Free Agency Review: New England Patriots

Key Additions: CB Stephon Gilmore ($13M), DE Lawrence Guy ($3.4M), RB Rex Burkhead ($3.2M), TE Dwayne Allen (Trade), WR Brandin Cooks (Trade), DE Kony Ealy (Trade)

Key Re-signings: LB Dont’a Hightower($8.9M), S Duron Harmon ($4.3M), DT Alan Branch ($4.3M), RB James Develin ($1.3M)

Key Losses: CB Logan Ryan (Titans), TE Martellus Bennett (Packers), DE Chris Long (FA), DE Jabaal Sheard (Colts), RB LeGarrette Blount (FA)

Estimated Cap Space: $26.5 million

Dead Money: $1.4 million

Estimated Salary Per Year: $168.5 million for 63 players

Snaps Gained/Lost in Free Agency:

Role2016 Snaps2017 SnapsChange

Player Signings

Stephon Gilmore- 5 years, $60M, $40M guaranteed

I don’t have a problem with a team in the position of the Patriots taking a risk. I think they saw a deficiency in their defense in the Super Bowl and thought this would help. That said as a contract this deal is very player friendly and in so many meaningful metrics really was a top 3 contract. I have a hard time believing that a deal even close to this existed anywhere else. That said there is a big difference between a team like the Jaguars making this kind of move and the Patriots. Grade: C+

Dont’a Hightower- 5 years, $35.5M, $19M guaranteed

This was one of the best jobs of the offseason by any team to wait out a key free agent to get the player on the terms they wanted. The expectations were so high for Hightower that there was some consideration to using the franchise tag on him, but the Patriots wisely did not and allowed the market to set a price for him. To sign a player this many years later to a lower contract than was used to sign Jerod Mayo back in 2011 is exceptional. Grade: A

Duron Harmon- 4 years, $17M, $6.5M guaranteed

The Patriots kept some continuity in their secondary with this contract for Harmon. This is pretty much a market price contract with a 1st year payment and guarantee that is a bit more reflective of a safety paid about $1M more a year.  They probably had the cap room to move away from the signing bonus, but as long as he is a productive player for the next two years they should not regret any part of the move. Grade: B

Alan Branch- 2 years, $8.45M, $3M guaranteed

Given Branch’s age and productivity it’s not easy to find a number of comparable players. For the most part I would say that this is in the area of the correct price range and it would require incentives to reach the contract of the more well known Haloti Ngata.  There is a pretty high level of money tied to per game bonuses and weight which is the proper way to go. There is an early offseason roster bonus in year two, but given Branch’s age they shouldn’t need any time to make a decision,  so that is an easy concession point. Grade: C-

Lawrence Guy- 4 years, $13.4M, $4.9M guaranteed

This is one of those contracts that initially got a really bad rap because the initial reports were all focused on the incentivized value which is a few million higher. Still I am not sure what the Patriots saw here because they should have been able to drive this much lower. Guy isn’t really considered a pass rusher and I am not sure what tremendous upside there was to more or less guarantee two years of the contract.  Grade: C-

Rex Burkhead- 1 year, $3.15M, $1.1M guaranteed

If this was just about any other team than the Patriots this would be a signing met with a lot of criticism. Burkhead’s had a very small sample size and one game that would standout over his rookie contract. Given the salaries at the position it’s hard to justify going above even $2 million. There is also no long term upside here for New England since it’s just a one year contract and they wont be negotiating from a position of strength the way they did guys like Dion Lewis.  Burkhead may pan out, but as a contract I don’t like this at all.  Grade: D

Trade Acquisitions

Dwayne Allen- 3 years, $17.4M, $4.5M guaranteed

The Patriots dumped a fourth rounder to acquire Allen, who was signed to one of the most overvalued contracts last year, and a sixth rounder.  As far as trade compensation I don’t think New England gave up much. The question for them will be if Allen is worth a $5 million gamble? Had the Colts released him, which had to be a possibility, I doubt he would have cost close to $5 million. We all know that the Patriots love tight ends so maybe they can get something out of Allen and this is the kind of talent they get miracles out of, but as a contract I still consider this high.  Grade: C-

Brandin Cooks- 1 year, $1.5M, $1.5M guaranteed

In addition to this season at $1.5 million, the Patriots will have the right to pick up an option on Cooks for 2018 that should be in the ballpark of $8 million, so basically this is a deal that is two years for $10 million. I think that’s reasonable value for the last pick in the first round. The Patriots have some contracts coming due on offense and Cooks adds a different dimension to the offense. He probably won’t put up the numbers he did in New Orleans but they should be in the realm of a 1A type.   Grade: A

Kony Ealy- 1 year, $900K, $0 guaranteed

The Patriots basically gave up nothing here moving from the backend of the slightly more expensive second round to the upper portion of the cheaper 3rd round. Assuming they were cutting Ealy Id argue that the Patriots only pay $200K more than if they had pursued as a free agent and that extra cost is offset by the $200K signing bonus savings on the draft choice. All things equal the 3rd rounder will cost $1M less than the last pick of the 2nd round over 4 years so financially this is a win. Grade: A

Overall Thoughts

I think the Patriots get it better than any other team that just because you were successful last year doesn’t mean you can stand pat and assume the same success will occur the following year. The Patriots are also in a unique position because their division is so bad that they can work on adding talent that may have more of a material impact in the playoffs than for 16 games. Gilmore is an example of a player where his regular season impact probably will not be worth that kind of contract but if he can lock down Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, or any number of players in the NFC if they got to the Super Bowl it’s a move they won’t regret.

Judging by some of the contracts it seemed pretty clear that the Patriots keyed in on talent and wasn’t going to worry about a million here or there to make the deal happen.  Gilmore’s is probably the only one that can have any negative long term impact and the others would all be one or two year disappointments and they are cheap enough to where they can be hidden. I think two of the three trades were terrific.

The only questionable free agent loss to me was Bennett. Was spending $8M for a 30 year old and proven tight end that much worse than $5M on the younger Allen?  Bennett I think has a tendency to wear out his welcome over time which may have also played a role but I think there is far more risk in Allen and Im not sure there is more upside. There was no need to consider re-signing Ryan or Sheard at those prices.

There is still the question of what to do with Malcolm Butler who is definitely not happy with the Gilmore signing. That was an indication that they don’t view Butler as a number 1 and he seemingly wants out. If they get their first round pick back for him I think that’s a perfectly fine decision if they don’t envision him in New England long term. Getting a late first rounder or two second rounders should get the deal done.

The team has already more or less replaced all the snaps they need to replace so anyone they get in the draft will be allowed to grow naturally into a role which is beneficial for players especially if they come in on the defense or receiver position. I cant see any reason to look at the Patriots as anything less than the overwhelming favorites in the AFC.

Overall Grade: B+