New England Patriots: Trimming the Fat at Training Camp Part Three

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Training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots are knee-deep in training camp as the calendar rolls into August and the temperatures in beautiful Foxboro, MA stay as cool as quarterback Tom Brady in the pocket facing a blitz. As former tight end Aaron Hernandez sits in a jail cell apparently writing letters to his supporters, the Patriots have some fat to trim before the season: the team’s salary cap.


Already this offseason, the Patriots have made a move with an eye towards the cap, as free agent wide receiver Donald Jones was released and offensive jack-of-all-trades Nick McDonald was cut (although his younger brother is still on the 90 man roster). The Patriots, as they often do, are continuing to move forward and putting their faith in the players who bring the best value at each position on the roster.


Despite being at $9 million under the salary cap at this time, as the releases of Donald Jones and Nick McDonald show, no player is safe when there is the chance that the team can get better value from a less expensive option. Jones was signed for cheap money and his release before guarantees kick in leave him with no dead money to carry with it. McDonald counted for about $25,000 against cap, which is negligible.  However, with the Aaron Hernandez dead money escalation at a reported almost $7.5 million hit on the 2014 salary cap, and the team just may have an eye on 2014 as it assembles the roster this summer.


The Patriots roster building philosophy under Bill Belichick entails that they employ a small upper-class of players (Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins, Jerod Mayo, and Aqib Talib) who have salary cap charges at $5 million in 2013 or more (Talib actually is just under, but it can be rounded up for argument’s sake). Then there is the very large middle-class of players on the roster who have cap charges between $3.5 million (Danny Amendola is a pinch over, but, again, can be rounded down for argument’s sake) and $1 million.


The twenty-one players on the roster falling into this category include young veterans on team friendly deals (special teams captain Matthew Slater) or older free agents on team-friendly deals (defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and kick returner Leon Washington) or re-signed players identified as valuable in their system and paid close to market value (tackle Sebastian Vollmer or defensive end Rob Ninkovich), and young players still performing on their rookie deals (safety Devin McCourty).  These players make up the “value” that is often talked about by coach Bill Belichick as needed by the Patriots to build a competitive roster that can compete each season in the NFL. In these players, the team gets production above the seasonal cost of the contract in comparison to players at the same performance level around the league.


The Patriots headed into training camp with five players with a target on their wallets as their performance in training camp must justify their pay in 2013. Two tight ends (see the previous article highlighting them here), two secondary players (the previous article highlighting one them of them, safety Steve Gregory, is here), and a special teams specialist jumped off the New England Patriots salary cap table as being potentially overpaid (thanks as always to the great site,


As always with the New England Patriots, a player being potentially overpaid is not in relation to the rest of the league, but rather in comparison to the rest of the roster. Wide receiver Donald Jones was just released because he was “overpaid” on a minimum contract with low bonuses because the team wanted to look at rookies with bonuses already paid and undrafted free agents at a lower cost.  Part three concludes the series with cornerback Ras-I Dowling and punter Zoltan Mesko:


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