Breaking Down New England Patriots' Best, Worst Contracts
Most folks tend to agree that—love them or hate them—the New England Patriots have one of the best-run organizations in all of football. The proof can be found on the field and in the win-loss columns. However, New England's sustained success isn't just a product of finding the right players for the roster.
Much of New England's sustained success is also due to an ability to get quality players to agree to team-friendly contracts. Just consider the fact the Patriots won Super Bowl LI and then went into the offseason with enough cap space to add even more pieces to their championship-caliber roster.
The Patriots added guys like Brandin Cooks, Stephon Gilmore and Dwayne Allen and still have more than $9 million in cap space remaining this offseason.
Of course, this doesn't mean the Patriots don't have the occasional bad contract on the books. Just think back to a couple of years ago when the team signed tight end Scott Chandler to a $5.3 million deal only to get four starts and 259 yards in return.
Here, we're going to break down the best and the worst contracts on the books for New England. We'll be basing our picks on factors like contract dollars, overall value and bust potential.
Best: Marcus Cannon, Offensive Tackle
Left tackle Nate Solder is in the final year of his contract, so there's some uncertainty at the position. There is no uncertainty at the right tackle position, however. The Patriots locked up Marcus Cannon recently with a new five-year, $32.41 million deal.
This isn't exactly a light contract for Cannon, but it's a pretty good bargain when you consider he was rated 11th overall among all offensive tackles in 2016 by Pro Football Focus.
The Patriots locked up Cannon for slightly less than the Kansas City Chiefs spent on star right tackle Mitchell Schwartz last offseason. New England spent significantly less than the $60 million the Cleveland Browns spent on guard Kevin Zeitler for the same five-year period.
We're used to seeing left tackles command boatloads of money, but other positions along the line are beginning to command top dollar. The Patriots locked up Cannon for the long term and appear to have done so at below market value. That's a good contract.
Worst: Jonathan Freeny, Linebacker
In comparison to Cannon, linebacker Jonathan Freeny is making pennies. He's set to have a cap hit just under $1.8 million this season.
The issue with Freeny's contract is that it's pretty hefty for a guy who barely sees the field. According to Pro Football Focus, Freeny only saw 97 defensive snaps during the regular season last year. He produced six total tackles and a forced fumble.
Freeny was utilized more during the 2015 season—397 snaps, per Pro Football Focus—so the two-year, $4.08 million extension he signed last year doesn't seem entirely unjustified. At least, that's until you realize he was the worst-rated linebacker on the Patriots' roster that season, per Pro Football Focus.
New England essentially gave $2 million per season to a guy who was a liability as often as he was an asset. The Patriots then turned around and kept Freeny on the bench for the vast majority of the next season.
This obviously isn't the kind of bad contract that will significantly hurt the Patriots, but it's a bad contract nonetheless. It wouldn't be a surprise to see the Patriots get out of that contract this offseason either.
Best: Rob Gronkowski, Tight End
Rob Gronkowski is the NFL's most dangerous and dominant tight end when healthy. The problem is that he's often not healthy. This was the case in 2016 when injuries limited him to just eight games and six starts.
"I'm feeling good," Gronkowski said after undergoing surgery last season, per Tyler Sullivan of 247Sports. "I'm in no pain, which is the most crucial part."
Actually, the most crucial part will be Gronkowski returning to the field at 100 percent and performing at a high level. This is why the restructured deal the Patriots and Gronkowski recently agreed to is pure brilliance. If Gronk stays healthy, he can earn up to $10.75 million. If he misses time, New England saves money.
According to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald, the contract breaks down like so:
He’ll earn the full $10.75 million in 2017 if he records 80 receptions, or 1,200 receiving yards, or earns All-Pro honors or plays 90 percent of the Patriots’ offensive snaps. Otherwise, he can earn $8.75 million with 70 catches, or 1,000 receiving yards, or 12 touchdowns or plays 80 percent of the snaps. Short of that, he can earn $6.75 million with 60 catches, or 800 receiving yards, or 10 touchdowns or plays 70 percent of the snaps.
This is an incentive-laden deal that protects the Patriots from injury risk. Yet, it will also reward Gronkowski if he stays on the field and remains the playmaker everyone knows he can be. This is a win-win for both parties and a great contract.
Worst: Dwayne Allen, Tight End
Gronkowski is one of the best players in football. Fellow tight end Dwayne Allen isn't, yet he's being paid like he is. He's in the midst of a four-year, $29.4 million deal and will make nearly $5 million in 2017.
That's a lot of money for a guy who only produced 35 receptions, 406 yards and six touchdowns in 2016. While Allen could and should see better stats in the Patriots offense—you know, with Gronkowski commanding the bulk of the attention—it's worth noting that Allen isn't a tremendous overall player.
Pro Football Focus rated Allen 122nd overall among 133 tight ends last season.
Now, to be fair, we have to note that the Patriots aren't responsible for Allen's inflated deal. This is a contract he signed with the Indianapolis Colts last season. The Patriots only inherited it when they traded for Allen this offseason.
Still. it's a bad deal and one the Patriots may look to restructure or rid themselves of within the next couple of years.
Best & Worst; Malcolm Butler, Cornerback
OK, so we're cheating a bit here, but we kind of have to. There's no way to realistically look at Malcolm Butler's $3.91 million salary in 2017 and say that it's bad. That's proverbial chump change for one of the best cornerbacks in the entire NFL.
Pro Football Focus rated Butler fifth overall among all corners in 2016.
When you look at the big picture, though, it's a bad contract. The Patriots had an opportunity to lock up Butler long term with an extension this offseason, and they chose to utilize the restricted-free-agent tender instead.
Not only does this mean Butler can walk away next offseason, but it temporarily put the two parties in a precarious situation. Butler was pretty upset initially, and his future is unclear.
"I can't tell the future," Butler said, per ESPN's Josina Anderson. "I'm just a CB [cornerback]. I'm not a GM [general manager]."
The future for Butler and the Patriots would be clear had the team tried to agree a long-term extension. Instead, Butler may only be around for one more run.
Best: Julian Edelman, Wide Receiver
Standout receiver Julian Edelman is also poised to become a free agent next offseason, but he's not playing on a one-year deal. He's finishing up a four-year, $17 million contract that appears to be an absolute steal in retrospect.
Edelman has gone from being a converted college quarterback to one of the NFL's top wide receivers. He hauled in 98 passes for 1,106 yards in the regular season last year, and he played the hero's role in Super Bowl LI with one fantastic catch.
When you consider a guy like Kenny Britt is about to make nearly double what Edelman made in four years—Britt recently signed a four-year, $32.5 million deal—it's hard to look as Edelman's contract as anything but a steal.
Worst: Stephon Gilmore, Cornerback
The addition of cornerback Stephon Gilmore this offseason certainly wasn't a steal. In fact, you can say the Patriots actually overpaid for him.
It's not that Gilmore isn't a quality cornerback, because he is. The problem is that New England is shelling out $65 million to Gilmore over five years, with $40 million guaranteed. This is a lot of money for a guy with one Pro Bowl under his belt and some spotty play on the field.
At times, Gilmore can be dominant. Sometimes, though, he'll be overly aggressive and get burned. According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore surrendered 41 receptions and 638 yards while being targeted 68 times in 2016—Gilmore was rated just 74th overall among cornerbacks for the season.
Can Gilmore play up to his contract? Sure. He should be especially effective opposite Butler this season. However, there is a lot of bust potential with this deal. If Gilmore is merely an above-average cornerback for the Patriots in the coming years—particularly if/when Butler departs—this is going to look like a bloated and unnecessary deal.
Best: Tom Brady, Quarterback
The Patriots regularly get creative with quarterback Tom Brady's contracts. Just consider that on his current two-year, $41 million deal, he'll only have a base salary of $1 million in 2017. This is done so that the team can spread out Brady's signing bonus while committing little to the salary pool.
However, this isn't solely why Brady's contract is a great one. The fact is, Brady is the top quarterback in the NFL. He's won five rings, and he's shown no signs of slowing down. Pro Football Focus rated him first among quarterbacks last season.
Yet, the Patriots aren't paying Brady like the best player in football—though he seems to have no problem with that. In terms of annual salary, 12 quarterbacks are making more money than Brady. That group includes guys like Carson Palmer and Kirk Cousins.
When you consider what the Patriots could justify paying Brady, what they actually are paying him is pretty remarkable.
All contract information via Spotrac.com, unless otherwise noted.