The process starts with building a draft board in which the Patriots rank each player from top to bottom to ensure that when they pick, they're picking the player with the most value regardless of what their current needs are.
Granted, it'd be odd to see them pick a quarterback within the first two rounds, but, for the most part, they stick with their system and rarely stray from their own conventional wisdom. This year, it'll be interesting to see how they evaluate their own needs since they've shored up some of their issues in free agency.
1. Running back: First and foremost, the Patriots need a reliable, 1,000-yard rusher who will hold up for 16 weeks and won't fumble the ball. Laurence Maroney hasn't lived up to the billing and the rest of the backfield is either too old or too inexperienced.
2. Defensive end: Even with Tully Banta-Cain back in the fold, bringing in a quality pass-rusher to play alongside Vince Wilfork is the next step. The Patriots didn't put enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks in 2009, so it's imperative they work on creating more havoc defensively to disrupt the opposing team's rhythm.
3. Cornerback: A shutdown corner is a must. The Patriots have serviceable nickel backs and defensive backs who can cover second-rate receivers, but they don't have the kind of shutdown corner who can take an opponent's No. 1 receiver out of the game -- not since Asante Samuel left for Philadelphia.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: NT Vince Wilfork (tendered at $7.003M; re-signed March 5 for $40M/5 yrs, $25M guaranteed/$18M SB).
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--OLB Derrick Burgess had an extremely quiet five sacks in his first season in New England after joining the team via training-camp trade from the Raiders. He drew curious high praise from Bill Belichick late in the year and could get a chance to return to the team at a position at which it is dangerously thin.
--P Chris Hanson had what may be best described as another "blah" year in New England. The Patriots have been happy with his situational punting in the past -- he had the fewest punts returned in the NFL -- but the team could and should look to upgrade at the spot after using the draft to add a young kicker and long snapper in recent years.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENT (not tendered offer)
--RB Chris Taylor (not tendered at RFA) was on injured reserve and has never played for New England. If he's brought back it will be as a camp body.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)
--*K Stephen Gostkowski (tendered at $1.759M with second-round pick as compensation) is a former All-Pro. He had a decent season, and even showed improvement on his kickoffs. He'll get a decent tender and be back.
--*G Logan Mankins (tendered at $3.268M with first- and third-round picks as compensation) is becoming a perennial Pro Bowler. He would have been a top lineman available if he were unrestricted.
--*LB Pierre Woods (tendered at $1.176M with no compensation) had a chance to increase his role in 2009 given New England's lack of depth at outside linebacker. He played in 16 games with five starts, but was lackluster at best and remains a special-teams/backup type.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--LB Gary Guyton (tendered at $470,000) played a significant role for the team in his first two seasons, including 16 starts out of necessity last fall. Ideally, probably a versatile sub player.
--LB Bret Lockett (tendered at $395,000).
--LB Tully Banta-Cain: UFA; $13.5M/3 yrs, $6M SB.
--CB Leigh Bodden: UFA; $22M/4 yrs, $10M guaranteed.
--RB Kevin Faulk: UFA; $2M/1 yrs, $1M SB.
--OG Stephen Neal: UFA; 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--NT Vince Wilfork: FFA; $40M/5 yrs, $25M guaranteed/$18M SB.
--TE Alge Crumpler: UFA Titans; terms unknown.
--LB Marques Murrell: Not tendered as RFA by Jets; terms unknown.
--WR David Patten: FA; terms unknown.
--TE Chris Baker (released).
--DE Jarvis Green: UFA Broncos; $20M/4 yrs.
--LB Junior Seau (retired).
--TE Benjamin Watson: UFA Browns; $12M/3 yrs, $6.25M guaranteed.
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