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Debate Friday: Free agent priorities?

Heading toward the opening of free agency on March 5, much of the talk in New England has been about Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork or potential free agents the Patriots could bring aboard from other teams - like Julius Peppers.

In all likelihood, though, Wilfork will either reach a long-term extension with the Patriots or get slapped with the team's franchise tag by the deadline of Feb. 25. So he's not really going to reach unrestricted fee agent waters.

That brings us to our Debate Friday topic: Beyond Wilfork, which of New England's players scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency are you most intent on re-signing?

The answer, whatever it may be, comes from a list that includes LB Tully Banta-Cain, CB Leigh Bodden, G Stephen Neal, TE Benjamin Watson, RB Kevin Faulk, DE/LB Derrick Burgess, DE Jarvis Green or P Chris Hanson.

Strong arguments can be made for a number of guys, many of whom were key contributors for New England on the way to the AFC East title last fall. Others, like Neal and Faulk, have been valued veteran options for the team throughout its run of success in the 2000s.

So, beyond Wilfork, which Patriots player scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency are you most intent on re-signing?

Read the following arguments from the staff of PFW and then cast your vote in this week's poll.

Andy Hart says…. "Leigh Bodden"

While I think he's probably going to be difficult to re-sign, I think New England needs to make a strong run at bringing Bodden back. After joining the team on a one-year deal a year ago - one that reportedly included a clause that he would not be franchised by the team this offseason - Bodden tied for the New England lead with five interceptions. He was by far the Patriots most consistent defensive back throughout the season. He's a proven veteran talent and, for now, the closest thing the team could probably find in terms of a No. 1 cornerback.

Let's pretend Bodden gets some lucrative offers in free agency, which he very well could, and the Patriots lose him. What would next year's secondary look like? Is Darius Butler ready to step up as a sophomore? Can Jonathan Wilhite bounce back from a tough second season? Is Shawn Springs, who mentioned the possibility of retirement this winter, still capable of being the top corner on a championship-caliber team?

That's more questions than I think this team wants to have at the cornerback position entering 2010, and that's why I'd make a legit run at bringing Bodden back. He wasn't an overly hot commodity when the Patriots signed him last spring and coming off a good but not great year I don't think he's going to break the bank this time around. It might take a little money, but for the sake of the team, the secondary, the pass defense and Patriots fan everywhere I urge New England to make a legitimate run at keeping Bodden in Foxborough. He may not be the centerpiece of a defense, but the hole he'd leave would be a big one that opposing passers would clearly target next fall.

So I'll end with a political style slogan: "Don't be downtrodden, bring back Bodden!"
--AH

Paul Perillo says …. "Tully Banta-Cain"

The good news for the Patriots is they really don't have many pressing issues in unrestricted free agency. Beyond Wilfork, the team doesn't figure to have a lot of big-dollar free agents to lock down. But that doesn't mean some of the pending UFAs are expendable. Banta-Cain is one of those.

The New England defense was completely devoid of a pass rush last season and allowing the only guy who generated pressure to walk wouldn't be wise. Banta-Cain posted a career-high 10 sacks for the season and often represented the team's lone chance at hurrying opposing quarterbacks. He also performed better against the run than he had during his first tour of duty with the Patriots. And now we're content to let him walk? I don't think so.

Banta-Cain also expressed great enthusiasm for being a Patriot and was anxious to return to the team that drafted him. That team-first approach wasn't always evident in the Gillette Stadium locker room last year but it was with Banta-Cain - and it should not be discounted.

Another important factor to consider here is price. Banta-Cain left for San Francisco after the 2006 season and got a decent chunk of change from the 49ers. Not that he would be looking to play for below market value, but Banta-Cain would likely be willing to accept an offer from the Patriots and not be chasing the biggest contract possible. Bodden entered the league as an undrafted free agent in Cleveland and signed a one-year deal with the Patriots last spring. This is his last chance to strike it rich via free agency and that might not be in line with the team's thinking.

Banta-Cain represents the best combination of value and production among the group of UFAs. The Patriots need to make sure they keep him.
--PP

You've read the debate, now it's your turn to vote. Click on your choice below.

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