As the pandemic-inflicted salary cap for the 2021 season is forcing teams around the league to make tough decisions, the Patriots are sitting in a good spot (for salary purposes, at least).
In February, it was reported that the NFL salary cap for 2021 would be at least $180 million, giving the Patriots a projected $63.5 million, at least, in cap space. However, the cap for 2021 is still expected to be down from $198.5 million in 2020.
So, with teams letting go of veterans just to get under the cap, the Patriots are in a position in which they not only don’t need to release veterans, they could sign some of them to their roster.
Here’s a look at players who have been cut or could be moved to help clear cap space the Patriots could get.
If you’re up-to-date on all Patriots quarterback news and rumors, you’ve likely heard about Mariota being an option by now. The Raiders are likely to be over the projected cap, and moving on from their backup quarterback’s $10.75 million salary would be an easy way to clear some space.
Just last week, Mariota became the betting favorite to be the Patriots’ starting quarterback in 2021.
The Patriots reportedly almost signed Adam Humphries in 2019. They’ll have a chance to do that again this offseason.
The Titans released Humphries last month to save over $4 million in cap space. Humphries, who signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the Titans in 2019, played in just seven games last season, mostly missing time due to a concussion. The sixth-year receiver caught 23 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Humphries, who turns 28 in June, had a career-best season in 2018, hauling in 76 catches for 816 yards and five touchdowns. The six-year vet could provide a spark to a receiving corps that needs it.
The Broncos released defensive lineman Jurrell Casey last week to free up $12 million in cap space. In his first and only season in Denver, Casey played in just three games due to a biceps tear. Prior to joining the Broncos, Casey spent the first nine seasons of his career with the Titans. Casey recorded at least five sacks in each season from 2013-19.
The Patriots will have to address the defensive line this offseason. They have a few key defensive linemen that will be free agents, including defensive tackles Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. If any of them leave, Casey could slot right in.
Another former defensive lineman the Patriots could target is Kawann Short. The defensive tackle was cut by the Panthers in February after he played in just five games over the last two seasons due to shoulder injuries.
Before suffering shoulder injuries in 2019 and 2020, Short was one of the best defensive tackles in the game. He was named to the Pro Bowl in 2015 and ’18, recording 27.5 sacks from ’15-’18.
Alshon Jeffery and DeSean Jackson
The Eagles have already released Jackson and Jeffery will be released when the new league year starts later in March.
Both players have had solid careers, but have probably seen better days at this point with each being on the wrong side of 30 (Jeffery is 31 while Jackson is 34). In addition, Jeffery and Jackson each missed more than half of the Eagles’ games this season due to injuries. Jackson’s played in just eight games since 2019.
Jeffery’s been the more productive receiver in recent years, who’s hauled in 20 touchdowns since 2017. If it means anything, Jeffery was Stephon Gilmore’s teammate during their college days at South Carolina and the two are good friends.
Eifert wasn’t cut or waived, but the Jaguars did decline the tight end’s $5 million option for his contract in 2021, making him a free agent.
Ever since Rob Gronkowski retired at the end of the 2018 season, the Patriots have gotten very little production from their tight ends. Ryan Izzo led the position with 13 catches for 199 yards in 2020. Third-round rookies Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi combined for just five catches.
Eifert would certainly be the best tight on the Patriots’ depth chart. In his lone season in Jacksonville, he caught 36 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns. Eifert spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Bengals, earning a Pro Bowl nod in 2015.
The Vikings haven’t made a decision on Rudolph, but NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal believes he could be on his way out of Minnesota. Rudolph has said he doesn’t want to take a pay cut from his $9.45 million salary for 2021, and with the Vikings projected to be over the cap, cutting him would save $5.1 million.
The two-time Pro Bowler has seen a dip in production the last two seasons. He caught 28 passes for 334 yards and had a career-low two touchdowns in 2020. While he’s not the player he once was, Rudolph would be an improvement over what the Patriots currently have at tight end.
The Browns tight end is still employed by his team, but he thanked the fans in Cleveland in a tweet on Saturday. Njoku has one year left on his rookie contract, but the Browns can easily move on from him from a salary standpoint.
Njoku, 24, has had an up-and-down four years in Cleveland. The 2017 first-round draft pick showed promise early on to be one of the league’s best tight ends, but injuries prevented that from happening. He caught 19 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns in 2020.
There’s speculation that the Jets receiver will be cut — despite his solid 2020 season — because of the $10 million salary he’s owed in 2021. Crowder caught 59 catches for 699 yards and six touchdowns last season, making him one of the few bright spots for the Jets.
Crowder’s still relatively young, turning 28 in June, and has caught at least 50 passes in all but one of his six seasons in the NFL.
On Monday, it was reported that the Washington Football team would release Alex Smith. The veteran quarterback returned to the field this season after suffering a gruesome leg injury in 2018, earning him the Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Smith struggled in his return, throwing six touchdowns to eight interceptions in eight games. The Patriots could bring him in as one of multiple players to compete for the starting quarterback job.
Get Boston.com's browser alerts:
Enable breaking news notifications straight to your internet browser.