Patriots should focus on retaining their own players first in free agency

Re-signing Nate Solder will be priority No. 1 for the Patriots this offseason. Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Here are the moves the New England Patriots should consider when free agency opens at 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, March 14:

Re-sign starting left tackle Nate Solder: New England needs to ensure Tom Brady's blind side is in good hands, which means it needs to make a competitive effort to re-signing Solder. This is the first domino to fall in the team's free-agent planning, as the club has about $22 million in salary cap space, and deals for top tackles like Solder could average in the $11-13 million-per-season range (and possibly even higher after Andrew Norwell's reported deal in Jacksonville). If the Patriots re-sign Solder, it would ensure that their 2018 free-agent process gets off on the right foot, as there is no surefire in-house replacement for him despite the team's aggressive approach in the 2017 draft to develop one (trading up for Tony Garcia in the third round and trading up for Conor McDermott in the sixth round). Re-signing backup free-agent offensive tackles Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle would take on added importance if Solder isn't back.

Re-sign Danny Amendola: The clutch slot receiver showed he still has a lot to offer, especially when it comes to the playoffs. Amendola took a pay cut each of the past three years to remain with the Patriots, and this year he would seemingly be due for a raise from the one-year contract he had last season with a maximum value of $1.7 million. The Patriots are well stocked at receiver with Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Malcolm Mitchell, Cody Hollister and Riley McCarron, but there should always be room for Amendola, who said that his preference is to remain in New England.

Stay in the mix to re-sign Dion Lewis: Depending on how high the price rises, the Patriots should be competitive to bring back Lewis, who, by the sixth week of last season, was the team's No. 1 running back and kickoff returner. His diverse skill set includes being a rusher, pass-catcher and returner. He was one of their top playmakers on offense, so strong consideration should be given to bringing him back unless it puts the team in a compromising financial position that affects other players.

Sign Kenny Vaccaro to a one-year "improve your stock" type of deal and also take a shot with Avery Williamson: No team in the NFL uses its three-safety package on defense more than the Patriots, which makes Vaccaro -- a 2013 first-round pick of the Saints -- a potential intriguing option on a short-term deal that mutually benefits both sides: Vaccaro could improve his stock in a defense that prioritizes safeties, the Patriots could get a talented player with a high-end skill set at a fair price, and then Vaccaro could get another bite on the free-agent market in 2019. As for Williamson, he is one of the best off-the-line linebackers in free agency and that is arguably the team's top need. He seems to fit the profile of the type of player the Patriots like in their locker room.