Bill Belichick will have some difficult decisions to make for the New England Patriots in the coming months. He will have to move on from high end draft picks who failed to blossom during their rookie contracts, viable veterans who have paved the roads for New England success will not be in Patriot colors come the summer.
The Patriots are currently not in the upper echelon in regards to cap space, however, New England can get very creative in this area.
How To Free Up Cap Space:
Patriots Cut Candidates
- DE Henry Anderson
- DE Lawrence Guy
- DE Chase Winovich
- TE Dalton Keene
- CB Joejuan Williams
- WR N’Keal Harry
- QB Jarrett Stidham
If New England cuts bait with these seven players, they would free up $11,710,140 in cap space (according to Spotrac).
The Patriots defense has a lot of players taking up space in the front seven. They like to rotate guys in and use a variety of personnel. However, it’s time to move on from Chase Winovich. The former Wolverine played a mere 14% of defensive snaps in 2021 with little to no impact on the field.
The Patriots have invested more in the names of Josh Uche and Ronnie Perkins, both who play with a similar skill set. Winovich isn’t working out in Foxboro, and will unlikely receive more playing time.
Henry Anderson had a minimal impact before his injury. Cutting Lawrence Guy would be a difficult decision for Bill Belichick to make, but for a team that wants to be faster, Guy’s days may be limited.
As for Joejuan Williams and N’Keal Harry, New England would have no issue moving on from these players.
Patriots Trade Candidates
- WR Nelson Agholor
While Nelson Agholor gave the Patriots offense a vertical threat, he did not live up to his price. Agholor’s 2022 cap hit will rank 15th in the league at $14,882,345. His 473 yards and 12.8 yards per reception is far from top-15 production. New England could cut Agholor and save nearly $5 million, but trading him could free up close to $10 million in cap space.
- T Isaiah Wynn
Cutting Isaiah Wynn does nothing for the Patriots, however if New England can manage to trade him, they would free up $10,413,000 in cap space. Question is, will a team want to pay $10 million for an injury-prone tackle who struggled with consistency? If there is a team willing to bite, the Patriots should pick up the phone.
If New England were to make these cuts and trades, the team could free up over $32 million in cap space. How should the Patriots use this money to retain their free agents?
Free Agent Decisions
CB J.C. Jackson – Retain
Expected Contract (per PFF): Four years, $18m per year
A great debate this contract will be. The Patriots have always managed to roster a number one corner. Names like Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis, Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore have continued to let Bill Belichick run his man-to-man defense.
J.C. Jackson is the next best lockdown corner not only for the Patriots, but for the NFL. Jackson is worthy of his projected contract when looking at his numbers: 22 interceptions over his last three seasons, averaging a 53.7 completion percentage allowed, and a 49.1 passer rating allowed.
The Patriots need a shutdown corner to run their style of defense, especially with the wide receivers the AFC East features with guys like Stephon Diggs, Jaylen Waddle, and Elijah Moore. While it is hard to envision Bill Belichick paying Jackson $18 million per year, letting his secondary consist of Myles Bryant, Jalen Mills, and a rookie is not a viable plan.
T Trent Brown – Retain
Expected Contract (per PFF): Two years, $12.5m per year
When healthy, Trent Brown is the ultimate mismatch in New England. The combination of his size with Jakob Johnson and Damien Harris/Rhamondre Stevenson creates nightmares for opposing teams. With Michael Onwenu displaying tackle/guard versatility, it is best for the Patriots to keep Brown and move on from Isaiah Wynn. This would also likely lead to the team bringing back Ted Karas. A starting 2022 offensive line could look like:
S Devin McCourty – Retain
Expected Contract (per PFF): Two years, $6m per year
Although New England already has two productive safeties in Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips, Devin McCourty is a pivotal leader of the Patriots defense. His speed is still with him despite being 35 come August, Bill Belichick values McCourty’s presence incredibly.
- LB Dont’a Hightower
- LB Ja’whaun Bentley
- LB Jamie Collins
- WR Gunner Olszewski
If New England wishes to re-sign the players above while staying in talks with outside free agents, the linebackers will be difficult to retain. Hightower and Collins have been essential for Patriot success on the defensive end.
Patriots fans will forever be grateful for what they have done for Foxboro. Now, their time and ability is changing rapidly and their cost will be a challenge to prioritize. The Patriots need to get faster at the linebacker position, but keeping one of these starters can benefit the passing of the torch.
Although Gunner Olszewski is a restricted free agent, it is difficult to prioritize him from his 2021 performance. Olszewski failed to improve as a receiver, catching only two passes. Olszewski also regressed greatly as a punt returner, the former all-pro averaged six fewer yards per return from last season. Olszewski’s potential is running out of time and is no longer worth a high priority for New England.