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Patriots 2018 free agency profile: Dion Lewis has earned his payday, but will it come in New England?

Lewis is entering free agency coming off a career year.

Divisional Round - Tennessee Titans v New England Patriots Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

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 days, 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 running back Dion Lewis.

#33 RB Dion Lewis

2018 opening day age: 27

2017 playing time: 19 games (16 regular season + 3 playoffs); 36.7% offensive snaps, 14.8% special teams snaps

2017 statistics: 213 rushes, 1,031 yards, 6 touchdowns; 48 receptions, 325 yards, 3 touchdowns; 29 kick returns, 23.3 yards/return, 1 touchdown

2017 cap number: $1.488 million

Coming off two productive but injury-shortened seasons, Lewis had a breakout performance in 2017: Entering the final season of a two-year, $3.0 million contract extension he signed in 2015, the former fifth round draft pick established himself as the Patriots' number one running back, leading the team in every major rushing category while setting career-highs in attempts, yards and touchdowns as well as offensive snaps.

Lewis, who appeared in every one of his team's games for the first time in his seven-year NFL career, proved to be a weapon in both the running and the passing game and on special teams as well – displaying his trademark vision, patience and quickness in the process. As a result of this usage and productivity, the 27-year old finished the 2017 regular season ranked sixth league-wide in all-purpose yards gained. This, in turn, will make him a highly coveted target once free agency starts in two weeks.

Lewis will test the open market in March and probably come back to the Patriots to see if they match incoming offers. And given how well he played last year, it would not be a surprise to see New England willing to do just that. Once a certain asking price has been reached, though, the player will have to make a decision: Will he return to the Patriots but potentially miss out on more (guaranteed) money elsewhere, or leave the team that has shown it knows how to properly use him for greener pastures?

Projection: Lewis will sign a contract with a total value of around $13.5 to $15.5 million over the next three years, but the guarantees might very well dictate where. Somewhere outside of New England (potentially San Francisco) appears more likely – at the moment.