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With Nate Solder Signed, the Patriots Have No Priority 2016 Free Agents

The Patriots are well prepared to build their team and lock them in place for years to come.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

With the Patriots extension of left tackle Nate Solder valued at just over $20 million, through the 2017 season, Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio have set themselves up for a perfect offseason.

The following players are now the team's unrestricted free agent class of 2016:

OL: Ryan Wendell

TE: Michael Hoomanawanui

RB: LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis

WR: Brandon Gibson

LB: Dane Fletcher, Jonathan Freeney

CB: Bradley Fletcher, Tarell Brown

S: Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner

Would you consider any of these players to be a priority?

Wendell will turn 30, but the Patriots have been trying to replace him for the past three years. He was elected a captain, so he could stick around, but is he the type of player that the Patriots would enter a bidding war over?

Blount will turn 30 during 2016, too, and he came back to New England last season under a veteran's minimum contract. Who will try outbidding the Patriots for his services?

Wilson and Ebner are core special teams players, but they're certainly not going to be highly desired free agents. Fletcher and Freeney are special teams players, too. Fletcher and Brown were considered one-year rentals, and Hoomanawanui and Gibson are just as likely to go wherever Josh McDaniels becomes a head coach. Who knows what Dion Lewis will do this season.

The list of restricted free agents is more interesting, but it also involves players that are under the Patriots control (I will list exclusive players in italics):

FB: James Develin

OL: Josh Kline, Kevin Hughes, Ryan Groy

WR: Brian Tyms, Josh Boyce, Jonathan Krause

DT: Sealver Siliga

ED: Rufus Johnson

Siliga is a starter and, if he remains healthy, will receive a pretty substantial contract. Maybe Develin will be back. Kline is a pretty optimal back-up lineman. Tyms is a coaches favorite. Johnson was a preseason star and if that translates to the regular season, the Patriots are able to control his future.

So out of all of the upcoming free agents, Siliga, Wendell, Blount, and then Brown or Fletcher are the only players viewed as starters. Siliga is the only player that New England is likely to enter a bidding war over, and he's a restricted free agent.

This means that the Patriots can turn their long term focus to players that will be free agents after the 2016 season, which is a much more dangerous register.

OL: Sebastian Vollmer, Marcus Cannon

WR: Brandon LaFell, Matthew Slater, Aaron Dobson

RB: Brandon Bolden, Travaris Cadet

TE: Scott Chandler, Michael Williams (exclusive)

ED: Chandler Jones, Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, Eric Martin (exclusive)

DT: Alan Branch, Chris Jones

LB: Dont'a Hightower, Jamie Collins

CB: Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler (restricted)

S: Duron Harmon

That's a pretty serious team core that will be up for new contracts after the 2016 season (to restate, the Patriots have two more full seasons before this happens). With Solder under contract, the Patriots can focus on the above players with three years of accrued experience (so not Collins or Butler) for potential contract extensions.

Players like Vollmer, LaFell, Slater, Chandler, Ninkovich, and Branch will be into their 30s so I don't expect them to be highly sought after free agents.

My expectation is that Hightower is the next up for a long term extension, pending his return from shoulder injury. If he shows that he is back to the level he was in 2014, the Patriots won't hesitate to keep him around. Depending on Chandler Jones' performance, he could receive an extension too. All the others likely won't be addressed until the 2016 season.