The New England Patriots have been winners during this free agency period. They acquired several major contributors through trades, retained key free agents, and look geared up for another run to the Super Bowl. In 2018, it could be a different story entirely though, with major players throughout the roster set to hit the open market.

Potential 2018 free agency departures

The Patriots stand to lose a lot of players when free agency hits in 2018. On the defensive side of the ball, cornerback Malcolm Butler, who has flirted with the New Orleans Saints during his restricted free agency this spring, could depart.

Defensive ends Rob Nikovich and Kony Ealy (who was acquired in a trade earlier this offseason) could also leave.

The team's situation is much worse on the offensive side of the ball, though. Three running backs will hit free agency in 2018, including Super Bowl hero James White and Dion Lewis. Top receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will also see their contracts expire, as well as special teams star Matthew Slater. Left tackle Nate Solder could also go, as could Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, which could be devastating depending on Tom Brady's career arc.

Potential targets

Planning for the sheer amount of potential departures in 2018 is nearly impossible. Besides, the Patriots don't like to make big splashes in free agency.

If they are trying to cover their tracks at defensive end next year, they seem most likely to bring in a cheap veteran, like Adrian Clayborn, or even try to extend Ealy's contract if he performs well next season.

There are a lot of veteran running backs destined to hit free agency in 2018, a talent pool New England won't be shy about dipping into.

Jonathan Stewart would be a logical fit, while someone like Carlos Hyde or Devonta Freeman could provide long-term stability at the position and put an end to the running back rotation that has been dominating the Patriots' offensive system for years, since the days of Corey Dillon in the backfield.

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