NFL News & Analysis

2017 free agency preview: New England Patriots

FOXBORO, MA - OCTOBER 16: Dont'a Hightower #54 of the New England Patriots celebrates after sacking Andy Dalton #14 of the Cincinnati Bengals at Gillette Stadium on October 16, 2016 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

[Editor’s note: This preview was originally published on Feb. 24, 2017, and updated on March 6 to reflect changes in the market do to franchise tags, re-signings, cuts, etc.]

What you need to know

After winning the Super Bowl in dramatic fashion, the Patriots are set to lose several key pieces this offseason. Head Coach Bill Belichick is usually a bargain free agent wizard, so don’t expect New England to target any top free agents or overspend on their own.

Salary cap room

$61,917,426 (fifth in NFL; as of 3/6/17)

Biggest needs

  • Edge defender
  • Linebacker
  • Running back
  • Tight end

Notable free agents

  • Dont’a Hightower, LB, 85.7 overall grade in 2016
  • Martellus Bennett, TE, 79.8
  • Logan Ryan, CB, 83.5
  • LeGarrette Blount, RB, 68.1

(Norm Hall/Getty Images)

Must re-sign

Dont’a Hightower, LB, 85.7 overall grade in 2016

Hightower has been remarkably consistent for the Patriots and has been utilized effectively in the pass game. After trading Jamie Collins to the Browns midseason, the Patriots lack a productive linebacker outside of Hightower, and if they lose the former first-round pick, it could become their biggest position of need.

Top 2017 free agency prospects

John Simon, Edge, Houston Texans, 78.3 overall grade in 2016

Simon is a player that is overshadowed by several great players on the Texans' defense, but produced at a solid level for three straight seasons. He was on his way to his best season yet before injury cut his 2016 campaign short. A solid all-around player, Simon would be utilized perfectly in New England.

Anthony Fasano, TE, Tennessee Titans, 76.5

Fasano is one of the best run-blocking tight ends in the NFL, and with Martellus Bennett potentially leaving via free agency and Rob Gronkowski’s injury history, the Patriots need a reliable option. Fasano isn’t exactly a receiving threat, but Tom Brady brings out the best in his players.

Sean Spence, LB, Tennessee Titans, 74.0

If Hightower leaves via free agency, the Patriots will have a gaping hole at linebacker after also trading away Jamie Collins. With Spence, the Patriots fill the void with a veteran that has underperformed in Tennessee, but has shown improvement each of the past three seasons. Spence was effective as a pass-rusher in 2016, as he racked up three sacks and four hits and Belichick likes to rush his LBs.

Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders, 73.1

Belichick has always employed a bigger halfback in his time in New England (think guys like Antowain Smith and LaGarrette Blount). With Blount aging and hitting free agency, Murray would be the perfect replacement. Murray equalled Blount’s average yards after contact the past two years and has shown solid ball control in his career.

2017 Free Agency Rankings
Top 50 free agents
Every 2017 free agent ranked by 2016 overall grade
10 free agents who can make an immediate impact
10 veteran free agents worth a one-year contract
10 sleeper free agents who could bring surprise upside
10 splash free-agent signings we’d like to see
Quarterback rankings
Running back rankings
Wide receiver rankings
Tight end rankings
Offensive linemen rankings
Edge defender rankings
Interior defender rankings
Cornerback rankings
Safety rankings
Linebacker rankings

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