Alan Branch hopes to play a 12th season, but will it be with Patriots?

FOXBOROROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch hopes to play a 12th season in the NFL in 2018, but will it be with the Patriots?

Asked his plans for the upcoming season, Branch said Tuesday on sports radio WEEI's "Dale and Holley Show with Rich Keefe" that he plans to "milk it as much as I can" before adding, "I love playing football. As long as they keep paying me money, I'm going to try to do it."

The Patriots have a key decision to make on paying Branch, as there is a $1 million roster bonus due on the first day of the 2018 league year on March 14. If the Patriots pay the bonus, it would be an indication they are prepared to pay him a base salary of $1.7 million as well as a significant total of other incentives.

That seems like a long shot based on the way the 2017 season ended, with the 33-year-old Branch a healthy scratch after recovering from a Dec. 11 knee injury. If the Patriots don't pick up Branch's option, they would gain $3.5 million in cap space, according to OverTheCap.com.

Branch's role down the stretch was taken over by veteran Ricky Jean Francois, who had signed a one-year deal through the 2017 season.

Branch's 2017 season was a reminder of how every year is a fresh slate. Bill Belichick had lauded him as the team's most consistent interior defensive lineman in 2016, but Branch didn't duplicate that performance in 2017 as the No. 3 option at the position behind starters Lawrence Guy and Malcom Brown.

Guy and Brown both return in 2018, and 2016 third-round pick Vincent Valentine -- who spent his entire second season on injured reserve -- could be part of the mix. Adam Butler, a 2017 undrafted free agent from Vanderbilt, also could see his role expand beyond sub packages.