(Student assistant Mike Rodak wraps up an early position-by-position look at free agency with the Patriots. Because free-agency rules are unclear based on the uncertain collective bargaining agreement, the 2010 rules were used to compile the information. Teams may also restrict some of these players with the franchise tag.)
RATING THE NEED: Moderate
KEY CONSIDERATION: With Mankins assigned the franchise tag this week, the Patriots have the potential to return all three starters in 2011. However, by franchising Mankins, the team faces the possibility of another holdout, or even the tag being invalidated by legal action. At 34, Neal is no sure bet to return, and has been hampered by multiple shoulder injuries in recent years.
NOTABLE TARGETS ON THE MARKET: Carl Nicks (Saints; restricted), Robert Gallery (Raiders), Chris Spencer (Seahawks), Jonathan Goodwin (Saints), Chris Chester (Ravens), David Baas (49ers), Richie Incognito (Dolphins), Kyle Cook (Bengals; restricted), Casey Wiegmann (Chiefs), Samson Satele (Raiders), Olin Kreutz (Bears), Daryn Colledge (Packers), Davin Joseph (Buccaneers), Casey Rabach (Redskins), Kyle Kosier (Cowboys)
MOST LIKELY TARGET FOR PATS: None
SLEEPER POSSIBILITY FOR PATS: Chester
OUTLANDISH THOUGHT FOR PATS: Nicks, Dahl, Kalil
WRAP IT UP: Even if the Patriots are able to get by with another year of Mankins, Koppen, and Neal, none of those players are under contract for 2012. It is more likely, though, that the team looks to re-stock those positions for the future through the draft.