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Updating Patriots' Salary-Cap Situation After 1st Wave of Free Agency

FOXBORO, MA - AUGUST 20:   Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots watches the action during a game with the Philadelphia Eagles during a preseason game at Gillette Stadium on August  20, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
Mike DussaultSenior Analyst INovember 29, 2016

After a flurry of moves in the first week of free agency, the New England Patriots have remained quiet since then, sitting without much cap room and a major question mark over Vince Wilfork and his sizable salary.

According to Miguel Benzan of PatsFans.com, the Patriots currently sit with just $5.14 million in cap space with 63 players under contract. That's barely any room for another significant move, and the Pats still have plenty of holes to fill.

They are currently without a starting center, as Ryan Wendell remains a free agent, and have razor-thin depth at defensive end behind starters Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. At this point, an injury to either would be catastrophic.

Benzan lays out a number of options for the Patriots to open up more cap space, and it begins with Vince Wilfork. After reports this week from Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald that Wilfork had already cleaned out his locker, things may be taking a positive turn.

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 14:  Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks is tackled by defensive tackle Vince Wilfork #75 of the New England Patriots at CenturyLink Field on October 14, 2012 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Patriots owner Robert Kraft expressed his desire to keep Wilfork in New England, while head coach Bill Belichick seemed to cast some doubt on whether or not Wilfork really did demand his release.

The Pats simply cannot afford Wilfork's $11.6 million salary. Releasing Wilfork would save $8 million, but extending Wilfork and getting creative with the numbers could take his cap hit all the way down to $4.555 million.

It's hard to imagine another team putting up big money to sign Wilfork given his injury and age. It still makes the most sense for him and the Patriots to figure something out to keep him in New England to finish his superlative career.

Aug 22, 2013; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions tight end Brandon Pettigrew (87) gets away from New England Patriots strong safety Adrian Wilson (24) in the second quarter of a preseason game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Many Pats pundits thought the release of Adrian Wilson would be a no-brainer. As a post-June 1st cut, this would give the Patriots another $1 million in cap space. Given Wilson's poor performance in the 2013 preseason, with him sustaining a season-ending injury in the finale, it appeared he would no longer be in Bill Belichick's plans for 2014.

Yet he remains on the roster and could see one last shot this summer.

Devin McCourty enters the final year of his rookie deal and seems like a prime candidate for a long-term contract extension. In his first full year at safety, McCourty looked like he finally found his home in the Patriots' secondary. An extension could reduce his cap hit by $1 million.

January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; New England Patriots offensive lineman Ryan Wendell (62) and offensive lineman Dan Connolly (63) against the Denver Broncos in the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Cre
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Dan Connolly is another potential player to cut or extend to lower his cap hit of $4 million. Connolly started 2011 at center and 2012 and 2013 at guard, but he might be best suited for an interior swing backup role.

Releasing Connolly would open up $2.58 million of space, while a creative extension could open up $1 million. Still, with Wendell's status uncertain, the Pats might be willing to hang on to Connolly in case he's needed to slide back to center.

The Pats also could receive some relief from their Aaron Hernandez cap hit. They currently are projected with a $7.5 million hit for him but could recover $3.25 million of it. But that will not be determined anytime soon.

There are a number of other ways the Pats could open up more cap space, from extending Logan Mankins (potential $3.76 cap savings) to extending Stephen Gostkowski (potential $1 million cap savings), but the next major issue to solve is Wilfork.

Once the Patriots determine his future they can re-engage the free-agency market and start filling holes again. But until Wilfork's fate is decided, the Pats could remain in limbo, at least as far as any significant signings are concerned.

 

All salary-cap info courtesy of Miguel Benzan of PatsFans.com.

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