BOSTON (CBS) — The offseason has begun for the New England Patriots, and Bill Belichick and company have a lot of work to do in-house.

The Patriots have 22 players set to hit free agency, and 16 of them were either starters or played significant roles for the 2021 team. J.C. Jackson, Devin McCourty, Dont’a Hightower and Trent Brown highlight the lengthy list of soon-to-be free agents for New England.

Here’s a quick look at some players who may be playing elsewhere — or not at all — in 2022.

Unrestricted Free Agents

J.C. Jackson, CB
Devin McCourty, S
Dont’a Hightower, LB
Jamie Collins, LB
Ja’Whaun Bentley, LB
Carl Davis, DT
James White, RB
Brandon Bolden, RB
Trent Brown, OL
Ted Karras, OL
Brian Hoyer, QB
Nick Folk, K
Matthew Slater, ST
Brandon King, ST
Harvey Langi, LB
Troy Fumagalli, TE

Jackson is the biggest name on the list, after the cornerback had back-to-back career years in the New England defense. He was an absolute bargain at $3.4 million for 2021, but is now ready to cash in on the open market. The 26-year-old is going to get top corner money, which could net him $20 million annually. He’s also a franchise tag candidate for New England, which would carry a projected $17.5 million salary for 2022.

McCourty and Hightower remain important parts to the New England defense, but both could ponder retirement this offseason. McCourty, 34, is still a solid safety and one of the quarterbacks on defense, but he’ll have to decide if he wants to return for a 13th NFL season. Hightower, 31, is in the same boat. He appeared a bit slow at times during the 2021 season, and he played just 67 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, his lowest total since his rookie year in 2012.

What Hightower decides will likely impact what the Patriots do with Ja’Whaun Bentley, who started all 29 games that he appeared in over the last two seasons. He will be looking to get paid like a starter, which is a price tag the Patriots may not be willing to pay — unless they have a Hightower-sized hole to fill at middle linebacker.

Special teams captain Matthew Slater didn’t want to discuss his future following New England’s Wild Card loss to the Bills, and he’ll also be contemplating retirement this offseason.

Trent Brown was ecstatic to return to New England via trade, but we’ll see if he’s willing to give the Pats a hometown discount as he hits free agency again this offseason. Ted Karras also proved to be a valuable depth piece, sliding into a starting role as injuries took its toll on the offensive line, but he may depart again if a starting job (and the salary that goes with it) aren’t available in New England.

James White will be working his way back from the hip injury that ended his season in Week 3, but the Patriots don’t have a pass-catching back on the roster, so the 29-year-old veteran should be back if he’s healthy.

Nick Folk was one of the best kickers in the NFL For the second straight year, and a return is likely unless the Patriots feel really confident in practice squad kicker Quinn Nordin.

Restricted Free Agents

Jakobi Meyers, WR
Gunner Olszewski, WR/PR
Jakub Johnson, FB

Jakobi Meyers led the Patriots in both receptions and receiving yards and just keeps getting better. The Patriots can offer him an original round tender for $2.5 million, but could also give him a first-round tender (worth $5.5 million) or second-round tender ($3.9 million) if they’re worried about another team trying to pry him away. No matter what the Patriots offer, Meyers will remain an absolute steal in 2022.

Both Olszewski and Johnson have stepped into important roles for New England, and will most definitely be receiving tenders this offseason.

Coaching Departures?

Belichick will also likely have a few holes to fill on his coaching staff. Jerod Mayo is reportedly set to interview for head-coaching jobs in Denver and Houston, and Josh McDaniels could enter the head-coaching mix soon as well. Running backs coach Ivan Fears has been coaching for four decades, but the 67-year-old declined to discuss his future after New England’s season-ending loss.

In the front office, senior consultant Eliot Wolf could be heading elsewhere, with the Chicago Bears reportedly requesting to interview him for the team’s general manager job.

Belichick, who will turn 70 in April, left no doubt that he will be back in 2022.

Teams must place the franchise tag on players by March 8, with free agency set to begin at 4 p.m. on March 16.

CBSBoston.com Staff