Fresh off another superbowl victory, the Patriots enter the offseason with plenty of work to accomplish in order to put themselves in a strong position entering the 2017 NFL Draft. With 61.2 million in projected cap space (http://patscap.com/2017patscap.html) and a laundry list of free agents, the team will need to make some tough decisions regarding current players.
Before analyzing the upcoming Patriots’ free agents, understanding the difference types of free agents will be helpful:
Unrestricted Free Agents (UFAs) – These players are free to sign with any team starting March 9th, 2017.
Restricted Free Agents (RFAs) – These players are initially offered a 1 year contract by their prior team at first, second, or original tender (original tender is the round they were selected in the NFL draft). 2016 NFL tender amounts were as follows:
1st round tender: $3.635 million
2nd round tender: $2.553 million
original round tender: $1.671 million
Other NFL teams that wish to sign restricted free agents must first write with an offer sheet (a contract with years and amounts they are willing to pay). Next, the prior team has a right of first refusal meaning they can match the contract in order to retain the player. If the prior team refuses to match, the team signing the restricted free agent must also trade a draft pick corresponding with the tender. The Patriots in 2007 signed Wes Welker to an offer sheet and traded away their 2nd round selection to the Dolphins.
Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFRAs) – These players can only sign with their prior team to a minimum qualifying offer.
Note: A team can refuse to tender RFAs and give qualifying offers to EFRAs. In these cases the players become UFAs and are free to sign with any team.
CB Justin Coleman
DE Geneo Grissom
TE Matt Lengel
FS Brandon King
Prediction: All players are retained under minimum qualifying offers.
CB Malcolm Butler
T Cameron Fleming
CB Malcolm Butler
Prediction: 1st round tender
Butler continued his filmworthy story with an All-Pro selection in his third season. As a cornerstone of the defense, the Patriots will hope to negotiate with him on a longterm deal sometime during next season.
Prediction: original round tender
Fleming has proved to be reliable depth at the tackle position as he started the season opener in Arizona at LT in place of Nate Solder.
LB Dont’a Hightower
Prediction: Franchise tagged (1 year ~15 million)
Hightower will likely be franchised as the Patriots fail to work out a longterm deal before the start of free agency. He is a signal-caller and a leader for the young Patriots defense.
TE Martellus Bennett
Prediction: Signs elsewhere (3 years 27 million)
Bennett’s toughness was on display as he battled his way through injuries en route to making key plays in Superbowl LI. He will likely price himself out of New England as a complete TE with receiving & blocking ability.
CB Logan Ryan
Prediction: Signs elsewhere (4 years 38 million)
Ryan is about to get paid in a thin CB market. He’s young, versatile, and a solid man-to-man CB. He will be worth more to another team than what the Patriots are willing to pay him in his current slot CB role.
S Duron Harmon
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots (4 years 22 million)
Harmon plays a key role in the Patriots’ big dime defense (3 CB + 3 S). He’s played over 50% of snaps the last two seasons and will continue to improve as he enters his prime.
DT Alan Branch
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots (2 years 11 million)
Branch enjoyed a breakout season at the age of 32 in 2016. His play led the way to the Patriots having an elite run defense and should be an offseason priority.
Prediction: Signs elsewhere (2 years 10 million)
Sheard fell off this past season as he was benched during the Seahawks game. With the emergence of Trey Flowers and the abundance of draft picks, the Patriots will likely turn elsewhere for complementary pass rushers.
WR Michael Floyd
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots (1 year 3 million)
The Patriots clearly have an interest in Michael Floyd as they claimed him on waivers and paid him over a million dollars for just a few weeks of work. Look for him to sign a 1 year “prove it” deal here or somewhere else.
DE Chris Long
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots (1 year 2.5 million)
Long bolstered the Patriots pass rush as a situational player in his first year in New England. While he is getting up there in age, the team would be wise in re-signing him to a similar 1 year deal during last offseason.
FB James Develin
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots (2 years 3 million)
Develin is a fan favorite as well as one of the best run-blocking FBs in the NFL.
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots (1 year 1.5 million)
Just turning 30 this past season, Blount may find a lack of interest as a free agent. He will likely be retained on another cheap 1 year deal as he appears to be a favorite of Bill Belichick.
LB Barkevious Mingo
Prediction: Signs elsewhere (1 year 1 million)
Mingo failed to crack the rotation and was relegated to special teams after being traded to New England during last August.
RB Brandon Bolden
Prediction: Re-signs with Patriots (1 year veteran minimum 775,000)
Bolden has found a role on special teams as a reserve RB. He will likely return to this role next season.
DE Gregg Scruggs
Prediction: Signs elsewhere (1 year veteran minimum)
Scruggs was not active during a game this season before being placed on injured reserve in October.
Note: Cap hits during the first year of deals are usually lower than the average yearly value across the duration of the contract. This estimated cap space figure does not include potential cuts, retirements, or a Jimmy Garoppolo trade.
The Patriots enter free agency with the cap space flexibility to re-sign anyone. The decisions they make on their own players will determine what positions they will target in free agency and the upcoming NFL Draft.