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Breaking Down Patriots' Salary-Cap Situation Heading into Free Agency

New England Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib (31) celebrates against the Cincinnati Bengals in an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 6, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)
Tom Uhlman/Associated Press
Mike DussaultSenior Analyst INovember 5, 2016

The NFL announced the 2014 salary cap at $133 million on Friday, leaving the New England Patriots with more than $15 million in cap space to attack fee agency. There are also a number of moves the Pats could make to open up even more space by either reworking contracts or cutting players.

New England got a jump by cutting safety Steve Gregory on Friday, opening up $2.8 million in cap space.

Bleacher Report's Dan Pompei also reports that the Pats were offering Danny Amendola up in trade discussions, while ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio suggests New England could be trying to pry Darrelle Revis from Tampa Bay.

No, there is never a dull moment in a Patriots offseason, and the 2014 fun has only just begun.

Now the Pats must consider the contracts of Vince Wilfork, Dan Connolly, Adrian Wilson, Tommy Kelly and Isaac Sopoaga. These contracts represent potential cap savings of $16.8 million.

Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

Wilfork headlines that group after tearing his Achilles tendon in Week 4, the first major injury of his career. The Patriots ran Wilfork into the ground from 2011-2012, and now must decide if he'll be the same player and worth the second-highest contract on the team.

A two-year extension to spread out his cap hit and open up some space for the team could make sense for both sides.

Kelly has a good history of durability and might be worth his $2.6 million cap hit, especially at a position of uncertainty like defensive tackle. He's coming off an ACL tear.

Sopoaga and Wilson are easy cuts and will net over $5 million in cap savings. Sopoaga hardly played after being surpassed by Sealver Siliga, while Wilson was playing for his job in the final preseason game of 2013. His injury might've saved him from being cut, but the Pats no longer have a need as a dime linebacker with the emergence of Jamie Collins.

Connolly enters the last year of his contract with a $4 million cap hit with a potential cap savings of $3 million if he's cut. Connolly started 2011 at center and the last two seasons at left guard.  But he's not an impact guard and has been inconsistent. He might be better served as the interior swing backup, but at a reduced cost.

With those contracts and players addressed, the Patriots should have good space to first address their own internal free agents.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Aqib Talib #31 of the New England Patriots kneels over on the ground after colliding with Wes Welker #83 of the Denver Broncos during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver,
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

They were already talking with Aqib Talib at the combine, per the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, and the initial signs are promising that both sides are interested in keep the top corner in New England. Talib has had his issues with his hip the last two seasons, which should keep his asking price down in the Patriots' range.

The Patriots were incapable of stopping Peyton Manning and Demaryius Thomas once Talib went down with a knee injury in the AFC Championship Game. His value to their defense is crystal clear and he should be the team's top priority. He'll take up a significant portion of the Pats' free cap space.

Once again, the Pats' leading receiver hits free agency for the second year in a row. Julian Edelman had a breakout campaign in 2013 after re-signing with the Patriots on a one-year deal.

There was limited interest in Edelman last offseason, but this year there should be plenty of teams knocking on Edelman's door.  But with the Pats already paying Danny Amendola $4.5 million, how much will they be willing and able to spend on a similar receiver like Edelman?

The Pats have a tough decision to make and a team like Houston, with former Pats offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien at the helm, could take a run at the dynamic Minitron.

With starting center Ryan Wendell also hitting free agency, the Pats will have to allocate a chunk of change to him or his replacement. Even if they like some of the centers in this year's draft class, they'll need to find a veteran who can at least hold the fort.

Running back LeGarrette Blount, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and linebacker Dane Fletcher all should be internal targets the Pats would like to bring back as well, while saying goodbye to linebacker Brandon Spikes.

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 11:  LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots runs a 73 yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 11, 2014 in Foxboro, Massachus
Al Bello/Getty Images

Blount had a breakout season himself, setting multiple records. Would best friend Talib remaining in New England entice Blount to take less money?

The other major holes that the Patriots must fill externally through free agency include tight end and defensive end.

Rob Gronkowski is coming off another major injury, and while he could be ready for the start of the season, the Pats can't afford to count on Gronk anymore. He needs to have a big season or the Pats could choose to part ways with him next year, per CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora.

Buffalo Bills tight end Scott Chandler could make sense, along with bringing back Hoomanawanui.

Defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones rarely left the field in 2013. Finding a viable third defensive end who can take some of the load off of them is critical. Second-year player Michael Buchanan could emerge, but the Pats always like to give mid-range free agents a shot.

Former Oakland Raider Lamarr Houston could be a good fit.

The Pats once again have a number of questions this offseason, but the core of their winning team remains intact. With a good amount of cap space and limited holes to fill, the Pats should be able to round their team out nicely before the draft.

 

Salary cap and contract information via PatsCap.com and OvertheCap.com.

Mike Dussault is a Patriots Featured Columnist who also writes and edits PatsPropaganda.com. 

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