How the New England Patriots Paid the Best Team in the NFL

Tom Brady celebrates winning Super Bowl 51 as he holds the Lombardi Trophy.

The New England Patriots are Super Bowl champs. | Al Bello/Getty Images

Facing a 25-point deficit against a high-powered Atlanta Falcons club, the New England Patriots were not supposed to win Super Bowl 51. And yet, behind the greatest performance in Super Bowl history from the greatest player to ever step on a football field, the Pats shocked the world, defeating the NFC champion Falcons 34-28 in overtime.

The Pats are comprised of players who care more about the team than they do about themselves. That is why they are the best team in the NFL, and it’s why the franchise has five Super Bowl wins. Still, that doesn’t mean reaching the top of the mountain came cheap. Using players’ cap hits as our guide, here’s a look at how New England paid the best team in football in 2016.

10. Julian Edelman – $4,421,875

Julian Edelman points toward the competition.

Julian Edelman is fired up. | Elsa/Getty Images

Contract details: in the third year of a four-year, $17 million contract

Given his consistent contribution, you’d think the New England Patriots would pay wideout Julian Edelman a lot more money. However, that’s hardly the case. Despite playing in all 16 games and catching 98 passes for 1,106 receiving yards and three touchdowns, the 30-year-old’s contract counted for just a little more than $4.4 million against the cap in 2016. If you ask us, that’s a steal. That figure will rise to $5.75 million in 2017, when Edelman turns 31 years old. Still pretty much a bargain.

9. Rob Ninkovich  $4,764,705

A sweaty Rob Ninkovich rests between plays.

Rob Ninkovich came to play. | Elsa/Getty Images

Contract details: signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract extension (through 2017)

Over the years, Bill Belichick has shown a willingness to cut big-name players if he believes the decision is best for the team moving forward. However, that doesn’t mean the organization is opposed to doing a solid for certain players who might find themselves staring down the barrel of a possible financial pitfall. As was the case with defensive end Rob Ninkovich in 2016.

Although Ninkovich was suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, the Pats restructured his contract so that the veteran could receive his entire roster bonus ($400,000) for playing in 12 games. Minkovich repaid the team’s kindness by forcing two fumbles and recording four sacks upon his return to the lineup.

8. Devin McCourty – $5,132,500

Devin McCourty yells as he runs downfield.

Devin McCourty is one of the best safeties in the game. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Contract details: in the second year of a five-year, $47.5 million contract

In 2016, Devin McCourty showed why he ranks among the top safeties in the NFL. The former Rutgers product forced one fumble, had one interception, and earned his second career trip to the Pro Bowl. Best of all, McCourty was far from a financial liability.

Despite signing a five-year, $47.5 million deal back in 2015, McCourty only counted for $5,132,500 against the cap this season. Not exactly breaking the bank, which is always a good thing. Of course, that number will jump to $10,935,000 in 2017. But, for now, the Pats should choose to focus on the present. If we’re not mistaken, things are pretty good in New England at the moment.

7. Martellus Bennett  $5,185,000

New England's Martellus Bennett can't help but celebrate as he scores a touchdown.

New England’s Martellus Bennett can’t help but celebrate. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Contract details: unrestricted free agent after this season

Martellus Bennett got the job done in his first season with the New England Patriots. The Pro Bowl tight end played in all 16 games, caught 55 passes for 701 yards, and added seven touchdown receptions. He also got a Super Bowl ring out of the arrangement. But now comes the tricky part — figuring out his next move.

Bennett’s contract counted for just $5,185,000 against the cap in 2016. However, this season was the final year of his most recent contract; a four-year, $20.4 million deal he signed with the Chicago Bears. The stud tight end enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent. He might be turning 30 years old next season, but some team will definitely pay him a nice chunk of change. The question is, will that team be the Pats?

6. Chris Hogan – $5,500,000

Chris Hogan drops the ball and he gestures toward the other team.

Chris Hogan is one of New England’s unsung heroes. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Contract details: in the first year of a three-year, $12 million contract

If you didn’t know who Chris Hogan was before this season, something tells us you do now. The most unlikely hero caught 38 passes for 680 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, and then proceeded to torch the Steelers for 180 receiving yards (a Pats’ postseason record) and two touchdowns in the AFC title game. He managed to accomplish all this while only costing New England $5.5 million in cap space. Seriously, is this a joke? Yes, yes it is — against all of us.

5. Marcus Cannon  $6,154,168

Marcus Cannon shuffles to the side as he tries to avoid a New York Jet.

Marcus Cannon has his eyes on the prize. | Al Bello/Getty Images

Contract details: signed a five-year, $32.4 million contract extension (through 2021)

Marcus Cannon was everything you could possibly want out of a starting right tackle in 2016. The former fifth-round pick out of TCU played 15 games and earned Second-Team All-Pro honors. After solidifying his spot on the offense line, Cannon was rewarded with a new five year, $32.4 million contract extension. Under this new deal, he’ll only account for $3.4 million against the cap in 2017.

4. Jabaal Sheard  $6,812,500

Jabaal Sheard of the New England Patriots looks on from the bench during a game.

Jabaal Sheard looks on during the game. | Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Contract details: unrestricted free agent after this season

After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Cleveland Browns, defensive end Jabaal Sheard signed with the New England Patriots on a two-year, $11 million contract in 2015. With this being the last year of that deal, Sheard did his best to make the most of his opportunity. The 27-year-old played in 15 games (starting eight of them) and recorded five sacks in 2016. Sheard’s contract cost the Pats $6,812,500 in cap space this season, and he enters the offseason as an unrestricted free agent.

3. Dont’a Hightower  $7,751,000

Dont'a Hightower of the New England Patriots watches the action from the sidelines.

Dont’a Hightower is ready to get paid. | Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Contract details: unrestricted free agent after this season

This was a big season for Dont’a Hightower. The former first-round pick out of Alabama recorded 2.5 sacks, earned his first-career trip to the Pro Bowl, and changed the tides of Super Bowl 51 with an incredible strip sack of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. In 2016, Hightower’s services cost the Patriots $7,751,000 against the cap, the third-most of any player on the roster. He’s set to be an unrestricted free agent this offseason.

2. Nate Solder  $10,322,666

Nate Solder attempts to block a receiver.

Nate Solder does alright for himself. | Al Bello/Getty Images

Contract details: in the first year of a two-year, $20.1 million contract

Nate Solder is one of the most important players on the Patriots’ roster. Without him, a certain legendary signal caller‘s blind side would be anything but protected. Of course, a player of Solder’s caliber doesn’t come cheap. The left tackle had a cap hit of $10,322,666 in 2016. This figure jumps to $11,166,418 in the 2017 season. Still, if it means winning another Super Bowl, it is a small price to pay.

1. Tom Brady  $13,764,705

Tom Brady stands on the Super Bowl stage with tears in his eyes.

Tom Brady is simply the best. | Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Contract details: signed a two-year, $41,000,000 contract extension (through 2019)

It was always going to be Tom Brady. The five-time Super Bowl champion, who officially staked his claim as the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, was the highest-paid player on the New England Patriots this past season with a cap hit of $13,764,705. By normal franchise quarterback standards, this number is a freaking joke. But that’s probably because Brady tends to clean up in signing bonuses and guaranteed money. It’s good to be No. 12.

Data, salary details, and information courtesy of Spotrac and Pro-Football-Reference.