There aren’t very many of them, but the Patriots do have some members of the 2015 squad who may be playing elsewhere in 2016.
Much of the talk of the future has revolved around the fact that nearly all of the team is at least under contract next season, which obviously doesn’t mean they’ll be on the roster come Week 1, but let’s take a look at some of the notable players whose contract situation specifically is up in the air.
This list is compiled in order of impact on the 2015 team, starting with the most and ending with the least significant.
- Akiem Hicks, DT, Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA): Hicks came over in a trade from New Orleans and asserted himself as a key member of a strong interior defensive line rotation. Expected to be a key interior pass rusher for the Saints, he never really found a rhythm and lost playing time before shifting to New England where he flashed a strong all-around game. His three sacks and eight QB pressures (tied for fourth on the team) and three QB hits were expected, but he also had six run stuffs. Not bad for someone who was acquired for a journeyman tight end. At 26 years old, the solid season signals a pay day for Hicks. He’s almost certainly going to test the market seeking not only cash, but the opportunity for more playing time.
- Justin Coleman, CB, Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA): Coleman had some injury issues, most notably his hand injury that kept him out for several weeks, but when on the field, he had his moments, especially when lined up in the slot. Opposing quarterbacks threw for 51.1 percent, 301 yards and two touchdowns (an 85.5 passer rating) in 10 games against Coleman, who also recorded seven pass break-ups and 21 tackles. As an ERFA, the Patriots have until March 9 to extend him a minimum salary tender, which for a player with one year’s experience works out to $525,000, which the Patriots will surely pay.
- Nate Ebner, S, UFA: Ebner’s contributions to the Patriots have almost exclusively been on special teams units that historically have been good, thanks to key pieces like Ebner, Matthew Slater and Brandon Bolden. That, and his seemingly low salary demands would make it likely that he could return, but there is the possibility of a shakeup on a unit that had some gaffes uncharacteristic of a Patriots team in 2015.
- LeGarrette Blount, RB, UFA: When Blount went down with a hip injury, many lamented the loss of a much-needed impact runner with Dion Lewis also on the shelf. The only thing is Blount didn’t offer much in the way of impact. His 2015 season yielded maybe the quietest 700 yards ever, a number ballooned by one big game against a bad Redskins defense. The only reason he looked so good to Patriots fans when he went down was because of how bare the cupboard was behind him. While the injury won’t require surgery, Blount might end up back in New England on a short money, incentive-laden deal, a result of a weak market for him simply because he hasn’t proven to be able to do much elsewhere. Otherwise, the Patriots will surely move on.
- Tavon Wilson, S, UFA: A second-round draft pick in 2012, Wilson became a special teamer and depth safety who struggled in coverage. He offers more versatility than a guy like Ebner, but it’s likely the Patriots could find a better option and he could find a better fit elsewhere.
- Sealver Siliga, DT, Restricted Free Agent (RFA): After proving to be a pretty solid value signing in 2013, Siliga saw a significant drop-off in playing time in 2015, getting supplanted as the big body in the Patriots’ middle of the line rotation by Alan Branch and he fell even further back when New England traded for Hicks. He’s 26 and still has a place in the league, but it probably won’t be with the Patriots. He likely won’t be tendered a qualifying offer by March 9 and will become an unrestricted free agent.
- James Develin, FB, RFA: After breaking his leg in August, Develin’s presence was missed both in the run game and in pass protection as the offensive line got more and more beat up. The cost to keep him would be steep for the position at $1.6 million, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could be back. It really depends on what Belichick identifies as priorities for the backfield in 2016.
- Cameron Fleming, T/G, RFA: The Patriots drafted Fleming in the fourth round in 2014, but by September 2015, he was cut. After time on the practice squad, he returned to the Patriots as depth when Nate Solder went down. He plays both tackle and guard and Bill Belichick likes versatility, but Fleming’s poor performance on the field probably outweighs that. It would be surprising if he gets a qualifying offer by the March 9 deadline.
- Tarell Brown, CB, UFA: Before Logan Ryan asserted himself as the No. 2 corner in New England, Brown appeared to have that spot, but a foot injury cost him the season. Coming off that kind of injury at 31 years old, he’s probably going to have to settle for a “show me” one-year deal with a lot of incentives tied in. He could get that in New England, but it might depend more on what he’s looking for. While he might have a shot to play for a ring in New England, he might want to pursue more playing time elsewhere.
- Ryan Wendell, C, UFA: Wendell played all of 13 snaps between illness and injury in 2015. A couple years ago, he surprised and showed some prowess, especially in the run game, but he had regressed and between the injury and his age with the current youth movement underway in the middle of the New England offensive line, it seems as if his time is done. Always more valuable to the Patriots than anyone else, his career might even be coming to a close.
- LaAdrian Waddle, T, RFA: This season proved the need for depth at the tackle position, but Waddle didn’t perform well for the Lions (which is why the Patriots were able to get him via a waiver claim) and then basically spent his entire tenure with the Patriots on the injured list, only appearing in New England’s Week 15 loss to the Jets. There’s almost no way he returns.
- Steven Jackson, RB, RFA: He’s not coming back and, after proving he has no juice left, will probably retire.