New England Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 04: Stephon Gilmore #24 of the New England Patriots lines up during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Last time the Patriots had around $60 million in cap space, they made a big splash in free agency when they signed Stephon Gilmore. Four years later, they are primed to make another aggressive move.

Bill Belichick has a lot of work to do on improving the Patriots roster for 2021, and one expensive signing won’t cure all those ills. But like they did in 2017, the Patriots have more than enough room to target one high-end talent early in free agency, while filling out the rest of the roster with more affordable acquisitions. So who is the 2021 version of the Gilmore signing?

The profile: a player in his physical prime, preferably with the pedigree of a high draft pick, coming off a productive rookie contract, but ranking just below the top of the market at his position. And with the benefit of his coaching, Belichick would view this player as a guy who can deliver strong value, despite being well-paid. It’s safe to say that Gilmore has outperformed his contract, earning two First Team All-Pro honors and Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 – not to mention, a big interception near the end of Super Bowl LIII against the Rams.

Here are some numbers to consider on the Gilmore signing in 2017:

— $13 million AAV ranked 27th among all defenders; in 2021, the 27th-highest AAV would be about $16.5 million.
— $40 million guaranteed ranked 4th at cornerback, behind Josh Norman, Patrick Peterson, and Desmond Trufant.
— $16 million cash earnings in 2017 pushed the Patriots to $178 million, about 106.6 percent of the cap.

Based on that those cash figures, the Pats could push it to $194 million in 2021, and about $18 million in year one for their big signing. But an AAV in the $14-16 million range is more realistic. It would be surprising if the Patriots spent into the $20-25 million range for one guy, but that illustrates why $14-18 million is now a reasonable number for an impact player.

For that reason, it’s unlikely you’ll see the Patriots take the plunge with top free agents like edge rusher Shaquil Barrett or wide receiver Kenny Golladay. But there are plenty of names available in free agency who fit the Gilmore mold, costing a little less than the best but making an immediate and significant impact. Here are some players who could surprise you as free agents on the Patriots’ radar.

There’s certainly going to be an avalanche of NFL free agency news in the coming days. We’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date with everything as it relates to the Patriots here at 985TheSportsHub.com.

MORE: 10 Intriguing Players For The Patriots Available In Free Agency Right Now

Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff and follow him on Instagram @mattydsays. You can also email him at mdolloff@985thesportshub.com.