Florida, they would have to pay him between 250-400 thousand per year; add that to Gostkowski’ cap hit for being cut and you have your kicker being paid just under two million, saving the Patriots another 1.4 million dollars.
When you add up the players that I have mentioned, there is a potential for the Patriots to recoup roughly eight million dollars in cap savings, and I didn’t even mention the Fanene issue that will most likely net another 2.5 million in space. Brady started the trend, and with this team doing such a tremendous job of managing the cap and preparing for the flat cap issues, it makes sense to go this route and continue to poach free agents that would have never been on the market if it weren’t for other team’s poor planning. Winning doesn’t just occur on the field for the Patriots, it happens in roster building too.
*Cap Figures provided by Pats.cap.com & Overthecap.com
*Statistics Provided by NFL.com
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