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ESPN thinks former Patriots Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones are top 5 free agents for 2017

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The Patriots let their talented players leave the roster, but they’re about to receive huge paychecks.

The New England Patriots made the decision to trade away defenders Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins over the past calendar year. The Patriots received a 2016 2nd round pick and OG Jonathan Cooper for Jones, and a 2017 3rd round pick for Collins. The Patriots knew they wouldn’t be able to pay Jones’ projected contract, while Collins didn’t mesh with the team’s mentality.

ESPN projects both players in their top 5 free agents of 2017.

Collins, now with the Cleveland Browns, comes in at #3, and he was not very successful in his half-season with the Browns. Still, Cleveland gave up a considerable draft chip for Collins that it would be a surprise if they let him walk; the question is whether Collins would want to return.

Jones, now with the Arizona Cardinals, is #4 on the list and the Cardinals have explicitly stated that they will apply the franchise tag on Jones if they can’t come to terms on a long term extension.

The Patriots have four players inside the top 50, but none are as highly regarded as Collins or Jones.

LB Dont’a Hightower ranks #8 and he is clearly the Patriots top free agent target this offseason. He is a team captain and the Patriots want him back- and he is the last man standing of the Big Three free agents that were listed when the Patriots opted to let CB Darrelle Revis walk in free agency prior to 2015.

TE Martellus Bennett is #20 on the list and the Patriots are interested in bringing him back for another season or two as insurance for TE Rob Gronkowski. ED Jabaal Sheard is #23, which is a surprise since he was benched this year and is #4 in the Patriots pass rush rotation.

CB Logan Ryan is #44 and he probably should be higher up the list. After a rough start to the season, probably linked to his offseason shoulder surgery, Ryan has been outstanding over the second half of the year and currently ranks #12 in Pro Football Focus’ cornerback list- his second straight season of excellent grading. There’s a real chance that some team will offer Ryan an extremely valuable contract for 2017.