The Patriots currently have 20 players on their roster slated to hit free agency on March 12.
They break down into three categories: unrestricted free agents (UFA), restricted free agents (RFA), and exclusive rights free agents (ERFA).
Of the aforementioned 20 free agents, 18 of them are of the unrestricted variety, and they are as follows:
- Will Allen—S
- Kyle Arrington—CB
- Josh Barrett—S
- Deion Branch—WR
- Patrick Chung—S
- Julian Edelman—WR
- Niko Koutouvides—LB
- Derrick Martin—CB
- Myron Pryor—DT
- Jamey Richard—OG
- Trevor Scott—DE
- Donte Stallworth—WR
- Aqib Talib—CB
- Donald Thomas—OG
- Sebastian Vollmer—OT
- Wes Welker—WR
- Tracy White—LB
- Danny Woodhead—RB
All of these players are free to sign with any team they wish once the free agenct period begins, provided of course they haven’t re-signed with the Patriots by then.
Of this group, Welker, Talib and Vollmer have dominated the offseason conversation because of their considerable skills and even more considerable price tags. Expect New England to make an effort to retain all three of them, depending on what their contract demands are.
According to reports, the Patriots are a bit hesitant to re-sign Talib to a long-term contract (h/t CBS Sports) due to lingering character concerns, and the team will approach him like the bombshell at the bar with an attitude problem—sure she’s high maintenance, but she definitely knows how to show you a good time.
In short, it sounds like they’d love to keep Talib around, but only on their terms.
Vollmer could be a potential fixture at right tackle for years to come. However, another team could easily offer him a huge contract to play the more glamorous left tackle position. If he receives an offer anywhere near $10 million annually, the Patriots will let him walk.
The most I would realistically expect the Patriots to offer Vollmer would be something approaching the $5.5 million annual salary that Eric Winston agreed to with the Kansas City Chiefs last season.
Welker seems like the most likely of those three to return, given a recent report that he and the Patriots are closing in on a multi-year deal (h/t CSN New England). No deal has been consummated as of yet and no monetary figures have been made public, but it sounds like the two sides are close to an agreement.
Of the remaining UFAs, Arrington, Edelman, Thomas, Scott, Koutouvides and Woodhead figure to receive at least some type of offer from the Patriots.
A few weeks ago, I thought Woodhead was on his way out, but with Jeff Demps electing to pursue track once again, New England's brass may be giving Woodhead a closer look.
For the same reason, it makes sense to bring Edelman back as an excellent kick returner and slot receiver to complement Welker.
Arrington brings tremendous value to the team as a fifth defensive back and willing special teams player. Given Alfonzo Dennard’s uncertain future due to his recent conviction and Talib’s possible departure, it would be a shock if the Patriots didn’t at least attempt to re-sign Arrington. After all, he did lead the NFL with seven interceptions in 2011.
Thomas, Scott and Koutouvides would all bolster team depth. The only one worth more than the league minimum is Thomas, who has starting experience and could potentially replace Dan Connolly down the road.
Fan favorite Deion Branch turns 34 in July and his usefulness has run its course, so he’s likely gone. The same goes for the underperforming Patrick Chung and likely everyone else listed above.
The Patriots do have one RFA in TE/H-Back Michael Hoomanawanui. They have the right to match any offer he receives so he’ll be back unless another team drastically overpays him.
Fellow TE Jake Ballard is their lone ERFA, meaning that he can either re-sign with the Patriots at the league minimum or retire. Something tells me that he’ll take the money and stay.