- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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As the lockout ends and the business of building the 2011 New England Patriots gets underway, here is one view of the top 10 things that should be on the Patriots' jam-packed to-do list:
1. First-round draft pick Nate Solder and rookie contracts
The team's nine draft choices, who already enter 2011 significantly behind those players already on the roster because there haven't been any offseason minicamps, are not yet under contract. In a normal year, rookies would have been signed as early as May. They can't afford to miss any practice time, so look for quick negotiations. Senior football adviser Floyd Reese will be busy.
2. Filling out the roster to 90, mostly with rookie free agents
The Patriots enter 2011 with 65 players under contract. The nine draft choices will increase the number to 74. With BenJarvus Green-Ellis (restricted free agent) and Kyle Arrington (exclusive-rights free agent) added to the mix, that leaves 14 openings between rookie and veteran free-agent signings. The rookie free-agent signings figure to come quickly, with some of the groundwork having been laid during April's draft.
3. Sorting out Logan Mankins' status
The All-Pro left guard has been assigned the franchise tag, which means he could sign the franchise tender and play under a one-year contract for approximately $10 million. Does a new league year create a fresh slate for the sides to talk about a contract extension? Or do they simply pick up where they left off -- at odds?
4. Assessing the market for Matt Light
Of all the Patriots' unrestricted free agents, Light is arguably the most important. New England's starting left tackle since 2001, his return could help ease Solder, the team's first-round pick, into the mix. But is Light on board knowing he's only a stopgap -- for likely only one year, at most -- until Solder is ready? This looks like a situation where the market will be set by interest from other clubs.
5. Cleaning up the salary cap
With the league introducing a $120 million salary cap, the Patriots could potentially slice a few veterans with higher salary-cap charges. One factor to keep in mind is that some teams might not want to assume the risk of putting a high-priced veteran on the field because of the risk of injury, which would then put the team on the hook for the salary. A player such as offensive lineman Nick Kaczur, who is coming off back surgery and has a $4.3 million cap charge, could fall into that category. The Patriots have about $7 million in cap space, according to ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton, which means they won't be handcuffed, but also don't have much wiggle room.
6. Targeting free agents from other teams
While the Patriots don't have as much salary cap space as other teams, and figure to mostly focus on their own players in free agency, there is also the possibility of signing free agents from other clubs. Outside linebacker Matt Roth (Browns), center/guard David Baas (49ers) and safety Donte Whitner (Bills) are players who could fit what they look for in terms of scheme and makeup.
7. Assessing condition of returning players
Perhaps the most important step for all teams since players have been on their own, it highlights the importance of a good medical and strength and conditioning staff. The Patriots are undergoing a significant transition in one of these areas, with Mike Woicik -- who had held the head strength and conditioning role from 2000 to 2010 -- now in Dallas. Assistant Harold Nash has been promoted and he will be assisted by new hire Moses Cabrera. Decisions on the condition of players will be tied to who starts on the physically unable to perform or non football injury lists. Will we see more situations like Tully Banta-Cain's? The Patriots linebacker underwent abdomen surgery for a pre-existing injury that was aggravated in recent workouts.
8. Sparking potential trade talks
With trades being able to be executed as soon as Monday afternoon, pro personnel director Jason Licht and assistant Bob Quinn will be relied upon if the Patriots think there is good value on the market. On the flip side, if the Patriots are ready to move a player on the roster, and think they could receive a good return in a trade, they figure to move quickly, as time will be of the essence.
9. Green-Ellis and restricted free agency
Prior to the lockout, the Patriots tendered Green-Ellis, their top running back in 2010, at the second-round level. It's likely that Green-Ellis will sign the restricted free agent tender and play in New England under a one-year deal that would be worth around $2 million. But until he does, the possibility exists that another team -- perhaps with more money to spend -- could up the ante and sign him to an offer sheet that puts the Patriots in a position to match it or lose Green-Ellis. On the flip side, if there is a restricted free agent from another team the Patriots think represents good value, they could draw up their own offer sheet.
10. Can't forget about Kevin Faulk
After everything Faulk has done for the Patriots since 1999, it's hard to imagine the team would let his situation get lost in the chaotic shuffle. Faulk is an unrestricted free agent and indications point to him either playing for the Patriots or retiring. Do the Patriots have a spot for him? Other free agents who could potentially return include safety Jarrad Page, linebacker Tracy White, defensive lineman Gerard Warren and offensive lineman Quinn Ojinnaka, among others.
The top 10 things the Patriots should tackle first once the lockout lifts.