Taking stock of Patriots pending free agents

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Taking stock of Patriots pending free agents

The Patriots have 18 players set to become free agents on March 12.

The most impactful players on the list are wide receiver Wes Welker, corner Aqib Talib and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Other key guys include corner Kyle Arrington, running back Danny Woodhead and receiver Julian Edelman.

Wideout Deion Branch, safety Patrick Chung, defensive end Trevor Scott, corner Marquice Cole, guard Donald Thomas, special teamerslinebackers Tracy White and Niko Koutouvides are in the next tier.

Safeties Will Allen and Josh Barrett, wide receiver Donte' Stallworth and cornerback Derrick Martin are lower-priority players.

The Patriots have two restricted free agents, Dane Fletcher and Michael Hoomanawanui.

Both Arrington and Branch told me their preference is to remain here in New England. Branch said that, if he doesn't reach accord with the Patriots to come back, he is interested in still playing and feels he has "two or three years left."

The most intriguing decisions to be made are with Welker and Talib.

If the Patriots were to franchise Welker again, the period to do so will begin two weeks after the Super Bowl on February 18.

The feeling here is the Patriots will pass on franchising Welker and try to work out a two or three-year deal with him.

As for Talib, his rookie contract is ending and he'll likely be interested in trying to see what's out there financially before re-signing with the Patriots.

Both Welker and Talib may find a down market for their services.

Gronkowsk hoping to go "freakin' crazy" on the field soon

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Gronkowsk hoping to go "freakin' crazy" on the field soon

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowsi had what was, for him, an incredibly quiet game against the Texans on Thursday. He saw 14 snaps and ran just one route. He did see a target from rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett when he ran that route, but it floated high over his head and sailed out of the end zone incomplete. 

In his first game action since suffering a hamstring injury on Aug. 15, the Patriots chose to being their All-Pro tight end along slowly, but he's hoping that he'll be more involved in the very near future. 

"You’ve got to be careful with any injury, but I mean, if you research hamstrings, if you know anything about hamstrings, you’ve definitely got to be careful," he said. "You’ve got to progress. You can’t just hop back in and be full-go 100 percent. I wish it was like that. I can’t wait until I’m going freakin' crazy out there again. So I’m just progressing myself into it and feeling better every single day."

Gronkowski was back on the practice field for his team's workout in full pads on Wednesday. He was spotted running through drills and catching passes from tight ends coach Brian Daboll, and he did not appear to be visibly limited. After running around in a game, albeit briefly, Gronkowski explained that he experienced no setbacks.

"I felt good, definitely," Gronkowski said of playing under the lights. "You’re always sore no matter what after playing a game. No matter if you play 10 plays or 70 plays, [you’re] definitely sore like any other game. But no setbacks. No nothing. Feeling good and just progressing every day."

Regardless of who happens to be playing quarterback for the Patriots against the Bills on Sunday -- whether it's Jimmy Garoppolo or Brissett, both of whom practiced Wednesday -- having Gronkowski on the field and closer to his usual level of participation should help. 

"They’re doing very well, very excellent," Gronkowski said of Garoppolo and Brissett's performances with Tom Brady out. "Every single day, they’re just trying to improve and progress every day. This week, you just see everyone throughout the team, everyone is just trying to progress . . . The coaches do a great job of getting the quarterbacks prepared. If there is something there that we need to get on the same page with the quarterbacks on, we’ll talk, but the coaches do an excellent job of getting the quarterbacks ready."

Patriots re-sign DT Anthony Johnson to practice squad

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Patriots re-sign DT Anthony Johnson to practice squad

FOXBORO -- The Patriots have re-signed defensive tackle Anthony Johnson to their practice squad, the team announced. 

Johnson, 23, made the Patriots out of training camp after putting together an impressive preseason in which he recorded five quarterback pressures and was in on two sacks. In two regular-season games, he played 43 snaps as an interior pass-rusher, registering one quarterback hit and one hurry. He was inactive for New England's Week 2 game against the Dolphins. 

The 6-foot-2, 295-pounder was released earlier this week in order to clear room for free-agent defensive lineman John Hughes to be added to the roster. Hughes checks in at 6-2, 320 pounds and would serve more as a space-eating defensive tackle than Johnson, who was used as more of a penetrating pass-rusher. 

In order to make room for Johnson on the practice squad, the Patriots released offensive lineman Ian Silberman.