By trading away Jamie Collins to the Cleveland Browns, the New England Patriots have better positioned themselves to sign key free agents in the offseason.
Collins was reportedly asking for Von Miller type money, which the Patriots were never going to give him. With that said, what does New England do now with No. 91 out of the picture? Let’s take a look at the lay of the land as it stands today.
The Patriots currently have $101 million in salary cap dollars tied up for the 2017 season. With the cap set to increase next year, the best guess is that the team will have somewhere in the neighborhood of $60 million in cap space, plus the franchise tag. They’ll need a big chunk of that change if they hope to re-sign a majority of the players headed for free agency.
Bear Goggles On
In addition to Dont’a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Logan Ryan, Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Alan Branch, Marcus Cannon, James Develin, Duron Harmon, Chris Long, Barkevious Mingo, Malcolm Butler and Sebastian Vollmer are all set to become free agents. One would assume that Hightower is the top priority of out of that group, but now that Collins is off the table, there are assumedly more seats at the table for a few of the other names.
If recent snap counts are any indication, Bill Belichick may be close to letting Logan Ryan walk, taking his chances with Eric Rowe and Justin Coleman. If he was willing to let Darrelle Revis go, there’s no reason to believe he won’t take the same approach with Ryan — especially if he plans on keeping Malcolm Butler around.
Given some of the instability on the offensive line in recent years — mostly due to injury — it’s probably reasonable to assume that both Cannon and Vollmer will be brought back as well.
Given the choice of Sheard or Long, the smart money is on Sheard getting a new deal, though his production this year hasn’t been as good as last year.
Expect Develin to be back as well. He’s a great fit with the Patriots culture and a valued contributor who can be used in multiple formations and roles. The same can be said of Brandon Bolden, but he’s going to have to stop dropping passes if he wants to stick around.
Blount and Bennett are the two most interesting names on the list. If they are willing to stick around for less money, it’s possible New England could keep both of them. Of the two, Blount is probably more likely to take the team-friendly deal. Though he says he feels at home with the Patriots, it’s wishful thinking to think Bennett won’t end up in another uniform next year.