This is the calm before the storm for Patriots and upcoming free agents

Answering some hot-button New England Patriots topics in the form of a mailbag:

David, Nate Solder is an unrestricted free agent, and after Super Bowl LII, the blindside protector of quarterback Tom Brady was asked how long he'll take to decide about his future. "An undisclosed amount of time, to be determined," the 29-year-old said, before adding: "I'm really looking forward to time off to spend some time with my family and to get away from all of this craziness and the daily grind of football, just to slow down and be a family and reflect on all of the wonderful things that we have." So I'd say this is a cooling-off period of sorts and maybe some more clarity comes after that. One thing we know: The Patriots cannot use the franchise tag on Solder, per the terms of the most recent contract he signed with the club.

Mike, I think that's a good window to put on the radar. I'm of the belief that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' return to the Patriots might actually make it more likely that head coach Bill Belichick sticks around than retires.

Anthony, I envision the Patriots keeping dialogue with Dion Lewis open, and that they will be competitive to try to retain him as the market unfolds. Their deals for running backs have been pretty consistent in recent years (around $3 million per season) and the only thing that might alter things is if another team ups the ante and takes it to a financial level where the Patriots might be uncomfortable going. Most running backs traditionally don't get big-money deals.

David, the Patriots relied on James Harrison more than I was anticipating in the Super Bowl (69 of 75 snaps), which speaks volumes of how they viewed him relative to what else they had. Harrison seemed to have a challenging game. In the end, I am anticipating this to be a year in which the Patriots trend young, and my instinct would be that re-signing a soon-to-be 40-year-old isn't their top desire.

Don, I'm still seeking more clarity on Malcolm Butler and how that situation unfolded. If it truly was for performance reasons in practice, and the coaches stuck with that throughout the game despite seeing how things were unfolding, that's a tough pill to swallow. As for Deatrich Wise, he usually plays in obvious passing situations, and my initial thought is that the Eagles didn't have too many third-and-longs. That's when we'd usually see Wise. Finally, I wonder how much the concussion he was diagnosed with in the AFC Championship Game was a factor in limiting him as well.

Ed, that's going to start happening pretty quickly here as the beginning of free agency approaches on March 12, but the past few days have been just trying to process the way things ended and then following some of the coaching news. This was a big week for the team, as the massive change that some were projecting didn't come to fruition and the Patriots have maintained stability in key areas. There were plenty of positive vibes about that despite the tough way the season ended for the team.

Dane, this one seems pretty clear-cut to me: Brian Flores was thought highly enough of by the Cardinals to interview for their head-coaching position, so there's little doubt to me that he's the top candidate the Patriots need to eye for the defensive coordinator post. They aren't like many other franchises that might consider hiring a coordinator who brings his own system to the team; instead, their system is always going to remain in place and the coordinator is going to adapt to them. That's why we usually see in-house promotions in those situations. Flores fits the bill; no need to overthink it in my opinion.

Brian, Mike Gillislee was part of those units in a backup role, so it's not as though he wasn't part of the mix. It's just that other players were deemed better fits by the coaching staff on special teams. Gillislee has a $2.1 million cap hit for 2018, which isn't prohibitive and could give him a chance to return on the second year of his deal. He had a $3.9 million cap hit in 2017 and didn't provide the production that was projected at the start of the year.

Erik, Derek Rivers tore his ACL in mid-August, and that would give the defensive end a full calendar year to be ready to go. As long as there aren't any setbacks, and there have been no indications of any, Rivers should be ready to go for the 2018 season. The team's top draft pick in 2017 (third round, No. 83 overall), he is the type of young, athletic player the Patriots were needed more of in their front seven this past season.