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New England Patriots: Who Will Stay and Who Will Go

This off-season the Patriots have a lot of difficult decisions to make regarding personnel. They have 18 unrestricted free agents (UFA’s) and 2 restricted free agents. Here is the list:

UFA’s:

Will Allen, DB
Kyle Arrington, CB
Josh Barrett, S
Deion Branch, WR
Patrick Chung, S
Marquice Cole, CB/ST
Julian Edelman, WR/KR
Niko Koutouvides, LB
Derrick Martin, DB/ST
Jamey Richard, C/G
Trevor Scott, DE
Donte’ Stallworth, WR
Aqib Talib, CB
Donald Thomas, G
Sebastian Vollmer, RT
Wes Welker, WR
Tracy White, LB/ST
Danny Woodhead, RB

RFA’s:

Dane Fletcher, LB
Michael Hoomanawanui, TE

Defense

Lets start with some very likely cuts: it’s the end of the line for S Patrick Chung and CB Kyle Arrington. For too long have I had to watch Arrington struggle in man coverage and often look clueless. He will not be missed. Pat Chung isn’t a great safety and that’s one of the gaping holes on the Patriots defense. His injuries and poor play make his return highly unlikely. DB Will Allen, S Josh Barrett, LB Tracy White and DE Trevor Scott are toss-ups. I doubt we’ll see Allen, White, or Barrett return but Trevor Scott made some plays at the end of the season and we could see him again as long as the asking price is low. CB Marquice Cole is another toss-up, but the Pats may keep him for his special teams contributions and as a low-cost backup corner. If I were the Pats, I would give LB Niko Koutouvides another shot as long as he won’t break the bank, so I think we’ll see him again. LB Dane Fletcher is an almost guarantee to return as he has shown his growth as a play-maker and was set to have a big roll on defense until going on IR in the pre-season.

The only really interesting defensive decision revolves around CB Aqib Talib. Despite his injuries, the Patriots need to bring him back next season. The defense clearly played better as a unit with him on the field and he has proven he can go one-on-one with big receivers like Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne and shut them down. He was a great addition and it would be a shame to see the Patriots let him go. If he walks, the secondary will continue to be a massive concern next season.

Offense

The Patriots will most likely do an overhaul of their WR group, so don’t expect Deion Branch or Donte’ Stallworth back unless they are a mid-season replacement for an injured player. Re-signing Sebastian Vollmer should be a priority since he is arguably the best player on the offensive line. Donald Thomas will likely be back as well if the money is right but I doubt Jamey Richards will return (no loss there).  Hoomanawanui was a good addition to take the place of the injured Gronk/Hernandez through the season and will likely return for the same roll. He will see less time, however, now that Jake Ballard will be healthy and an active part of the offense.

Danny Woodhead is an interesting UFA that could go either way. The Patriots are stocked full of RB’s with Ridley, Vereen, Woodhead, Boldon, and last year’s big acquisition, Olympic silver-medalist Jeff Demps, who was on IR all year. I’d like to see the Patriots keep Woodhead since he is Mr. Reliable on third down situations and is excellent in the screen game, but with the emergence of Vereen, his return is questionable. Unless Woodhead has a low asking price, I don’t expect to see him return.  That being said, I don’t think he’ll have the same success on other teams as he has with the Patriots.

The most notable free agent from the offense is obviously Wes Welker. I got my head ripped off before this past season because I kept predicting he would be traded mid-season. It looked like that may have been a possibility since Edelman was starting over Welker at the beginning of the season until his injury brought Welker back in. At the risk of angering more people, I’m fairly confident he won’ t be back next season. If he didn’t seem to play his worst in the post-season, the outcome may be different, but that’s the area the Patriots want to fix. Last season Welker was asking to be paid the likes of Calvin Johnson and simply put, he’s not worth that. Edelman is a younger, cheaper version and will likely get re-signed as Welker’s replacement. My bet: Welker gets slapped with a franchise tag again then gets traded. I’d be shocked if the Pats let that talent walk away for nothing.

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