There was little doubt that corner Justin Coleman or special teamer Brandon King would be back with the Patriots in 2016, but the team made their return official on Tuesday when they announced that both exclusive rights free agents had re-signed.
ERFAs are players whose contract have expired before they've complete three accrued seasons in the NFL. They can't negotiate deals with other teams, and if they don't accept the tenders offered to them, then they will not play.
Both Coleman and King ended up playing relatively significant roles with the Patriots in their rookie seasons.
Coleman, when healthy, was used as the team's No. 3 cornerback behind Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan. He saw 416 snaps in 11 games, including 68 of a possible 89 defensive snaps in a Divisional Round win over the Chiefs and 43 of a possible 68 snaps in the AFC title game against the Broncos. A concussion and a wrist injury limited Coleman's playing time, but the 23-year-old, signed off of the Seahawks practice squad on the day before the Patriots home-opener, showed promise with the playing time he was given.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick admitted late in the season that there were points when it was a "strain" to carry Coleman while he was injured. The Patriots could have used healthy reinforcements at cornerback or on the offensive line, but they opted to keep him on the roster because they didn't want to end his season on injured reserve. They also didn't want to release him and make him available to other teams via waivers. Had they done that, they couldn't be sure they'd be able to get him back.
"There were a couple of points in the season where it was a little bit of a strain to carry him to be honest with you," Belichick said, "but in the end, we felt like this was a guy that we needed and we liked the way he played when he played."
King quickly became one of the most productive kick-coverage players on the team in 2015. An undrafted free agent out of Auburn, the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder gave the Patriots a player with a unique combination of speed and size that made him an ideal fit on its punt and kickoff units.
King began the year on the practice squad but was added to the active roster on Oct. 20. He finished the year with 15 special teams tackles, including three in the postseason.