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RB Dion Lewis unsure of return to Patriots next season

New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis is set to become an unrestricted free agent, and he's unsure whether he will return to the team.

"I love it here," Lewis said on The Adam Schefter Podcast. "I've grown great relationships in this area the past three years, and I'm close to home -- Albany, New York, is 2½ hours [away], so I'm real close to my family. At the same time, it's a business. Hopefully it will work out, but at the same time, you can't really think that way. You have to take care of yourself and your family at the same time."

Lewis said that he thinks it will work out for him to return to the Patriots. "At the same time, I'm not putting all my eggs in one basket," he said. "I know how the team likes to handle their business, and as a running back, you have to make the most of your opportunity, and me being the player I am, my main thing is making sure I can go out there next year and show people what type of player I can be. I still think I can improve from what I did this past year. My main thing is just making sure I'm valued. That's my biggest thing -- to make sure I'm valued the way I value myself."

Lewis, 27, earned a base salary of $1.2 million in the 2017 season and is likely to receive a significant increase as a free agent after leading the Patriots with 896 rushing yards on 180 carries (5.0 average) and six touchdowns in the 2017 regular season. He added 32 catches for 214 yards and three receiving touchdowns while also serving as the team's primary kickoff returner (23 returns, 570 yards, 1 TD). He had opened the year as the No. 4 option on the depth chart behind free-agent signings Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead and third-down passing back James White before decisively taking over lead duties in the sixth week of the season.

Lewis had initially been signed by the Patriots on Feb. 6, 2015, a deal that was an afterthought to many at the time. It proved to be brilliant for the club when Lewis got off to a strong start that year before tearing his ACL in his seventh game.

Lewis then missed half of the 2016 season after a setback in his recovery, but he played in every game this past season, missing just one practice thanks to illness. He said it was the "best I've felt in a long time."

"I think I have a lot to give. I think my career is just getting started," he said on the podcast. "I don't feel 27, I feel 22, 23."

Agents for players scheduled for unrestricted free agency can begin negotiating with other teams on March 12 at noon ET.

Lewis' agent, JR Rickert, is free to negotiate with the Patriots on an extension at any time before that, although if the past is any indication, the club might be more inclined to have Lewis explore the open market while maintaining an open dialogue with Rickert. That is how things unfolded with some top free agents in the past, such as safety Devin McCourty and Dont'a Hightower, both of whom ultimately re-signed with the Patriots.

Said Lewis on the podcast, "It's a weird time. I don't really know what's going to happen. [I was] relaxing and resting my body for a few weeks, and just starting working out again. ... I don't know where I'm going to be. I don't know if I'm going to be here or somewhere else, so just staying patient and not really thinking about [it]. Whatever happens, happens. It will all work out."