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Jerod Mayo pumps the brakes on his "burn some cash" comment for Patriots free agency

Sports Final: Jerod Mayo's staff is introduced and what the Patriots will be looking for at NFL Comb
Sports Final: Jerod Mayo's staff is introduced and what the Patriots will be looking for at NFL Comb 06:54

BOSTON -- Jerod Mayo may have gotten a little bit too excited.

The first-time head coach said in a recent WEEI interview that the Patriots are "ready to burn some cash" in free agency this offseason.

Now more than a month later, having perhaps settled into his new role a bit more, Mayo wants to take that message back.

"I kind of misspoke when I said 'burn some cash,' but I was excited when you see those numbers," Mayo told MassLive's Karen Guregian. "When you reflect on those numbers ... you don't have to spend all of it in one year."  

The Patriots will have roughly $78 million in cap space when free agency opens next month, and they could have even more money to spend if they cut or restructure J.C. Jackson. After going 4-13 last season and 8-9 the year prior, and with the offensive talent declining significantly in recent years, the Patriots surely will want to spend on some top-of-the-market free agents to help quickly reboot the system.

Yet Mayo's comments indicated that the team wants to take a slightly more measured approach than just spending wildly in free agency this spring.

"This is going to be a process," Mayo told Guregian. "So I don't want people to think, 'You got 60 million dollars, 70 million, whatever, so let's get this guy, that guy, that guy.' It may work for a couple games, or maybe a season, but it won't work long term."

While this message won't be well-received by fans who enjoyed the "burn some cash" comment, there is data to support that careful and smart spending often benefits teams more than extravagant spending.

The Patriots themselves are examples of this. In 2021, coming off a rough 7-9 season, the team set a record by spending $163 million in guaranteed money on free agents. Some of the big-ticket signees worked out great, like Matt Judon, Hunter Henry and Kendrick Bourne. Others flopped, like Jonnu Smith and Nelson Agholor. Some became contributors, albeit expensive ones, like Jalen Mills and Davon Godchaux.

The splurge bought the Patriots three more wins in 2021, when the team went 10-7. But they dropped to 8-9 in 2022, and bottomed out (we believe) at 4-13 in 2023.

History shows this is not uncommon. In a Mike Reiss article for ESPN in September of 2021, he noted that "the team that spent the most guaranteed money in NFL free agency improved by an average of 5.4 wins that season." That is the good news. The bad news?

"The issue was the following season, as teams that spent the most guaranteed money in free agency from 2016 to 2019 had an average decline of 5.5 wins in Year 2," Reiss wrote.

That is to say, spending like crazy in free agency provides a short-term boost, akin to a sugar high, but it also tends to lead to a crash a year later, thus making the entire process essentially a meaningless endeavor.

A year after the Patriots set the record for free-agent spending, the Jaguars broke that record in 2022. It helped the Jaguars make a huge jump, from 3-14 in 2021 to 9-8 in 2022 and made the postseason for the first time in five years. Yet it didn't help in 2023, when the Jaguars repeated their 9-8 record but didn't make the playoffs.

The Dolphins had set the free-agency spending record prior to the Patriots, and they went from 5-11 in 2019 to 10-6 in 2020. But they dropped to 9-8 in 2021 and 2022.

The 33rd Team also explored this matter, noting that 70 percent of the time, the team that spent the most in free agency in an offseason improved its win total year-to-year. Yet only 46.7 percent of those teams finished the next season with a winning record. And worse, only 33 percent of those teams had a winning record over the three-year period that followed their offseasons of massive spending.

The Patriots, quite obviously, need to spend money to acquire talented players this offseason. Yet the data shows they have to be calculated with those signings. Simply throwing money at whoever's available just because they're available may provide a short-term boost but could ultimately prove to be a hindrance in the team's longer-term (two to four years) goals. 

If Mayo's new comments are indicative of that approach, then the Patriots are being wise. If the walking back of the "burning cash" comment represents an order from Robert Kraft and ownership that all of that cap space won't be used for the sake of limiting spending? Well, that wouldn't be the best news for an organization that is eager to climb back into NFL relevancy.

As is the case with everything this time of year, we'll have to wait to see what the team actually does when the time to act arrives.

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