New England Patriots salary cap outlook: Aqib Talib, Brandon Spikes playing for new contracts

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

The "Shutdown Countdown" has entered the home stretch. In addition to previewing each team, Shutdown Corner will be taking a brief look at each team's salary cap situation heading into the 2013 season and beyond. We continue the series with the New England Patriots.

2013 Adjusted Cap Number: $129.152 million (13th in the NFL in 2013)

2013 Cap Room Remaining: $9.782 million (10th in the NFL, as of July 31)

[Related: Despite rough offseason, Patriots should still win AFC East]

Best Bargain: Even if he opens up the season on the physically unable to perform list and misses the first six games, tight end Rob Gronkowski is one of the biggest bargains in the league with a base salary of just $630,000 and a $2.75 million cap hit in 2013. There are 54 tight ends in the NFL with higher base salaries and 22 tight ends with higher cap numbers than Gronkowski this season. Of course, there is no need to pass the hat to help Gronkowski out. Last year, Gronkowski earned $8.575 million and is scheduled to make $19 million over the course of 2014 and 2015.

Potential Camp Cap Casualty: The Patriots are in excellent shape, cap-wise, and there are only three players — Vince Wilfork, Logan Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski — on the roster with base salaries of $2.5 million or higher this season. So saving cash or cap space doesn't figure to be a big factor when the team is shaping its 53-man roster. One name who might be end up on the cut list is veteran tight end Daniel Fells, who is behind Gronkowski on the depth chart and will be pushed in camp by Jake Ballard, Michael Hoomanawanui and rookie Zach Sudfeld. Fells played in less than a quarter of the Patriots' offensive snaps last season and is due $1.25 million in base salary, which might be too steep for a No. 4 tight end.

Looming Contract Issue: Cornerback Aqib Talib helped stabilize a shaky secondary in the second half of the 2012 season. Off-field incidents throughout his career cooled interest on the free agent market and Talib returned to the Patriots on a one-year, $5 million "prove it" deal. Talib spent a lot of time in Foxboro this offseason and earned one of the coveted reserved parking spots for his participation in the offseason program. If Talib has fully matured, and plays up to his talent level this season, he'll have positioned himself for a long-term deal from the Patriots, who would have the option of using the franchise tag, or another team next offseason .

If the 2014 league-wide cap number remains flat, the cornerback franchise tender would be worth $11.117 million next season.

Talib is not the only key member of the Patriots with an expiring contract.

On offense, center Ryan Wendell is entering the final year of his contract. Over the last few seasons, the Patriots have slowly developed Wendell, who emerged to start 16 games and miss just six snaps for the team last season. On defense, middle linebacker and solid run-stopper Brandon Spikes could hit unrestricted free agency next offseason. The same goes for defensive end Jermaine Cunningham, the only one of the team's three 2010 second-round draft picks that the Patriots seem to have whiffed on up to this point. The specialists are represented by punter Zoltan Mesko, a 2010 fifth-round pick who will earn $1.323 million in 2013, the final year of his rookie contract.

Long-Term Cash/Cap Outlook: The Patriots have 68 players under contract for the 2014 season with the "Top 51" cap numbers (which are applied against the cap during the offseason) currently totaling just under $115 million. After releasing tight end Aaron Hernandez when he was arrested and then charged with first-degree murder, the Patriots will also have to carry $7.5 million in cap charges as the prorated amounts of Hernandez's signing bonus from the 2014, 2015 and 2016 seasons have accelerated onto the team's 2014 cap. With $122.5 million in cap commitments, you can count the Patriots among the teams who wouldn't mind seeing the new TV money kick in next offseason.

Previous salary cap outlooks

32. Oakland Raiders
31. Jacksonville Jaguars
30. Arizona Cardinals
29. Buffalo Bills
28. Cleveland Browns
27. Tennessee Titans
26. Kansas City Chiefs
25. New York Jets
24. San Diego Chargers
23. Philadelphia Eagles
22. Miami Dolphins
21. St. Louis Rams
20. Minnesota Vikings
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
18. Dallas Cowboys
17. Detroit Lions
16. Pittsburgh Steelers
15. Indianapolis Colts
14. New Orleans Saints
13. Chicago Bears
12. New York Giants
11. Carolina Panthers
10. Washington Redskins
9. Cincinnati Bengals
8. Atlanta Falcons
7. Houston Texans
6. Baltimore Ravens

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