The Patriots won't be able to sign all of their free agents, nor should they. Some in the list are worthy of bringing back, such as Wes Welker; others are certainly not, like Shaun Ellis.
Furthermore, Belichick and Nick Caserio are shrewd, yet effective, personnel guys. Looking at the list, there are a few no-brainers, but many who could go either way. The Pats will probably go with the "devil you know" philosophy because they can retain many of these guys for cheap money.
Without further ado, here's a potentially futile attempt at getting inside the mind of Belichick:
Wes Welker: Re-signed
March 5, 2012: The Patriots confirmed via their website that Wes Welker received their franchise tag. Welker will receive approximately $9.4 million next season if a long-term contract is not reached.
Update: Now that Welker has received the franchise tag, does this mean a long-term deal is imminent? Receiving the tag does not guarantee a long-term contract is on the horizon for Welker, just ask Asante Samuel.
Unlike Samuel, the Pats will come to terms with Welker. However, if Welker thinks that he's getting a $20-million-per-year Larry Fitzgerald contract, he's hallucinating. The contract will look nice and fat, but will be backloaded in base salary. This way, Welker looks like in he won in the press but, in reality, the Pats won't be stuck paying $15 million for a 33-year-old possession receiver in a few years.
Estimated Contract: Four years, $48 million
Andre Carter: Re-signed
Realistically, Carter won't get 10 sacks again next season. If he is healthy, however, he will be a steady player. Signing him to a one-year contract has little risk.
Estimated Contract: One year, $2 million
Dan Connolly: Re-signed
Connolly provides an insurance policy at center in case Dan Koppen doesn't return, and depth at guard in case Koppen does. The Pats can sign him to cheap, short money.
Estimated Contract: Three years, $5 million
Deion Branch: Re-signed
Last year, Branch caught 51 passes. Unless the wide receiver corps adds some serious upgrades, there is no reason Branch won't be back. They will need him to at least provide depth. And at 32, he can be re-signed at a value rate.
Estimated contract: Two years, $4 million
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: Re-signed
Not that long ago, the Pats had a running back named Lawrence Maroney, who was a first-round pick who danced around in the backfield and fumbled a lot. Then came Green-Ellis, who was an undrafted free agent who hit the hole and rarely fumbled.
Last year, Green-Ellis rushed for 667 yards and 11 touchdowns. He may not be flashy, but he is solid. Unless some team loses its mind and offers Green-Ellis mad money, he should be back next year.
Estimated contract: Three years, $5 million
Gerard Warren: Re-signed
Warren's future depends a lot on what happens with Carter and Anderson. Since there is a good chance that one of them will be gone next season, look for Warren to sign a one-year deal.
Estimated contract: One year, $1.5 million
Dan Koppen: Re-signed
Koppen's return to New England is far from guaranteed, and there are some teams in need of a veteran center. Furthermore, Dan Connolly filled in adequately for Koppen last year and the Pats may draft Peter Konz.
That being said, Koppen should still have a few more years in him, which would allow the Pats to groom Konz. Plus, Donnolly will return to guard, bolstering the thin interior line.
The Pats will probably offer him a backloaded contract that, if respectable, would allow Koppen the opportunity to finish out his career in New England.
Estimated contract: Three years, $10 million
Kevin Faulk: Re-signed
At 35, Faulk is obviously at the end of the line. Plus, he just recovered from an ACL injury. The Pats will offer him the "thanks for being a loyal guy" contract, and Faulk should sign it if he decides on playing next year.
Estimated contract: One year, $1 million
James Ihedigbo: Re-signed
Ihedigbo did a nice job at safety last year, starting in 12 games and registering 50 tackles and an interception. He's also a solid special teams guy
Right now, the Pats don't have very many options at safety. Therefore, unless they plan on using Slater back there again, Ihedigbo should be back next season
Estimated contract: Two years, $2 million
Matthew Slater: Re-signed
Speaking of Slater, he'll probably be back next year. Despite his anemic offensive numbers, his versatility on special teams (and safety) make him a value re-sign.
March 13, 2012: The NFL Network's Michael Lombardi is reporting that the Pats plan on re-signing Matthew Slater.
Antwaun Molden: Re-signed
Molden was nice pick up after being rejected by the Houston Texans. He started in two games last year. He finished the season with 40 tackles and two interceptions.
The Patriots don't have a lot at depth at cornerback, so retaining Molden isn't a bad idea. Plus, he's not hard on the cap.
Estimated contract: One year, $750,000
Brian Hoyer: $1.927 million (tender)
March 13, 2012: SIRIUS Radio Host Adam Caplan first reported and the Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport confirmed that Pats restricted free agent quarterback Brian Hoyer received a second-round tender which is worth $1.927 million. If another team gives Hoyer an offer, the Pats have an opportunity to match it or receive a second-round pick.
Donald Thomas: Re-signed
Thomas started one game last season and played primarily on specials teams. Since the interior of the offensive line isn't very deep, bringing back Thomas is an economically sound idea.
Estimated contract: Two years, $1 million
Kyle Love: $540,000 (tender)
March 13, 2012: The Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport reports that the Patriots have extended an exclusive rights tender worth $540,000 to defensive lineman Kyle Love worth.
Niko Koutouvides: One year, $850,000
March 13, 2012: The Boston Herald's Ian Rapoport is reporting that the Pats have re-signed Niko Kotouvides to a one-year, $850,000 contract.
Gary Guyton: Not re-signed
March 12, 2012: NESN's Jeff Howe reports that Gary Guyton and the Pats are parting ways. As such, Guyton will become an unrestricted free agent.
Mark Anderson: Not re-signed
In a rational world, Anderson would come back to the Patriots. Unfortunately, the NFL is filled with irrational owners and general managers. Some team is going to see "10 sacks" in neon lights and sign Anderson to a ridiculous contract worth around $4 million per year. The Pats, wisely, will not counter.
Shaun Ellis: Not re-signed
Unless Ellis wants to play for free next year, he shouldn't be brought back. His meager production (one sack, seven tackles) isn't worthy of another contract.
Tracy White: Not re-signed
White is a solid special teamer and started one game last year. But, he is 30 years old and is becoming cost prohibitive. His role can be filled by a much cheaper, younger player.
Bret Lockett: Not re-signed
Lockett's off-the-field melodrama isn't the kind of press the Pats need. He'll have plenty of time to work on his music career.