Over the past week, we've gone through all the rosters and broke down which players could be cut loose by their respective teams once the NFL salary cap is determined (it won't be less than $180 million), and a few (like Carolina's Kawann Short) have already been cut loose.
The most important question is, which of those players will the Patriots go after?
Before we get to our list, one very important factor to keep in mind during all of this is I would expect the Patriots to be very active when it comes to these "street" free agents. Like other smart teams in regards to the compensatory pick formula, the Patriots are very cognizant that these signings do not count against your team when it comes to that formula.
Basically, if one of your free agents signs for big money (and playing time) elsewhere, then you're in line for a third-round pick (the top compensation) the following year. For example, the Patriots will have an extra third this year for Tom Brady, and two fourths for Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins. If the Patriots signed three similar regular free agents (contracts just expire or void) last offseason, they wouldn't have those three extra picks in this draft.
The Patriots have two primo free agents in Joe Thuney and David Andrews, and Adam Butler and Lawrence Guy could have some interest to other teams. The Patriots, as we know, have a ton of cap space. If Thuney departs and the Patriots sign, say a receiver or tight end for similar major money, then the Patriots would not receive a compensatory pick for Thuney.
Cap casualties are going to be the most bang for the buck, if you pick some good ones, and you'll still be in line for compensatory picks.
I would expect the Patriots to be interested in quarterbacks, tight ends, receivers, defensive linemen and linebackers. With that in mind, here are my players to keep an eye on, in order, grouped by the timing/intensity of the Patriots' interest:
HOT AND HEAVY (POSSIBLE OVERPAY)