The salary cap comes into focus during the offseason, and while the NFL has not finalized the figure for the salary cap for the 2014 league year, it projects to be in the range of $123-128 million (per team).
One component of the cap that can work against teams is dead money, a term that refers to values that count against the cap but on contracts that are no longer active.
The Patriots have a total of $8,533,721 in dead money for the 2014 league year as of now, which is broken down in the contracts below:
Fullback Ben Bartholomew: $6,667
Defensive tackle Dewayne Cherrington: $667
Safety Kanorris Davis: $3,334
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling: $589,382
Tight end Daniel Fells: $333,334
Tight end Brandon Ford: $2,000
Defensive end Justin Francis: $2,334
Wide receiver Lavelle Hawkins: $75,000
Tight end Aaron Hernandez: $7,500,000
Cornerback Brandon Jones: $2,334
Offensive lineman Josh Kline: $2,667
Offensive lineman Chris McDonald: $3,334
Cornerback Stephon Morris: $1,667
Offensive lineman Matt Stankiewitch: $1,667
Tight end Zach Sudfeld: $8,000
Long snapper Mike Zupancic: $1,334
(Both Kanorris Davis and Josh Kline are on the Patriots' roster, but the dead money stems from contracts signed before their current deals.)
The Patriots continue to explore options for relief from the Hernandez contract, which accounts for 87.9 percent of the dead money for 2014. If that $7.5 million is somehow retrieved -- or at least partially -- the team's outlook as it relates to dead money is far better.
The figure of just more than $8.5 million in dead money doesn't cripple the Patriots' salary cap outlook, but teams also work hard to avoid dead money because of how it restricts spending.
The Raiders had more than $55 million in dead money during the 2013 season, something that dramatically impacted their ability to develop a nucleus of talent.
Dead money figures are another reminder of how important shrewd cap management is in the NFL.