Now that the NFL regular season has ended, this is a great time to evaluate the Patriots current roster. New England has made re-signing their own veterans a priority over the last few years and I feel they should do the same this season. The following is a list of the Patriots free agents heading into the off – season. Here are my thoughts on each player’s stance with the team moving forward:

DE Mark Anderson – Anderson was a tremendous addition to the Patriots defense. He totaled 12.5 sacks throughout the year, including his 2.5 in the post-season, and really seemed to develop as an overall player. Anderson will be 29 at the start of next season and while I would expect the Patriots to keep him, you have to wonder if another team may be willing to throw more money at him after this year.


How the Patriots handle wide receiver Wes Welker’s contract situation could shape the team’s entire off-season. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

WR Deion Branch – Fans and analysts alike seem to be torn on Branch. Yes, he and Tom Brady share a great chemistry, but the 33-year-old receiver looked nearly five or six years older by season end. I would expect him to be back, but if the team drafts some young wide outs early, he could be on the way out.

DE Andre Carter – Andre Carter was the best off-season acquisition last season. After the 34-year-old and tore his quad muscle last in the season, it is hard to imagine he’ll return to the league. If he does, however, I believe the Patriots will be interested.

OL Dan Connolly – After Dan Koppen broke his ankle in mid September, Dan Connolly filled in admirably for the entire season. His versatility is extremely valuable and I would expect him to return next season.

DE Shaun Ellis – The former New York Jets defensive lineman did not have the impact many expect. He was invisible for the majority of the season and I do not see Ellis returning next year.

RB Kevin Faulk – As sad as this is to say, I think Kevin Faulk’s career has come to an end. He has been an incredible player over the past several years, but I just think the running back doesn’t have it in him to put another season forward. Look for him to retire probably around training camp.

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis – Even though Green-Ellis did not have the production this season that he had the year previous, the tailback had a solid year. I really cannot envision a scenario where the Patriots and Green-Ellis do not reach an agreement. Look for him to be a part of the New England committee next year.

LB Gary Guyton – I cannot remember a player in recent history that has fallen out of contention with the coaching staff quite like Gary Guyton. After beginning the season as a player who at minimum contributes on passing downs, the linebacker became a frequent name listed as an active on game day and at this point; I would be surprised to see him return.

QB Brian Hoyer (RFA) – Hoyer has been a solid back up for the Patriots and some have said he may draw interest from other NFL teams this off-season. In my mind, the wildcard is Ryan Mallett in what the team intends to do with him.  If no team decides to throw a lot of money towards Hoyer, I would fully expect him to be back in training camp.

S James Ihedigbo – Ihedigbo was a signing that went under the radar for many fans and analysts, but proved to be a valuable commodity for the Patriots. Even though he was not always perfect, he brought a strong physicality, solid tackling ability and leadership to a shaky secondary. I would expect him to be back.

DB Nate Jones – The Patriots brought Nate Jones in during the middle of the season and while he played early in his stint with New England, his defensive snaps slowly decreased. I would not expect Nate Jones back next season.

C Dan Koppen – After breaking his ankle at the beginning of the season, the veteran center was placed on injured-reserve, ending his year. I would fully expect Koppen back if he does not plan on retiring, but New England should start looking at replacements.

LB Niko Koutouvides – Koutouvides provided some depth and saw the field in a limited capacity for the majority of the season, bouncing on and off the team’s practice squad. While I would expect him to be a training camp body, I doubt he starts next season on the 53-man roster.

S Bret Lockett (RFA) – Bret Lockett may be in tremendous shape, but the safety cannot seem to shake the injury bug that has plagued him. I would expect to see Lockett back in training camp, in no way do I see him making the roster at this point.

DL Kyle Love (RFA) – With two seasons under his belt, Kyle Love has really developed nicely throughout his young career. At several points in the season he stood out in a positive way. I believe Love not only returns, but also continues to see quality minutes on the field in 2012.

CB Antwaun Molden – Molden was signed after leaving the Texans and immediately thrown into the mix in the defensive backfield. His playing time was sporadic and so was his level of play. Similar to Nate Jones, it’s hard to guess where a veteran defensive back in the NFL might land, but there is a possibility Molden returns for training camp.

WR/S Matthew Slater – For years I have wondered why matthew Slater is on the Patriots’ roster, but this season, he proved his worth. He will never be the safety or deep threat New England uses him as on occasion, but Slater is a true special teams weapon and I would expect the Pro Bowler to return next season.

DL Gerard Warren – Warren was not nearly as productive as he was last season, but the 11-year veteran did play some quality snaps. Warren seems to have really embraced the “Patriots way” and seems comfortable in New England. Retirement could be a possibility, but I think if the 33-year-old will play next season, it will be in New England.

WR Wes Welker – There is no question this will be the talk of the off-season. I do believe Welker will return to the Patriots,  but at what cost? The franchise tag seems like a legitimate possibility. Ideally, New England can sign the wide out to a two-year deal, but I assume the “slot machine” will want a three or even four-year contract.

LB Tracy White – In early September of last season the Eagles traded White to the Patriots for an undisclosed late round pick in the 2012 NFL draft. White played in 15 games, playing a key role on special teams and also contributing defensively. I expect White to return with the team next season and be big part of the on special teams unit.

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