New numbers suggest that Belichick favorite Talib will be returning
The news that the NFL's salary cap could top $140 million in 2015 and perhaps $150 million in 2016 may have the Patriots thinking that long-term deals for their most coveted of unrestricted free agents are not only now tangible, but likely.

At present, the New England Patriots have just shy of $118 million committed to their roster in 2014 according to a compendium of several different sources, so when the salary cap for the upcoming season was projected to be congruent to the 2013 cap, there was widespread fear among media and fans that the Patriots would have to slash payroll in order to do anything at all in free agency.

Which was bad news when considering that conerback Aqib Talib, running back LeGarrette Blount, nose tackle Sealver Siliga and wide receiver Julian Edelman are unrestricted free agents and likely would be gone simply because there just would not be enough money available to make an appropriate offer to them.

Panic was wide-spread and talk of restructuring contracts or of  releasing players outright surfaced, but then the reports of a $10 million increase in cap space brought the panic to low din, as the extra cap money added to what the Patriots were able to roll over from 2013 brought their cap number all the way up to approximately $137 million, or a full $19 million of space in which to play with...

...and while the idea of asking players like Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins to restructure their contracts is still a good idea - as is the inevitability of releasing marginal or injured players for further cap relief - if the cap numbers are going to increase incrementally in the following two years, restructuring of contracts may give way to short-term extensions instead.

Wilfork would be the easiest number to decrease as he is on the last year of his big payday from New England, and a two or three year extension with some up-front bonus money could cut his $11.6 million in half, saving the team nearly six million this season.  To outright release Wilfork would still cost the team nearly four million against the cap so the path with the veteran nose tackle is clear.

Mankins, however, is a bit more difficult.  Scheduled to cost the Patriots $10.5 million against the cap, his six year, $51 million contact running through 2016 still has eight million of his protracted signing bonus left to be paid, so he will cost New England that amount of money regardless of a new deal or even outright release, so at most the Patriots would save a rather minuscule $2.5 million - not really worth hassling over at present.

As for releasing players, dumping the likes of Issac Sopoaga, Adrian Wilson, Jake Bequette and perhaps even Steve Gregory plus some other marginal talents would relieve the Patriots of another $11 million - and by playing out the process with the NFLPA over Aaron Hernandez' signing bonus due in March, they will probably recoup another $3.5 million currently absorbed.

Add all of these probabilities together, and the Patriots would be working from a base of an astounding $40 million in cap space for 2014, and given that the salary cap is to be increased by large margins over the next two years, the possibility of the Patriots' numbers guys getting all of their own free agents signed, setting aside what is needed for the rookie salary cap and hitting free agency with a tidy bundle to play with is more of a possibility than it was just a month ago.

That said, there are several contacts that expire for players after the upcoming season that need to be factored in - the priority money going to safety Devin McCourty and tackle Nate Solder, while Stephen Gostkoski will command top kicker pay, Matthew Slater top special teamer salary and both Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen are looking at middle of the road running back salaries.

So, what does all of this mean?  Simply, it means business as usual, getting the teams' priority free agents signed, target a couple of external free agents for bidding on the open market, prepare for the draft and start working on extensions for the players whose contracts expire after next season.

Only now, there appears to be a lot more money to get these things done.

mike 2/28/2014 01:04:00 PM Edit

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