Priority No. 1 -- Bolster RB depth by targeting RB Matt Forte first: By the time the legal tampering period is over, the Patriots should have a grasp on the financial market for Forte, whose dual skills as a rusher and pass-catcher look like a perfect fit for the team's offense. Veteran running backs at Forte's stage of their careers generally don't command more than $3 million per season, and if that's where the market is, he'd be a great addition. Imagine the possibilities with him on the field at the same time as Dion Lewis. The Patriots' lack of quality depth at running back hurt them at the end of 2015, and made them one-dimensional.
Priority No. 2 -- Get the ball rolling on extensions with core players on roster: With four core defenders having contracts that expire after the 2016 season -- linebackers Jamie Collins and Dont'a Hightower, defensive end Chandler Jones, and cornerback Malcolm Butler -- this is the time to start thinking about extensions. That's why the team's best free-agent activity will be to supplement the roster, positioning itself to lock up some of those core players into future years.
Priority No. 3 -- Eye bargains at WR who would thrive with Tom Brady: The Patriots aren't flush with cap space, so any free-agent signings figure to be in the low-to-mid price range. A few receivers who could potentially fit the bill are Chris Hogan and Rod Streater. Hogan is a restricted free agent, so the Patriots' pursuit would be contingent on if he receives a tender offer from the salary-cap-strapped Bills. If he doesn't, that would make him an unrestricted free agent and the type of bargain the Patriots often seek. The 6-foot-1, 220-pound Hogan has 77 receptions the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Streater, a former Raider, had 60 catches in 2013 and was on the cusp of a significant contract extension as a starting-caliber player when a foot injury ended his 2014 season after one game. Then he got caught in a scheme change and stacked depth chart that remained healthy in 2015. Similar to Hogan, he could be the type of undervalued asset the Patriots hit on.
Priority No. 4 -- Determine if offensive line struggles were personnel-based: The way the season ended, with Brady getting hit 20 times in the AFC Championship Game, it sparked a question of whether the Patriots need better offensive line talent or if it was more of a question of scheme/coaching. Dante Scarnecchia is back as offensive line coach, replacing Dave DeGuglielmo. Is that enough? Or do the Patriots need a talent upgrade? The feeling from here is that adding a developing swing tackle would be enough, but perhaps the internal view is different.
Priority No. 5 -- Restock critical TE position with an eye on Dwayne Allen: It's hard to find true combination tight ends who are effective in both pass-catching and blocking, but Allen qualifies and was an under-utilized asset at times with the Colts. A lot will depend on the financial market, but pairing Allen with Rob Gronkowski would provide a potential one-two punch at a position the club likes to feature in its offense.