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Looking Forward to the 2018 Patriots Free Agents – More than Just Jimmy Garoppolo

Two of the biggest remaining questions in the 2017 offseason revolve around Jimmy Garoppolo and Malcolm Butler. But in order to figure out those moves, it would be really helpful to know where the Patriots will stand in terms of the salary cap and free agency going into the 2018 season. According to OverTheCap.com, the Patriots will start the 2018 offseason with about $53 million in cap space.

This sounds like more than enough to take care of their free agents. But they have an awful lot of them going into next year, and some tough decisions will have to be made. They’ve got 15 unrestricted free agents to look at.

Tom Brady’s cap number spikes from $14 million in 2017, to $22 million in both 2018, and 2019, so it’s likely you’ll see some restructuring of his contract, and some possible extension. They’ll also have to decide whether or not to retain defensive tackle Alan Branch, who has a team option for $5 million next season.

The Patriots Free Agents for 2018

So let’s take a look at some of the biggest questions going into next year. We’ll start with the new acquisitions, and save the biggest question for last.

Brandin Cooks (2017 Cap Hit $1,563,198)

Brandin Cooks
By Keith Allison (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
Cooks is technically on this list, but only because the Patriots haven’t officially picked up his fifth year option yet. That figure will probably be around $8.5 million, and it’s a foregone conclusion the Patriots will pick it up – and he’ll be a bargain at that price.

 

Brandin Cooks – WR
GameGameReceReceReceReceReceReceReceReceRece
YearAgeTmPosNo.GGSTgtRecYdsY/RTDLngR/GY/GCtch%
201421NORwr10107695355010.43505.355.076.8%
201522NORWR10161312984113813.59715.371.165.1%
201623NORWR10161211778117315.08984.973.366.7%
CareCare4232315215286113.320985.168.1
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.

 

Rex Burkhead (2017 Cap Hit $3,150,000)

Rex Burkhead
Rex Burkhead with the Bengals. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8c/Rex_Burkhead_2013.jpg

Burkhead was signed on March 14th to a one-year deal with a $1.8 million salary, a $1 million signing bonus and a $250,000 signing bonus. The one-year-deal is a prove-it deal for Burkhead; as he will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season.

The former Bengal gives the Patriots depth at running back, and is a sort of hybrid back. Not really super fast, and not tremendously powerful, but a good mix of both.

If you were wondering if there’s a great highlight video of Burkhead, with a Christopher Cross soundtrack… there is.

 

Rex Burkhead – RB
GameGameRushRushRushRushRushReceReceReceRece
YearAgeTmGGSRushYdsTDLngY/ARecYdsTDLngYScmRRTDFmb
201323CIN100000000
201424CIN909271103.07490157610
201525CIN16044021.010941279811
201626CIN161743442174.61714501848921
CareCare421873753174.33428812766342
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.

 

Kony Ealy (2017 Cap Hit, $903,660)

Kony Ealy, By original: Mike Morbeck derivative: Diddykong1130 (Brian Bulaga, Eddie Lacy, Kony Ealy) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]
The Panthers bright spot from their Super Bowl 50 loss to the Patriots came cheap in every sense of the word. He became expendable to Carolina when they brought back Julius Peppers. So the Patriots were able to get him for the cost of 8 positions in the draft, moving back from the 64th pick to the 72nd. He’ll also be playing for under a million on the cap.

A second round pick of the Panthers in 2014, Ealy will be looking to prove that he hasn’t reached his peak with his 5 sacks in each of the past two seasons.

If the Patriots can’t reach a deal with Ealy, letting him go would give them some draft compensation, similar to what they may get from Michael Floyd this year.

 

Kony Ealy – DE
GameGameDefDefDefDefDefFumbFumbFumbFumbFumbSackSackSack
YearAgeTmNo.GGSIntYdsTDLngPDFFFmbFRYdsTDSkTklAst
201423CAR94150100004.097
201524CAR9416900002302005.01517
201625CAR9416617073200005.01913
CareCare4715170756020014.04337
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.

 

Julian Edelman (2017 Cap Hit, $5,750,000)

Julian Edelman
Julian Edelman by Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0]
 Tom Brady’s favorite non-Gronk target will see his deal end in 2017. No Patriots fan should have to be told of Edelman’s value. He’s not really a deep threat, he just makes big plays. He goes over the middle and picks up 11 yards when you need 10, and he makes people miss. After missing time with a broken foot in 2015, he was back to his 100 catch, 1100 yard neighborhood this year.And oh yeah, he did make the most incredible catch in Super Bowl history. And lest anyone forget, he also caught the game-winning touchdown against the Seahawks.

Edelman will be 31 for the 2017 season. For example, Wes Welker was allowed to go to Denver after his age 31 season. Will past be prologue?

It’s a pretty safe bet that Edelman would be willing to take some sort of hometown discount, but will that be enough?

Receiving & Rushing Table
GameGameReceReceReceReceReceReceReceReceReceRushRush
YearAgeTmGGSTgtRecYdsY/RTDLngR/GY/GCtch%RushYdsFmb
200923NWE11754373599.71293.432.668.5%251
201024NWE1531478612.30400.55.750.0%2141
201125NWE13094348.50110.32.644.4%483
201226NWE93322123511.23562.326.165.6%4451
201327NWE1611151105105610.16446.666.069.5%2116
201428NWE14131349297210.64696.669.468.7%10945
201529NWE99886169211.37596.876.969.3%3231
201630NWE161315998110611.33776.169.161.6%12573
CareCare10359641425454010.724774.144.13925721
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.

 

Rob Ninkovich (2017 Cap Hit $2,250,000)

Rob Ninkovich, by Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Ninkovich has been the second coming of Mike Vrabel for the Patriots. He’s always around the ball. He’s never put up huge numbers, and he missed four games this past season due to a PED suspension. But he’s always been a solid performer who’s made big plays at big times.Ninkovich will be 34 by the start of the 2018 season. It was after Vrabel’s age 33 season that they dealt him to the Chiefs in the Matt Cassel deal. That was the same offseason that the Patriots brought in Ninkovich, a previously unknown player (once cut by the Saints as a long-snapper) who had only three tackles and no sacks in three NFL seasons.

Might Belichick be looking for the next Vrabel-Ninkovich type on the free agent market next year?

Rob Ninkovich – DE
GameGameDefDefDefDefFumbFumbFumbFumbSackSackSack
YearAgeTmGGSIntYdsTDPDFFFRYdsTDSkTklAst
200622NOR30000122
200723MIA4011
200824MIA10
200925NWE15000021.0149
201026NWE16102103136304.04517
201127NWE16162301413006.54331
201228NWE1616000154308.03226
201329NWE161622308.04249
201430NWE161611104011518.05324
201531NWE1616000711006.53319
201632NWE1211000220004.01715
CareCare131101542124121484146.0282193
8 yr8 yrNWE123101542123121484146.0279190
2 yr2 yrMIA5011
1 yr1 yrNOR30000122
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.

 

Dion Lewis (2017 Cap Hit $1,487,500)

Dion Lewis photograph
Dion Lewis at Pitt, photo by Jason Hank/transferred and edited by Crazypaco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
The last we saw Lewis, he was lying on the NRG Field turf with an injury that appeared serious injury. It was announced, however, that Lewis had only pulled a hamstring. He’s fine now.It’s been noted on multiple occasions that the Patriots still haven’t lost with Lewis on the field (17-0).

Above all, Lewis has been a versatile and effective runner for the Patriots. He’s been a great change of pace back when paired with LaGarrette Blount. Teams that were able to contain Blount tended to have a tough time conatining Lewis, as shown in the Denver game this season. Lewis also has value as a kick returner, breaking off a big return against the Texans in the divisional playoffs.

Dion Lewis – RB
GameGameRushRushRushRushRushRushReceReceReceReceRece
YearAgeTmGGSRushYdsTDLngY/AY/GRecYdsY/RTDLng
201121PHI150231021204.46.81-3-3.00-3
201222PHI9013691175.37.722412.0028
201525NWE76492342134.833.43638810.8240
201626NWE75642830154.440.417945.5016
CareCare38111496884204.618.1565039.0240
2 yr2 yrNWE14111135172154.636.9534829.1240
2 yr2 yrPHI240361712204.87.13217.0028
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.


James White (2017 Cap Hit $789,272)

James White, By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0]
 The hero of Super Bowl XLIX was one of the biggest bargains in football. His 14 catches against the Falcons set a Super Bowl record, as did his 20 points scored.

A 2014 fourth round pick out of Wisconsin, White has excelled as a third down back. He’s a great pass catcher out of the backfield, and another matchup nightmare. As the Ravens learned this season, you can’t cover him with a linebacker.

It’s worth remembering that the player White replaced, Shane Vereen, had 11 catches in Super Bowl XLIX against the Seahawks, and was allowed to depart for the Giants. On the other hand, the man Vereen replaced, Kevin Faulk, stayed in Foxboro for the entirety of his 13-year-career.

Do the Patriots take a runner to groom as a third-down back to fill White’s shoes in this year’s draft; or do they try to get White to agree to a Faulk-style deal to keep him around for the long haul?

James White – RD
GameGameReceReceReceReceReceReceRushRushRushRush
YearAgeTmGGSRecYdsY/RTDLngR/GRushYdsTDLng
201422NWE305234.60111.7938011
201523NWE1414041010.34682.9225628
201624NWE164605519.25613.839166016
CareCare3351059849.49683.270260216
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.

Matthew Slater ($1,593,750) and Nate Ebner ($1,200,000)

Nate Ebner
Nate Ebner by Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0]
Matthew Slater at the 2014 Pro Bowl, By Sgt. Kyle J. Richardson (DVIDS) [Public domain],

Jackie’s son is a six-time special teams Pro Bowler. Bill Belichick tends to hang onto those guys – and other teams rarely overpay to go get them.
Slater signed a one-year extension on August 31, 2016, and another such deal could be expected this season.
The Olympian Nate Ebner will also see his contract expire after 2017, and is likely in the same boat. You would expect that the Patriots would be able to bring him back for under $2 million.

Danny Amendola (2017 Cap Hit $7,791,668)

Danny Amendola
By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)]
 There’s been nothing particularly flashy about “Dola” in his four years with the Patriots. He’s made nothing but big catches when called upon. Just in this past Super Bowl, he caught a touchdown pass, caught the game-tying two-point conversion, and made a big over-the-shoulder catch on the game-winning drive in overtime.
It’s expected that the Patriots will look to renegotiate Amendola’s deal this offseason, and that might include an extension for next season. He’s clearly overpriced at almost $8 million, but he’d be a great fit at about $3 million.
Danny Amendola – WR
GameGameReceReceReceReceReceReceReceRece
YearAgeTmGGSTgtRecYdsY/RTDLngR/GY/G
200924STL14263433267.61253.123.3
201025STL166123856898.13365.343.1
201126STL1165459.00185.045.0
201227STL1181016366610.63565.760.5
201328NWE126835463311.72574.552.8
201429NWE16442272007.41211.712.5
201530NWE147876564810.03414.646.3
201631NWE124292324310.64321.920.3
CareCare963853436534509.517573.835.9
4 yr4 yrNWE5421241169172410.210573.131.9
4 yr4 yrSTL421729319617268.87564.741.1
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/25/2017.

Nate Solder ($11,166,418) and David Andrews ($620,000)

By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY 3.0
Nate Solder
Nate Solder, By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0]
Solder’s two-year, $20.6 million extension will end after the 2017 season. There is a clause in his contract prohibiting the Patriots from putting the franchise tag on him in 2018.
Solder’s been a solid left tackle for the Patriots they snagged him with the 17th overall pick in the 2011 draft; and left tackles don’t grow on trees. So replacing him won’t be the easiest thing. If they think he’s ready, they could move Marcus Cannon over there, but that’s a big if.
And like Malcolm Butler this year, David Andrews will be a restricted free agent after this season. It’s hardly likely that his negotiations will be as contentious as Butler’s have been.

And of course…

Jimmy Garoppolo (2017 Cap Hit $1,108,513)

By ShoneBK (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0]
So that just leaves us with Jimmy G.Adding up all the players above we get to $45 million… if they all agreed to come back at their 2017 cap figures. That’s not going to happen. That figure also doesn’t include Butler, who if he does come back, will be looking for well in upwards of $10 million.If the Patriots want to keep Garappolo, they’re going to need to be creative. They will have the option of franchising him, but that will cost them north of $20 million a year. Will they find some way to backload a long-term deal that would keep his cap-hit low in 2018, while still giving him enough guaranteed money to sign the deal.Will they do with him what they did with Matt Cassel in 2009? Put the franchise tag on him, get him to sign the tender, and then deal him to a team that will sign him to a long term deal?

The Patriots have options, but it’s not quite as simple as saying they can just franchise him next year with no cost to the rest of the club. There are some big decisions coming for the Patriots, and if we’ve learned anything from watching Belichick and the Patriots over the years, they’re not afraid to make big decisions with big players, and turn big name players today into big name players tomorrow.


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Mike Cooney
Mike is a lifelong Boston sports fan. He's got a degree in journalism from Northeastern University, and has been writing about sports in various methods since the mid-1990's. He's gotten to meet Bobby Orr, Luis Tiant, Rich Gedman, Nomar Garciaparra, and once shut out Carlos Pena's two twin brothers in a game of foosball at McCoy Stadium.
http://mikecooney.net

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