The New England Patriots enter February with a little over $34 million in salary cap space for the 2023 season. This number, however, can become much larger as the Patriots have multiple ways to make room for new contracts.
The 2023 free agent class isn’t anything to write home about, but there are some good players who could help fill out some holes on the Patriots’ roster.
According to that Miguel Benzan (PatsCap), the Patriots could restructure, cut, trade, or extend players in order to make more room. They did so in 2022, borrowing money from 2023’s cap to make room for moves during the season, which is around $13 million per season for moves (such as NLTBE bonuses, practice squad salaries, replacement of injured players, etc.) and around $4 million for the 2023 draft class.
In this article, I used Over the Cap’s salary cap calculator to work through new deals. So some of the below restructurings or extensions aren’t going to be exactly what a player or team decides. We went with what the tool allowed us to do. The Patriots could certainly be aggressive and do more than what’s listed, but these are some of the more realistic options.
Since these options are unlikely to all happen at once, let’s go through some likely scenarios that would bring the Patriots’ cap space up to $60 million for the free agency period.
Release of TE Jonna Smith (June 2): $3.8 million gain
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The Patriots have multiple options to move on from Jonnu Smith if they wish to this offseason. The one that might be the most realistic (outside of just keeping him for one more season) is releasing him with one of their two June 2 designations.
Releasing Smith will save the team $3.8 million, while trading him before June 2, if there are suitors, actually only creates $3.6 million of cap space. A release before June 2 negatively affects the cap for 2023.
However, using the June 2 designation will not credit the cap until June 2nd. Since the Patriots will need to be cap compliant on March 15th (as of now they are), they can utilize this cap space to fill out the backend of the roster.
Restructure and extend TE Hunter Henry: $5.75 million gain
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
New Deal: 4 Years, $46.5 million with $33.5 million guaranteed
Cap hits: $9.75m (2023), $10.25m (2024), $12.25m (2025), and $14.25 (2026)
This deal essentially tacks on three more seasons to Henry’s existing deal, while freeing up cap space in 2023. Moving Henry’s bonus into the future makes 2025 and 2026 expensive, but with less money guaranteed in the future, the Patriots could outright cut Henry after 2025 and gain around $8 million in cap space.
If the Patriots feel that Henry is good enough to warrant a $10 million-plus cap hit, particularly with the cap increasing over the next three seasons, then they shouldn’t hesitate to take care of one of their better players, while also helping their 2023 cap situation.
Trade OT Trent Brown: $10.25 million gain
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Patriots Get: 2023 6th
Bears Get: Trent Brown
The Patriots could find themselves looking to fix their tackle position by moving Trent Brown to another tackle-needy team, while choosing to bring in two new tackles (possibly both from the draft) to work with new offensive line coach Adrian Klemm.
The Patriots now have a chance to have an experienced offensive line coach in house to develop draft picks and coach up the current room. There is a chance Klemm, Bill O’Brien, and Bill Belichick meet to discuss moving on from a tackle that hasn’t played like a $12.25 million cap hit player since returning.
With the Bears desperately needing line help, the Patriots could get jump-started on a trade that would send them an immediate starter to help protect Justin Fields. They have plenty of cap space, and this move could allow them to focus elsewhere.
Restructure and extend WR Kendrick Bourne: $2.2 million gain
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New Deal: 3 Years, $15.4m, $10m Guaranteed
Cap hits: $4.4m (2023), $5.5m (2024), and $5.5m (2025)
Kendrick Bourne is one of the most explosive playmakers the Patriots have, but statistically, due to him rarely seeing the field, he doesn’t warrant a huge new contract. So a new $15 million-plus deal with $10 million of that being guaranteed should help with the cap in 2023, and keep Bourne for a few more seasons into his early 30s.
The Patriots have ways to get out of the contract, if needed, but keeping his cap hit relatively low for each season is a win. Keep in mind, things can and will change, and Bourne could wind up getting way more in a contract negotiation. This is just one way the Patriots could extend and restructure him.
Release DE Lawrence Guy Sr. (June 1): $2.3 million gain
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Lawrence Guy Sr. has been a staple for the Patriots’ defensive front for years, but at 33 years old in 2023, the Patriots could look to get younger, and cheaper at the position. Outright cutting Guy saves the Patriots $2.3 million for the year.
Release P Jake Bailey (June 2): $1.7 million gain
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Jake Bailey and the Patriots are at a crossroads, and it is unlikely he suits up for the team in 2023. Bailey has had a rough few years regardless of the grievance he filed with the Patriots. So the team could look to cut bait using their second June 2 designation to free up $1.7 million in cap space.
Keep in mind, Bailey, like mentioned with Jonnu Smith, would not create space until after June 2nd. Still, cutting him makes the most sense.