As things stand right now, a week into free agency, the biggest thing with the Patriots isn’t who they’ve signed, but rather who they haven’t signed.
While it isn’t everything, it is worth noting the Patriots’ current cap situation.
It’s unclear exactly where they are at, but they are certainly close to not having any space left, or already don’t have any left. As of Sunday, the Patriots are said to have $5.5 million in cap space, but that doesn’t factor in all of their signings the last few days. They have the second-least space available with the average being somewhere in the $20-25 million range.
So, where have the Patriots gone wrong?
Again, there are a number of factors, but one of them has to be the team’s recent drafts and inability to get contributions from selections in the last few drafts who are on their rookie contracts.
Let’s start with the 2016 draft, as those players are on the last year of their rookie deals. Only Joe Thuney, Elandon Roberts and Ted Karras remain on the roster. But, the biggest issue is five of their first six selections that year aren’t (Cyrus Jones, Jacoby Brissett, Vincent Valentine, Malcolm Mitchell and Kamu Grugier-Hill).
Thuney is a solid contributor, while Roberts is a backup and Karras is a fringe roster player. More was certainly needed from this draft, and it isn’t like the team got much in return for the players selected who are no longer on the team. The majority of them were released, or are no longer in the league.
The 2017 draft was odd in the fact the team only selected four players, although it needs to be noted its first-round selection was traded for Brandin Cooks. But, two of the four players selected are no longer with the organization following being released (Antonio Garcia and Conor McDermott) and then the two players who remain are not starters, at least as of now (Derek Rivers and Deatrich Wise). It’s hard to look at this draft and call it a success, especially considering Garcia (third round) being released after just one season.
Then, last year’s class cannot really be judged because it’s only been one season, but also because five of the eight selections spent at least part of 2018 on injured reserve.
First-rounder Sony Michel was very good, but he was the only real contributor and it’s hard to know for sure what is had with the others given their inability to get on the field. As for 2019, Isaiah Wynn and Ja’Whaun Bentley certainly figure to have major roles and could impress, which would obviously make that class a solid one.
Some of the Patriots’ recent big-name free agent signings may not have needed to happen if some of their draft picks had worked out. For instance, if Jones had a productive rookie season, the Patriots may not have spent top dollar on Stephen Gilmore the following offseason. In addition, if the Patriots could find a safety via the draft, they wouldn’t have over $20 million against the cap devoted to that position in 2019.
According to Spotrac, the Patriots have the second-most money contribute towards the cap in the secondary. And while we’re on the topic, it should be noted $27 million in cap space is going towards Tom Brady, so that is a factor that cannot be ignored.
Over the last few years, it’s been said the recent drafts would catch up to the Patriots and many brushed the thought away, but now being so close to not having any cap space remaining, it’s pretty clear this is the year where it has caught up to them. It won’t prohibit them from making more acquisitions as things can be done (releases and restructures) to create more cap space, but the Patriots have rarely been in this type of situation at this time of year.
So, when the question is asked of why the Patriots don’t have much cap space to work with at the moment, take a look at the last couple drafts and note the lack of contributors currently on the roster.
You'll see why.