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Offseason Forecast: New England Patriots

With the offseason here, Around The League will examine what's next for all 32 teams. The series continues with the AFC East champion New England Patriots.

What's changing

The Patriots change their game plan week to week more than any team in the league. Their annual schematic overhauls and coaching/front-office adjustments can feel just as dramatic, but isn't it all cosmetic as long as Bill Belichick and Tom Brady are running the show?

This Patriots offseason lacks the drama of a departing coordinator or a big contract dispute. It's more about re-loading to take advantage of a roster that has earned playoff byes in four consecutive seasons without a title to show for it.

» CB Aqib Talib:He was the team's defensive MVP for most of last year and won't be as cheap to retain as a year ago. The relative depth at cornerback in free agency could help the Patriots retain him.

» WR Julian Edelman: A Troy Brown-like mid-career leap could make Edelman too expensive to keep.

» LB Brandon Spikes: A rare Patriot who never quite stepped to Bill Belichick's beat. He seems very unlikely to stay, even though he has premier run-stopping skills.

» RB LeGarrette Blount: Blount is the type of found-money free agent with a defined skill set that the Patriots love to maximize. He's also the type of free agent they often watch other teams overpay the following season.

What they need

The Patriots need depth in a lot of places, but they don't have as many screaming needs as other recent offseasons. They have to find a tight end or two behind Rob Gronkowski. The roster should get healthier at defensive tackle, but depth throughout the defensive line should be a priority. Their tackle position is old. (Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich barely left the field last year at defensive end.) Their interior offensive line and wide receiver also could remain positions in flux.

On the way out?

» NT Vince Wilfork: There has been a lot of speculation that Wilfork could be a salary-cap casualty, but it's hard to see that happening. He means too much to this roster. Perhaps he'll re-work his contract.

» WR Danny Amendola: The Patriots wouldn't save that much money by cutting Amendola. His name reportedly has been floated in trade talks, and the Patriots aren't afraid to make big changes at receiver.

» Isaac Sopoaga: Last year's trade acquisition is almost certain to be released.

Offseason crystal ball

We predict the Patriots will find a way to keep Talib. The organization has had such a hard time finding quality secondary play over the years, which is also why Devin McCourty is a long-term extension candidate. Edelman, Spikes and Blount should find riches elsewhere, while underrated center Ryan Wendell is a strong candidate to get a nice contract to stay around. Wilfork should ultimately stay put, and we think Amendola will, too. Still, it wouldn't be a shock if the Patriots find a way to be very active in free agency, especially at receiver. Brady only has so many years left before Belichick *really *has to make some changes. 

The latest edition of the "Around The League Podcast" works through our top 101 free agents and responds to some heat from Donte Whitner.

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