Brady's re-worked contract now puts the Patriots $25 million under the cap heading into free agency, which is right about where they were last offseason. Heading into free agency last year, the Patriots needed an interior pass rusher, an outside receiver and help in the secondary.
After their failures to address those needs last offseason, the Patriots head into free agency again needing an interior pass rusher, an outside receiver and help in the secondary. Given their failings on the free agent market last year, their current cap space isn't as important as it seems on paper.
The cap space should help the Patriots keep some their own key free agents in Wes Welker, Sebastian Vollmer, Kyle Arrington, Aqib Talib and Danny Woodhead. However, Bill Belichick's last two offseasons show that acquiring outside veteran talent is not his strong suit.
Looking back at the Patriots' failures in free agency last year, one wonders why Brady agreed to a below-market contract extension. His selflessness and desire to win are unprecedented, admirable qualities. However, his logic is questionable if he truly believes the Patriots will use the additional cap savings wisely on the open market.
The Patriots' biggest defensive splash last offseason was the signing of lineman Jonathan Fanene to a three-year, $9.85 million contract with a $3.85 million signing bonus. Fanene, who was signed to boost the interior pass rush alongside Vince Wilfork, was cut in August without ever suiting up for the Patriots.
Offensively, the Patriots tried to address their need for a deep threat by signing Brandon Lloyd to a three-year, $12 million contract. Unlike Fanene, Lloyd suited up for the Patriots and was somewhat productive, catching 74 passes for 911 yards.
However, the Patriots will reportedly soon be creating additional cap space by parting ways with Lloyd, whose mercurial personality was a poor fit in the locker room (h/t Tom E. Curran, CSN New England).
Lloyd didn't materialize as the deep threat many envisioned he would become, as his yards per catch total dropped from 18.8 two years ago with Josh McDaniels in Denver to 12.3 with the Patriots. His route-running and overall play were inconsistent, and it appeared that Brady and Lloyd were struggling to get on the same page.
Steve Gregory is the one free agent signed last year that appears certain to stay with the team this season. The Patriots signed him to a three-year, $7.05 million deal and he was a starting safety when he was healthy last year.
However, his play was inconsistent and he was exposed badly in the AFC Championship Game by Ravens' tight end Dennis Pitta. Gregory should be back in 2013, but Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe reported that second-year safety Tavon Wilson will take over in the starting lineup.
The Patriots used the remainder of their cap space on ultimately unproductive free agents like Anthony Gonzalez, Joseph Addai, Donte' Stallworth, Jabar Gaffney, Tony Fiammetta, Spencer Larsen, Bobby Carpenter, Robert Gallery, Will Allen, Visanthe Shiancoe, Daniel Fells and Michael Hoomanawanui.
The Patriots used a big chunk of their cap space two years ago to address their seemingly-constant need for an outside receiver and interior rusher by trading for receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, and signing defensive lineman Shaun Ellis. Haynesworth was cut mid-season, Ochocinco was released after one unproductive year in New England and Ellis wasn't brought back after a disappointing year—proving that last offseason wasn't a fluke.
The last two offseasons have been filled with a lot of noise that ended up signalling nothing for the Patriots. That's why their current cap situation doesn't really matter, except for when it comes to retaining their own free agents.
If the Patriots are going to address their perpetual needs at wide receiver, on the defensive line and in the secondary, they'll likely have to do it through the draft.
The Patriots have a lot of cap space, but don't expect that to translate to them acquiring stars in free agency this offseason. If the past is any guide, they'll be lucky to get any significant contributors from other teams off of the free agent market.