5 Cuts That Could Create Serious Cap Space for the New England Patriots

James Christensen@@nepatriotsdraftContributor IFebruary 6, 2014

5 Cuts That Could Create Serious Cap Space for the New England Patriots

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    Who will Bill Belichick wave goodbye to this offseason?
    Who will Bill Belichick wave goodbye to this offseason?David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

    The New England Patriots will need to create some cap space if they want to be major players in free agency this offseason. According to OverTheCap.com—referenced throughout this article—the Patriots have approximately $4.5 million in cap room to work with.

    In order to fill in some of the talent gaps on this team—tight end and pass-rushers come to mind—there are going to be some hard decisions made.

    Here are five potential cuts that the Patriots could make this offseason.

Vince Wilfork

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    Stephan Savoia/Associated Press

    Vince Wilfork is an integral part of the defensive line, but his $11.6 million cap number has become prohibitively high. It isn't out of the question to see Wilfork released this offseason—especially coming off an Achilles injury—but an agreement that keeps both he and the New England Patriots happy is within reach.

    If the Patriots extend Wilfork's contract out another four years and guarantee his 2014 salary of $7.5 million, they can prorate that amount over the life of the deal. That would save New England a full $6 million on this year's cap.

    If Wilfork is willing to work with the Patriots on a somewhat team-friendly deal, he should be able to retire a Patriot—a very rich one at that.

    Cap Savings If Cut: $8 million

    Projection: Re-sign to long-term deal

Dan Connolly

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Dan Connolly's performance in 2013—he struggled mightily in pass protection—doesn't match what he will get paid in 2014. It would be tough for the New England Patriots to stomach a full $4.08 million cap hit.

    While it would be possible to re-sign Connolly to a more cap-friendly contract, releasing him seems like the more likely option. If Sebastian Vollmer returns to health in 2014, Marcus Cannon—who played well in Vollmer's absence—is a natural fit inside.

    If Connolly is willing to take a pay cut, the Patriots could use him at the center position with Ryan Wendell set to be a free agent. 

    Cap Savings If Cut: $3 million

    Projection: Cut

Stephen Gostkowski

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    Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

    Like Wilfork, Stephen Gostkowski has played well—he was 38 of 41 on field-goal tries in 2013—but his cap number has grown too high—$3.8 million—for his position.

    Unlike former New England Patriots punter Zoltan Mesko—who was dumped for Ryan Allen, the cheaper option, during training camp—it is doubtful that Gostkowski would be cut outright. A far more likely scenario would involve Gostkowski being re-signed to a deal that defers a good deal of his compensation into 2015 and beyond.

    By re-signing Gostkowski to a long-term deal, the Patriots could potentially save over $1.2 million in cap space while retaining one of the top kickers in the league.

    Cap Savings If Cut: $3 million

    Projection: Re-sign to long-term deal

Isaac Sopoaga

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    David J. Phillip/Associated Press

    When the New England Patriots sent a fifth-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft in exchange for Isaac Sopoaga and a sixth-round pick, the move seemed like a no-brainer. The Patriots received a big body to fill in for the injured Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, while losing only a round of draft position in the draft process.

    Unfortunately, Sopoaga proved to be a non-factor. He was a healthy scratch for both of New England's playoff games behind fellow defensive tackles Sealver Siliga, Chris Jones and Joe Vellano.

    Expect Sopoaga to be one of the first cuts made this offseason.

    Cap Savings If Cut: $2.5 million

    Projection: Cut

Adrian Wilson

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    This past Monday, former New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison visited with WEEI's Dennis & Callahan Morning Show about what he feels the Patriots were lacking this season:

    I really believe, if they could get that physical, hard-hitting safety. I think that's something they need to look for. Someone like Kam Chancellor or even not that big of a safety because it's hard to find safeties that big that can still move. But just somebody, when you come across the middle, you know you're going to get whacked.

    In essence, Harrison described exactly what Patriots fans were hoping to see from Adrian Wilson—perhaps the most intimidating person I've ever interviewed—this past season.

    Unfortunately, Wilson was placed on injured reserve before the season began. He will turn 35 during the 2014 season, and the Patriots might look to find a more youthful solution. Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward could be a splashy target.

    Cap Savings If Cut: $1.17 million

    Projection: Cut