While the Patriots aren’t expected to make any significant roster moves, including free agent signings or contract extensions, until the end of the month, once the transactions start, they could come fast and furious.
And speaking of fast and furious, running back will be among the team’s top priorities as James White and Mike Gillislee are the only backs under contract.
Leading rusher Dion Lewis, along with Rex Burkhead and Brandon Bolden, are free agents.
Lewis, 27, who played a career-high 19 games (including playoffs), rushed 180 times for 896 yards during the regular season — a healthy 5 yards per tote for a guy who put injury concerns in the rearview mirror
A compact and powerful runner, Lewis is a top candidate to score a multiyear contract in New England. He is a triple threat and was among the most productive players in the league (he also had 32 catches for 214 yards and 23 kickoff returns for 570 yards). Lewis scored touchdowns rushing, receiving, and returning in 2017.
Burkhead, 27, is an effective runner and receiver and a good fit in Josh McDaniels’s offense. Though he missed seven games because of rib and knee injuries, he still collected 518 yards from scrimmage and 8 TDs, and that production should earn him another shot (perhaps on a one- or two-year pact) in New England.
Bolden, 28, is an exceptional special teams player, valuable depth back, and glue guy in the locker room. Another one-year deal similar to 2017 ($775,000) seems logical.
Offensive tackle is another position that will need to be addressed early. Starting left tackle Nate Solder, as well as Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle, each of whom spent time as the starter at right tackle, are free agents.
Solder, who was a rock protecting Tom Brady’s blind side, has been the starter since 2012. He has also been a rock off the field, as he and his wife deal with their son Hudson’s treatments for kidney cancer.
Solder, 29, is coming off a two-year, $20 million deal, part of which stipulated he cannot be hit with the franchise tag. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he signed a deal similar in length with a bump in salary.
Fleming, 25, and Waddle, 26, provide excellent swing depth and likely will have plenty of suitors if they hit the market. Assuming Marcus Cannon returns to health, they’d again be competing to be the top backup.
Guard/center Ted Karras, 24, is an exclusive-rights free agent who should be back.
Receiver Danny Amendola keeps getting better. The nine-year veteran is among the most clutch players not only on the roster but in the league — he had 26 catches for 348 yards in the postseason alone.
Amendola, 32, has taken pay cuts in three straight seasons, though he’d likely receive some kind of bump from the $1.7 million he earned this past season.
On defense, cornerback is a top area of concern with Malcolm Butler and Johnson Bademosi free agents.
Butler, who was benched for the Super Bowl, played on a one-year, $3.91 million restricted free agent tender in 2017 and will have no shortage of teams vying for his services now that he’s unrestricted. A former Super Bowl hero and Pro Bowl player, Butler, 27, is a scrappy competitor and a sure tackler with eight career interceptions. A fresh start seems in order for Butler, who visited with the Saints last year as a restricted free agent but returned when the teams couldn’t work out a trade.
Bademosi, 27, arrived via trade from the Lions at the start of the season with the reputation as a special teams demon. He lived up to that and also had a nice midseason stretch at corner when Stephon Gilmore missed time because of a concussion. Bademosi is coming off a two-year, $4.5 million deal he signed with Detroit, and he likely will be seeking something similar heading into 2018.
At linebacker, James Harrison and Marquis Flowers will need new deals in order to return.
At 39, Harrison is the oldest defensive player in the league and proved during the postseason that there’s still plenty of gas in the tank and fire in his belly. He was stout on the edge and a return on a short-term deal at or slightly above the veteran minimum would not be a surprise.
Flowers, 25, was another valuable special teamer who provided a spark on defense. He has the athleticism to spy quarterbacks or drop into coverage. Flowers is coming off his rookie deal (four years, $2.29 million) and could land a one- or two-year deal to stick around.
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois impressed in his two stints this season, becoming a regular in the rotation. Jean Francois, 31, could return on a similar pact (one year, $900,000).
Geneo Grissom hasn’t been able to consistently crack the rotation along the defensive line. Grissom, 25, is a versatile special teamer and could be retained on a short deal.
Special teams captain Matthew Slater is a perennial All-Pro and Pro Bowler, as well as one of the most respected leaders on the team by his peers and coaches. Slater, 32, earned $1.8 million this past season — in which he missed seven games with hamstring issues — and likely will exceed that on a new deal.
Similarly, Nate Ebner is one of the league’s top special teamers. Ebner, 29, tore an ACL midway through the season but should be ready to return for 2018. His last deal was for two years and $2.4 million, and a raise would seem in order.
Brandon King, another member of Joe Judge’s top special teams unit, is a restricted free agent. King, 24, played on a one-year, $615,000 deal, and like Slater and Ebner likely will get a bump in salary.