New England Patriots: Interesting salary cap decisions await in 2021

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New England Patriots

New England Patriots Dont’a Hightower (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots will have lots of money to spend in free agency (and maybe a lot more than at first meets the eye) in 2021 but have to spend wisely.

The New England Patriots made a decision at the trade deadline this month, they essentially did nothing.

That was an odd decision. They stood at 2-5 at the time and looked like anything but an NFL playoff team. The options seemed to be either sell off high-priced veteran players for draft picks and build cap space for next season, or trade for players that you think might help you get back into the race.

They did neither. A previous article highlighted the importance to the team in greater detail. They stood pat (no pun intended). Interestingly, since that decision, they have bounced back to win two games and get to within 2 1/5 games of the suddenly faltering a bit Buffalo Bills.

Whatever the outcome is in 2020, the team will emerge from this season with a load of cap space in 2021 and it could balloon even further with a couple of not-so-obvious personnel moves. Here’s what it may look like.

First, according to, the Patriots will emerge from 2020 with a whopping projected cap space of $41,767,834. Not bad at all, but wait, this number could grow exponentially if certain decisions are made by the club on some high-cap veterans and some other players.

Here are some potential savings (roughly another $45M or so?) according to if these veterans are traded or released (of course, many of these players won’t be).

The Stephon Gilmore and Dont’a Hightower question

Starting at the top, Stephon Gilmore. He’s 30 years old and one of, if not the best, cornerbacks in the league. He has already recently put his house on the market. That’s never a good sign as a previous article explained in two other very high-profile cases.

So Gilmore himself may think he’s on the way out-of-town and if he is traded, the Patriots will save roughly $7.5M on the cap on just this one player. But he’s a great player, maybe their best when healthy.

Tough choice to make here. Very.

Next in line is Dont’a Hightower. He’s also a top player, the Patriots’ best all-around linebacker by-far, and his absence hurt the defense this season. But he will be 31 in March, and if he’s traded, the cap savings are even greater than Gilmore’s, almost $10M.

The decisions on Gilmore and Hightower will be the toughest for New England. Move both, and they lose to big-time talents but they gain over $17M in cap space, and presumably draft picks to help rebuild. It’s a tough choice on either.

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