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Patriots Have Far More Salary Cap Room Than You Think

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Bill Belichick is money when it comes to building a roster on the cheap. AP Photo

The spin begins.

Devin McCourty, Stephen Gostkowski, Dan Connolly, Shane Vereen, Stevan Ridley, Akeem Ayers are free agents.

It's hard at times to remember that Darrelle Revis and Vince Wilfork are actually signed for 2015, although their current contracts have all the long-term viability of the MBTA's schedule.

The Patriots and their dutiful State Run Media acolytes already have us believing the franchise is on the verge of insolvency if it tries to keep the core of their defensive backfield intact in the form of McCourty and Revis.

The numbers tell a far different story.

The current collective bargaining agreement - signed in 2011 - says each team must spend a minimum of 89 percent of the salary cap in cash over two distinct four-year periods (2013-16 and 2017-20).

You can find this provision on Page 84 of the CBA.

Nearly one-third of the teams in the NFL are below the 2013-16 threshold heading into the 2015 season - chief among them is your World Champion New England Patriots.

According to NFLPA figures published by USA Today, the Patriots were at 82.7 percent of the $256 million they were allotted in 2013 and '14 [as of last Friday].

That's a $16.8 million shortfall of the $227.8 million minimum average the team was required to have spent over that time frame.

The Patriots were $44.3 million below the 100 percent threshold.

The salary cap is projected to increase both this year and in 2016 by about $10 million each year. The official 2015 cap figure won't be released until March 10.

Let's say for the sake of this discussion the cap increases $10 million this year. That means the Patriots will have to spend another $8.9 million over this season just to keep pace with the minimum allowed in the CBA.

Add to that as much of the $16.8 million shortfall as needed over the next two seasons to hit the required 89 percent average from 2013-16.

Splitting the $16.8 million shortfall and adding our projected increase, the Patriots will have about $18.4 million more to spend next season than they spent this year.

Again, this is based on the minimum salary threshold allowed.

The least amount of money Robert and Jonathan Kraft, and Bill Belichick, have to spend without being in violation of the CBA deal that the elder Kraft helped to finalize.

If the Patriots decide to spend at 100 percent of the cap over the next two seasons, again projecting our $10 million increase over the next two years, they would have a whopping $292.8 million to split between 2015 and '16.

Given their frugality over the past two seasons, the Patriots could actually go over 100 percent cap threshold by that $44.3 million cited above [plus any cap increases] in 2015 and '16 and still not face any penalties.

The Kraft family, as we know, isn't going to spend $44 more than it must spend - never mind $44.3 million - just because it can. But the money is there.

New England's current 2015 cap hit of $155.4 million leaves it with plenty of room for 2016. That's with the $25 million hit based on Revis' current deal, the $14 million hit based on Tom Brady's oft-revised deal, and the $8.9 million based on Wilfork's deal.

The players on that roster, and the salary figures, will undoubtedly change.

Here's a crazy, radical thought, why not build upon the team that won the Super Bowl this year, instead of tearing it up just to prove you can master the salary cap again and again?

Heresy, I know.

If the return of McCourty is essential for Brady to raise Trophy V in Super Bowl 50, franchise him and be done with it.

If the Patriots want to lock up Revis for the long term, they can do that, too.

They have more than enough money to keep the kicker, too.

And then some.

It will be interesting to see which path they choose with McCourty and Revis over the next couple of months.

One can argue that the shrewd roster and contract manipulations exhibited by Robert/Jonathan Kraft and Bill Belichick over the past decade-plus provided the fabric for those four Super Bowl championship banners that will be flying in Foxborough next fall.

One can argue with equal force that it took that huge pile of money dropped into Revis' lap, and the six-year, $54 million extension given to Rob Gronkowski to get the Duck Boats rolling in February again.

The Patriot Way is all about being the best team for the least possible amount of money. It has served Belichick and the Krafts well. They have won four Super Bowl trophies since 2001. That record is unmatched in the NFL.

Greatness assured.

Taking a look at some of the biggest spenders in the NFL over the past two seasons, you'll see a mixed record of success. For instance, according to the NFLPA figures, the Packers are at 116 percent of the cap [$296.9 million] for the past two years. They are followed by Atlanta [$279.3 million, 109.1 percent], Seattle [$274.9 million, 107.4 percent], Chicago [$271.5 million, 106 percent], and Denver/Peyton Manning [$269.8 million, 105.4 percent].

The scorecard:

Very Good. Very bad. Great. Horrible. Brady was always better.

The NFLPA numbers willingly demonstrate there are teams over the cap threshold. Way over. That means there are teams that will have to pare payroll over the next two years. Teams that will have to cut players, and salaries. Therefore, these numbers appear credible. Keep that in mind when you hear people talk about the players' union not being straight up with its figures.

If teams don't hit the 89 percent minimum during each of the four-year periods in the CBA, the difference is paid to the players' union. It will disperse it among the players who were on that particular team during that time.

There is no incentive, therefore, not to spend up to the 89 percent limit. The teams save nothing in the long term by undercutting the minimum mark.

The NFL salary cap is a lot like the tax code in that it's subject to various interpretations. But the underlying fact here is that there is money on the table for Revis, McCourty, Wilfork, Gostkowski and who[m]ever else the Patriots choose to keep.

The living embodiment of The Patriot Way is Malcolm Butler. He had The Greatest Play In Boston Sports History and did it while making the NFL rookie minimum of $460,000.

In a perfect Belichickian world [yes, that is redundant], every player would make a Super Bowl-winning play while earning the league minimum.

The only thing that pushes up salaries more than individual success is a championship. Everyone who was on the Patriots' 53-man roster in Glendale is a champion. That means each wants to be compensated like a champion.

Example. The Patriots can afford to keep Wilfork and his current deal in force, paying him $8.9 million next season. The question is: Do they want to pay him that much?

The Patriots have always been about getting a "comparable player for less money."

That's only because they don't want to spend the money.

It is not because they don't have the money to spend.

Given the massive amount of cash on the table that the team must spend over the next two seasons, Wilfork's deal is minimal. The Patriots will have to weigh whether or not it's worth risking Wilfork sitting out, and dealing with the potential fallout, in order to save whatever mythical number they need to reach.

State Run Media was shocked when New England signed Revis to that funny-money $32 million deal last offseason. But Belichick and Kraft knew, to their everlasting credit, that a player like Revis would be the difference between making the AFC title game and winning the Super Bowl.

They miraculously came up with the money and paid a cornerback $12 million last season.

Given Brady's health and success last season - his best as far as I'm concerned - they know that this "Window to Immortality" is both wide open and limited by time. Brady may only have 25 or 30 years left at this pace - or so his dad would like us to believe.

Once the Patriots figure out the best possible path to get to San Jose next February, there is no reason for the team to be detoured by a few million dollars here or there. The Patriots have an opportunity to forever settle the "Best Team/Dynasty Ever" debate in the next year or two.

Again to their credit, they've created the financial leeway to spend pretty much whatever is necessary to get the players they believe are necessary to win Title V.

Now is the time to get Jerry Jones stupid when it comes to payroll. Brady is neither getting younger nor better.

Jimmy G? Child, please.

There are only two years left in this particular cap window. That is the only time frame that matters here in terms of money.

For the next month or so, fans and media types peruse the 2015 roster/salary cap chart and decide which players the Patriots can keep, and which players they can replace.

The good news is that it doesn't have to come down to dollars and cents.

Just football sense.

Because money isn't the issue this time.

Unless the Patriots make it one.

The OBF column is written by award-winning journalist and Bay State native Bill Speros.Reach Bill on the OBF Facebook page, Twitter @realOBF or at
bsperos1@gmail.com
. Thanks for reading.

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