Ranking, Prioritizing Patriots’ 20 In-House Free Agents This Offseason

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Are you mentally prepared for an eye-opening and slightly frightening stat regarding the New England Patriots’ 2017 free agents? They accounted for 30.7 percent of games started by the Super Bowl LI-winning squad.

Of the Patriots’ 20 free agents, 14 started at least one game in 2016. Cornerback Malcolm Butler led the way with 16 starts while Alan Branch, Dont’a Hightower, Logan Ryan and Martellus Bennett each started at least 12 games.

Most of the Patriots’ free agents are key to re-sign, but let’s take a closer look by ranking them in order of importance.

1. LB DONT’A HIGHTOWER
Why not higher? Can’t be higher than No. 1.

Why not lower? Some could argue Malcolm Butler is more important than Hightower, but Butler is a restricted free agent, which makes him easier to retain, and if they lose him, they would get a draft pick as compensation.

2. CB MALCOLM BUTLER
Why not higher?  Because he’s a restricted free agent.

Why not lower? Because it’s extremely difficult to find a No. 1 cornerback like Butler at an affordable cost. Letting Butler walk and potentially receiving a first-round pick would be a nice consolation prize, but there’s no guarantee the player drafted would be better than Butler.

3. DT ALAN BRANCH
Why not higher? Because he’s 32 years old, compared to Hightower and Butler, both of whom will be 27 next season.

Why not lower?  Because he should be a lot more affordable than players like Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon, and he’s still a starting-caliber player. He played for $2.75 million last season. That’s a lot more valuable than a player like Ryan, who could command nearly $10 million per season on the open market.

4. TE MARTELLUS BENNETT
Why not higher? Because he might not be a starter next season if Rob Gronkowski is fully healthy. The Patriots also have a ton of wide receiver depth.

Why not lower? Because he’ll be 30 next season, he should be more affordable than a player like Ryan.

5. CB LOGAN RYAN
Why not higher? Because it’s entirely possible he commands a salary similar to the one Janoris Jenkins signed last offseason with the New York Giants for $62.5 million over five years. Ryan is a very good player, but it seems unlikely the Patriots would value him that highly.

Why not lower? Because it’s hard to find a starting-caliber cornerback who can play outside and in the slot and help shut down receivers like DeAndre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas.

6. FS DURON HARMON
Why not higher? Because he’s not a starter, and he could get paid like one.

Why not lower? It’s tough to find a free safety with the range and dependability of Harmon. Plus, Bill Belichick loves him.

7. RB LEGARRETTE BLOUNT
Why not higher? He’ll be 31 years old for most of the season, and despite his hot start, his production tailed off at the end of the season.

Why not lower? The Patriots should be able to bring him back at an affordable price, and he’s coming off of a statistically great season.

8. DE CHRIS LONG
Why not higher? Long didn’t quite live up to some expectations, and he’ll be 32 years old.

Why not lower? He was still an effective third-down rusher, and despite his low sack totals, brought pressure at a high clip.

9. WR MICHAEL FLOYD
Why not higher? The Patriots already are bringing back Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell, so there’s no guarantee he’ll even have a starting role.

Why not lower? Because he has tons of upside, and he’ll likely be cheap on a one-year contract.

10. FB JAMES DEVELIN
Why not higher? I mean, no offense, but he’s a fullback.

Why not lower? He makes an impact both on offense and special teams. The players listed below are more one dimensional.

11. ST/LB BRANDON KING
Why not higher? He only has value on special teams.

Why not lower? He’s one of the premier young special teams players in the NFL.

12. DE JABAAL SHEARD
Why not higher? Because as talented as he is, it’s highly unlikely he returns. Sheard saw his snaps dramatically decrease after Week 6.

Why not lower? Because he’s more talented than players higher and lower on this list. If he’s willing to come back on a reduced deal, he was still a useful player.

13. OT CAMERON FLEMING
Why not higher? Fleming was good in 2016, but the third offensive tackle position could be upgraded.

Why not lower? He was a solid fill-in for both Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon early in the season.

14. ST/RB BRANDON BOLDEN
Why not higher? Bolden provided almost no offensive value in 2016.

Why not lower? He’s still a solid special-teamer, and both Belichick and Tom Brady love him.

15. ST/DE GENEO GRISSOM
Why not higher? He was cut out of training camp before being signed off the practice squad.

Why not lower? He’ll likely cost significantly less than Mingo.

16. LB/ST BARKEVIOUS MINGO
Why not higher? He didn’t contribute on defense.

Why not lower? If he’s willing to come back on a veteran minimum contract, then he still has value on special teams.

17. TE MICHAEL WILLIAMS
Why not higher? He’s a blocking specialist tight end who didn’t play in 2016 because of a torn ACL suffered during the summer.

Why not lower? He’s a better blocker than Matt Lengel.

18. TE MATT LENGEL
Why not higher? He’s a replacement-level NFL tight end.

Why not lower? He was at least active in the playoffs.

19. CB JUSTIN COLEMAN
Why not higher? He was inactive for most of the season.

Why not lower? He was solid in 2015 and should be given another shot in 2017, especially if Ryan doesn’t return.

20. TE GREG SCRUGGS
Why not higher? He didn’t play a down before going down with a knee injury.

Why not lower? He is the lowest.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler III/USA TODAY Sports Images

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