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Patriots.com News Blitz - 7/17/2012

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Mike Reiss of ESPNBoston.com reports that the Patriots will have to weigh their options regarding receiver Wes Welker after the 2012 season. The Patriots and Welker failed to reach a deal for a contract extension by Monday's 4 pm deadline, meaning that Welker will play out the season under his $9.5 million franchise tag and become a free agent. Reiss writes that possible scenarios include allowing Welker to sign elsewhere, offering him a contract extension at the end of the season, or giving him another franchise tag next year. "The Patriots still retain some leverage in their talks with Welker, as they could once again assign him the franchise tag in 2013," writes Reiss.

Danny Tuccitto and Rivers McCown of Football Outsiders rank the Patriots as the club with the best 25-and-under talent in the NFL. Criteria for the rankings include "number of games started in 2011 by players under the age of 25" and the team's "recent track record of developing and retaining young talent." Highlighted in the report were dynamic 23-year-old tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez as well as 24-year-old offensive lineman Nate Solder. "Finally, the Patriots added LB Dont'a Hightower (22) and DE Chandler Jones (22) in the draft, both of whom should contribute this season and in the future," added the report.

James Walker of ESPN.com cites the Patriots' running backs as their biggest question mark on offense this season. "New England will rely on inexperienced second-year players Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to carry the load, while veterans Joseph Addai and Danny Woodhead compete to provide support on third down," writes Walker. In his pre-training camp grades, Walker gives the team a grade of A- on offense and an overall grade of A. "The only thing I can see derailing the Patriots from being a contender is significant injuries," Walker writes.

Greg A. Bedard of the Boston Globe believes that defensive linemen Myron Pryor and Justin Francis should win the battle for the final two defensive tackle spots on the 53-man roster. Bedard writes that Pryor "should make this team and make an impact" provided he stays fully healthy, while Francis "has been one of the standouts as an undrafted free agent and brings tackle/end versatility." Bedard also cites defensive tackles Brandon Deaderick and Kyle Love as "near locks" to make the squad alongside Vince Wilfork and Jonathan Fanene.

Mike Rodak of ESPNBoston.com reports that defensive tackle Gerard Warren could also have a shot at earning a spot on the roster, especially if Myron Pryor does not report to camp fully healthy after a season-ending shoulder injury last season. "Warren was often active for games over Ron Brace, who could be Warren's main competition this preseason," writes Rodak. Rodak notes that undrafted free agent Marcus Forston could also be in the running if he performs well at camp.

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