With over $60 million in salary-cap space, the New England Patriots don’t necessarily need to go the value route as they search for their next quarterback.
But with needs across the roster — most notably at wide receiver, tight end, defensive tackle and linebacker — finding a cheaper quarterback would allow New England to otherwise build up its roster.
Let’s take a look at some of the Patriots’ most notable quarterback options to see how much cap space New England would have remaining after an acquisition.
Miguel Benzan, aka @patscap on Twitter, currently projects the Patriots to have $62,492,990 in cap space heading into the offseason. All cap space approximations are based on the Top 51 rule (only the top 51 most expensive players count against the cap until the start of the 2021 season).
Dak Prescott, free agent
2021 cap hit if franchised and traded: $37.7M
Potential contract: four years, $147.3M
Potential 2021 cap hit under new contract: $28M
The Cowboys will only let Prescott go if they franchise and trade him. Dallas already franchised Prescott last offseason, and the collective bargaining agreement states that if a player is franchised for a second consecutive year, his salary will increase by 20 percent. Prescott would therefore come to New England with a $37.7 million salary and cap hit. Spotrac.com projects Prescott will sign a four-year, $147.3 million contract as a free agent. Assuming Prescott’s cap hit would rise over the length of the contract, he could be on the books for around $28 million in 2021.
That would still give the Patriots around $35.3 million to spend this offseason. They probably wouldn’t be able to splurge on more than one player, however.
Remaining cap space: $25.6-$35.3M
Jimmy Garoppolo, 49ers
Remaining contract: two years, $51.1M
2021 cap hit: $25M
2021 cap hit after restructure: $13.2M
This is assuming the 49ers find a better or cheaper quarterback option and trade Garoppolo to the Patriots. San Francisco also might be forced to cut Garoppolo, but it would probably make sense for New England to swing a deal to ensure they get their guy.
Garoppolo has a $25 million cap hit in 2021 but that could be lowered by $11.8 million with a restructure. Adjusting Garoppolo’s contract would kick money into the future but leave the Patriots with over $50 million to spend this offseason.
Remaining cap space: $38.3-$50.1M
Marcus Mariota, Raiders
Remaining contract: one year, $11.35M
2021 cap hit: $11.35M
Potential contract if released: two years, $23M
Potential 2021 cap hit: $9M
Mariota currently has an $11.35 million cap hit but that would rise to over $20 million if he hits all of his incentives. The Raiders will probably need to release Mariota rather than trading him since $11.35 million is affordable while $20 million is not for a QB of his caliber.
If Mariota was worth $11.35 million on his current deal, it seems reasonable that a team could sign him for $11.5 million per year as a free agent. That’s still relatively affordable for a starting quarterback.
Remaining cap space: $52-$54.4M
Deshaun Watson, Texans
Remaining contract: five years, $146.54M
2021 cap hit: $10.54M
Watson is actually incredibly affordable in 2021 with a cap hit just over $10.5 million. That’s because Watson is still technically on his rookie contract for the 2021 season. His cap hit rise into the $30 and $40 million range in 2022 and beyond. The Patriots could trade for Watson then build up their team with players on one-year prove it deals to go all-in for the 2021 season. They would be mortgaging the future to do so, however, since a trade could cost four first-round picks.
Remaining cap space: $52.7M
Cam Newton, free agent
Potential contract: one year, $5.5M
Potential 2021 cap hit: $5.5M
It’s unlikely the Patriots could convince Newton to sign another contract for close to the veteran minimum as they did in 2020, but $5.5 million (a Spotrac projection) is still affordable for a starting quarterback, and New England would have plenty of cap space left over to fill out the roster.
Remaining cap space: $57.8M
Jacoby Brissett, free agent
Potential contract: two years, $12M
Potential 2021 cap hit: $4.5
Brissett’s potential contract is based off deals recently signed by Case Keenum (three years, $18 million) and Tyrod Taylor (two years, $11 million).
Remaining cap space: $58.8M
Potential contract: four years, $20.9M
Potential 2021 cap hit: $3.8M
This is the cost estimate if the Patriots traded up to No. 5 overall in the 2021 NFL Draft to acquire a player like Alabama’s Mac Jones or North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. The Patriots’ current crop of draft picks only will count around $2 million against the cap. Trading up for a quarterback would raise that by about $1.5 million.
Remaining cap space: $59.5M
Gardner Minshew, Jaguars
Remaining contract: two years, $1.815M
2021 cap hit: $850,000
Based on the Top 51 rule, a player’s cap hit worth $780,000 would be replaced by Minshew’s cap hit of $850,000. That means Minshew would only subtract $70,000 from their remaining cap space. If you’re already subtracting the Patriots’ rookie class, then Minshew would essentially have no effect whatsoever. He’ll only count $56,000 more against the cap than the third-round pick New England might have to trade for him.
Remaining cap space: $62.4M
The Patriots currently have the third-most cap space in the NFL, per OverTheCap.com. Even if they went the absolute most expensive route and traded for Prescott without signing him to a contract extension, they would be left with $25.6 million in cap space which would still rank eighth-most among NFL teams.
Acquiring a cheaper option like Minshew or a rookie definitely comes with its benefits, however. The Patriots could splurge on two or three big-name free agents and otherwise fill out their roster with useful veteran players.
Watson would be the best option in a vacuum for the 2021 season if head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t want to look beyond this year. Garoppolo and Mariota are the safest plays to acquire a decent veteran QB that won’t break the bank nor command a surplus of draft capital.