Despite big-name losses, Pats in good shape thanks to returning stars

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The Patriots have lost nearly all of their high-profile free agents this offseason. Starters like Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola, Nate Solder, and Dion Lewis are all gone. However, there's a definite strategy to New England's free-agency approach--and the Pats are still in great shape thanks to their returning talent.

The Patriots were among the most unlucky teams in the NFL last year. Wideouts Julian Edelman and Malcolm Mitchell missed the entire year, along with Derek Rivers, Tony Garcia, and cornerback Cyrus Jones. Beyond those, the Pats will also welcome back Dont'a Hightower, Marcus Cannon, Vincent Valentine, and Nate Ebner from injured reserve. That exhaustive list comprises New England's top two draft picks from 2017, three of their top five picks from 2016, and three All-Pros. With so many contributors off the field by the end of the postseason, it's a minor miracle the Pats even made it to Super Bowl LII in the first place.

Those nine players will all be back next year, along with savvy new additions at positions of need. While not flashy, Danny Shelton, Adrian Clayborn, Jeremy Hill, and Jason McCourty were cheap, reliable players with high upside. And thanks to the big-name losses, the team should be in line for three compensatory picks in the 2019 draft, including a pair of third-rounders.

Admittedly, this offseason is nothing like last year's--the spending spree that netted Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore was one of the wildest in the Bill Belichick era. However, this year is a much more sustainable model, and it looks to have similar results. The Pats won't have all the same familiar faces in 2018, but they're still one of the top clubs in football.

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