The New England Patriots are playing their final regular season game of 2016 and that means that some Patriots players are suiting up for the final regular season game of their career.
The Patriots have just 14 free agents after this season; here’s our ranking of the Patriots pending free agents.
Key 100% Starter
LB Dont’a Hightower is the only pending free agent that plays 100% of the snaps and he’s clearly New England’s top priority this offseason. Hightower is a captain that is expected to return with a longterm deal.
TE Martellus Bennett is also a starter, but his return is less certain. Bennett appears to love the New England culture and he’s a great back-up for the oft-injured TE Rob Gronkowski. The question is whether or not the Patriots and Bennett can agree to terms.
DT Alan Branch has been the team’s best defensive tackle and the Patriots would love to bring the 32-year-old back on a one- or two-year deal. He can help alongside youngsters like DT Malcom Brown, DT Vincent Valentine, and DT Woodrow Hamilton.
RB LeGarrette Blount currently leads the NFL in rushing touchdowns and the 30-year-old back is in the middle of his best season. Like Branch, the Patriots could sign Blount to a one- or two-year deal.
ED Chris Long and ED Jabaal Sheard started the season as starters, but fell behind sophomore ED Trey Flowers and veteran ED Rob Ninkovich. The Patriots have featured a four-man rotation in recent weeks with balanced playing time and could be interested in bringing back both free agents. Sheard is more likely to leave if some team is willing to pay him big money to be a bigger starter.
CB Logan Ryan looked destined to depart after starting in 2015 and early in 2016, but some poor play sent him to the bench and he is now the team’s nickelback. Some franchise could pay him starter money as a solid #2 option and the Patriots likely won’t match a big offer.
FS Duron Harmon has been the team’s #3 safety for the past couple of years and he’s done a great job as a cover two safety. Look for some team to offer Harmon starter money in a safety-hungry league.
FB James Develin should return on a multi-year deal as one of the best run-blocking fullbacks in the NFL.
Special Teams Player
LB Barkevious Mingo was acquired in the offseason and has settled as a top special teams linebacker for the team. Mingo actually trails just SS Nate Ebner in special teams snaps. Look for the Patriots to offer him a chance to return, but some other team might be interested in signing Mingo as a reclamation project.
RB Brandon Bolden is another key special teams player, but the Patriots will have to decide whether Bolden’s ability on special teams is enough to retain him over rookie D.J. Foster, who might offer more offensive upside.
WR Michael Floyd recently joined the team and might be willing to sign a one-year prove it deal in New England. Floyd will likely serve a suspension at the start of the season for his DUI arrest and could be interested in staying with the Patriots.
RT Sebastian Vollmer and DE Greg Scruggs will probably not return to New England for 2017.
QB Jimmy Garoppolo is a top option to be traded this offseason. This might be his last regular season game for the Patriots.