Why Patriots Suddenly Gained More Than $9M In Salary Cap Space

The New England Patriots were flush with salary cap space entering the week. Now, they’re practically swimming in it.

Per the terms of the final COVID-19 player opt-out agreement between the NFL and NFLPA, those who choose not to play this season will have both their salary and their signing bonus proration toll until 2021.

Previously, only salaries were set to toll, meaning teams would carry the signing bonus charges of opted-out players on their 2020 caps. This change in bookkeeping gives the Patriots an additional $9.2 million to play with this season, raising their total of available cap space to $35.28 million, per Miguel Benzan of Patscap.

An NFL-high eight Patriots players have opted out of the 2020 season, creating $34,264,062 in salary cap space, according to Jason Fitzgerald of Over The Cap. Nearly $28 million of that came from the contracts of linebacker Dont’a Hightower ($12,445,313), offensive tackle Marcus Cannon ($9,572,916) and safety Patrick Chung ($5,958,333), the third-, fourth- and eight-highest-paid players on the NFL’s opt-out list. (Former Patriots tackle Nate Solder tops that list at $16.4 million.)

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Chung, for example, was set to make $950,000 in salary this season with a prorated signing bonus charge of $3.28 million. Those numbers now will bump to 2021, with his 2021 charges shifting to 2022.

Here’s the official wording from the NFL’s announcement:

“Signing Bonus proration will shift with the tolled contract. For example, if a player has a six-year contract that expires in 2021, his last year of proration would ordinarily be 2020. However, if he opts out, 2020 proration will shift to 2021. Similarly, if a player has proration in each of the three remaining years of his contract (2020-22) and he opts out, his 2020 proration will shift to 2021, his 2021 proration will shift to 2022, and his 2022 proration will shift to 2023. In no event will a contract’s proration be double-counted in 2021. … In effect, a player’s compensation in 2021 under the tolled 2020 contract will include the compensation that was removed from 2020 Team Salary, plus any previously earned 2020 bonuses that are eligible to be earned again in 2021 (e.g., offseason workout bonuses and weight bonuses).”

Rounding out the list of Patriots opt-outs are running back Brandon Bolden, fullback Danny Vitale, wide receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Matt LaCosse and guard Najee Toran. The opt-out deadline is Thursday at 4 p.m. ET.

With $35.28 million in cap space and six open roster spots, the Patriots have the resources to improve their team this season while still rolling space over to 2021, when the NFL salary cap likely will be significantly lower.

Available free agents include offensive tackles Cordy Glenn, Demar Dotson and LaAdrian Waddle; tight ends Delanie Walker and Jeff Heuerman; edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney, Everson Griffen, Ezekiel Ansah and Jabaal Sheard; safeties Tony Jefferson, Reshad Jones, Eric Reid, Tavon Wilson and Morgan Burnett; linebackers Wesley Woodyard, Clay Matthews, Mark Barron, Darron Lee, Mychal Kendricks and Alec Ogletree; and running backs Devonta Freeman and Lamar Miller.

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