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New England Patriots: 3 Free Agents the Team Must Re-Sign

Some Key Patriots Are Eligible for Free Agency

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The New England Patriots recently finished their 2013 season by going 12-4 in the regular season before ultimately losing to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship game.

They will soon have to start planning for their upcoming offseason, which will include reviewing which players are about to become free agents, and determining who they will try to bring back.

WEEI.com's Christopher Price outlined the dozen Patriots players who will become free agents once the offseason kicks off.

Not all of the free agents will return in 2014. However, there are three players in particular the team should make every effort to re-sign if possible. They are:

Running Back LeGarrette Blount: Acquired in a trade last offseason with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the bruising running back arrived with few expectations. Seemingly having worn out his welcome with his former team, he came in and worked and ran hard for the Patriots from the get go.

It all paid off for Blount, who became the team's go-to back by the end of the regular season, racking up 772 rushing yards (an impressive 5.0 yards-per-carry) and seven touchdowns. He finished with an additional 172 yards and four scores in the playoffs.

His regular season was capped off by his team-record 334 all-purpose yards, including 189 and two scores coming on the ground in the finale against the Buffalo Bills.

Blount's success coincided with a change he made in his running style where he started lowering his shoulders more and using his 250-pound bulk to tenderize opponents, as detailed by MassLive.com's Nick Underhill.

Although running backs Stevan Ridley, Brandon Bolden and Shane Vereen are all under contract through next season, bringing back Blount and his physical running should be a priority for the Patriots.

Blount and Ridley are two of the most physical runners in the game. Bolden and Vereen both excel catching passes out of the backfield. Cumulatively, their skills offset each other well, and trying to replicate what they accomplished this season would be a sound strategy for 2014.

Cornerback Aqib Talib: Shutdown corners are a rare commodity but the Patriots appear to have one in the 27-year-old.

Like Blount, he also came to the Patriots through a trade with Tampa-although his acquisition occurred mid-way through last season.

Talib has played extremely well since joining the Patriots, including 41 tackles and four interceptions this season, earning his his first Pro-Bowl nod.

NESN.com's Doug Kyed broke down exactly how valuable Talib was this regular season in pass coverage. In 13 regular season games, opposing quarterbacks completed just 44.6 percent of their passes when targeting players covered by the cornerback. That led to just 471 total receiving yards and two touchdowns, quantifying his status as an elite defender.

Talib did miss several games this season due to injury, including most of the AFC Championship game after taking a much-discussed hit from Denver receiver Wes Welker.

It's likely that Talib will command a large contract. However, he has proven he is worth it, and with the value he brings to New England's defense, they should make a strong run at bringing him back because he may be nearly impossible to replace.

Wide Receiver Julian Edelman: The former college quarterback showed flashes of promise in his first four seasons with the Patriots but did most of his damage as a punt returner, as he accumulated just 69 receptions during that time.

A free agent last offseason, Edelman nearly left the Patriots before coming back on a one-year deal. It turned out to be a good move, as there was a lot of opportunity in the team's passing game. He had a career year, posting 105 receptions for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. He served as a security blanket of sorts for quarterback Tom Brady, who consistently relied on him over the middle.

The Patriots currently have a capable group of receivers returning in 2014 with veteran Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins, and tight end Rob Gronkowski. However, Edelman showed this season that he is much more than a luxury. He has become as consistent as they come, and at 27 should be entering the prime of his career.

Having been drafted in the seventh round in 2009, Edelman is a project made good. It would be a shame if the Patriots couldn't work out an extension now that he has fulfilled the potential they saw in him years ago.

Statistics obtained from Yahoo! NFL and ProFootballReference.com

In addition to the Yahoo Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written extensively for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports (particularly the Boston Red Sox and the New England Patriots). He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.

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