The New England Patriots‘ roster will look a lot different in 2021. There could be a new quarterback. There will almost certainly be new receivers, a tight end, etc.
The roster might also look different because of the players who won’t be back. Trades and releases are likely, and some of the changes could come from the list of players who opted-out of the 2020 season.
According to The Athletic, three-time Super Bowl champion Marcus Cannon is the most likely veteran to be released in an effort to create more salary cap flexibility.
Here is the blurb from the Athletic’s staff:
Cannon’s performance was on a downturn before opting out last season. He had the best season of his career in 2017, allowing just 13.5 disruptions (all sacks, QB hits and pressures), but that total increased to 29 in 2018 and 41 in 2019. The Patriots drafted Yodny Cajuste in the third round in 2019 to potentially replace Cannon, though injuries have prevented Cajuste from making his debut. And then-rookie Mike Onwenu was tremendous at right tackle in 2020. And still with two years remaining on his contract, Cannon changed agents last year, which seemed to indicate the organization’s desire for him to renegotiate. If the Patriots cut Cannon, they’d save about $7 million against the cap.
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Marcus Cannon Is the Most Expendable of the Opt-out Starters
If you were to rank the Patriots opt-out players who were missed the most, inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower would be at the top of the list. Some may place Patrick Chung No. 2, and while Cannon’s presence would have helped with depth, as The Athletic pointed out, the emergence of rookie Mike Onwenu dulled the impact quite a bit.
When you consider Onwenu should be even better in 2021, it appears the Patriots have a perennial Pro Bowler on their hands. Cajuste has yet to play a down in the NFL, but hopes remain high for him. He is expected to be available for all preseason workouts heading into the 2021 season, according to CLNS Media’s Evan Lazar. If the 25-year-old can stay healthy, it would not be a surprise to see Cannon released.
Patriots’ Salary Cap Situation Is Promising
The Patriots currently have just over $63 million in salary-cap space available, per cap expert Miguel Bezan. If New England releases Cannon, they will have even more available to them. At the top of their list, though perhaps not the most expensive position for the Patriots to fill, is the quarterback spot.
It is beginning to look as if the Patriots are going to go with a cheaper veteran option, which could mean a Cam Newton return. Give Newton a better complement of weapons – which the Patriots should be able to afford – and another year in the team’s system, with a complete offseason to prepare, and there are people out there who believe he can thrive in 2021.
Ideally, the Patriots need to add at least three playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. If releasing Cannon increases the chances of accomplishing that goal, it’s the right thing to do.