LeGarrette Blount, Akiem Hicks Headline Patriots’ 2016 Free Agents

Bill Belichick the general manager set up Bill Belichick the head coach for another Super Bowl run for the New England Patriots in 2016.

Of the 53 players on the Patriots’ season-ending active roster, 43 are under contract for next season, and that includes all 22 starters on offense and defense.

Let’s go through the Patriots’ 2016 free agents.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The Patriots have exclusive negotiating rights with these players until March 7 at noon ET, at which time the legal tampering period will begin. Free agency officially starts March 9 and 4 p.m. ET.

RB LeGarrette Blount — The running back rushed for 703 yards on 165 carries before going down with a season-ending hip injury in Week 14. He could be back with the Patriots if he doesn’t receive interest on the open market.

DT Akiem Hicks — The Patriots acquired the defensive tackle in a trade with the New Orleans Saints for tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. He struggled with the Saints but shined as a pass rusher and run-defender with the Patriots. After a solid end to the season, he could be too costly to re-sign.

RB Steven Jackson — The Patriots took a shot on Jackson at the end of the season, and he finished with just 31 carries for 74 yards in four games, including the postseason. It’s unlikely he’ll be back in the NFL next season.

SS Nate Ebner — Ebner is a core special teamer who likely has more value to the Patriots than other teams.

SS Tavon Wilson — Wilson didn’t exactly pan out as a 2012 second-round draft pick, but he had solid moments filling in as a slot cornerback and strong safety this season. It’s unlikely he’ll be back since the Patriots drafted safety Jordan Richards in 2012.

CB Tarell Brown — Brown showed promise in training camp and early in the season before being placed on injured reserve with a foot injury. He was spotted around the Patriots’ locker room this season, indicating he could be back in 2016.

OL Ryan Wendell — Wendell lost his starting role on the Patriots’ offensive line when they drafted Shaq Mason and Tre’ Jackson.

LB Dekoda Watson — Watson was on and off the roster as a special teamer/backup pass rusher. He could be back for training camp.

WR Brandon Gibson — Gibson likely would have played a big role for the Patriots if he hadn’t torn his ACL in the preseason. He could be back on another one-year deal.

UPDATE: Gibson isn’t in the Patriots’ plans for 2016.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
The Patriots must submit qualifying offers to these players by March 9 at 4 p.m. If they don’t, they will become unrestricted free agents. If the Patriots do submit qualifying offers, the player can sign an “offer sheet” with another team. The Patriots have the right to match, and if they don’t, the other team will have to forfeit draft picks to acquire the player’s services.

DT Sealver Siliga — Siliga was passed on the depth chart by Hicks, but because the Patriots lack defensive tackle depth, he could be back on a minimum qualifying offer.

UPDATE: Siliga won’t be tendered as a restricted free agent.

FB James Develin — Develin was lost for the season with a broken leg during the preseason, but he stuck around the team all season. He’s likely to be back as the Patriots’ starting fullback.

WR Brian Tyms — Tyms suffered an Achilles injury in the preseason and didn’t suit up in 2015.

UPDATE: Tyms won’t be tendered as a restricted free agent.

OL LaAdrian Waddle — The Patriots claimed Waddle off waivers from the Lions late in the season. If they liked what they saw, they could offer him a low tender.

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
The Patriots must submit a minimum-salary tender to these players by March 9 at 4 p.m. The player must sign if he wants to play in 2016. If the Patriots don’t submit a minimum-salary tender, the player will hit free agency.

LB Brandon King — King was one of the Patriots’ best rookies as a core special teamer. He’ll have a long career in New England.

CB Justin Coleman — Coleman certainly will be back with the team for the summer. He served as the Patriots’ nickel cornerback when healthy in 2015.

OL Cameron Fleming — Fleming began the season on the practice squad after not working out as a fourth-round draft pick in 2014. He’ll likely be back for training camp.

UPDATE: Fleming will be tendered as a restricted free agent, a source told MassLive.com’s Kevin Duffy.

DE Rufus Johnson — Johnson was a futures signing last year, and the Patriots liked him enough to keep him on the active roster to begin the season. He was placed on the non-football illness list after catching the bug going around the Patriots’ locker room. Expect him back.

WR Josh Boyce — Boyce was placed on injured reserve during training camp. It would be a surprise if he’s back.

OL Kevin Hughes — Hughes also was placed on injured reserve during training camp.

OPTION BONUSES
The Patriots must pick up option bonuses for these players by March 9 at 4 p.m. If they don’t, they will hit free agency.

Rob Gronkowski — The Patriots already picked up $4 million of Gronkowski’s $10 million option bonus. They will certainly pick up the extra $6 million to keep him under contract through 2019.

UPDATE: The Patriots unsurprisingly are picking up Gronkowski’s option, locking him up through 2019, a source told the Boston Herald’s Jeff Howe.

Jerod Mayo — The Patriots would have to pick up Mayo’s $4 million option bonus to keep him under his current four-year, $22 million contract. That seems unlikely. For Mayo to return, he likely will have to re-do his contract.

UPDATE: Mayo announced his retirement.

PRACTICE SQUAD
The Patriots can sign these players to futures contracts now that the season is over.

RB Montee Ball
RB Joey Iosefa
WR DeAndre Carter
WR J.J. Worton
OL Chris Barker
OL Keavon Milton
CB Rashaan Melvin
FS Brock Vereen
SS Cedric Thompson

UPDATE: The Patriots signed Iosefa, Carter, Barker, Milton, Melvin, Vereen, Thompson, defensive tackle Joe Vellano and linebacker James Vaughters to future/reserve deals.

Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images

Thumbnail photo via Dec 6, 2015; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount (29) runs against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

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