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Patriots market watch: Shane Vereen

Projecting the financial market for some of the New England Patriots' top free agents:

Player: Shane Vereen

Position: Running back

Age: 25 (birthday: March 2, 1989)

Credentials: One of the NFL's better pass-catching running backs (99 receptions over past two seasons) who adds significant value as a pass-protector. Has big-game experience, coming through with one of his best performances in Super Bowl XLIX when he had 11 receptions. A top locker room guy. One potential knock is his ability to pick up yards after initial contact in the running game, as he averaged 1.23 yards after contact per rush in 2014, which ranked 69th among 73 running backs with at least 50 carries, according to ESPN's Stats & Information. Injury history (hamstring in 2011 and wrist in 2013) also part of the consideration.

Assessing the market: Donald Brown's three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Chargers is one comparable as the initial part of their careers is somewhat similar. Brown received $4 million in guarantees as part of that deal. Darren Sproles' pact with the Eagles was also worth three years and $10.5 million, with $5.5 million in guarantees and bonuses. One difference between Vereen (25) and Sproles (31) is age. The Lions' Reggie Bush inked a four-year, $16 million pact, with a $4 million signing bonus in 2013. A worst-case scenario for Vereen would be something along the lines of what Rashad Jennings received with the Giants (four years, $10 million, $2.98 million in guarantees/bonuses). Last year's top free-agent deal at the position was Toby Gerhart (3 years, $10.5 million, $4.5 million in bonuses/guarantees), who is more of a power back. Per the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, Vereen's agents would like to hit the $5 million-per-year mark, which would establish a new benchmark of sorts.

Our take on Vereen's value: Vereen hits the market with his value at an all-time high. He is entering his prime years, has high-end production (in part because of the offense in which he played), made it through the season healthy, and comes from a winning program that could have added value to an on-the-rise team looking to take that next step. Any team that has a similar setup to the Patriots in which the "change of pace" running back still plays the majority of snaps (Vereen was at 52.9 percent in 2014) might be more inclined to invest in him at a position that doesn't traditionally produce big deals.

Projected contract: Four years, $16 million, $4 million signing bonus.