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Cash to burn? Here's how the Patriots could do it

Cash to burn? Here's how the Patriots could do it originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Cash to burn, you say? Sounds fun. But how?

When Jerod Mayo spoke to WEEI's Greg Hill Show earlier this week and playfully suggested he and his colleagues in the Patriots front office planned to set Robert Kraft's money ablaze, what he didn't share was his plan on how to do it.

Understandably so. The free-agent market is unpredictable, and the Patriots have nothing close to a fully-fleshed-out coaching staff at the moment. That means gauging "fits" for the Patriots' on-field identity (offensively, especially) is exceedingly difficult at the moment.

But there are some clear areas of need that should be priorities almost regardless of their chosen offensive scheme. Let's address a few of those for the Patriots while "burning" through some of their available resources in the process.

Re-sign OL Mike Onwenu

Of all the Patriots' impending free agents, Mike Onwenu might be the most indispensable. As it stands, the team doesn't have a proven offensive tackle under contract. According to a league source, Onwenu's value on the open market could fall somewhere in the range of $15 million per season over four seasons. For someone who can play starting-caliber football at two different positions, that's more than reasonable, and would slot him into a price range similar to where Cleveland right tackle Jack Conklins now resides.

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ESPN reported recently that the Patriots "essentially" know they won't be able to bring Onwenu back, but one team source indicated that there is a real affinity for Onwenu's game in the building and that they'd like to have him back in Foxboro for 2024 and beyond. If they can't get something done, the picture at tackle for the Patriots next year could be ugly.

Onwenu's 2024 cap number could come in at around $8 million if his deal resembles Conklin's.

Sign WR Calvin Ridley

If the Patriots can acquire Tee Higgins as a free agent, they should do it. But the Bengals might not let him get that far. Tagging him as a short-term fix to the problem of paying quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja'Marr Chase and still having money left over seems reasonable for Cincinnati.

That means Ridley might be the next-best option for the Patriots. After missing all of 2022 due to a gambling suspension and half of 2021 as he left the Falcons for mental health reasons, the former Alabama star racked up a 1,000-yard season. He's a more explosive option than fellow free-agent wideout Michael Pittman, and he'd give the Patriots some much-needed juice in their receiver room. Going into 2024 with a top duo of Ridley and DeMario "Pop" Douglas isn't quite enough to wow the rest of the league, but it's an upgrade.

Per Pro Football Focus, Ridley could command a deal that pays him about $16.5 million per season. If so, the Patriots could give him a three-year deal that would carry a first-year cap hit of about $9 million.

Apply franchise tag to TE Hunter Henry

Giving Hunter Henry a "franchise" salary may sound rich, but because salaries at the tight end position have been relatively suppressed for years, the tag isn't overly cumbersome. Per Over the Cap's projections, the tag for tight ends in 2024 would come in at a shade over $12 million. And Henry would be worth it.

Mayo recently described Henry as one of two offensive leaders in the Patriots locker room, along with David Andrews. That Henry isn't under contract might be a tad scary. He remains a capable tight end. He seems to be a culture-builder. And the tag may be New England's best option if they want to ensure that they'll be able to keep him around.

With these three moves, the Patriots will have burned through about $29 million in cap space for 2024. For a team that could have over $80 million in space if they opt to release J.C. Jackson, that leaves plenty left over to fill other holes on the roster, pay the rookie class, and make in-season signings.

Signing veteran quarterback Jacoby Brissett, for example, may cost about $8 million since that's what got him to sign in Washington last offseason. He could be the sage graybeard in the quarterbacks room if the Patriots draft a rookie at No. 3 overall. No problem.

Cash. To. Burn. Remember?

Spending it well, though, will be key to the Patriots revamping their roster as quickly as possible to get the Mayo Era off on the right foot.