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Logan Ryan is picking up steam as a key Patriots free agent

The Patriots cornerback could be considered a priority free agent.

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The New England Patriots have to find a way to retain linebackers Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins in free agency. Edge defenders Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long are playing at high levels (Long is the most productive pass rusher in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus) and need new deals, too. Then there’s cornerback Malcolm Butler, who will be a restricted free agent.

It’s time to add cornerback Logan Ryan into the mix.

I want to add fellow Rutgers graduate Duron Harmon to the list, but he has far too much talent to be a #3 safety in the NFL. Ryan is a starting cornerback and that’s why he deserves more attention.

The Patriots invested a 2016 2nd round pick in cornerback Cyrus Jones and they believe in the potential of sophomore Justin Coleman, but Ryan presents a skill set that neither player can replicate. While Jones has been used in the slot and Coleman has faced the speedsters, Ryan matches up against the big, physical receivers that are all around the league.

Ryan has squared off against the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, DeAndre Hopkins, and Larry Fitzgerad with varying degrees of success, but it’s clear that the coaching staff trusts in his abilities.

According to MassLive’s Kevin Duffy, Ryan has a scouting portfolio of all the receivers he’s faced in man coverage over the years and it’s helped him during film review. The Herald’s Jeff Howe notes that Ryan has embraced the study and preparation required to star in the NFL.

“I’ve grown to have the confidence and fall in love with the idea of having one guy all day and being able to compete and beat him throughout the day,” Ryan said, via the Herald. “I fell in love with the process, fell in love with the preparation of watching film. I just think it’s knowing I want to win the battle throughout the week so when I go out there on game day, it’s already done. It’s just executing.”

You can never have too many good cornerbacks in this league and the Patriots have groomed Ryan for the past four years. Perhaps he’ll take a little discount to remain in New England, and perhaps the Patriots will use their league-leading cap space in 2017 to keep Ryan around.

Howe speculates that no one should “be overly shocked if the Patriots fork over something along the lines of a four-year, $24 million deal to keep [Ryan] around,” and a $6 million per season deal is in line with the market value of a solid #2 cornerback.

Ryan isn’t a perfect player, although it seems like he’s been the victim of multiple perfect passes or catches over the first three weeks of the season. But he offers a good quality of play and he seems to rise the occasion more often than not.

If the Patriots can keep both Ryan and Butler with extensions, then the Patriots will be able to retain their starting secondary of Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, Ryan, and Butler for the foreseeable future. It’s always great to have consistency, especially at a positional group that requires so much communication.

Maybe head coach Bill Belichick will see that value as worth retaining and the Patriots will add Ryan to the list of free agents to bring back in 2017.