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Patriots ranked as the NFL’s third most talented team heading into free agency

Even without Trey Flowers and Trent Brown, the Patriots appear to have a solid roster.

NFL: AFC Divisional Playoff-Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Celebrating a Super Bowl can only take so much of your time and attention. Three weeks removed from their title game victory over the Los Angeles Rams, the New England Patriots already need to look forward with both the NFL’s scouting combine and free agency on the horizon. The latter will be particularly interesting from the world champions’ perspective as 17 of their players are scheduled to hit the open market on March 13.

But while the list is a long one filled with plenty of starters in all three phases, one analyst thinks that New England still has one of the deepest teams in the league even if all of their free agents left the club: ESPN’s Mike Clay graded all of the position groups in the NFL as they stand today — without players scheduled to enter unrestricted free agency next month — and he has plenty of confidence in the Patriots.

With all the numbers put together, the Patriots’ pre-free agency roster has a grade of 7.0 — tied for third best in the NFL behind only the Chicago Bears (7.6) and a Pittsburgh Steelers (7.1) team that will likely lose some of its wide receiver points once the team parts ways with disgruntled wide receiver Antonio Brown. Speaking of wide receiver, the position is one of the reasons for New England not ranking higher.

The defending world champions will see three of their top four wide receivers hit the open market next month and as of today are lacking any viable replacements. And while Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman will be back, the rest of the position group does not look up to NFL standards as things stand today. Other than wide receiver, however, the Patriots offense fares pretty well in Clay’s rankings: its 7.4 grade ranks fifth in the NFL.

New England’s defense — one that could lose defensive edge Trey Flowers next month — ranks not quite that highly coming off the best performance in Super Bowl history: the unit’s 6.6 grade is the ninth best in the league, with the secondary a big part for that. Of course, the Patriots’ defensive backfield itself also might see some turnover with 2018’s starting cornerback Jason McCourty an unrestricted free agent.

One thing that does stand out when looking at Clay’s rankings is the lack of special teams, an area that would hurt the Patriots’ grade as both kicker Stephen Gostkowski and punter Ryan Allen are scheduled to enter free agency — just like kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson and core special teamers Albert McClellan and Ramon Humber. New England’s kicking game is facing some uncertainty, but the ranking above does not account for it.

That all being said, Clay’s ranking is mostly fair: the Patriots have a talented foundation in place even if a notable part of their roster will see its contracts end soon. What do you think about it?