The Patriots fell short of their second consecutive Super Bowl appearance in 2012, losing to the Ravens in the AFC Championship Game. While the loss provided plenty of opportunity to ask, “What if?’’ it also afforded fans to ask the question, “What’s next?’’ The Patriots already are among the favorites to win next year’s Super Bowl, at 6-1. Tom Brady (center) should have plenty of talent around him, though there is bound to be some turnover as several Patriots enter free agency. Scroll through the gallery to see which players are free agents and vote on who should stay and who should go.
Kyle Arrington, CB
2012 statistics: 16 games, 74 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
Bio: Arrington started 12 games for the Patriots in 2012 but moved to a backup role late in the season with the arrival of Aqib Talib. Last season, Arrington started 14 of New England’s 16 games and had 88 tackles. He’s been durable, and he did an underrated job on Baltimore’s Torrey Smith in the AFC Championship game.
Aqib Talib, CB
2012 statistics (for New England): 6 games, 19 tackles, 1 INT
Bio: The Patriots acquired Talib from Tampa Bay during the season for a fourth-round pick. He wasn’t a true No. 1 cornerback per se, but he often matched up against the opponent’s biggest receiver (Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin, for example) and allowed the rest of the Patriots secondary to fall into place. Talib will be the most expensive decision New England has to make with its secondary.
Patrick Chung, S
2012 statistics: 12 games, 44 tackles, 2 INTs
Bio: Chung was once one of the team’s starting safeties, but fell out of favor this season with Devin McCourty sliding over to safety alongside Steve Gregory. A notoriously hard hitter, Chung racked up five pass-interference penalties this season.
Marquice Cole, CB
2012 statistics: 14 games, 17 tackles
Bio: Cole has been used sparingly by the Patriots in the last two seasons. New England’s top priorities at the position will be to bring back Talib and Arrington, and Cole’s fate could very much depend on what happens with those two players.
Sebastian Vollmer, RT
2012 statistics: Started 15 games
Bio: Vollmer joins Talib and Wes Welker as the team’s most important free agents. There’s a chance the Patriots put the franchise tag on Vollmer, who could be paid as a left tackle if he hits the open market. Pass protection is one of New England’s strengths, and Vollmer overcame injury issues this season to put together a very solid campaign.
Donald Thomas, G
2012 statistics: Played in 15 games, started 7
Bio: Thomas is behind Logan Mankins on the depth chart at left guard, but Mankins’s recent injuries have thrust Thomas into an important role. The Patriots won’t place a high priority on Thomas compared to some other players, but he was a valuable part of an offensive line that held up despite injuries.
Trevor Scott, DE
2012 statistics: 14 games, 14 tackles, 3 sacks
Bio: Scott had a couple of big games late in the season, proving he can pressure the quarterback. The Patriots are fairly deep at linebacker and defensive end, and while they’d like to have Scott back, they could also try to bolster the position in the draft.
Michael Hoomanawanui, TE
2012 statistics: 14 games, 6 starts, 5 receptions, 109 yards
Bio: The Patriots used Hoomanawanui more than they probably planned to in 2012, and he had mixed results filling in for Rob Gronkowski. Bill Belichick likes to use a lot of tight ends, but it was clear that the Patriots were not the same team with Hoomanawanui in and Gronkowski out.
Tracy White, LB
2012 statistics: 11 games, 1 start, 11 tackles
Bio: With Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower, and Brandon Spikes entrenched at the position, there wasn’t much playing time for White in 2012.
Niko Koutouvides, LB
2012 statistics: 14 games, 4 starts, 4 tackles
Bio: Koutouvides may have been the unofficial DJ in the Patriots’ locker room, but his place on the roster is as a depth player rather than an impact player.
Danny Woodhead, RB
2012 statistics: 16 games, 301 rushing yards, 446 receiving yards, 7 touchdowns
Bio: Woodhead has been a productive third-down back for the Patriots for the last three seasons. With Stevan Ridley emerging as the No. 1 option and Shane Vereen working his way into the rotation, Woodhead’s touches may be limited going forward provided those two players stay healthy.
Deion Branch, WR
2012 statistics: 10 games, 16 receptions, 145 yards
Bio: Branch didn’t last the entire season with the Patriots, who released him and then put him back on the roster. Once a dominant possession receiver, Branch’s role even as a security blanket has diminished.
Wes Welker, WR
2012 statistics: 16 games, 118 receptions, 1,354 yards, 6 touchdowns
Bio: Welker put faith in the Patriots to do the right thing by signing his franchise tender last summer, then went out and had another dominant season. So much of what the Patriots do revolves around Welker, who should attract plenty of interest on the open market. Franchising Welker would come at a high price, so the best bet for the Patriots would be to try to work out a deal that favors both sides.