As has become an annual tradition on the first day of the NFL’s legal tampering period, the New England Patriots sat back and watched other teams throw money around at free agents and swing trades.
The Patriots did make one splash move by franchising left guard Joe Thuney, but he might not be around for long. If the Patriots can’t reach a long-term deal with Thuney, then they could trade him to an offensive line-hungry team. The Patriots also have made moves to bring back safety Devin McCourty, wide receiver Matthew Slater, defensive tackle Adam Butler and guard Jermaine Eluemunor.
But they might be forced to slow down until they figure out the Thuney situation because they’ll have significantly limited salary-cap space — if any — as soon as the clock strikes 4 p.m. on Wednesday, when Thuney, and a $13.5 million dead cap figure from quarterback Tom Brady’s previous contract, hit the books. Miguel Benzan of Pats Cap has the Patriots at $8.7 million in cap space accounting for Brady $13.5 million figure but not McCourty’s two-year, $23 million contract because specific details about the deal are not yet known.
In order to free up cap space, the Patriots will need to trade or sign Thuney to a long-term deal. The Patriots also can extend, restructure, cut or trade other players on their roster. Top candidates are veteran players with large cap hits like Dont’a Hightower, Stephen Gostkowski, Marcus Cannon, Duron Harmon and Mohamed Sanu.
So, if you’re wondering why the Patriots weren’t re-signing linebackers Jamie Collins and Kyle Van Noy, signing wide receiver Amari Cooper or tight ends Austin Hooper and Jimmy Graham, or trading for wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins or Stefon Diggs, that all helps to tell the story. The Patriots are prioritizing their own guys.
It’s not exactly time to panic about the talent level of the 2020 Patriots, but they are limited in what they can do moving forward. It would be difficult, for instance, to keep Thuney, sign Brady and add a top-tier offensive weapon. We’re just setting expectations here. Don’t shoot the messenger.
And unless the Patriots are willing to put themselves in salary-cap hell moving forward, or Brady would agree to a far-below-market deal, then it’s possibly time to start considering that the QB’s tenure could be over in New England. We’re simply reading the tea leaves. The Patriots aren’t sitting back and waiting for Brady to make a decision before conducting business. They’re playing this correctly if they truly believe he might leave.
It’s a weird time to follow the Patriots. Typically, we’d tell everyone to, “Settle down. The Patriots have this.” But if Brady’s not back, then we can’t say that in good faith. Everything would change at that point. It would no longer be status quo.
It’s entirely possible that the Patriots are just as dominant as ever next season with or sans Brady. But at this point, we’re waiting like everyone else to see what the Patriots have up their sleeves.
Because so far, even after bringing back McCourty, Slater, Thuney and others, it would be tough to argue a team without Van Noy, Collins and possibly Brady will be better than last year’s one-and-done playoff squad.