This is never an easy exercise. Last year, they decided to let Asante Samuel test the market and ultimately lost him to Philadelphia. Their attempt to replace him on the open market and through the draft yielded mixed results - primarily due to injury.
Nonetheless, the Patriots can't afford any mistakes this offseason. With several key players nearing the end of their careers, the window of opportunity to win another Super Bowl is closing, so it's imperative they find a supporting cast that can help them win now - not necessarily two or three years down the road.
The Patriots have taken precautionary steps to keep most of the 2008 team together, particularly by re-signing James Sanders, Mike Wright, Eric Alexander, Chris Hanson, Tank Williams and Ray Ventrone.
Conversely, they still have to make decisions to make in other areas - most notably with what they want to do next month during the draft. They still have needs despite a busy offseason and can improve in a number of areas, which, coincidentally, may or may not be addressed when it comes time to make picks.
1. Outside linebacker: If a deal for Julius Peppers can be consummated, then consider this problem solved. Otherwise, the Patriots need to replace Mike Vrabel, who is now in Kansas City. Jason Taylor could be an option. He has always been one of Belichick's favorite players.
2. Safety: Bringing back James Sanders helps, but replacing Rodney Harrison won't be easy. It's unlikely Sanders or Brandon Meriweather are ready to fill that void, though they'll have to unless someone such as Tank Williams still has enough left in the tank - no pun intended. A veteran presence would help answer some serious questions at this position.
3. Running back: For now, it's fine to have a slew of veterans, but the Patriots need to consider grooming another 1,000-yard back if Laurence Maroney doesn't shape up. Maroney's problems last year showcased the need for more young blood in the backfield. This year shouldn't be a problem, but Faulk, Taylor and Sammy Morris won't cut it much longer.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: QB Matt Cassel: Tendered at $14.651M; signed tender Feb. 23; traded to Chiefs Feb. 28.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Rosevelt Colvin was lured out of semi-retirement late last season when the Patriots suffered a slew of injuries at linebacker. He played fairly well down the stretch, but it's unlikely they'll have a role for him next season assuming Adalius Thomas is healthy. Thomas played almost every snap last year until he broke his arm and rarely comes off the field. The Patriots need to continue getting younger at this position, which leaves no room for the soon-to-be 32 Colvin.
--S Rodney Harrison will likely be given a shot to bounce back from another injury, though the odds of him being his old self are slim at his age.
--CB Deltha O'Neal struggled throughout the season and will likely have a new home in 2009.
--CB Lewis Sanders did a nice job as a fill-in and even started on occasion. Could come back at the right price.
--LB Junior Seau was re-acquired when the Patriots lost Tedy Bruschi late in the season. As he did a year ago, Seau fit it in immediately and helped the Patriots bridge the gap. They'd probably find room for him if he wanted to come back, but his role would be limited.
--DT Kenny Smith has had injury problems that have kept him off the field for the past three years and he hasn't played an NFL down since 2004. The Patriots are deep enough at his position and would be better suited grooming another undrafted rookie than having to pay Smith for spending an entire season on injured reserve.
--OG Barry Stokes never got a chance to play due to injury and likely won't be back.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Pierre Woods (tendered at $1.545M with second-round pick as compensation) had his chance to shine when Adalius Thomas got hurt, but broke his jaw. Had a breakthrough year by his standards and should be back.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--LB Eric Alexander (not tendered as RFA): $620,000/1 yr.
--OT Wesley Britt: Not tendered as RFA; $535,000/1 yr.
--P Chris Hanson: UFA; terms unknown.
--OG Russ Hochstein: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S James Sanders: UFA; $9M/3 yrs, SB unknown.
--S Ray Ventrone: ERFA; $460,000/1 yr.
--S Tank Williams: UFA; $620,000/1 yr.
--DE Mike Wright: UFA; $7.5M/4 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--C/G Billy Yates: FA Patriots; $620,000/1 yr.
--TE Chris Baker: FA Jets; terms unknown.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain: FA 49ers; terms unknown.
--CB Leigh Bodden: FA Lions; $2.25M/1 yr, guarantees unknown.
--OT Damane Duckett: UFA 49ers; terms unknown.
--WR Joey Galloway: FA Buccaneers; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--LS Nathan Hodel: FA Cardinals; terms unknown.
--C Al Johnson: UFA Dolphins; $950,000/1 yr.
--WR Greg Lewis (trade Eagles).
--CB Shawn Springs: FA Redskins; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--RB Fred Taylor: FA Jaguars; $8M/2 yrs, SB unknown.
--QB Matt Cassel (traded Chiefs).
--RB Heath Evans: UFA Saints; terms unknown.
--WR Jabar Gaffney: UFA Broncos; $10M/4 yrs, $3M guaranteed.
--LB Larry Izzo: UFA Jets; terms unknown.
--RB LaMont Jordan: UFA Broncos; $2.5M/2 yrs, guarantees unknown.
--LS Lonie Paxton: UFA Broncos; $5.38M/5 yrs, $1M SB.
--LB Darrell Robertson (released).
--LB Mike Vrabel (traded Chiefs).
--WR Kelley Washington (released).