The 2018 NFL offseason is in full swing. Teams have devoted most of their attention to free agency and the upcoming draft; determining where they want to spend most of their resources and which players best fit their schemes. As a result, now is a perfect time to analyze some players whose roster spots may be in jeopardy and/or who may be asked to take a pay cut. The New England Patriots are currently projected to have around $14 million in cap space (per @Patscap on Twitter; a must follow for Patriots’ fans) and will likely be looking to free up about $15 million more so that they have enough wiggle room once the market opens on March 13. I will split this list into three parts: players who will likely be released, players who will likely be asked to take a pay cut, and players on the bubble who will most likely at least get a chance to compete for a spot during training camp.
DT Alan Branch (2018 Cap Hit: $4.95 Million; Savings if Cut: $3.95 Million)
Defensive tackle Alan Branch’s 2017 season was a disappointment compared to his outstanding 2016 campaign. The 350 pound behemoth had a rough start to open the year — one that included being left at home for a road game early in the season — but appeared to be turning things around down the stretch when he suffered an ankle injury. Even after he recovered, he was a healthy scratch for the rest of the season as Ricky Jean Francois took his spot on the game day roster. Give his relatively sizable cap hit, his lack of performance last year, and his tendency to show up overweight to training camp in July, Bill Belichick may well decide that its time for the team to part ways with the 11-year NFL veteran. It is possible that the Patriots redo his contract in order to keep him around for one more year, but the coaching staff will likely decide that it just simply isn’t worth keeping him around, considering that his mind is already half out the door.
Prediction: The Patriots will decline to pick up Branch’s option in March, making him a free agent. If he signs with another team, the Patriots will be eligible to receive a compensatory pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
LB David Harris (2018 Cap Hit: $2.75 Million; Savings if Cut: $2.125 Million)
Veteran linebacker David Harris’ 2017 campaign was also a disappointment. Many were thinking that the addition of an experienced and intelligent veteran would free up Dont’a Hightower to play on the edge a bit more, but Harris’ lack of speed kept him off the field for most of the season. He really only saw playing time during the middle of the year after Hightower went down with a torn pectoral, and was inactive down the stretch, having been surpassed on the depth chart by Marquis Flowers. Even though the effect of having a veteran presence in the locker room cannot be understated, the Super Bowl showed that the Patriots need to get faster and more athletic at the linebacker position. Unfortunately, the 34-year old does not possess much of either at this point in his career, making him a probably cap casualty come March.
Prediction: The Patriots release David Harris in early March, giving him enough time to line up potential suitors before the market officially opens.
TE Martellus Bennett (2018 Cap Hit: $6.1875 Million; Savings if Cut: $6.1875 Million)
After winning the Super Bowl with the Patriots in 2016, the soon to be 31-year old tight end signed a three-year deal with the Green Bay Packers, cashing in on what would likely be his last big contract before retirement. Bennett got into a spat with the Packers’ training staff around the middle of the season, saying that they were forcing him to play through a shoulder injury and that he was going to retire at the end of the year. This eventually culminated in his release, and the Patriots claimed Bennett off waivers shortly thereafter. Bennett suited up for two games with the Patriots before eventually landing on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. The Patriots may want to try to bring him back in the event that Rob Gronkowski does end up retiring, but I am of the belief that Bennett ends up sticking to his word and hangs the cleats up in the coming weeks. If he does stay with the team for another year, however, Bill Belichick will likely want to reduce his cap hit by a relatively small amount. Either way, I don’t see Bennett with the team in 2018 with his current cap number.
Prediction: Bennett retires to focus on his pursuits with the Imagination Agency.
Pay Cut Candidates
TE Dwayne Allen (2018 Cap Hit: $5 Million; Savings if Cut: $5 Million)
The Patriots traded a 4th round draft pick to the Indianapolis Colts last March in exchange for Allen and a 6th round draft pick, hoping that Allen could pick up some of the void that Bennett left behind. But the soon to be 28-year old tight end never seemed to get on the same page with quarterback Tom Brady, and he spent most of the year as a blocking tight end behind Gronkowski. While many people believe that he will/should be cut, I believe that the Patriots’ coaching staff values Allen’s work ethic and blocking prowess, and will likely try to redo his deal in order to keep him around a little bit longer.
Prediction: The Patriots and Allen agree to a new deal, reducing his cap hit to around $3 million while adding another $3 million in incentives tied to playing time and receiving production.
LB/EDGE Shea McClellin (2018 Cap Hit: $3.183 Million; Savings if Cut: $2.35 Million)
The former first round draft pick figured to be a big part of the Patriots’ defense entering the season due to his versatility to both play on and off the line of scrimmage, but he suffered a concussion early in training camp that would end up sidelining him for the rest of the year. Given the Patriots’ evident lack of depth at both linebacker and on the edge, I could easily see McClellin returning if it wasn’t for the injury. But given that the concussion kept him out the whole year, it might be time for the 28-year old to hang up the cleats.
Prediction: The Patriots keep McClellin on the roster until the start of training camp, and will then determine whether or not he is physically fit to play in 2018.
RB Mike Gillislee (2018 Cap Hit: $2.18125 Million; Savings if Cut: $2.18125 Million)
When the Patriots signed Gillislee to an offer sheet back in March, the move was thought to be an upgrade over the one-dimensional LeGarrette Blount. But Gillislee never really thrived as a physical short-yardage back, and was eventually surpassed on the depth chart by Dion Lewis. With Lewis and fellow running back Rex Burkhead set to be free agents, Gillislee may have an opportunity to earn himself a spot on the game day roster in 2018.
Prediction: The Patriots allow Gillislee to compete for a role in training camp, where he secures a roster spot for the entirety of the 2018 season.
WR Phillip Dorsett (2018 Cap Hit: $1.544373 Million; Savings if Cut: $1.544373 Million)
Many people are wondering why the Patriots traded a decent backup quarterback in Jacoby Brissett for Dorsett, who didn’t put up big numbers despite being on the field most of the time during the middle of the season. I believe that Brissett is about as good a quarterback as Dorsett is a receiver, but the former 2015 1st round pick just didn’t have time to truly connect with Brady once the season began. The Patriots apparently like his work ethic and the type of player he is, and will likely keep him around for training camp with a measly cap hit of around $1.5 million.
Prediction: The Patriots allow Dorsett to compete in training camp, where he finally develops a good rapport with Tom Brady and becomes a solid role player for the team in 2018.
WR Kenny Britt (2018 Cap Hit: $1.46875 Million; Savings if Cut: $1.46875 Million)
Britt, who was inactive for the entirety of the playoffs, was thought to add a physical outside presence that the Patriots sorely lacked. But without any time to really get on the same page with quarterback Tom Brady, he ended having a less productive stint than Michael Floyd did in 2016. As a result, many are suggesting that the Patriots should release the 9-year veteran, but I’m of the opinion that he provides valuable size on the outside. The Patriots lack a true ‘X’ receiver that can go up and win contested balls, and Britt could be that guy. The fact that he signed a 2-year deal with the team last season indicates that they at least intend to have him compete for a role in training camp.
Prediction: The Patriots allow Britt to compete for a spot in training camp, where he ends up securing one of the last roster spots.
So that’s it for this week’s edition of my Patriots’ offseason preview series. You can check out parts one, two, three, and four here. And stay tuned to The Armchair All-Americans as I look at potential free agent acquisitions next week!
(Authors Note: Contract data via Spotrac.com, overthecap.com, and Mike Reiss/ESPN)