Let’s be honest, New England – everything that has happened with the Patriots this offseason, from Tom Brady leaving to a cap space conundrum – we should have seen it coming. Hand up, I’ll admit it; I didn’t see it coming either.
I was among the group calling Brady’s bluff since last August when the sirens sounded that there was a possibility TB12 could be on the way out of New England. I drank the Kool-Aid. I ignored all the warning signs throughout the year, whether it was Brady’s frustrations with the roster or the realization that there was a legitimate chance he’d like to play elsewhere.
I blindly said “in Bill we trust,” “they’ll get Brady some weapons,” “Tom will take a hometown discount,” and “there’s no way Tom Brady finishes his career in another uniform.”
And now, here we are, Pats Nation. A once seemingly impenetrable force, now without a clearcut franchise quarterback, cap space, and an ounce of certainty for the future.
Could the Patriots try to win now with Brian Hoyer or Jarret Stidham at the helm? Could the Patriots tank for Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence with Hoyer or Stidham at the helm? Or could the Patriots hover around .500 and maybe sniff a wild card spot with Hoyer or Stidham at the helm? Who’s to say?
But why should we have seen the Patriots’ current cap space and roster situation coming? The fact of the matter is that the Patriots likely would not have been able to retain Brady’s services no matter what, unless Bill Belichick the GM – whose stock has fallen dramatically – pulled more than a couple strings.
We ignored the clear warning signs, and were ill-prepared for the challenge, just like most of the country and the world with the current situation affecting the globe. Look, please know that I’m not trying to come across as insensitive to current events – they are far more serious than sports – but this analogy resonated with me the more I thought of it.
The Patriots had roughly $44 million in cap space coming into the offseason on the heals of the 2019 season. Then, retaining guys like guard Joe Thuney ($14.7 million per year) and safety Devin McCourty ($5.4 million per) brought the Patriots down to around $23-million in cap space before Brady made his decision.
If Brady did not sign with the Patriots by the beginning of the league year, 4 p.m. ET on March 18, the remainder of his signing bonus, $13.5 million, would have automatically counted against the Patriots cap no matter if Brady tested the waters of free agency and ultimately returned, bringing the amount of available cap down to about $9.5 million.
Keep in mind, (I can’t believe I’m saying this) Brady signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a whopping $25 million per year. Even if Belichick and the Patriots wanted to re-sign Brady – and that seems like a big “if” the way things went – they probably would not have been able to keep him either way because of the dead money from Brady’s bonus and the salary the QB commanded.
Of course the wasted cap space sucks, but it feels like there was no avoiding that, no matter Brady’s plans. About those weapons the Patriots would equip Tom with, those would not have been possible either.
Following the Brady decision, the Pats cut longtime kicker Stephen Gostkowski, putting another $1.4-million of dead cap space on the books. While the decision to release Gostkowski can be justified because of a minor dip in production the last few seasons and health concerns after his 2019 hip surgery, it doesn’t make the dead money any less frustrating.
In terms of the cap after cutting Gostkowski, New England began running into the issue of coming up short in terms of resources, cap space, which seems to be a challenge for the United States in the current pandemic as well.
But where things really become infuriating when it comes to the dead cap space is when you look at who else is eating up big money for the Pats. Antonio Brown still has a cap-hit of $4.5 million, the next highest number behind Brady, which is just maddening.
After Brown comes (I say this sarcastically) Patriots legend Michael Bennett and his $2 million in dead money from a signing bonus. Lastly among the notable dead cap space is now Detroit Lions cornerback Duron Harmon’s $1.25 million signing bonus.
Lump in the remaining, smaller dead contracts, of which there are 13 more, including Braxton Berrios, Duke Dawson, and Keion Crossen, and the Patriots have a total of about $23.9 million in dead cap space just taking up room. Just insane that Bill Belichick, of all people, somehow allowed this to happen. I understand Belichick’s hands may have been tied at times, but that amount of dead money not only weighs a franchise down, it anchors the entire damn ship.
Destined for a retool of some sort, which seems to be on a cycle of every 10 years or so for the franchise (see the 10-6 wash of a 2009 season), the Patriots face arguably the most important draft of their last 20 years, all the while being at a crossroads the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the Brady-Bledsoe decision. Given Belichick the GM’s track record in the draft, at least in the early rounds that are chock full of talent, there are serious question marks.
As Patriots fans, we completely ignored the cap conundrum that was clearly coming, or at least I did. As one of the older teams in the league, the Pats are obviously going to be up against the cap – younger players are cheaper – so money was going to be tight either way. However, with either about $2.1 million, according to Spotrac, or roughly $1.1 million in cap space, according to @PatsCap on Twitter, no one could have seen this type of crunch coming.
Obviously COVID-19 issues are more important, but the Patriots have their share of headaches too. It will be interesting to see how both challenges are resolved.
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