Quick-hit thoughts on Patriots players scheduled for unrestricted free agency while gauging the possibility of their return:
DE Mark Anderson -- Had a consistent, solid year while playing on a one-year, $1.375 million deal and is a strong candidate to return because he can rush the passer. One of the team's best free-agent signings. Somewhat reminds me of Tully Banta-Cain in 2010, a player hitting the open market while his value is rising.
WR Deion Branch -- Says he wants to return and the door should be open for him, although it might be in a reduced role. This is one position that figures to have a new look in 2012, with more reinforcements targeted.
DE Andre Carter -- Two factors would play a big part in his return -- health and defensive scheme. If the Patriots go back to the 3-4, the fit might not be as good as it was in 2011.
C Dan Connolly -- Offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia raved about him at the Super Bowl. Would think he'll be back as a pivot who is still growing into the job.
DE Shaun Ellis -- Veteran submerged his ego to fit in as a reserve in 2011, but was ultimately replaced by Brandon Deaderick at left end. Projection from here is that it's more likely to be a one-and-done situation.
RB Kevin Faulk -- Tweeted today that he hasn't yet decided on retirement. After everything he's done for the organization, there will always be a spot for him in some capacity. Would be surprised if it's as a player in 2012.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis -- He fits well with the offense and in the overall program. One would think team wants him back as long as the economics work.
LB Gary Guyton -- Solid pro who fell off the Patriots' map at the end of the year when he was a healthy scratch for the final string of games, he shouldn't have a problem finding a home elsewhere. Would be surprised if he's back here.
S James Ihedigbo -- Couldn't have asked for much more from him this year; arrived as a special teamer and contributed more than anticipated on defense. Smart player who fits in the program and should return, likely with more competition from others at safety.
CB/S Nate Jones -- In-season signing would face long odds to earn a roster spot if everyone's healthy. If he returns, it would be with depth in mind.
C Dan Koppen -- Missed all of 2011 with a foot injury and enters his 10th NFL season. Figures to be interest in bringing him back, with Dan Connolly's status likely tied to this decision from a team perspective.
LB Niko Koutouvides -- Helped solidify special teams when signed in early November. Should be back to vie for a roster spot in 2012.
CB Antwaun Molden -- Claimed on waivers from the Texans, he was solid in the kicking game and added depth on the outside at corner. Could see him back to battle for a roster spot.
WR Matthew Slater -- Has become a Larry Izzo-type leader on special teams and should be a top offseason priority to lock up.
DL Gerard Warren -- Added a lot as a veteran presence -- on the field and in the locker room. No reason not to have him back to compete for a roster spot and add depth.
WR Wes Welker -- Seems straight-forward from this perspective -- franchise tag or extension.
LB Tracy White -- Finished second on the team in special teams tackles and still runs well. Should be a place for him here, at the least to compete for a roster spot against an up-and-comer.
EXTRA POINT: Quarterback Brian Hoyer is a restricted free agent. The expectation is that the Patriots would tender him at least at the second-round level to protect their "asset" at the game's most important position.