by Scott Benson
The Pats lost Asante Samuel just as soon as free agency started, and it seemed for awhile they’d reached an impasse with uber talent Randy Moss. On the heels of a historic Super Bowl loss, things seemed to be getting worse for New England. News has gotten a bit better of late, albeit in a more understated way.
WE’RE PUTTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER
With all the sound and fury signifying Randy Moss, the re-signings of Jabar Gaffney and Kelley Washington slipped under the door with relatively little notice. I thought that Gaffney deal was bit odd – a year? – but that was kind of an important get for the Pats, given Moss’s return and the seeming commitment to carry forward the passing assault that set the record books on their ear last fall. For the second straight year, Gaffney stepped it up as they neared the wire. The game winning ‘catch’ in Baltimore stands out for me. If Gaffney had gotten away, the Pats may have struggled (based on the current roster) to find the right guy to fill his spot and force defenses to reckon with the Patriots other wideout. What happens after this year, who knows.
From my biased vantagepoint, it was also good to see Kelley Washington make his way back to Foxborough – his incredible palm block of that punt against the Jets elicited what was probably my single biggest “YEEEEEAAAAAAHHHHH” of the season. And I will steadfastly maintain that Washington flashed a little something as a receiver last August, before the big kids got out of school. I had visions of a big, intermediate receiver with a little pop after the catch. A nice fifth, or even fourth guy, if he can be consistent. I have no idea if that’s just my imagination. I hope not.
Because with Stallworth gone, the Pats have a need in those 4th and 5th spots. You’d think the 36th pick in the 2006 draft would, by now, be ready to ascend into a regular rotation with the spread-em-out Pats, but Chad Jackson’s done so little in two seasons that he remains an unknown as he begins his third. We know Washington’s earned a spot on the team with his special teams play, but he may be asked to do more if Jackson dawdles much longer.
Tedy Bruschi is back, and I think it was a Pats Fans poster who summed it up for me when he said (essentially), “glad to hear it. Hope it’s not to be a starter.” I revere Bruschi, but like the Wisconsin papers cried this week, time passes. And now it’s time to get going for the Patriots. Bruschi – at a pace that allows him to be at his best – can be a big part of sending them successfully on their way, and the rest of us can see once again a player who has long exemplified every single thing you’d want your team to stand for.
As did the Great Troy Brown.
YOU’RE MY BOY, BLUE
Randall Gay must be the new Patron Saint of UDFA’s with this deal he just signed with the Saints. First, he got almost four million to sign, which is probably more than he’s made in his entire career. Six million is guaranteed of a possible seventeen over four years. He’s with his hometown team. Nothing wrong with that. You had to pull for Gay, the undrafted free agent who made it to the Super Bowl twice. Even my wife will tell you that Randall Gay Is One Of The Most Consistent Tacklers On This Team!, because I only yelled that at her thirty-three times this season. But this is the nature of the league – all they are is dust in the wind, is what I’m trying to say.
THE NEW FREE AGENTS ARE HERE! THE NEW FREE AGENTS ARE HERE!
As I’m writing this, John Tomase is reporting the Pats have signed former Titans safety Tank Williams to a one-year deal. Williams had been with the Vikings, with whom he suffered a shattered kneecap in 2006. He’s just 27, and the worst of his comeback has to be behind him by now (he played 13 games with only two starts in 07), so maybe this is a player who could log significant time behind Rodney Harrison and James Sanders this season. What does this mean for one-time cornerback Brandon Meriweather, by the way? Anything?
Anyway, I have to say that for all my fretting about the center of the defense after Vince Wilfork, signing an 27 year old safety called ‘Tank’ is hitting me right where I live, brother.
The Pats are collecting the down-on-their-luck defensive backs. Jason Webster missed all but a few minutes of last season, and now the 30 year old will step in for Gay, or even Samuel, for all I know. He’s almost always been a starter over nearly 90 games in the league, which is why it’s so embarrassing that I have no memory of this guy whatsoever. I was thinking the LSU Webster, but I think that’s Corey. Jason? Uh uh. But the Pats have taken a primary hit in the secondary, so all hands on deck. He’s got to remain upright, though, something he’s had a hard time doing lately.
I know who Sam Aiken is, because he’s actually played the Pats a number of times when I was conscious. Plus, who’s not going to immediately go, “hey, the Jills suited up Clay Aiken!” when he runs across the screen? But he is kind of the Kelley Washington of Upper New York State, and the Bills have always known what they’re doing when it comes to special teams. So I am all for the special teams arms race the Patriots are in.
IT’S PRETTY MUCH MY FAVORITE ANIMAL. IT’S LIKE A LION AND A TIGER MIXED, BRED FOR ITS SKILLS IN MAGIC.
So where do they go from here? How much more of the team can be built before the draft? There’s still free agents to visit I’m sure, though if I recall correctly, things have a way of slowing down after a few weeks. Can the Pats make a dent in rehabbing their defense before the draft, or will they look to fill in elsewhere?
Offense - you can’t say quarterback or running back is worth focusing much on now, provided Sammy Morris is okay. Receiver? They did appear to have an interest in Marty Booker for awhile, maybe to be the fourth receiver we talked about earlier, though I don’t know if that puts them in the market for Bryant Johnson or D.J. Hackett, two of the more recognizeable, and remaining, free agents. Guess who the best available blocking tight end is? Kyle Brady. So I figure the Pats draft there. I haven’t heard of any linemen that the Pats seem interested in, though they could always stand to work on their depth – again, the draft seems to be where it’s at, as they’ve never been shy in using draft picks on the line. Wild guess, but until the draft, they don’t sign any offensive players that aren’t special teamers first, like Aiken.
Defense – Speaking of depth, I think of the defensive line, though they seem to like Mike Wright and I saw some spark in LeKevin Smith at times. They still don’t have a backup proto-plugger to Wilfork, but I’m looking at the list of names and the UFA’s are guys like Ted Washington and Keith Traylor. Back….to the Future! At linebacker, Junior Seau’s still up in the air, where he will remain for awhile, I suspect. Mike Reiss reports tonight that former Panther Adam Seward will visit soon. Noteable thing is that he’s a restricted free agent who would cost the Pats a fifth round pick if he signs. He comes from a 3-4 background in college and projects as an inside linebacker for the Pats, according to Reiss. He has the size, evidently, and he’s 26 this June. He’s got only 2 starts as 31 games as an OLB in the Panthers 4-3. Not much to go on, but it would at least be a young player at a position that needs one. At worst he’s another special teams player, something he apparently did well for Carolina. A few Pats fans are clamoring for Victor Hobson, and Clark Haggans may fit as a pass rusher, and there may be other Sewards out there – unrestricted ones – that will pop up. People have talked about Reynaldo Hill, the restricted CB from Tennessee, who would cost just a seventh if he joined the Pats. He’s another who’s been a starter for the Titans, and he’s only in his fourth year. It seems like the defense is where the Pats will focus if they try to build depth before the draft.