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Patriots alleviated their salary-cap problem, but it still comes at a price

Stephon Gilmore had his contract restructured last week.
Stephon Gilmore had his contract restructured last week.Jim Davis/Globe Staff file/Globe Staff

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The Patriots’ salary-cap crunch was solved over the weekend with two swift moves. One was the retirement of Rob Gronkowski, which created a little more than $9 million in cap space. The other was a restructuring of Stephon Gilmore’s contract, which created another $5 million in cap space.

The Patriots, who had less than $5 million in cap space last Friday, now have a little less than $19 million with which to sign more targets for Tom Brady and add rookies in the draft.

But the moves come with a cost. In Gronkowski, the Patriots lose an elite tight end, with no obvious replacement. And with Gilmore, they pushed a significant chunk of dead cap money into the final two years of his contract, giving him uncommonly large cap numbers.

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Gilmore agreed to restructure his contract last week, but the money and terms are the same: three years and $33 million, with Gilmore set to make $10 million in 2019, $11 million next year, and $12 million in 2021.

But the cap money was pushed ahead. The Patriots converted $8.5 million of Gilmore’s base salary for 2019 into a signing bonus, while cutting his base salary to $1 million. He also has $500,000 in per-game bonuses.

The result of this is cutting Gilmore’s 2019 cap number by $5.6 million, but increasing his cap numbers by $2.3 million in 2020 and 2021.

Here is the breakdown:

2019

Cash: $10,000,000

■  Old cap number:

$14,837,500

■  New cap number:

$9,170,833

2020

Cash: $11,000,000

■  Old cap number:

$15,837,500

■  New cap number:

$18,670,833

2021

Cash: $12,000,000

■  Old cap number:

$16,837,500

■  New cap number:

$19,670,834

The 2020 and 2021 salary-cap numbers are the highest for a defensive player in Patriots history, and no Patriot other than Brady has ever had a higher cap number. While the numbers are high, the Patriots also understand that there is not as much harm in pushing money into the future, as the NFL salary cap has steadily climbed by $10 million-$12 million per season.

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Gilmore originally signed his deal in March 2017, and the Patriots have restructured it twice in the past five months to create cap space. This latest move basically ensures that Gilmore will be with the Patriots at least through 2020, if not 2021. If the Patriots were to release Gilmore next offseason, they would take a dead-cap hit of nearly $15.2 million, which would be the largest in team history.

As for Gronkowski, the Patriots save all $10 million in cash — his $9 million salary, $250,000 workout bonus and $750,000 in per-game bonuses. His cap number was originally going to be $11.86 million, and instead it will just be $2 million, the last remaining bonus installment left on his contract.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.