Salary Cap Reset: How the Patriots can create cap space for the 2022 offseason

With the Super Bowl in the books, the 2022 NFL offseason is upon us. Naturally, with free agency approaching, there are numerous salary-cap-related questions. While the Patriots aren’t currently set to have much cap space to work with this offseason, the organization has plenty of opportunities to create additional space. 

With that in mind, I thought it would be a good time to lay out all the ways New England can create cap space this offseason. The cap numbers/savings used in this article come via Miguel Benzan’s calculations (@patscap on Twitter). If you’re not following him already, it should be the first thing you do after reading this article.

Patriots Salary Cap Reset

The Patriots have four avenues to open up more cap space: Trades, contract extensions, contract restructures, and cuts.

The “net savings” numbers listed under the trade candidate and cut candidate portions of the article take into account the “Top 51” rule. The rule essentially results in $825,000 less cap space per transaction because it accounts for the minimum cap hit of whichever player replaces the outgoing player on the roster.

To be clear, these are simply options the Patriots have for creating space, they aren’t all going to happen. (NOTE: Since the objective is creating cap space to operate with during the 2022 offseason, moves that result in under $350,000 in savings will not be discussed.) 

Patriots Trade Candidates

N’Keal Harry ($1,047,048 net savings) 

After three uneventful seasons, the writing is on the wall for Harry in New England. The question is more than likely not if, but when, the Patriots move on from the former first-round pick.

Isaiah Wynn ($9,588,000 net savings)

Wynn is in the final year of his rookie deal after the Patriots picked up his fully guaranteed fifth-year option last offseason. He’s an average/slightly above-average left tackle, which makes his cap hit decent value, but he’s struggled to stay healthy. Freeing up a significant chunk of change by moving Wynn makes sense, but at the same time, it’s tough to move on from your starting left tackle without having a fill-in ready to go.

Nelson Agholor ($9,057,353 net savings)

It would be a real shock if Agholor played the 2022 season in New England with a $14.9 million cap hit. A trade would create cap space needed for free agency, but it’s unclear what Agholor and his 2022 cap hit can net in a potential trade.

It should be noted that despite his lack of production in 2021, Agholor does bring value to the New England offense. The issue is that the value doesn’t match the hefty price tag. Whether it be via trade or extension it seems clear the Patriots are going to get Agholor’s current 2022 cap hit reduced. 

Total net savings from potential trades: $19,692,401

Potential Contract Extensions

Each of the proposed extensions is the same: add one more year onto the player’s current deal, which will create the opportunity to open up cap space for 2022. Obviously, longer-term extensions are always on the table, but for this article, we’ll keep it simple with one-year extensions. (Reminder: Offical cap savings from extensions come from @patscap on Twitter.)

Hunter Henry ($5,000,000 cap savings)

Extending Mac Jones’ favorite red-zone target not only lowers his 2022 cap hit but also ensures Henry be around to continue helping Jones develop throughout his rookie deal. Extending Henry feels like a win-win for everyone involved.

Plus, after a full year together, I expect the Jones/Henry connection to continue to blossom moving forward.

Nelson Agholor ($3,940,000 cap savings)

As noted in the trade candidates section, something needs to be done about the Agholor contract. An extension may not be popular but, it would open up cap space.

Shaq Mason ($3,586,667 cap savings)

Mason was one of the best guards in the AFC last season and he’s still only 28 years old. His current contract runs through 2023. Adding another year would lower his 2022 cap hit ($10,157,345), while also providing the Patriots with a long-term foundation piece at guard for the foreseeable future.

Davon Godchaux ($2,700,000 cap savings)

I don’t see a way Godchaux stays on the roster with a $10,250,000 cap hit in 2022. Some type of roster move will be made to lower that number. An extension would free up some savings, but is that the route New England will take? Godchaux had an average first season with the Patriots and the interior defensive line as a whole still has issues.

Jake Bailey ($2,421,000 cap savings)

Although Bailey had a down year in 2021, he is still likely in the Patriots’ long-term plans. An extension this offseason feels like a smart move for both sides.

Kendrick Bourne ($1,798,334 cap savings)

Despite Bourne’s seamless fit and breakout season, an extension might be a bit complicated. The reason being: Bourne’s current contract is a huge bargain for the Patriots, with only a $6,416,666 cap hit in 2022. Any extension would likely have to come with a significant raise. 

Bourne may just be content to play out his current deal and cash in after the 2023 season. A contract restructure (turning his 2022 base salary into a fully guaranteed signing bonus) might be a more likely option here. Still, it’s possible the two sides sit down and find an extension they both like.

Total cap savings from potential extensions: $19,446,001

Potential Contract Restructures 

Each of the proposed restructures I lay out are the same: convert the player’s 2022 base salary into a fully guaranteed signing bonus, which then allows the 2022 cap hit to be spread out over the remaining years of the contract.

Matt Judon ($6,643,000 cap savings) 

Restructuring Judon’s contract creates the most cap savings of any restructure on the Patriots roster. This would be a fairly easy and painless way for New England to create more cap. Judon’s contract runs through the 2024 season.

Jonnu Smith ($5,310,000 cap savings)

Like it or not, the Patriots are stuck with Smith’s contract for the next couple of seasons. It’s not all bad though. Smith has proven capable of being a much more productive player in the past than he was in 2021. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots alter his contract at all this offseason.

Hunter Henry ($3,982,500 cap savings)

Henry was previously mentioned as an extension candidate, but the Patriots could opt to go this route as well. An extension seems to make more sense though, given it opens up more cap and keeps him in New England longer.

Shaq Mason ($2,690,000 cap savings)

Like Henry, Mason was previously mentioned as an extension candidate.

David Andrews ($2,643,334 cap savings)

Andrews is already on a bargain of a contract, but his cap hit next season is higher than it will be in 2023 or 2024. It makes sense to restructure and create some cap space for 2022.

Jalen Mills ($2,310,000 cap savings)

Like Andrews, Mills’ contract is a relative bargain. Mills can play any position in the secondary. He will be a valuable piece given the uncertainty with J.C. Jackson and Devin McCourty in free agency.

Deatrich Wise ($1,976,666 cap savings)

Wise doesn’t have much in the way of guaranteed money beyond 2022, so a restructure could make sense. 

That said, his current contract structure gives New England an easy way out after the 2022 season. Do they want to lose some of that future flexibility with a restructure? It might be worth letting Wise play out his current contract and then reevaluating in the 2023 offseason.

Kendrick Bourne ($1,607,500 cap savings)

Bourne was previously mentioned as an extension candidate.

Total cap savings from potential restructures: $27,163,000

Patriots Cut Candidates

Henry Anderson ($2,600,000 net savings)

Last season Anderson seemed to be the odd man out of the defensive line rotation even before getting hurt. The fit just never seemed to click. Unless he splashes in training camp this go around, it’s very likely only a matter of time before the team moves on.

N’Keal Harry ($373,111 net savings)

Harry was already mentioned above as a trade candidate, but if New England can’t find a trade partner, cutting him is another option. Because the cap savings are bigger in the event of a trade, the Patriots shouldn’t be too picky on trade compensation if they’re looking to move on. 

Total net savings from potential cuts: $2,973,111

Bottom Line

The Patriots may not have a ton of cap space going into the offseason but there are a number of ways they can gain a significant chunk. Not all of these moves listed will take place, but it’s important to at least lay out some of their options.

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