It’s time for the New England Patriots to be aggressive in free agency and work diligently to make up ground on the far more talented Buffalo Bills.
So how exactly is that to be accomplished when the team is constrained by salary cap considerations? It’s a fair question and let’s proceed to try to offer a reasonable solution to this seeming dilemma.
The answer really is not so difficult at all. The Patriots need to cut ties with a bunch of current players to make room for new and better performers.
The Patriots need to get creative in their 2022 roster formulation
Things are already looking up on the salary cap front. Patriots’ cap expert Miguel Benzan has tweeted that the Patriots created more than $10M in cap space after their first several moves to bring back valued contributors.
If they need to, they can do it again.
That’s an excellent place to start. In addition, there are numerous other players who could be released to increase cap space. One who will incur lots of dead cap money is Nelson Agholor.
Agholor was brought into the fold in last season’s explosion of free agency signings, both good and bad, and he may have been the worst of the lot. He managed only 37 catches for the season. That was not exactly what was expected. Another less than cost-effective signing was tight end Jonnu Smith.
The Patriots should take the nearly $4M in cap savings in releasing Agholor and run. Smith unfortunately is unlikely to be traded or released due to his contract situation.
Others who could realize cap savings if released include: Davon Godchaux, who’d save New England up to $5M or so, defensive lineman Henry Anderson, former third-round draft pick tight ends Devin Asiasi and Dalton Keene, and former second-round pick cornerback Joejuan Williams. Those are easy ones and there are a number of other under-performers with whom the Patriots could cut ties.
Patriots can also restructure or extend contracts and trade players for more cap room
Another way is to restructure or extend certain players.
Patriots cap watcher Miguel Benzan said that the best way to create cap space this offseason is to convert a large portion of Matt Judon’s salary into a signing bonus while giving tight end Hunter Henry and punter Jake Bailey new extensions.
In addition, trading high-priced players who are either underperformers if certain other moves are made could also make sense, though they are more controversial.
Trade possibilities were led by Shaq Mason, whose trade on Tuesday afternoon released about $10M on the cap, and Isaiah Wynn.
With Ted Karras now departed almost inexplicably to Cincinnati, though, a trade of Mason is now highly unlikely. That’s a missed opportunity. Yet, New England could also seek to unload Wynn, a relatively underwhelming first-round pick from the 2018 draft. He could leave if Trent Brown is re-signed to play left tackle.
Clearly, there are options for the Patriots to winnow down their roster, gain more cap room, and sign free agents who are better. They should not sit on players they have signed in free agency, drafted, or otherwise acquired who haven’t performed up to expectations. They should just cut ties and move on.
They can do this as noted both in free agency with the additional cap space and through the draft. With only six picks at present in 2022, however, the need to trade players is amplified. They should just get on with it and make the trades for additional picks.
Having a good draft is essential to the team’s long-term future. Losing former Director of Player Personnel Dave Ziegler won’t help.
It’s now on Matt Groh, his successor, to shine in the 2022 offseason, or the Patriots will stay put as a decent club and nothing more. The time to act is now.