Patriots gridiron news: 3 New England players make ESPN’s 50 free agents list

New England Patriots Nate Solder
New England Patriots Nate Solder /

ESPN’s top 50 free agents list is out and there are three New England Patriots players inside the top 25 of high targets.

With the 2018 NFL free agency period just a month away, the New England Patriots will have to make a decision on 14 unrestricted free agents including Nate Solder, Dion Lewis and Malcolm Butler.  Those three players have made ESPN’s list of the top 50 free agents.

Solder is the highest ranked at No. 11, while both Lewis and Butler come in at No. 24 and No. 25 respectively.

While it is highly likely that the team could lose all three, Solder will be interesting.  Noted as a capable left tackle, the veteran offensive lineman is on the other side of 30 and could take a hometown discount to stay in New England.  Although he did play great throughout the playoffs, the Patriots might see some decline in Solder and decide to move on.

In the case of Lewis, his projected target salary of $6 million a year makes it highly unlikely the Patriots will even offer close to that much.  Given their history with paying running backs, Dion Lewis may have to build on his production in 2017 somewhere else.  His versatility and determination will make him a high target in the open market.

And then there’s Malcolm Butler.  While the cornerback did express a desire to return to New England, the recent Super Bowl LI drama between himself and Bill Belichick has burned any idea of a continued union.  Whatever the reason he didn’t play a single defensive snap in the biggest game of the year, teams will still see the value in Butler.

Amongst the other 14 unrestricted free agents, running back Rex Burkhead, special teams ace Matthew Slater and wide receiver Danny Amendola figure to be top priorities for the team.  Out of those three, Amendola and Slater have already shown loyalty to the organization as far as contracts go.

Patriots bring back Jerry Schuplinski 

Once in danger of losing most of their coaching staff, the New England Patriots have suddenly secured some continuity in their staff.

Along with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ decision to return, the team has also locked up assistant quarterbacks coach Jerry Schuplinski who was slotted to follow McDaniels to Indianapolis.

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The significance of Schuplinski’s return is that he helped develop both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.  With the team’s need to find the next successor to Tom Brady, his experience will be valued.

The Patriots are expected to draft a quarterback in the 2018 NFL draft.

Brian Flores the next defensive coordinator? 

Speaking of coaching staff, the Patriots still have not officially replaced defensive coordinator Matt Patricia.

The leading candidate for the position is current linebackers coach Brian Flores. Not only does he have experience within the organization, he is popular amongst the team’s top defensive players.

Speaking to CBS Sports’ Michael Hurley, veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy described Flores as a hungry coach who has the elements to get the best out of players.

"“Coach Flo, he’s an amazing coach,” Van Noy said.  “He’s hungry.  He’s talented.  He knows how to teach.  He does a really good job of getting the most out of you.  Whether you like it or not, he gets it out of you.  It’s awesome to be around a coach that always wants the best for you.  That makes you want to play harder for him.”"

Another option the team had was Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano.  Following Super Bowl LII and McDaniels unexpected return to New England, Schiano announced he was staying put at Ohio State.

Next: Patriots gridiron news: Jimmy Graham would look good in New England

Decisions, however, could still change.