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Making sense of moves

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  October 20, 2009 06:51 PM

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Analysis
The transactions have been coming fast and furious from Foxborough over the last two days, with the Patriots releasing outside linebacker/defensive end Tully Banta-Cain on Monday and wide receiver Joey Galloway, tight end Michael Matthews and linebacker Eric Alexander today.

And according to two league sources this evening, the Patriots have re-signed the previously released Banta-Cain and Alexander to one-year deals.

There is a method to the Patriots' madness in the flood of activity.

Both Banta-Cain and Alexander were playing under one-year contracts that qualified as "minimum salary benefit" deals under the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.

Such deals can't be renegotiated or extended in any manner, according to the CBA. So, to lock up both players to longer term deals the Patriots had to release them.

Minimum salary benefit deals apply to players with four or more credited NFL seasons, who sign for the league minimum salary based on their years of service and then get no more than an additional $50,000 in compensation from the team.

That was the case for Banta-Cain, in his seventh year, and Alexander, a fifth-year player, both of whom prior to being released were on one-year contracts with $620,000 base salaries (the minimum for NFL players who entered 2009 with four to six years of experience under their belt) and then had roster and workout bonuses that totaled an additional $50,000.

The benefit belongs to the team. In both cases, Banta-Cain and Alexander had cap charges that were only equal to the minimum salary of a player with two credited seasons prior to 2009, which is $460,000.

By extending both players their cap charges will actually go up. The same goes for wide receiver Sam Aiken, who signed a two-year contract extension on Monday. Aiken's base salary for 2009 went up from $645,000 to $1.16 million.

The reason for releasing Banta-Cain and Alexander within the last 24 hours is that once the NFL's trading deadline, which was today at 4 p.m, passes, all released players are subject to waivers until Feb. 1.

Up until the deadline, players with four or more seasons of service are not subject to the waiver system.

So, the Patriots had to release Banta-Cain and Alexander if they wanted to sign them to new deals, but wanted to do so without exposing them to waivers, where another team could claim them.

It's actually a very shrewd move.

As for the releases of Galloway and Michael Matthews, those seem to be personnel-based decisions that could potentially clear roster spots for offensive tackle Mark LeVoir, who is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list today and start practicing with the team, and rookie wide receiver Brandon Tate, who is eligible to come off the non-football injury list and began practicing today.

Both players had to sit out the first six weeks of the season on their respect reserve lists until they could begin practicing. Once they start practicing, the Patriots have 21 days to add them to the active roster or put them on season-ending reserve.

With Matt Light's right knee injury, the Patriots only had two tackles active for last week's game against the Tennessee Titans, so it's a good bet that LeVoir, who has been out since the start of camp with a shoulder injury, could be active this week against Tampa Bay.

Galloway had been inactive in the last three games and had clearly lost the trust of both quarterback Tom Brady and the coaching staff.

His nearly $1.8 million salary ($1.15 million base salary, $600,000 signing bonus) was guaranteed when he was on the roster for the season-opener.

The Patriots showed the 37-year-old Galloway respect by releasing him prior to the 4 p.m. deadline and sparing him from the waiver process.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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