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Patriots Roster Building Strategy: Free Agents for This Year, Draft Picks for Future Years

The Patriots typically use free agents to fill holes on the roster for the current year and wind up drafting to fill needs that will likely show up in the future.

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Predicting what Bill Belichick will do in the offseason, and especially in the draft is typically a fool's errand for a Patriots fan. The Patriots typically will not spend big bucks in free agency on just one player and prefer to use free agency to add veteran depth to the roster. To accomplish that, they typically go after the second tier of free agents and sign a few of them to the roster. The Patriots have a budget, they have a plan, and they don't deviate from either. If the Patriots need to get younger and build up a position for the long haul, they typically address that in the draft. All the good teams typically adopt a similar approach. You see it with the Cardinals, Packers, Seahawks, and Panthers just to name a few examples.

The Patriots key free agents to retain are ST Nate Ebner and DT Akiem Hicks. The Patriots should try to re-sign those two players, but they are in a position where they can afford to lose them thanks to players that emerged in the 2015 season. Rookies Brandon King and Malcom Brown excelled in the 2nd half of the season, with King arguably being the Patriots 2nd best special teamer after perennial Pro Bowler Matthew Slater and Brown flashing that first round talent. The Patriots have a price for those players and won't go over that number because they have readily available replacements just in case.

When looking at the draft, you have to go with the perspective of what the team needs in 2017. That starts with figuring out the 2016 free agents, which is a very large class for the Patriots. Sebastian Vollmer, Alan Branch, and Rob Ninkovich are likely not returning after 2016 due to age since all three will be 32 this upcoming season. The rest of the FA class includes Chandler Jones, Dont'a Hightower, Jabaal Sheard, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler (RFA). Of this group, I expect Hightower, Collins, Butler, and one of Sheard/Jones to sign an extension before free agency starts off in March 2017. So when looking at the rest of the FA class, I expect the Patriots to take a shot at OT, CB, and RB in the draft while addressing LB, WR, and OG in free agency this year.

The Patriots spent the last 4 years building up the defense in the draft, perhaps now the focus will shift to the offense since the non-Tom Brady core on that side of the ball is starting to age. I don't think they'll spend 4-5 years rebuilding the offense because they only have a couple needs on that side of the ball for the next three years. We'll see how the Patriots build and re-tool the roster this offseason. Free agency fills short term needs, the draft fills long term needs and builds short term depth as well. The key for a successful franchise is being able to succeed in both facets of roster building.