Tom E. Curran

Patriots are paying the cost now for past missteps at receiver

Two Patriots receivers will combine for a nearly $17 million cap hit in 2024.

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The Patriots are currently 31st in the NFL in offensive spending for 2024. Only Tennessee has less than the $63.34 million the Pats have allocated, according to

You can chalk that up in large part to the Patriots currently having one quarterback on the books (Bailey Zappe) at $985,000 and having committed just $27.4 million to the offensive line (28th in the league). Both positions will be addressed in the first week of free agency, so that’s going to jump.

What’s interesting about the Patriots' spending is that they are going to be in the top half of the league in one of their weakest positions: Wide receiver.

When Kendrick Bourne’s deal hits the books (three years, $19.5 million), they will have around $28 million in cap space allocated to that spot. That’s with their best wideout from 2023, DeMario Douglas, on the books for $948K this year. And that’s with Bourne – who was their most productive wideout before his ACL injury – returning on a deal that’s very close to the one he signed in 2021 (three years, $15 million).

The problem is the contracts given to JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker last year. Smith-Schuster has a base salary of $7 million this season and the fifth-highest cap hit on the team at $10.2 million. Parker’s base is $3.2 million and his cap hit is $6.4 million.

They combined for 62 catches and one touchdown last year and both submitted critical fourth-quarter drops when the Patriots were trying to mount game-winning drives (Parker vs. the Raiders; Smith-Schuster vs. Commanders).

And releasing them would be costly for the Patriots because -- even if they do so after June 1 -- they’ll still take a $9.6 million cap hit from Smith-Schuster and a $4.7 million hit on Parker because both were signed through 2025 and their prorated bonus money will accelerate and hit the cap this year.

Next season, the Patriots can release both and not gum things up. But for now, their contracts are a cheese glob in the ventricles of the Patriots' circulatory system. Which impacts their shopping for wideouts in free agency.

UPDATE (Monday, March 11, 3:40 p.m. ET): The Patriots have informed Parker they're releasing him on Wednesday, per ESPN's Adam Schefter. He'll cost New England $6.3 million in dead cap money as a pre-June 1 release, according to OverTheCap.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are making a run at the top free agent wideout available, Calvin Ridley. He’s projected by Pro Football Focus to command a contract in the three-year, $55 million range with $32 million guaranteed.

He’s productive (76 catches, 1,016 yards and eight TDs last year for Jacksonville coming back from a one-year suspension for gambling). But, as we’ve seen with free agent pickups, it’s always a dice roll. For every Bourne, there’s a Nelson Agholor.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are trying to find a trade partner for Smith-Schuster. Even if they can, they’ll still take a modest cap whack ($5.2 million).

If they can’t swing a trade and they do sign Ridley, the Patriots will have an eye-popping amount allocated to wideouts relative to what the players did last season.

All this “return on investment” talk just reiterates how important it is to draft, develop and correctly value your own players when they hit free agency.

The Patriots swung and missed on first-rounder N’Keal Harry in 2019. They’ve gotten little from 2022 second-rounder Tyquan Thornton. The one guy they developed was the undrafted Jakobi Meyers.

By maddening comparison, he had 71 catches and eight touchdowns for the Raiders last year after the Patriots pushed away from the table on him.

The Raiders' contract for Meyers was a one-year “prove it” deal. He did. His base salary this year is $5 million and his cap hit is $13.6 million each of the next two seasons thanks to his 2023 production. Meanwhile, Smith-Schuster – the Meyers replacement – got $16 million guaranteed initially to Meyers’ $10 million. More up front, smaller cap hits. The Patriots opted for that.  

Whatever approach the Patriots' personnel department employs at wideout post-Belichick, it can’t be worse. Unfortunately, it looks like they’ll keep paying for past missteps for another year. 

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