The New England Patriots are back on top of the NFL, but they'll have some serious decisions to make in order to stay there starting March 9, when the new league year begins.
The Pats have 17 free agents (three restricted) and reportedly around $60 million in cap space, so they could be among the biggest players in free agency. Which of their own free agents will they bring back, and who will they let walk? Here's a look at the group, ranked from least to most important.
Kirby LeeUSA TODAY Sports
Greg Scruggs, TE
2016 stats: NA
Scruggs, a fifth-year player who made the switch from defensive end to blocking tight end, has yet to play for the Pats, going on IR with a knee injury after arriving in New England. That should make it easy for the Pats to pass on re-signing him.
Michael Williams, TE
2016 stats: NA
Williams, another blocking tight end who didn't play this season after tearing an ACL in the spring, at least has a year's experience playing for the Pats under his belt, having made nine starts in 2015. He's a restricted free agent.
Mark J. Rebilas
Michael Floyd, WR
2016 stats: 37 catches, 488 yards, 5 TDs
Floyd, signed as insurance late last season after being released by Arizona, had little impact in New England (5 catches, 1 TD) and was a healthy scratch for the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl. So while the former first-round pick might get another chance to prove himself somewhere, the Pats clearly don't need him.
Chris Long, DE
2016 stats: 35 tackles, 4 sacks
Long didn't exactly experience a renaissance after coming over from the Rams, producing pretty modest numbers and making just seven starts. But he got his ring, so the 31-year-old might call it a career.
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Cameron Fleming, T
2016 stats: 16 games, 5 starts
Fleming (left), a restricted free agent, served as a tackle-eligible tight end in several games including the Super Bowl. But the Pats have released the 2014 fourth-rounder before, so he may still be expendable.
Barkevious Mingo, LB
2016 stats: 11 tackles
A bust with the Browns, the former first-rounder didn't develop into anything more than a special teams player in his first year in New England. He played in all 16 regular-season games and while the Pats' special teams were among the best graded in the game, they have longer-tenured players to re-sign.
Brandon Bolden, RB
2016 stats: 1 carry, 4 yards
Bolden's production as a running back hit a career low last season, but he remained a key special teams player, appearing in 14 games. Unlikely any team tries to lure him away with much money, so he should be the Pats' to keep as long as they have a spot for him.
Getty ImagesGeorge Gojkovich
James Develin, FB
2016 stats: 3 catches, 18 yards
Develin has played in all 16 regular-season games each of the past three seasons as a blocking fullback and special teams contributor, but has little impact on the offense outside of that. His ability as a blocker makes him slightly more useful than Bolden, but the Pats have released him before.
USA TODAY SportsStew Milne
Jabaal Sheard, DL
2016 stats: 33 tackles, 5 sacks
Sheard, another Cleveland reclamation project, made eight starts in 15 games but ended up behind Trey Flowers on the depth chart. His 36 career sacks may tempt the Pats to try to re-sign him.
Mark J. RebilasUSA TODAY Sports
Sebastian Vollmer, OT
2016 stats: NA
Vollmer missed the entire season recovering from shoulder surgery and a hip injury. When healthy, he's been a starter on the O-line since 2010, but he's 32 and the Pats may have just proved they no longer need him.
USA TODAY SportsGreg M. Cooper
Duron Harmon, DB
2016 stats: 29 tackles, 1 INT
Harmon, a 2013 third-round pick, has appeared in all but one regular-season game for the past four years, mainly as a nickel back, third safety and special teams contributor. Could be key to retain if the Pats lose Malcolm Butler or Logan Ryan in free agency.
USA TODAY SportsMark J. Rebilas
LeGarrette Blount, RB
2016 stats: 299 carries, 1,161 yards, 18 TDs
Blount had a career year, but had a significant drop-off in the second half after Tom Brady came back, he's 30, and the Pats have proved they can plug in most any back and win (Dion Lewis, James White). Blount's had his greatest success in New England, though, so he may try to stay over chasing a bigger payday.
Alan Branch, DL
2016 stats: 49 tackles, 1.5 sacks
Branch, who's started all but one of the Pats' regular-season games for the past two years, has been a key run stopper and recovered the Matt Ryan fumble that Dont'a Hightower forced in the Super Bowl. But at age 32, he may be past his prime in the Pats' eyes, and they may not want to overpay for him.
Reinhold MatayUSA TODAY Sports
Logan Ryan, CB
2016 stats: 92 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INTs
Ryan, like Harmon a 2013 third-round pick out of Rutgers, has played in every game since being drafted and emerged as a starter the past two seasons. But the Pats may not pay both him and Malcolm Butler big money, so Ryan may move on.
Geoff BurkeUSA TODAY Sports
Martellus Bennett, TE
2016 stats: 55 catches, 701 yards, 7 TDs
Bennett has indicated he hopes to get paid in free agency, and the Pats may not want to overpay to keep him. But the 6-foot-6 tight end filled in capably for Rob Gronkowski while he was hurt and led the Pats in TD catches. And with Gronk's injury history, having two tight ends of their caliber could be key for Brady.
Malcolm Butler, CB
2016 stats: 63 tackles, 4 INTs, 1 sack
Butler has come a long way since his Super Bowl-sealing INT against Seattle as a rookie, starting every regular-season game the past two years and developing into the Pats' top corner, leading the team with 17 passes defensed this season. He's a restricted free agent, so the Pats can match any team's offer.
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Dont'a Hightower, LB
2016 stats: 65 tackles, 2.5 sacks
Hightower has started all but two of the games he's played in since being drafted out of Alabama in the first round in 2012. He made two of the biggest plays in the Pats' past two Super Bowl victories (Ryan strip sack and tackling Marshawn Lynch at the 1). And after the Pats traded away linebackers Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins, Hightower is the one in line to get the payday, and he should be their No. 1 priority. Hightower, who reported turned down $10M a year before the season, could get the franchise tag, or a big-money deal like the $50 million Collins got from the Browns.