The New England Patriots have plenty of cap space, but with several players set to hit free agency this offseason, chances are the team won't retain all of them.
Defensive ends Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long, middle linebacker Dont'a Hightower and DT Alan Branch are all free agents. The Patriots enter the off-season with more cap space than all but three teams, but their history says there's still little chance all four of these players will be retained. What Bill Belichick prioritizes above all else in run defense is someone to set the edge and force a ballcarrier to stay inside; that's where Sheard and Long are valuable. The 26-year-old Hightower, in particular, will be pricey, commanding top five stack 'backer money. Finding a thumping gap shooter like him, or a behemoth gap plugger like Branch, will be critical in maintaining a run defense that tied for third in 2016.