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Patriots 2018 free agency profile: Will Ricky Jean Francois make Alan Branch expendable?

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The veteran played surprisingly well in 2017.

NFL: AFC Championship-Jacksonville Jaguars at New England Patriots Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots came up just short of their ultimate goal in 2017 as the team lost Super Bowl LII against the Philadelphia Eagles. In order to get back onto the top of the NFL mountain, the team – on and off the field personnel – will have to quickly turn the page to get into a position to field the best possible team in 2018; one that will be able to once again compete for the world championship.

A big part of creating such a team is mastering the upcoming free agency. And if judged by the list of free agents to be, New England's front office will be busy over the next few weeks. Also over the next few weeks, we will take a look at those free agents to find out who might or might not get re-signed; and who should be a part of the 2018 Patriots. Today, we'll continue the series with defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.

#94 DT Ricky Jean Francois

2018 opening day age: 31

2017 playing time: 9 games (6 regular season + 3 playoffs); 11.6% defensive snaps

2017 statistics: 1.0 sack, 1 hurry; 16 tackles

2017 cap number: $158,824

Jean Francois had an up-and-down season in 2017. After starting it with the Green Bay Packers, the team released him twice during the regular season – the second of which set up his unification with the Patriots in early November, who themselves released him at one point but opted to bring him back. Overall, the veteran still appeared in nine games for the team and ultimately proved to be a solid in-season addition.

While the 31-year old's statistics are not overwhelming, Jean Francois was able to establish himself as the number four option at defensive tackle behind Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler. In this role, he played around a fourth of possible defensive snaps during his time with the team and became visibly more comfortable as the season progressed.

It should therefore be expected to see New England try to bring the veteran back on a relatively cost-effective contract; potentially a one-year minimum deal. After all, Jean Francois has proven himself capable of playing within the system and by extension would make higher-priced option Alan Branch expendable after already leapfrogging him on the depth chart late during the 2017 season.

Projection: Jean Francois re-signs with the Patriots on a one-year contract at the veteran's minimum of $915,000.