Coming off a Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants, the New England Patriots will now have to deal with the potential loss of some key players in free agency. The biggest name of the bunch is wide receiver Wes Welker, who has been one of Tom Brady's most reliable targets since he was acquired by the Patriots in 2007 from the Miami Dolphins. Welker is coming off another 100+ reception season, but is slated to turn 31 prior to the start of the 2012 NFL season. The Patriots aren't really known for handing out big contracts to wide receivers, but the feeling seems to be that Welker could be a candidate for the franchise tag.
Here are the other players scheduled to hit free agency for the Patriots:
wide receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch, defensive lineman Mark Anderson, Gerard Warren, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter, running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Kevin Faulk, guard/center Dan Connolly, returner/receiver Matt Slater, defensive backs James Ihedigbo, Antwaun Molden, and Nathan Jones, and linebackers Tracy White, Gary Guyton, and Niko Koutouvides.
The other big name in this bunch is running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis who has been a workhorse for the Patriots the past two seasons. He's not necessarily a feature back in the NFL, but he's rushed for nearly 1,700 yards and 24 touchdowns for the Patriots the past two seasons, and has been key in the Patriots offense keeping defenses honest while running back Kevin Faulk is likely to retire. Utility man on the offensive line Dan Connolly is also slated to hit free agency, and he's been a key cog in the Patriots offensive line after starting 24 games the past two seasons.
Defensively, the pass rush has been an issue for the Patriots the past two seasons and the team's two leading pass rushers in Anderson and Carter are scheduled to hit free agency. Carter is also getting up in the years just like Ellis, so it's not out of the realm of possibility to team just lets them walk. The Patriots defensive backfield has been a revolving door of players, so the potential losses of Ihedigbo, Molden, and Jones wouldn't seem to be a really a big issue.
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