By Tom E. CurranWhen and if the labor situation gets settled, the NFL's free agent shopping period will follow soon after. Who's out there? What do the Patriots need? What do the Patriots have? We'll go position-by-position to bring you up-to-speed. RUNNING BACKStatus Report: The Patriots running game in 2010 wasat its most efficient since the departure of Corey Dillon.New England generated 1,973 yards on the ground (4.3 YPC) and 19 touchdowns, but it was the timeliness and consistency of the contributions that made the Patriots rushing attack take heat off of Tom Brady in 2010.Who They Got: The Patriots got a 1,008-yard season out of hard-running and surehanded BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Classic feature back? Maybe not. But he'll more than do. He's a restricted free agent who's been tendered at a second-round level and is sure to be around.Danny Woodhead was even more of a bonus than Benny. He generated 926 yards from scrimmage, scored sixtouchdowns and is a worthy successor to the great Kevin Faulk. Faulk is a free agent after an injury-marred 2010. Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris are free agents as well. What They Need: Depth behind both BJGE and Woodhead will be essential. Benny's backup probably should be someone more durable than Taylor or Morris at this stage of their careers; Woodhead's backup figures to be Faulk if the Patriots bring him back andthey ought to. He was the team's best back in 2009 and his presence and professionalism is a continued touchstone for the youngPatriots. Ideally, the Patriots would get a 220-plus pounder to complement the other two guys. Who's Out There: Darren Sproles (Chargers), Ricky Williams (Dolphins), Jerious Norwood (Falcons), Ronnie Brown (Dolphins), Cedric Benson (Bengals), Mike Tolbert (Chargers), Tim Hightower (Cardinals), DeAngelo Williams (Panthers), Michael Bush (Raiders), Joseph Addai (Colts). Possible Targets: Norwood, Tolbert, Hightower, Bush, Addai. The explosive Norwood is coming off a torn ACL and injuries are mounting. Still, he's only 28. Tolbert is a RFA and got a second-round tender from San Diego. He's a 243-pound short-yardage force. The 222-pound Hightower is being fazed out in Arizona. He's only 25. Finally, if the Ravens let go of Willis McGahee, his power and short-yardage skill could make him a target in New England.
FOXBORO -- Jamie Collins and the Cleveland Browns are reportedly closing in on a contract that will turn the ex-Pat's place of exile into his long-term place of work.
That's interesting in itself. The Browns must have made it clear to Collins he was getting franchised, otherwise you'd think Collins would want to get out there and test the market for at least a couple of days when free agency rolled around.
It will also be interesting for Collins' former teammate in New England, Dont'a Hightower. While the Patriots aren't going to let the Browns dictate their market and offers when it comes to negotiating with Hightower, Collins' contract will be a useful comp for Hightower.
Whatever Collins gets, Hightower can make the case for a fair amount more. Hightower is the centerpiece of the Patriots defense, a run-stopper, blitzer, leader and tone-setter. From the jersey number (Tedy Bruschi's old number 54) they encouraged him to wear, to selecting him captain, the team and Hightower's teammates have stated how important he is to the club.
Hightower on the open market would be in line for a contract in the $10 million-per-year range, with a total value of around $50 million (using Luke Kuechly, Navarro Bowman, Bobby Wagner and Lawrence Timmons as comparable players). The Patriots can franchise Hightower just as easily as the Browns could have franchised Collins. The sticking point for the player is that he doesn't realize the windfall of guaranteed money that comes with a long-term deal. The injury Sword of Damocles dangles every day.
In other words, Collins' influence on the Patriots isn't done yet.
FOXBORO -- Might Chip Kelly be working for the Patriots at some point in the near future? One report calls New England a "logical" landing spot for the former Eagles and 49ers head coach.
According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, Kelly "was headed to New England to meet with [Bill] Belichick" once he found out that he was no longer in the running for the offensive coordinator job in Jacksonville.
Mort & Schefter's notebook: Could Chip Kelly end up in New England?... https://t.co/1l1F2gmXK6— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 20, 2017
Kelly was fired by the 49ers after one season as head coach and has been interested in continuing his career as an NFL coach, per Mortensen. Kelly coached the Eagles for three seasons, going 26-21.
Belichick openly threw his support behind Kelly after he was let go by Philadelphia on New Year's Eve in 2015.
"I would say it's actually disappointing," Belichick said at the time. "Chip Kelly to me is a really good football coach. He does a great job. I think he's done a good job with that team. It's disappointing to see . . . Pretty much everybody's on a one-year contract in this league. I don't know how you build a program in one year.
"Chip's a great coach. He'll end up somehwere and he'll do a great job there. I'd say a lot of the players that were on the Eagles that are no longer on the Eagles aren't really doing too much for anybody else, either."
Mortensen opines that the Belichick-Kelly connection would make sense because of their tight bond.
"The friendship between Kelly and [Belichick] is no secret," Mortensen wrote. "They have exchanged football concepts since Kelly's fast-tempo offense became the rage at Oregon."
Per Mortensen, Kelly was considered an asset by executive vice president of football operations Tom Coughlin, and he was in the running for a job there, yet new coach Doug Marrone saw Kelly as a bad "philosophical fit."
Apparently that led to Kelly's planned visit here.
There is history of the Patriots hiring friendly faces during the postseason. In 2012, Belichick re-hired Josh McDaniels to work with then offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who was set to take over Penn State's program after the season. McDaniels -- who had been the offensive coordinator for the Rams earlier that year -- re-claimed his role as offensive coordinator in New England the following season and has been in-house ever since.
Kelly has no experience as one of Belichick's employees -- McDaniels, of course, rose through the coaching ranks in New England before being hired as head coach in Denver in 2009 -- but perhaps he is a candidate to fulfill a role similar to the one McDaniels was given before Super Bowl XLVI.