Brandon Meriweather's 2010 Decline May Lead to One-Way Ticket Out of Foxboro for Pro Bowl Safety Editor’s note: Each day this week, Jeff Howe will review the Patriots’ 2010 season and preview 2011 by breaking down each position. On Thursday, he covered the cornerbacks and linebackers.

The Patriots had an intriguing group of safeties this season, and they were able to use each of them in different roles that helped the defense provide different looks with a high level of versatility.

The core of the unit is locked up through 2011, which could yield more growth and cohesiveness, but does that mean they’ll all be back in New England?

Safeties on Final Roster
Sergio Brown, Patrick Chung, Brandon Meriweather, Jarrad Page, James Sanders, Josh Barrett
(injured reserve), Bret Lockett (injured reserve), Brandon McGowan (injured reserve), Ross Ventrone (practice squad)

Key Statistic
Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Chung was second on the team with 89 tackles, three interceptions and nine passes defensed.

Hot Topic
Chung caught a lot of criticism for calling for the fake punt in the Patriots’ playoff loss to the Jets, and the botched play obviously turned out to be a killer, as the Pats’ offense never had a possession after that with an opportunity to tie the game or take the lead.

That shouldn’t overshadow Chung’s strong second season, though. He was used in a variety of defensive roles, playing close to the line and in the third zone, as well as a nickelback in the slot. While Chung might still need some growth to emerge as a true traditional safety, he displayed too much talent for Bill Belichick to keep off the field. Chung has a bright future, and if his development stays on the same path, he’ll be set for a tremendous run in 2011.

Offseason Question
Will the Patriots make a major change at safety?

They had three quality starters last season in Chung, Meriweather and Sanders, and Brown and Page were good reserves. The Patriots would be in a nice position if they retained the top-three guys, but they’re also really intrigued by Barrett and Lockett, who each have strong potential on special teams. After all, they claimed Barrett even though they knew surgery would end his season, and they gave Lockett a contract extension before the end of the 2010 season, which was washed out due to a torn pectoral muscle.

This could lead the Patriots to make some kind of change with the desire of getting younger, and that could potentially spell the end of the line for Sanders or Meriweather. The always-reliable Sanders’ salary increases to $2.8 million in 2011 (from $2.3 million in 2010), and that’s a pretty hefty price tag for a team that needs to retain the left side of its offensive line and also has two first-round draft picks.

Meriweather, who is entering the last season of his rookie deal, lost a lot of playing time last season and could be trade bait (maybe a third-rounder?). At the end of the day, Meriweather’s talent and potential would almost certainly outweigh a third-round pick, but if Belichick was truly unhappy with Meriweather’s practice habits last season, it wouldn’t be shocking to see the Patriots part ways with the 2007 first-round pick.