"Around the League" is taking a look at each team's salary-cap situation heading into training camp. Next up: The New England Patriots.
Adjusted cap number: $128.992 million
Cap room remaining: $10.874 million
Best bargain: Aaron Hernandez. The 2010 fourth-round pick out of Florida caught 79 passes for 910 yards and seven touchdowns as the No. 2 "tight end" behind All-Pro Rob Gronkowski last season. In the playoffs, Hernandez added another 19 receptions for 188 yards and two scores, including a team-high eight receptions for 67 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVI. Oh, and did we mention that he led the Patriots in rushing in their playoff win over the Denver Broncos or that his 43-yard run in that game was the longest running play in the entire 2011 postseason? Because he did and it was.
In 2012, Hernandez will earn $540,000 in base salary and can earn up to $104,000 in per game roster bonuses. A $96,000 workout bonus brings his total compensation this season to $740,000, which is about what franchised Washington Redskins tight end Fred Davis will have earned by halftime of Week 3 (provided Davis plays out the season on the franchise tag).
Potential camp casualty: The Patriots have plenty of cap space and a character from "The Simpsons" could count the number of Patriots earning more than $2 million in base salary this season on one hand (four, the same number of fingers with which Bart, Homer, Lisa and the rest of the cast are drawn). The players with the largest cap numbers -- Wes Welker, Jerod Mayo, Vince Wilfork, Tom Brady, Logan Mankins and Stephen Gostkowski -- aren't going anywhere. To find potential camp casualties on this roster, you have to look at the older skill-position players (Deion Branch, Jabar Gaffney, Joseph Addai) the club brought in on short-term contracts. Those deals contain higher base salaries and incentives that eat up cap space, but they're low on guarantees.
Contract issue looming in 2013: Who else but Wes Welker. The Patriots and Welker have a week to bridge a reported $6 million gap in guaranteed money on an extension that would keep the four-time Pro Bowl receiver in Foxborough for the foreseeable future. Welker has led the NFL in receptions in three of the past five seasons but turned 31 in May, and the club has thus far balked at meeting the $20-plus million in guarantees on a new deal. If the July 16 deadline comes and goes, the Patriots will have to decide whether or not to extend Welker after the regular season or use a second franchise tag, at a cost of $11.418 million in base salary, in 2013.