Slipping to No. 4 on depth chart, will Brandon LaFell be back with Patriots?

DENVER -- In breaking down the New England Patriots' snap counts from their 20-18 loss to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, there is a forward-thinking aspect to the analysis.

For example, wide receiver Brandon LaFell slipped to No. 4 on the depth chart, playing just 33 of 83 offensive snaps. That was a change from the norm and raises the question of how the team views his future fit, because when a player slips down the depth chart in the most important game of the season and isn’t targeted, it could be a sign of things to come.

LaFell is under contract through the 2016 season and is to count $3.8 million against the salary cap.

Is it still a fit?

These are the types of questions Bill Belichick and his staff will soon be answering.

Total offensive snaps: 83

Total defensive snaps: 68


Julian Edelman -- 80

Keshawn Martin -- 59

Danny Amendola -- 55

LaFell -- 33

Matthew Slater -- 1

NOTES: LaFell's future with the team will be interesting to monitor, and Amendola's base salary spikes to $5 million, which also bears watching. This is viewed as a high-need position from this perspective.


LT Sebastian Vollmer -- 83

RT Marcus Cannon -- 83

G Josh Kline -- 83

G Shaq Mason -- 83

C Bryan Stork -- 83

TE/OT Cameron Fleming -- 2

C/FB David Andrews -- 1

NOTES: They will get starting left tackle Nate Solder back from a season-ending torn biceps injury, but adding to the tackle pipeline seems like it should be a priority. ... This unit picked a tough time to have its worst game.


Rob Gronkowski -- 75

Michael Williams -- 16

Scott Chandler -- 9

NOTES: Chandler's time in New England didn’t turn out the way many envisioned. He had signed a two-year contract, but the projection here is that the second year likely doesn’t come to fruition.


James White -- 57

Brandon Bolden -- 16

Steven Jackson -- 11

NOTES: They will get Dion Lewis back from his torn ACL, but LeGarrette Blount is a free agent. This could be an offseason with a 2011-type feel (they drafted two backs, Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen), as the Patriots need more help at this spot.


Tom Brady -- 83

NOTES: He’ll be 39 in August and has shown no noticeable signs of decline.


Patrick Chung -- 68

Devin McCourty -- 68

Duron Harmon -- 34

Jordan Richards -- 4

Nate Ebner -- 2

NOTES: Ebner, who was third on the team in special teams tackles, is a free agent. The Patriots would like to retain him, but otherwise, this is a position where every other player is under contract.


Malcolm Butler -- 68

Logan Ryan -- 68

Justin Coleman -- 43

NOTES: The Patriots were fortunate that Butler and Ryan stayed healthy all season and gave them quality snaps. They would like to add more depth here, as this position figures to be an offseason priority.


Dont'a Hightower -- 56

Jamie Collins -- 53

Jonathan Freeny -- 21

NOTES: Jerod Mayo has likely played his last game with the team. Hightower and Collins both have contracts that expire after the 2016 season and beginning negotiations could be a part of the offseason strategy for the team.


Rob Ninkovich -- 51

Jabaal Sheard -- 47

Chandler Jones -- 46

NOTES: A quiet finish to the season for Jones, who finished with just one tackle on the stat sheet. All three players are under contract for 2016, with 2015 draft picks Geneo Grissom (third round) and Trey Flowers (fourth round) developing in the pipeline.


Malcom Brown -- 36

Alan Branch -- 35

Akiem Hicks -- 33

Sealver Siliga -- 15

NOTES: Hicks and Siliga are free agents, and the Patriots will get Dominique Easley back. A team can never have enough big bodies in the middle.