Are Patriots Freeing Salary Cap Space To Extend Key 2017 Free Agents?

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There’s always a method to Bill Belichick’s madness.

So, as New England Patriots fans pull their hair out while the coach restructures contracts of players not named Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Malcolm Butler or Jabaal Sheard, it actually might be a positive sign.

The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin reported the Patriots cleared $2.8 million in salary cap space by restructuring safety Devin McCourty’s contract. By freeing cap space in 2016, it also opens cap space in 2017, since teams can carry it over.

It seems unlikely the Patriots would do this without a plan in place.

Hightower, Collins, Sheard, Logan Ryan, Martellus Bennett, LeGarrette Blount, Brandon Bolden, Alan Branch, Marcus Cannon, Jonathan Cooper, James Develin, Duron Harmon, Chris Long, Barkevious Mingo and Sebastian Vollmer are among key players who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents after the season. Butler and Justin Coleman are among players who are scheduled to be restricted free agents after the season.

Extending Hightower’s contract likely would lower his cap figure for 2016, which in turn would help the Patriots extend Butler, Collins or Sheard’s deals, since their cap figures would be increased. The Patriots currently have more than $11 million in cap space, according to Miguel Benzen of PatsCap.com, so they likely could extend only one of Collins or Butler this season. If they extend Hightower’s contract, it’s at least possible they could extend both Collins and Butler.

The 2017 salary cap is expected to increase, and it’s currently $155,270,000. The Patriots have nearly $101 million in salary cap commitments, according to Benzen, so with roughly $60 million in cap space for 2017, the Patriots presumably could re-sign most of their top free agents while also handing out a franchise tag.

Patriots fans understandably are panicking that so many of the team’s best players are set to hit free agency next offseason. But the Patriots, as usual, are set up well for the future financially. Now the pieces just need to fall in place in the right order to extend players’ deals during the 2016 season.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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