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Patriots will make tough decisions on 2017 free agents, extending 2018 class

New England will need to make decisions on Dont'a Hightower, Logan Ryan, Julian Edelman, Jimmy Garoppolo and others this offseason.
Jimmy Garoppolo is the least of New England's roster issues.Getty Images

Lets set aside the fact that the Patriots will need to make a decision on Jimmy Garoppolo, who may have spent his last game backing up 39-year-old Tom Brady (who after Sundayappears to still be in his prime).

As he told SiriusXM Monday, he's not quitting any time soon,"If it was up to my wife she'd have me retire today, she told me that last night … I said 'Too bad, babe.'"

Also avoid thinking about the rehab of Rob Gronkowski, a player whose absence could have derailed a Super Bowl run but instead opened the door for Marcellus Bennett and Chris Hogan to become New England heroes.

The Patriots have upwards of $67 million in cap space heading into 2017. That sounds like a huge number, but the team has 12 high-profile guys who will be looking for a raise next season.

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Jabaal Sheard, DE, 27: After an up-and-down season, the pass-rusher could be on the outs as Bill Belichick does what he always does — replaces older players with younger, cheaper ones.

Martellus Bennett, TE, 30: Bennett is an interesting case, as he provides insurance for Rob Gronkowski who appears to be oft-injured. Bennett could be back.

Barkevious Mingo,OLB, 26: Mingo is another borderline defender who could find himself replaced on the roster by an up-and-coming undrafted free agent.

Michael Floyd, WR, 27: Floyd, when he played for New England, provided a big receiving target down the field for Brady. If Gronk returns at full strength, Floyd could be playing elsewhere in 2017.

Chris Long, DE, 31:Long had four sacks in 2016 and appeared in all 16 games. At the right price he could be in the mix at defensive line next year.

Alan Branch, DT, 32: Branch is getting older and would be a rotation guy on the D-line if he returned.

Dont'a Hightower,ILB, 26: Perhaps the Pats' most important performer in Super Bowl LI, Hightower could command a big deal on the open market.

Brandon Bolden, RB, 27: With the emergence of James White and Dion Lewis at running back, Bolden might be with a new squad in 2017.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, 30: Blount had a breakout year in 2016 running for 18 touchdowns and 1,161 yards. But at 30, he's reaching the upper threshold for running backs. He is a question mark, too.

James Develin, FB, 28: He's an unselfish, All-Pro fullback. His return is likely.

Logan Ryan, CB, 25: Ryan will be one of the biggest names in the cornerback market this offseason with teams like the Eagles already kicking the tires. Will the Pats make him a competitive offer?

Duron Harmon, SS, 26: Harmon will also be getting interest from other NFL teams and has emerged as a solid member of New England's secondary. It it makes any difference, the Rutgers product did predict a comeback Super Bowl victory.

They are also going to have some even bigger names playing in contract years in 2017, with Julian Edelman, Nate Soldier, Danny Amendola, Rob Ninkovich, Matthew Slater, Kyle Van Noy, Nate Ebner and James White joining Garoppolo as free agents in 2018.

How much of their open cap will be spent keeping the aforementioned last-year players on their ledger?

 
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