Patriots Mailbag: How New England Has Cap Flexibility Entering Offseason


February 8, 2019

“So, what do you do now?”

That’s a question I, and probably many other NFL beat writers, are asked frequently after the Super Bowl. It’s pretty simple. We still work, though with a slightly reduced schedule. (And that’s pretty easy after working roughly 192 hours straight during Super Bowl week.)

There’s still some cleanup to do after the New England Patriots won Super Bowl LIII, then we’re immediately on to the offseason. The NFL Scouting Combine, free agency, the draft and offseason workouts will be here before you know it. The only real break we get is from mid-June to late July when, barring any arrests, the NFL news cycle truly is dead.

Consider this week’s mailbag a primer for the Patriots’ offseason.

What free agents do they keep and which ones do they let walk?
— @Winkleman
Here’s the Patriots’ full list of unrestricted free agents:

P Ryan Allen
DT Malcom Brown
LT Trent Brown
WR Phillip Dorsett
DE Trey Flowers
K Stephen Gostkowski
RB Jeremy Hill
WR Chris Hogan
LB Ramon Humber
OT Ulrick John
LB Albert McClellan
CB Jason McCourty
WR Cordarrelle Patterson
CB Eric Rowe
OL Brian Schwenke
DT Danny Shelton
DE John Simon
OT LaAdrian Waddle

That’s a tough list. I’m sure the Patriots would like to have almost all of them back, but guys like Trent Brown, Trey Flowers and Gostkowski might break the bank. Wide receiver contracts are so absurd, it’s tough to predict what Dorsett, Patterson and Hogan will make on the open market.

Whether the Patriots re-sign Jason McCourty might depend on Devin McCourty, his $13.435 million cap hit and whether or not he decides to retire.

Basically, what I’m telling you, is that I’m not a fortune-teller.

The Patriots also have two restricted free agents in cornerback Jonathan Jones and wide receiver Josh Gordon.

#MailDoug what is our current cap situation and what key free agents should we be focused on?
— @Barbee_O
The Patriots currently have a little over $18 million in cap room, according to the Boston Sports Journal’s Miguel Benzan.

Through restructure, extension, trade or release, the Patriots also could free up cap space through the contracts of quarterback Tom Brady ($15 million), tight end Rob Gronkowski ($9.86M), safety Devin McCourty ($9.5M), tight end Dwayne Allen ($7.31M), linebacker Dont’a Hightower ($5.945M), RT Marcus Cannon ($4.66M) and defensive end Adrian Clayborn ($3.94M).

That’s why, for perhaps the first time since I started covering the team 2013, I finally believe the notion that the Patriots’ cap is crap. The Patriots have so many options to open up their cap room. Even if they simply release Dwayne Allen, their cap space goes above $25 million. Since Brady currently has a $27M cap hit, the Patriots would be really smart to extend him before free agency.

Number 1 priority for the Pats this off season?
— @wade_wdavis10
Re-sign Flowers. He’s by far their best and most important free agent. The Patriots’ defense never played worse than it did in Weeks 2 and 3 when he was out against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions.

Re-upping Flowers also is important because of what and who the Patriots have behind him — Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Keionta Davis and Ufomba Kamalu. No one in that group can come close to replacing Flowers.

What was the most enjoyable part about covering this year’s Pats team? #MailDoug
— @June__NYC
It was an unusually friendly locker room, actually.

A few years ago, that wasn’t the case. There seemed to be a growing disdain for the media, but that’s changed over the last couple of years. I actually think players like offensive lineman Ted Karras have helped in this regard. He’s not afraid to have non-football conversations with reporters, and if we seem like nice, friendly, decent people to one player, then that will rub off on others.

CP, Dorsett and Hogan are all UFAS. What are the chances of each coming back to the Patriots?
— @jschelleman
I’d probably rank them Patterson, Hogan, Dorsett.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a team overpays Dorsett based on his perceived upside. He did just enough this season to show why he was a first-round pick in 2015.

Patterson is a really nice gadget player for the Patriots who I don’t think will cost too much on the open market. I’ll be interested to see what happens with Hogan. In an ideal world, he probably would sign with either the Giants or Jets since his wife and twins live in New York. He has two rings now. If he’s willing to take a little less to play closer to home, then that’s the smartest move.

What do you think is the plan for Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn?
— @ChefdDds89
My best guess is Brown signs elsewhere, Wynn plays left tackle next season and Cannon stays at right tackle.

The other option is the Patriots cut or trade Cannon, Brown stays at left tackle and Wynn plays on the right side. Brown likely will wind up costing too much money, however, as a 25-year-old starter who can play left or right tackle.

The Patriots are gonna pack all the first four picks in the draft to trade for OBJ or Nah? #MailDoug
— @erickperdigao
I don’t hate the idea, OK?

If the Giants are stupid enough to trade Odell Beckham, then any team should jump at the opportunity. His contract isn’t even that bad when you remove his $20M signing bonus. It’s five years, $70M, which is only $14M per season.

If Gronk retires, do they take a good look at Irv Smith from Bama?
— @c_ray26
Even if Rob Gronkowski doesn’t retire, the Patriots should draft a tight end high. They spent first-round picks on Daniel Graham and Ben Watson in 2001 and 2004, a third-round pick on David Thomas in 2006 and a second-round pick on Rob Gronkowski in 2010. Since 2010, they’ve used fifth-, sixth- and seventh-round picks on tight ends. So, they haven’t used a high pick on a tight end in nine years.

This seems like the year to do it with T.J. Hockenson, Irv Smith, Noah Fant and Kaden Smith all out there with four picks in the first 73 selections.

Let’s go rapid fire.

#maildoug @DougKyed if two offensive lineman wanted to be number 69 how would they resolve this issue?
— @oko
The answer is always Bill Belichick decides.

Could the Patriots sign a former prospect like bridgewater or bortles to rejuvenate their career as Brady?s backup?
— @bluebear204
Teddy Bridgewater? Sure. Blake Bortles? The Patriots already had Ryan Mallett.

Which One free agent will the patriots have interesr in ?
— @EdwardPettman
I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a good hard look at wide receiver Adam Humphries.

Just want to remind everyone I was first on this bandwagon.

What are your off-season plans, Doug? #maildoug
— @JefFullerMyself
I plan to take it easy for a while, but then things kick back up at the NFL Scouting Combine later this month. After that, we’ve got free agency, the draft and offseason workouts.

I’ve got a couple of vacations in the works, a wedding in March and some Wrestlemania-adjacent events in April, but nothing too crazy.

Is it possible Patriots trade FOR Jacoby Brissett in the offseason or sign him as a free agent in 2020?
— @BriBriTheSlyGuy
The Patriots like to surprise me, but that would really shock the hell out of me.

Do the Patriots kick the tires on a QB in the 2019 Draft or stick with the Hoyer/Etling back-up plan for now?
— @LWOSstevemcg
I would.

what?s the best story from the season you have that didn?t make it to print #MailDoug
— @MileHighCape
Probably the story of me taking down a wall on radio row at the Super Bowl, though that might be recency bias on my part.

I was back at my hotel when I got a call that I had to reshoot a hit I did for TV. It was about 6:45 p.m. There was a 10-minute walk to the hotel, and my producer, Kelly, had to shoot something down the street from radio row at 7:30 p.m. So, I had to hustle.

I got in the convention center, made it downstairs and was hustling through radio row, which was split into four different quadrants, and each one had about a three-foot high wall around it. The doors were labeled “exit” from the inside, but there were no signs on the outside for entrance. The doors also velcroed shut, so they had a tendency to stick.

I had too much forward momentum jog/power walking to the wall and one of three things happened: 1. the door stuck, 2. what I thought was a door wasn’t, or, 3. I was trying to push open a pull door. Regardless, I started to fall towards the wall, and as I realized what was happening — the wall was falling down in front of me — I tried to then keep myself and the wall up. Neither happened, and I fell down with the wall. Since the wall was split into parts, it falling was described to me as looking like an exploding bridge.

Jori Epstein of USA Today, who I had met the night before, just happened to be walking by as this happened. Adam Hart from NBC Sports Boston also rushed over to help me put the wall back together.

So, you know, at least no one saw it happen.

All in all, I’m pretty sure they replaced the whole wall the next day, I got my TV hit in on time, and Kelly made it to shoot the other event.

Tuesday night was the media party, and I’m pretty sure I told everyone I saw about the wall, because it was better to own it and be openly embarrassed by it rather than pretending it didn’t happen. So, that’s why I’m telling you guys.

What was your favorite moment from this year? #maildoug
— @yirt
Josh Gordon’s first touchdown with the team or Patrick Chung returning to the sideline for Super Bowl LIII with his broken arm in a sling.

What is one player who is a free agent that you would like them to resign from a media perspective? #maildoug
— @yirt
Running back Jeremy Hill or cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe. All three players are great guys.

Why didnt the Patriots give flores the official title of DC? Did they feel he wasnt ready? Happy he got a hc opportunity but find it interesting. #maildoug
— @pcscampbell
My guess is his contract as linebackers coach hadn’t run out yet.

Who is your favorite colleague outside of NESN? If it isn’t @jeffphowe then your answer is invalid. #MailDoug
— @BostonGaL4Ever
It is Jeff Howe, but he’s tied with like 10 other people for first place. We have a great beat.

Thumbnail photo via Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY Sports Images
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