The New England Patriots are officially on to the playoffs; on to getting healthy and ready for their first postseason game in two weeks. However, they can also start to look further ahead, at least when it comes to three cornerstones of their defense and their respective contract situations: today is the first day a club can start contract negotiations with its members of the 2013 draft class and 2014 undrafted class (via Miguel Benzan).
Let's take a look at the five players currently employed by the Patriots, with whom the team is now allowed to enter negotiations:
LB Jamie Collins (2013 draft, 2nd rd)
WR Aaron Dobson (2013 draft, 2nd rd)
CB Logan Ryan (2013 draft, 3rd rd)
FS Duron Harmon (2013 draft, 3rd rd)
CB Malcolm Butler (undrafted 2014)
Jamie Collins, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler are the obvious priorities. All three are starters and integral members of New England's defense and would enter restricted free agency after the 2016 NFL season (Collins, Ryan unrestricted; Butler restricted). With fellow defenders Chandler Jones and Dont'a Hightower also approaching the end of their respective rookie deals (both are signed through 2016 as well), it would be a smart move to lock up some of the cornerstones of the Patriots' defense as early as possible.
There is another candidate, who the Patriots might be interested in extending: safety Duron Harmon. While he is not as important for New England's defense as Collins, Ryan or Butler, he has played quality snaps in the past and is the top back-up at the safety position.
Aaron Dobson, on the other hand, has been mostly disappointing thus far considering the high draft pick the Patriots invested in him. It is therefore highly doubtful that the team will try to enter contract extensions with the wide receiver before the 2016 season.