Throughout the offseason, we’ll check in on New England’s free agent class. Here’s the first look at the group of players who were with the Patriots in 2012 but aren’t under contract to the team going forward, as well as a thumbnail sketch about their respective situations and their chances of returning.
Will Allen: The veteran defensive back didn’t play a lick for the Patriots this past season -- he was placed on season-ending IR after two preseason games -- and at the age of 34, he is not expected to be retained by the team for 2013.
Kyle Arrington: The cornerback -- who does better in the slot than he does on the outside -- has said he’d like to return to Foxboro. His future could be tied to whether or not Talib returns.
Jake Ballard: An exclusive rights free agent, the tight end who spent the year on injured reserve because of a knee injury he suffered while with the Giants in Super Bowl XLVI isn’t going anywhere. He’ll be in the mix at the tight end spot for the Patriots in 2013.
Josh Barrett: The 28-year-old safety has struggled with injury in his time in New England (after he was acquired from Denver he spent all of 2010 on IR, and he only played five games the last two seasons) and isn’t likely in New England plans for 2013.
Deion Branch: The veteran receiver has made it clear he’d like to continue playing, but Branch, who will be 34 before the start of next season, almost certainly will have limited options. If he does end up sticking around for one more year, it likely would be with the Patriots. But if this is it for the receiver, he can look back on an impressive career, one that includes a pair of titles and a Super Bowl MVP, as well as 518 catches and 6,644 receiving yards in his 11-year career.
Patrick Chung: After a solid finish to the 2011 season, the safety struggled this season, and once he did get healthy he saw his role reduced as the Steve Gregory-Devin McCourty combination got the bulk of the snaps down the stretch. After four years in Foxboro, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him move on.
Marquice Cole: The veteran corner proved to be an excellent special teamer over the course of his first season in New England. The feeling is that the team would welcome him back, but at a reduced rate. Not a high priority for the Patriots.
Julian Edelman: The former college quarterback presents an interesting case for the Patriots. He has a familiarity with the New England system and has had some success as a receiver and returner. But he's had problems with health and has struggled at times with his place in the offense. He will get some offers on the open market, but probably nothing that will beat what he might get with the Patriots. Ultimately, the feeling here is that he returns to Foxboro, but not until after checking out some other possibilities.
Dane Fletcher: Another restricted free agent, the linebacker made his bones as someone who provided nice depth at linebacker before landing on IR with a knee injury in the preseason. Expect him back in 2013.
Michael Hoomanawanui: The tight end evolved into a very good role player for the Patriots over the course of the season. Hoomanawanui is a restricted free agent, which means it’s unlikely he’s going anywhere. It will be interesting how it all shakes out at tight end for the Patriots going forward, as they also have Ballard (an ERFA who is the same physical type) in the mix.
Niko Koutouvides: Like Tracy White, Koutouvides is a linebacker who has made his bones as a special teamer. With Fletcher and White likely to return, that will cut into his opportunities in 2013.
Derrick Martin: The veteran defensive back, who was part of the last two Super Bowl champions before joining the Patriots this season, didn’t get much run this season and likely won’t be a high-priority signing for the Patriots.
Jamey Richard: The 28-year-old interior offensive lineman, who suffered a concussion the first week of training camp and landed on IR, probably won’t be in the mix for the Patriots going forward.
Trevor Scott: The defensive end just finished up a one-year deal with the Patriots, his first season in New England. While he didn’t get a ton of snaps, he did well as a pass rusher and special teamer when he got his opportunities and proved to be a high-character presence in the locker room. After having knee issues over the previous few years, the 28-year-old was healthy for a good portion of the season, but it might not be enough to keep him around if another team offers him more security/dollars.
Donte’ Stallworth: His season ended in December when he suffered an ankle injury after a 63-yard touchdown reception in a win over the Texans. The 32-year-old receiver could be a part of the shadow roster in 2013 again if he doesn’t receive any serious offers. Not a big priority.
Aqib Talib: The big defensive question, one we’ve already examined at length here. The feeling is that between his strong (not great, but strong) performance at the end of the regular season, coupled with his age and the market for free agent corners, means he’ll command a good payday this offseason.
Donald Thomas: The 27-year-old offensive lineman proved to be a worthy backup along the interior -- he played in 16 games, starting seven. The team remains high on Thomas, particularly with Logan Mankins struggling with injury over the last year. Look for the team to make every effort to retain Thomas for 2013.
Sebastian Vollmer: The right tackle has a checkered injury history, but when he’s been healthy he’s been one of the best offensive linemen in the league. If the Patriots get things worked out with Welker and/or Talib, the 28-year-old could be a candidate for the franchise tag.
Tracy White: Like Matt Slater, White has established himself as a core special teamer, and despite some injury problems at the start of the season, he finished strong. (He also managed to get some snaps as a backup linebacker.) While he won’t necessarily be a high-profile signing this offseason for New England, expect White to return for another season with the Patriots.
Wes Welker: The big question. Fundamentally, the Patriots have three options with Welker: Sign him to a long-term (three-year?) deal, hit him with the franchise tag or let him walk as a free agent. At the start of the season, it appeared unlikely that the receiver would return. But given the lack of depth the team has at wide receiver, Welker’s tight relationship with Brady and the fact that he’s coming off his fifth 100-plus-catch year in the last six seasons, the 31-year-old receiver will find his way back to Gillette Stadium for at least one more year.
Danny Woodhead: The changeup back became a unique offensive option for the Patriots in 2012, becoming the first running back since Kevin Faulk in 2008 to finish with at least 40 carries and 40 catches in a season. The undersized Woodhead figures to be one of the leading priorities this offseason for the Patriots.