By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones was asked about the team’s decision to trade him during the 2016 offseason, and said the Patriots are “not known for really paying guys over there.” And he’s only half-wrong.READ MORE: Mix-And-Match J&J COVID Booster Raised Immune Response After Pfizer Vaccine, Study Finds
Speaking to USA Today, Jones acknowledged that the Patriots’ decision to trade him to the Arizona Cardinals was as much a financial move as anything else. Jones was due a $7.799 million base salary in 2016, his contract year – which means, if Jones stays healthy and produces for the Cardinals, he could be in line for a massive contract extension. That deal was not going to come from New England.
So about that business with the Patriots “not really paying” their players … Jones isn’t totally wrong about that, but his comment comes off (in print, anyway) as a way of saying the Patriots are cheap, never pay players fair market value, or never spend to the cap. None of those statements would be entirely true. If you go back to the Patriots’ most recent multi-year contract extensions, you’ll see that guys do get paid – especially if you go by guaranteed money, which is often the biggest factor in a player’s decision to sign.
Safety Devin McCourty signed a five-year, $47.5 million extension with the Patriots in 2015, including $28.5 million guaranteed. The deal made him the highest-paid safety in the NFL in terms of total cash and guaranteed money, according to Spotrac. Jerod Mayo’s last extension with the Patriots, signed in 2012, included $25 million guaranteed, the most in the league for an inside linebacker at the time. And of course, there’s Logan Mankins’ six-year, $51.5 million deal and whopping $20 million signing bonus, which made him the highest-paid interior offensive lineman in NFL history.
The difference between the Patriots and many other teams around the league – and this is where Jones has a point – is that they generally don’t extend themselves in terms of base salaries or real cash at the top of the market for the most expensive positions on the field. Jones happens to be a defensive end and talented pass rusher, which often commands the most lucrative deals. The Patriots were not going to give Jones six or more years at around $100 million – let alone approach the astronomical numbers of Von Miller’s extension with the Denver Broncos – or pay him in excess of $15 million cash.
The Patriots don’t spend the kind of money Jones will command on a single player, and it’s not because they are cheap, but because they spend their money wisely. They don’t spend Von Miller money on Chandler Jones, who will get a big-time deal somewhere but will ultimately be overpaid, because he simply isn’t that caliber of player, sack totals be damned.READ MORE: Massachusetts Wastewater Testing Shows Increased Presence Of COVID
This has nothing to do with the salary cap, either – this is about real money. They spread it around. They install lots of bonuses and incentives that don’t always count against the cap. They don’t allocate too many resources to single assets. Of course, it helps that Tom Brady has a base salary of just $1 million, but if you factor in his $28 million signing bonus, he will actually make the third-most real cash of all NFL quarterbacks in 2016.
The Patriots don’t always spend big on expensive players, but they do take advantage of valuable contracts whenever they can. It’s fair to say that one f the big reasons the Patriots have such a loaded roster in 2016 is because they are underpaying so many key players.
With Malcolm Butler set to hit restricted free agency and linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins also up at the end of the 2016 season, the Patriots will have some serious financial decisions to make. Those three combined will make just under $9.27 million combined in total cash in 2016 – that’s just obscene value. There’s also the specter of Rob Gronkowski’s incredibly cost-effective contract (just $6,618,750 for Gronk in 2016). All of these players are deserving of fair-market deals at their positions, and it could get especially expensive with Butler, who may command Darrelle Revis-type money if he puts together another Pro-Bowl season (or better).
If Gronk, Butler, Collins, and Hightower all seek top dollar for their positions, it will be very tough for the Patriots to keep all of them, and again it’s not because they couldn’t fit them under the salary cap – the fact that Brady is making over $28 million in cash in 2016 with just a $14 million cap hit is proof that you can maneuver around the cap “in a number of ways,” as Belichick famously put it. In other words, expect more hefty signing bonuses for at least two of these players, but not the base salary or guaranteed money you’d expect from high-end players at their respective positions.
Point is, Jones’ massive payday was never going to come out of the pockets of Robert Kraft, but not for the reasons Jones may have implied. The Patriots do spend money, they just spend it wiser than most teams, if not all. They knew that sinking a $16 million-plus average annual value, or guaranteeing upwards of $60-70 million, into a single player, simply isn’t worth it for a guy like Jones, who can be very good at times but is not the game-changing, top-of-the-financial-food-chain kind of player that he will be paid to be elsewhere.
The Pats will shell out the dough for players who are worth it; Jones is not one of those guys. But he will be to a different, less responsible team.MORE NEWS: Mike Vrabel Sends Rare Tweet Questioning NFL's Call On Potential Travis Kelce Fumble
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. His opinions do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.