The ink has yet to dry on the 2017 season as we're not even a full week removed from Sunday's disappointing loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII. But like Bill Belichick said last year, advancing to the biggest game leaves the team behind in terms of preparation for 2018, so it's time to start looking ahead.
The Patriots have 15 unrestricted free agents as the offseason begins, and some of them will be in line for a healthy pay day. Among the key contributors who will be looking for new deals include Nate Solder, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Butler, Dion Lewis, Rex Burkhead, Nate Ebner and Matthew Slater. There are other veterans such as Brandon Bolden, James Harrison, LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming who will hit the market as well.
A case could be made for virtually any of these players, many of whom were starters for a team that advanced all the way to the Super Bowl. But we all know that age and finances will play a role, as well as depth at a particular position.
With all that in mind we'll kick off our 2018 offseason with the Samsonite Make Your Case question of the week: Which pending free agent should be the Patriots top priority this offseason?
PFW's Andy Hart says ...
Solder has been a steady performer for the majority of his five years, serving as Tom Brady's blindside protector for most of that time. He's never been at the top of the list of left tackles but he's always been a capable player who garners a lot of respect in the Patriots locker room.
Now he's a free agent and the Patriots really don't have any obvious replacement if he leaves. The team drafted Tony Garcia in the third round last April but he lost his rookie season to an undisclosed illness, and there's no telling if or when he'll be ready to compete. If Solder leaves, the Patriots will almost certainly be forced to either sign someone else or draft his replacement early. That's not a situation you want to be forced into.
There have been stories indicating that Solder may retire and if that's the case then the Patriots won't have a decision to make. But if he continues to play, the Patriots need to make sure it's in New England.
PFW's Paul Perillo says ...
I've never been a huge believer in the running back position and truth be told I'm not now, either. But Lewis isn't the typical plow horse back who picks up 4 yards per carry and does little else. Lewis is a weapon in that he forces defense to play both the run and pass, and this season he proved he could hold up to the rigors of a full season.
The offense took on a different look in the second half of the season when he took over the lead back role and his added dimension as a receiver separates him from many others. Lewis can carry the load and now it's time for the Patriots to make sure he continues to do so next season.
I don't want to break the bank for a running back, but assuming a three-year, deal worth about $15 million or so can get it done, Lewis needs to be the top priority.
Now it's your turn to cast a vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.