We've previously examined players that could be candidates for extensions prior to the expiration of their current contract, and three names that came to mind who will be free agents after the 2013 season are center Ryan Wendell, defensive end Rob Ninkovich and linebacker Brandon Spikes.
As it relates to depth at their respective positions, the case could be made that Wendell is the top priority, as the Patriots have drafted both Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins at linebacker and Chandler Jones, Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan at defensive end since 2012. Couple those picks with other players on the roster at the position, and the Patriots have possible in-house solutions to replace Ninkovich and/or Spikes if either departs in free agency (this, however, isn't to suggest that the team doesn't have interest in re-signing those players).
The Patriots have three players with NFL experience who can play center, but Nick McDonald will also be a free agent after 2013 and Dan Connolly has settled into a role at right guard. With that in mind, Wendell could become even more of a priority.
Wendell's 2012 season was extremely impressive, as he led all NFL players in snaps and was incredibly reliable in his first full season on the job. If he does make it to free agency, he'll likely be looking for a pay raise from his current deal (he'll make $815,000 in 2013).
For some perspective on the center market, here are the top 10 highest-paid players at the position based on average salary:
1. Ryan Kalil, Panthers: $8.186 million
2. Nick Mangold, Jets: $7.153 million
3. Chris Myers, Texans: $6.25 million
4. Scott Wells, Rams: $6 million
5. David Baas, Giants: $5.5 million
6. Max Unger, Seahawks: $5.1 million
7. Dominic Raiola, Lions: $5 million
8. Nick Hardwick, Chargers: $4.5 million
9. John Sullivan, Vikings: $4.267 million
10. Jeremy Zuttah, Buccaneers: $4.075 million
If Wendell comes through with another quality campaign in 2013 and makes it to free agency, he could earn a deal that puts him in the top 10 highest-paid center range (he played like a top 10 center in 2012). If the Patriots are entertaining the thought of an extension for Wendell already and believe him to be among the upper tier centers in the NFL, the deals listed above give them some perspective of how the position is valued league wide.