It’s no secret that the New England Patriots have a lot of key players up for new contracts after the 2016 season.
If we look at the three-deep of the roster, we see pending free agents all over the place.
On offense, RB LeGarrette Blount, WR Matthew Slater, and TE Martellus Bennett will be free agents, as will OTs Marcus Cannon and Sebastian Vollmer. The defense has it far worse.
EDs Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, and Chris Long will be free agents, as will DTs Alan Branch and Terrance Knighton. LBs Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, and Jonathan Freeny will all be free agents. CB Logan Ryan will be a free agent, while rising star Malcolm Butler will be a restricted free agent. FS Duron Harmon will hit the market, too.
That’s a long list of players that need new deals and it’s improbable to expect all of them to return.
It makes me remember the 2009 season for the Patriots, where the team was facing a lot of turnover.
Heading into the 2009 season, veteran DT Vince Wilfork and OG Logan Mankins were both looking for new deals in their final seasons (Mankins was going to be a restricted free agent). Other starters like S James Sanders, RT Nick Kaczur, RG Stephen Neal, K Stephen Gostkowski, RB Kevin Faulk, and TE Benjamin Watson were free agents, as were key veteran role players like DTs Mike Wright and DT Jarvis Green.
Oh, and the Patriots traded away veteran starters and leaders ED Mike Vrabel and DT Richard Seymour during the offseason.
The Patriots already had their Seymour moment when they sent away ED Chandler Jones to the Cardinals this offseason, but the sheer volume of free agents remains in play.
While Watson and Green signed with other teams, the Patriots were able to retain the services of the other players due to some savvy roster building by the Patriots.
Head coach Bill Belichick acquired some castoffs from other rosters on 1-year deals or promoted practice squad players into leading roles to supplement the roster.
OG Dan Connolly made the active roster and became a long term starter with a nice contract extension- think of OG Josh Kline’s extension last season.
ED Tully Banta-Cain returned to the Patriots on a 1-year deal after a rough outing with the 49ers, and the Patriots gave him a 3-year extension- think of SS Patrick Chung here.
CB Leigh Bodden signed with the Patriots on a 1-year deal and turned it into one of the largest contracts in Patriots history, but he suffered an injury and his career was derailed- hopefully this will remind us of no one.
ED Derrick Burgess was acquired from the Raiders prior to the 2009 season for a 3rd and 5th round pick, and the Patriots ultimately signed him to an extension.
And finally the Patriots added some scrub special teams player from Miami named Rob Ninkovich, who has become one of the most reliable and available defenders in recent NFL history. Ninkovich earned a similar extension to Connolly in the middle of the year.
The Patriots have done their job by adding veteran castoffs like Long and Knighton and OG Jonathan Cooper, which will give Belichick a larger option of players to return in 2017.
If Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins are this season’s Vince Wilfork, then Malcolm Butler is Mankins due to their restricted nature. The free agents are greater in number now than they were heading into the 2009 season, but Belichick has navigated these treacherous waters in the past.
The Patriots are 75-21 since the start of the 2010 season, with six straight bye weeks in the playoffs, five straight AFC Championship games, two Super Bowl appearances, and one Super Bowl victory.
If that’s what happened after 2009, then I look forward to the next six seasons.