Although 2012 training camp has not yet even begun, John Clayton has already looked ahead toward free agency in both 2013 and 2014 as the focus of a recent piece on ESPN.com.
Specifically, Clayton examines the number of projected starters set to hit free agency for each team by 2014, and lists those teams that face difficult calls, as well as those who are primed for runs within the two-year window ahead.
The Patriots are one of 11 teams with 10 projected starters for 2012 who are due to hit free agency by 2013 or 2014.
Although we don’t know precisely who Clayton has pegged as the team’s starters, we can reasonably assume that the list of 10 includes CB Kyle Arrington, S Patrick Chung, OT Sebastian Vollmer, G Brian Waters, WR Wes Welker (all five of whom are slated to enter the 2013 offseason as free agents), as well as TE Aaron Hernandez and LB Brandon Spikes (set to become free agents in 2014).
Four of those seven players -- Arrington, Chung, Hernandez and Spikes -- enter training camp at 25 years of age of younger. Beyond production, age has always appeared to be a major consideration of the Patriots when it comes to contract negotiations (it seems to be a part of the ongoing contract discussion saga between Welker and the team).
The Patriots made an investment in one of their core under-25 players this offseason in Rob Gronkowski, and may look to do the same with others going forward.
Under Bill Belichick, the Patriots have a strong track record of building depth and re-loading the roster on an annual basis, so one might say that even though nearly half of their projected starters are scheduled to hit free agency over the next two seasons, it could be a less daunting task for New England to face than other teams in the same position.