2016 Cap Outlook: New England Patriots

Through the 2015 NFL season, Pro Football Rumors will be looking ahead to the 2016 offseason, gauging the salary cap situation for each of the league’s 32 teams. The cap for 2016 hasn’t been set yet, but we can still assess the salary commitments made by a club and determine whether or not that club will be in good financial shape going forward.

In addition to evaluating each team’s overall cap situation, we’ll focus in on a few key players who may be candidates to be extended, restructured, or released by their current teams. These lists aren’t comprehensive, and depending on a player’s 2015 performance and health, he could drop off one of these lists – or be added to one – as the season goes on. For now though, these are some players to watch.

Using data from Over The Cap, we’re making our way through the 32 NFL teams in order of total salary commitments for 2016. Today’s team is the Patriots, who currently have the third-most money on their ’16 cap.

Let’s dive in….

Top 10 cap hits for 2016:

  1. Tom Brady, QB: $15,000,000
  2. Jerod Mayo, LB: $11,400,000
  3. Nate Solder, LT: $10,697,666
  4. Devin McCourty, S: $8,000,000
  5. Chandler Jones, DE: $7,799,000
  6. Dont’a Hightower, LB: $7,751,000
  7. Jabaal Sheard, DE/OLB: $7,000,000
  8. Danny Amendola, WR: $6,866,666
  9. Rob Gronkowski, TE: $6,650,000
  10. Sebastian Vollmer, RT: $6,270,834
    Current 2016 cap number for top 51 players: $145,244,259

Much has been made of Brady’s team-friendly contract structure, and the fact that he has a 2016 cap hit of $15MM rather than $25MM certainly allows the team the flexibility to spend a little more elsewhere. Despite Brady’s relatively modest cap number, New England still has the fourth-highest total of cap commitments for 2016, since the club has plenty of moderately priced players on its books. In total, the Pats are carrying 10 cap charges of $6MM+, and 14 of $4MM+.

Candidates for extension:

This list of Patriots extension candidates is far from complete, but even so, it’s still a lengthy one, with plenty of players set to have their contracts expire after the 2016 season.

The club may ultimately have to decide between Cannon and Vollmer, rather than extending both. After Nate Solder went down with a season-ending biceps injury in October though, both tackles have stepped up and performed well, proving their worth. Vollmer has the larger 2016 cap charge, at $6.27MM, so if New England wants to extend one of the two, it could be easier to do a deal with him to reduce that number.

On the other side of the ball, Hightower and Jones both had their fifth-year options for 2016 picked up earlier this year, and have played very well since then, making them logical extension candidates. Jones, in particular, is someone New England will look to lock up long-term, given his contributions to the club’s pass rush — he’s tied for the NFL lead with 8.5 sacks so far this season. On the other side of the defensive line, Ninkovich isn’t quite the force that Jones is, but he recorded eight sacks in each of his last three seasons, so if the price is right, the Pats would presumably like to have him back.

LaFell and Sheard, meanwhile, are hardly slam-dunk extension candidates — depending on how the rest of this season plays out, it’s possible that both players are released in the offseason, since doing so would create a total of $7.8MM in cap savings.

Still, both players have produced when they’ve been healthy, with Sheard racking up four sacks in five games this season, while LaFell totaled 953 receiving yards and seven TDs a year ago. Sheard has been sidelined by an ankle injury in recent weeks, and LaFell has struggled with drops since coming off the PUP list, so we’ll probably have to wait and see how they finish the season to get an idea of whether the Pats will be more inclined to extend or release them this winter. The team may also simply let them play out the final year of their respective contracts in 2016.

Candidates for restructure:

  • Nate Solder, LT

Prior to suffering his season-ending biceps injury, Solder signed a modest two-year extension that will keep him under contract through the 2017 campaign. That new deal ensures that there would be plenty of dead money on the Patriots’ cap if they were to cut him in 2016 and rely on Vollmer and Cannon, so Solder figures to return to his starting role on the offensive line if and when he makes a full recovery.

Having said that, his $10.7MM cap hit for 2016 is the third-highest on the roster, so restructuring his deal to lower that number is a possibility if the Pats need some wiggle room next season. If that flexibility isn’t required, the club will probably keep Solder’s contract as is, to avoid pushing more potential dead money to the 2017 season.

Candidates for pay cut or release:

Amendola has been effective for the Patriots, but with several other receivers, tight ends, and running backs vying for targets, the veteran wideout isn’t always a consistent part of the passing game — although he has been targeted at least nine times in two games this season, he has just 14 total targets in his other five games. He’ll have two years left on his contract after this season, but with a base salary of $5MM owed to him in 2016, the Pats could create more than $4MM in cap savings by cutting him.

Chandler, like Amendola, is something of a luxury in the passing game for the Patriots. He only plays about a third of the team’s offensive snaps, and has been targeted 15 times through seven games. He’s a useful piece, but New England may be inclined to free up $2MM+ in cap room by releasing him and identifying a younger, cheaper alternative.

As for Mayo, he currently projects to have the Patriots’ second-highest cap number in 2016 behind Brady. He won’t be back at that price. The final two seasons of Mayo’s contract are option years, and the Pats figure to turn down their option this winter, allowing the linebacker to hit free agency unless he’s able to work out a significantly-reduced salary to remain in New England.

Contract information from Over The Cap was used in the creation of this post.

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