Why James White’s Patriots Salary Cap Hit Is So Low This Season

White is back on a very affordable deal

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James White is back for his eighth season with the New England Patriots, and he’ll be occupying just a small fraction of the team’s 2021 salary cap.

In re-signing the veteran third-down back this week, the Patriots gave him what’s called a “four-year qualifying contract” — a specific type of one-year deal reserved for players who have spent more than four consecutive years with a given team.

White’s contract is a fully guaranteed one-year, $2.4625 million pact, but his cap hit this season will be just $1.2125 million, according to details shared Friday by The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin and ESPN’s Mike Reiss.

Why? Here’s a quick explainer on four-year qualifying contracts, via NFL.com’s free agency glossary:

“Another type of veteran salary benefit, it can be offered to a player with at least four credited seasons whose contract with a team has expired after being on said team for four or more consecutive, uninterrupted league years prior to his contract expiring. Such a player must have been on the team’s 90-man active/inactive list for said seasons (and every regular-season and postseason game). Teams can sign a maximum of two eligible players to this type of salary benefit.

“A qualifying contract under this benefit is a one-year deal with a base salary of up to $1.25 million more (set to increase in 2022) than the minimum base salary for said player. … Under such agreements, only the applicable minimum base salary (not the $1.25 million benefit) is charged against the salary cap.”

A free agent for the first time this offseason, White tested the market before ultimately choosing to remain with the Patriots. (Center David Andrews and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy followed a similar path.) In 14 games last season, the 29-year-old caught 49 passes for 375 yards with one touchdown and rushed 35 times for 121 yards with two scores.

Here are the salary cap hits for each Patriots running back this season, via Over The Cap:

Sony Michel: $3.06 million
Brandon Bolden: $1.99 million
James White: $1.21 million
Damien Harris: $1.07 million
J.J. Taylor: $780,000

New England still could add Rex Burkhead to that group, as the versatile veteran remains unsigned. Burkhead is coming off a season-ending knee injury and is unlikely to command more than the veteran minimum.

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