2018 NFL free agency: New league year and free agency begin today; what to expect from the Patriots?


Happy new year! Today at 4:00 p.m. ET, the NFL calendar turns another page and the 2018 league year officially begins. For the 32 teams, this means the following:

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must exercise options for 2018 on all players who have option clauses in their 2017 contracts.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2017 contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

Top 51 begins. All clubs must be under the 2018 salary cap prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time.

All 2017 player contracts will expire at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

The 2018 league year and free agency period begin at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

Trading period for 2018 begins at 4:00 p.m., New York time, after expiration of all 2017 contracts.

What specifically does it mean for the New England Patriots? Let’s go through it step by step.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must exercise options for 2018 on all players who have option clauses in their 2017 contracts.

Last season, the Patriots had only one player entering the new league year with an option in his contract (Barkevious Mingo, and it was declined). This year, the team has three: Wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Kenny Britt as well as defensive tackle Alan Branch. New England has already made its choices on all three of them, as Cooks and Britt will be back whereas Branch will hit the open market after the team opted to decline the option.

Under the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement, teams also have the ability to pick up a first round draft pick’s fifth year option prior to the player’s fourth year in the league. While the Patriots have released their own 2014 first round pick a while ago (Dominique Easley), they did have one qualifying player on their 2017 roster: Cooks, whose option was exercised by the Patriots shortly after they traded for him last year.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit qualifying offers to their Restricted Free Agents with expiring contracts to retain a Right of First Refusal/Compensation.

The following Patriot players entered the offseason headed towards restricted free agency:

SS Brandon King

Special teams standout King was the lone member of the club to hit restricted free agency this year but the Patriots already took care of him last week: New England signed the 24-year old to a two-year contract extension worth $2.6 million.

Prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time, clubs must submit a minimum salary tender to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with expiring 2017 contracts who have fewer than three accrued seasons of free agency credit.

The Patriots do not have any exclusive rights free agents this year.

Top-51 Begins. All clubs must be under the 2018 salary cap prior to 4:00 p.m., New York time.

The 2018 salary cap has been set at $177.2 million. All clubs have to be under this number by the start of the new league year. Right now, according to patscap.com‘s Miguel Benzan, the Patriots are under the cap by about $21.2 million, a number that already includes the salary cap implications of New England not picking up Alan Branch’s contract option.

Top-51 means that only a team’s 51 most expensive contracts count against the salary cap.

All 2017 player contracts will expire at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

Entering the offseason, the Patriots have had the following 14 players scheduled to hit the open market today:

WR Danny Amendola

CB Johnson Bademosi

RB Brandon Bolden

RB Rex Burkhead

CB Malcolm Butler

SS Nate Ebner

OT Cameron Fleming

LB Marquis Flowers

LB James Harrison

DT Ricky Jean Francois

RB Dion Lewis

WR Matthew Slater

OT Nate Solder

OT LaAdrian Waddle

Two of the players above have already been re-signed by the Patriots prior to today: Brandon Bolden signed a one-year, $880,000 contract in February, while Nate Ebner and New England agreed on a two-year deal yesterday.

Furthermore, three players – Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler – are all expected to sign contracts elsewhere once free agency officially starts: Amendola will join the Miami Dolphins on a two-year, $12 million contract, while Lewis (four-year, $23 million) and Butler (five-year, $61 million) will move to the Tennessee Titans. All three will factor in the compensatory draft picks formula next year. Furthermore, Ricky Jean Francois released a statement last week that he will not return to New England next season.

Expect at least some Patriots moves to be announced today: Slater re-signing seems to be nothing more than a formality at this point, while the team will obviously try to retain its number one priority, left tackle Nate Solder.

The 2018 league year and free agency period begin at 4:00 p.m., New York time.

The free agency frenzy begins and teams can officially offer contracts to players who are officially allowed to sign them; something both parties were prohibited to do during the so-called “legal tampering period”.

Trading period for 2018 begins at 4:00 p.m., New York time, after expiration of all 2017 contracts.

On Saturday, the Patriots agreed to move a 2019 third round pick to the Cleveland Browns in exchange for defensive tackle Danny Shelton and a 2018 fifth round selection. The trade will become official once the new league year starts. It remains to be seen whether or not this is the lone trade to happen this week.


Today will be a busy day. Make sure to check Pats Pulpit – and particularly our free agency tracker – regularly to stay up to date on the latest news and rumors.

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