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Patriots’ Nick Caserio prepares for next step

Welker, receivers on Patriots’ list

INDIANAPOLIS - The Patriots’ brain trust has turned its attention toward the 2012 season, Nick Caserio said yesterday.

New England’s director of player personnel met with Boston-area reporters yesterday at the NFL Combine and addressed a number of topics. (Coach Bill Belichick is not expected to speak with the media this week.)

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One of the biggest questions surrounding the Patriots is what will happen with Wes Welker. The 30-year-old slot receiver is slated to become a free agent for the first time, though the team has the option of designating him as its franchise player.

“As it relates to all our free agents, I think we have 17 players or so that are scheduled to go into free agency, so we’ll have dialogue with all of our players and all of their agents,’’ Caserio said. “Some have taken place at different points. But before March 13 [the day free agency begins], we’ll have had a discussion with everybody, and then we’ll figure out exactly where we are come that day.’’

It is believed Welker was offered a two-year, $16 million contract during the season that would have been fully guaranteed. However, that amount is less than what Welker would make if he plays under the franchise tag the next two seasons - around $20 million, and also be fully guaranteed.

Caserio was asked for a Welker update, but he didn’t tip his hand.

“I think we’re going through the process, and, like I said, we’ve had conversations with our free agents at different points through the fall, so we’ll continue that dialogue.’’

Welker has been the NFL’s most productive receiver since joining the Patriots in 2007. But New England has had difficulty finding an outside receiver, either in the draft (Brandon Tate, Taylor Price) or through veteran acquisitions (Chad Ochocinco, Joey Galloway).

There are some good outside wideouts in this year’s free agent crop, and Caserio called receiver one of the deeper positions in the draft. So is it better to find that elusive outside-the-numbers guy on the open market or the draft?

“I think really it’s about anybody that can help your team, whether it’s young, old, veteran players, older players,’’ Caserio said. “We’ve gotten production from that position - you know, our passing game this year, we threw for over 5,000 yards, so we’re productive in the passing game. So there’s multiple ways we can move the ball.’’

Ochocinco and Julian Edelman are the only Patriots receivers under contract for 2012. Although it seems a stretch to think that the 34-year-old Ochocinco, who is due $3 million in base salary next season, will be back, Caserio said, “He’s under contract, so if he’s under contract, he’ll be here.’’

Other topics Caserio touched on:

■ This year’s draft: “As usual, I’d say the underclassmen are a big part of it. This is the most amount of underclassmen, I think, that asked for an evaluation from the league. There’s depth at more positions relative to others. I’d say receiver is a position of strength. The offensive line’s a position of strength. The [defensive] front seven is a position of strength. I think it’s a good draft.’’

■Whether the Patriots are behind in the draft process because they played into February: “I’d say yes and no. Our scouting staff - specifically the college scouting staff - has spent a significant amount of time on the road this fall. And then our staff was at all the college all-star games. Just as far as maybe as coaches getting involved in the evaluations and some of that process, maybe we’re a little bit further behind because of the efforts were geared in another direction.’’

■The Super Bowl mourning period: “The way I look at it, it’s kind of like another game during the year: win or lose, then next day it’s, ‘Here’s what happened,’ and then you move on to the next game. We were up and running the following week, in draft meetings with our scouting staff, going through these prospects. You have to move on.’’

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.
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