The New England Patriots have been a consistent dynasty for sixteen years, only failing to win double digit games once in that span, appearing in seven Super Bowls, and winning five of them. They’ve done that by consistently re-loading and staying ahead of the game.
Well, bad news for everyone else–New England is 5th in cap space heading into the 2017 free agency season, according to Spotrac (h/t: Brandon Kiley) with over $67 million in space for the upcoming season. They are the only team in the top 10 in cap space who even made the playoffs, and the Browns and 49ers are the top two (they have a few more needs to fill with that space.)
The Patriots do have some of their own guys that they may want to sign (here’s a complete list from Over the Cap). They’ll have the flexibility to re-sign who they want and shop around.
Dont’a Hightower is the biggest name that the Patriots will likely retain, and have the room to do so. Martellus Bennett is also a free agent and how they approach him will likely say what they think of Rob Gronkowski long-term.
Defensive starters Logan Ryan and Alan Branch are also free agents. Branch is 32 and they could look elsewhere depending on the defensive line market. Other guys who were part of the rotation (Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard) are also free agents. LeGarrette Blount is also a free agent. Do we really see the Patriots paying a lot of money for a 30-year-old back if Blount wants a big deal?
The team could also choose to move on from Danny Amendola, who has the 4th-highest cap charge on the team for 2017, and apply it elsewhere at the position.
The biggest name on the wide receiver market is Alshon Jeffery, who is expected not to return to Chicago. We’ve seen New England do it any number of ways at wide receiver, but don’t be surprised if they get in on a really talented receiver who has been buried in a bad situation (we’ve heard that before with the Patriots, right?). They have the space and the recruiting pitch to pull it off. If they don’t want to go the Jeffery route, Terrelle Pryor looked pretty good in a bad situation last year, and is also a free agent.
I could also see Calais Campbell being a guy who Belichick would love to coach, and could fill any holes on the defensive line. Melvin Ingram and defensive tackle Brandon Williams of the Ravens could also be on the market. And that’s before we get to any cap casualties for other teams who have issues, and need to cut a veteran that the Patriots can pick up on the rebound.
The Patriots will be in control of their domain again. They don’t have to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, but can see if an offer blows them away. They have flexibility to sign their own free agents, and get in the bidding for whoever they want. You can expect them to be in contention yet again, and probably for several years to come.