Poll: Should Belichick raid the Bucs for Brady’s former weapons?
Tom Brady's retirement announcement yesterday will alter the course of several NFL franchises this off-season. With Brady hanging it up, "for good this time," Tampa Bay is no longer in win-now mode. In fact, they're in pretty choppy waters as they sail into the off-season.
The NFL salary cap is set to balloon by about $16.6 million to north of $224 million for the 2023 season. Despite the added cushion, the Bucs still check in at $55 million over the cap. Simply put, they've got some work to do and some salaries to slash.
Enter the Patriots, who begin the off-season with around $35-$37 million in available funds to play with, are desperately in need of an offensive talent upgrade, yet are staring at an underwhelming free agent class at the skilled positions.
Among the notable names on Tampa's roster, let's start with running back Leonard Fournette. The Patriots were one of the finalists for Fournette last off-season when the running back was on the market as a free agent, before he finally resettled in Tampa.
Tampa can save anywhere from $3.5 million to $6 million depending on the timing of a Fournette release or trade this spring. Fournette definitely faded a bit down the stretch this season, but he still amassed 650 rushing yards while also hauling in 73 receptions for a career-best 523 yards, with six total touchdowns.
Plus, he would not be coming to New England for a feature role. He'd be the pass-catching version of a healthier Damien Harris last season, serving as a downhill change-of-pace to the more fleet-footed Rhamondre Stevenson. Remember, Harris is a free agent and unlikely to return to the Pats.
From Fournette, let's move on to Brady's former top-two pass catching options.
Mike Evans, while looking old, slow and beat up for much of last season, still had 77rec/1124yds/6td in 15 games. Evans is the definition of consistency, with 1000+ receiving yards in each of his nine seasons - the only player in NFL history to do so.
The 29-year-old is entering what is effectively the final guaranteed year of his contract, and Tampa could save $14.5mil by sending him out of town after June 1. Though, he brings with him a cap hit of $23.68mil next season. Due to the high price, it likely would lessen the Bucs' negotiating power, meaning Tampa would be unlikely to get anything higher than a 2nd round pick in return. (Remember, we're only a few years removed from Bill trading a 2nd rounder for Mohammed Sanu).
The last piece of this puzzle would be Chris Godwin, who would be an ideal fit to the Patriots offense, especially with the increasing likelihood that Jakobi Meyers, the No. 1 ranked free agent WR, will be playing elsewhere in '23.
Godwin signed a 3yr/$60mil extension last off-season, before returning from a torn ACL late in the 2021 season to snag a career-high 104 receptions for 1023 yards in 15 games.
Like Evans, it would be a hefty contract to inherit, with a slightly more expensive cap hit of $23.75mil for the '23 season. However, there's a potential out in the contract after next season, which would require eating $11.25mil in dead cap. Godwin's price tag would also be the most exorbitant of the bunch, as the 26-year-old would probably require multiple draft picks, if not a 1st rounder, to entice the Bucs.
Ultimately, the Pats have the money to spend to make any of these moves. They also had the second-highest paid crop of wide receivers last year, so if you're concerned with wasted money at the position, it can't get much worse than sinking $14.8mil into Nelson Agholor for roughly one-fourth of the production either Evans or Godwin would give you for an additional $10mil.
Do you have any interest in Brady's former guys, or should the Pats look in a different direction to supplement the roster this off-season?