In addition to negotiating with some of their nine unrestricted free agents, the Patriots also will have to tender offers to three restricted free agents before March 5.
Those restricted free agents are starting left guard Logan Mankins (2005 first-round draft choice), kicker Stephen Gostkowski (2006 fourth-round draft choice) and outside linebacker Pierre Woods (2006 rookie free agent).
The offers can be at one of four levels. The higher the level, the higher the compensation another team would have to award the Patriots for signing the player away. The levels are broken down this way:
1) Original draft slot
2) Second-round draft choice
3) First-round draft choice
4) First-and-third-round draft choice
Here is one projection at what the Patriots will do with each of their restricted free agents, thinking from a management perspective:
Mankins: First-and-third round tender ($3.2 million). He is their best offensive lineman and this would pay him at the highest compensation level, making it highly unlikely that another team would sign him. He is an asset that must be protected.
Gostkowski: First-round tender ($2.5 million). He has developed into one of the NFL's most well-rounded kickers, with a strong leg on field goals and kickoffs (19 touchbacks in 2009). This would make it highly unlikely that another team would sign him.
Woods: Second-rounder tender ($1.7 million). Because he entered the league as a rookie free agent, tendering him at the lowest level would essentially make him an unrestricted free agent. He tied for the team lead in special teams tackles.