Patriots Report: New Coach, Rumors and More

Bill O'Brien

The Patriots hired another coach, Ben Watson is going on tour and the Free Agency Rumor Mill is in full swing.

ANOTHER NEW COACH

The New England Patriots named college coach Bill O'Brien as an offensive assistant coach to the Patriots Tuesday. O'Brien joined New England after two seasons at Duke University where he was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

In addition to his recent experience at Duke, O'Brien's college coaching tenure includes stints at the University of Maryland (running backs) and Georgia Tech (OC, quarterbacks). His extensive experience comes mostly from the ACC, where he began as a graduate assistant and worked his way through the ranks.

The Andover, Massachusetts native attended Brown University (1990-92), where he played both linebacker and defensive end. He began his coaching career at Brown tutoring linebackers and tight ends.

O'Brien is the second coach to join New England this off-season. Nick Casiero was named as the team's wide receivers coach earlier this month.

WATSON GOES OVERSEAS

Four NFL players, including the Patriots tight end Benjamin Watson will be participating in a NFL-USO tour through the Persian Gulf region this year. Recognized for their community service and commitment to excellence, these four stars will uphold a 40-year old tradition showing their support for the U.S. troops overseas.

Joining Watson are Alge Crumpler (Falcons), Will Shields (Chiefs) and Shelton Quarles (Buccaneers). The program dates back to the 60's and has had famous players such as Terry Bradshaw, Dick Butkus, Larry Csonka, Don Merideth and Mike Singeltary among it's many distinguished past participants.

Last year was the 40th Anniversary of the NFL-USO Tour. Players visited Afghanistan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan and the United Arab Emirates.

FREE AGENCY

Teams are preparing to open their wallets as the start of free agency begins on Friday March 2nd. New England has over a dozen players set to hit that open market; key names among the list are tight end Daniel Graham, receiver Troy Brown and linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. With the significant jump in cap space for most teams this year, many of those Patriots players will benefit by cashing in with large offers from other teams.

The Patriots are one of the teams with the most cap space available, which translates in their ability to be players in the market. Yet in spite of that cap space, New England has been unable to reach an agreement on new deals with Graham, and their top defensive free agent Asante Samuel.

Samuel Off the Market

Samuel was given the Franchise tag designation, which means that other teams can make him an offer, but the Patriots have the right to match the offer. If the Patriots elect not to match, then they will get a first and third round pick from the other team in next year's Draft.

Graham Will Not Be Signed

Graham will however test the open market. Scout.com reported last week that the Patriots would not reach a deal with their former first round pick and he would draw interest from a group of teams. Adam Caplan, senior NFL Reporter for Scout.com, confirmed today that Graham will not be re-signed by the Patriots before today's deadline.

Even though the Patriots are in a position to offer Graham a hefty new deal, it's expected that he will cash in on his free agent status by signing elsewhere. Graham's performance over the past five seasons has drawn the interest of more than a few coaches around the league. Early indications are that it's a four team race to sign the former Colorado Buffalo.

Other Free Agents

Patriots set to become free agents are: Graham, Brown, Banta-Cain, Junior Seau, Don Davis, Larry Izzo, Barry Gardner, Ray Mickens, Patrick Pass, Todd Sauerbrun, Ken Walter, Vinny Testaverde and Heath Evans.

Evans has reportedly reached an agreement to remain with the Patriots, while Testaverde is expected to retire.

A full list of the Patriots unrestricted, restricted or exclusive free agents, can be found here: Patriots 2007 Free Agents

For more information on Franchise and Transition Tags or exclusive free agents read this piece by Tom Marino on Salary Cap 101

For an explanation of the restricted free agent process be sure to review this article: Salary Cap 101 - Free Agents

REPLACING DILLON

Last week news surfaced that Patriots running back Corey Dillon would not be returning to the team. Speculation that Dillon would retire was the initial report, but Scout.com confirmed immediately that Dillon wasn't planning on retiring, rather he would seek his release so that he could play elsewhere. Insider Adam Caplan reported for PatriotsInsider.com that Dillon would have a reduced role in 2007, which was something that didn't sit well with the future Hall of Famer.

Planning for their future, the Patriots scouted running backs at the NFL Combine. Insider reports on those backs will be published on PatriotsInsider.com in the next week or two. Be sure to check back for more. In the meantime, you can read the running back scouting reports by NFL Scout Tom Marino and TFY Draft Preview's Tony Pauline here: 2007 NFL Combine Coverage

IN SEARCH OF... A PUNTER

The latest word is that punter Todd Sauerbrun won't sign with New England before the start of free agency. Indications from the Senior Bowl were that the Patriots were pushing hard to sign Sauerbrun to a new deal before the veteran punter reached free agency. After a shaky start, Sauerbrun turned in stellar performances as the season wound down. The Patriots were impressed with Sauerbrun's leg strength and wanted him back.

Sauerbrun signed with New England in the middle of the 2006 season after starter Josh Miller went down with an injury and his replacement Ken Walter was also sidelined with an injury of his own. After dealing with some off-the-field issues relating to a steroid scandal, Sauerbrun needed another opportunity to prove he could play in the NFL. The former West Virginia special teams ace found that opportunity with the Patriots who needed an experienced punter quickly. If Sauerbrun moves on, and that's a real possibility, the Patriots will need to address the position for next season.

In addition to Miller, New England has two pro prospects on the roster for 2007, Tom Malone and Danny Baugher. They are expected to participate in NFL Europa as part of their process to get ready for the NFL. There's no guarantee that either will make an NFL roster next season, let alone the Patriots. If Miller is healthy, he'll be the guy.

ACTION JACKSON BACK IN ACTION?

A bit of news to come out of the Combine chatter surrounded Patriots wide receiver Chad Jackson, who tore up his ACL in the AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. Early reports indicated Jackson might miss the entire 2007 campaign. Word from Scout.com insiders is that the injury, while bad, shouldn't keep Jackson out of the lineup in 2007. According to a league source, Jackson is not only planning on returning for 2007, he's already working out in Foxborough trying to get back on track from a disappointing rookie season.

RUMOR MILL: VARIOUS NEWS & NOTES

The rumor mill rumblings have begun their annual ascent to the top of the news this week, as talk about where free agents will sign becomes the primary focus for many. The Patriots are in the center of much of that speculation, mostly concerning what will happen with other team's free agents rather than their own.

Some of the recent rumors surround key free agents like wide receiver Donte Stallworth. The Eagles pass catcher reportedly said he would like to go to the Patriots if things don't work out in Philadelphia.

There is also talk about Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas who is not likely to return to Baltimore according to Ravens Insider

The Chargers have some linebackers set to become free agents, and one of those, Donnie Edwards, is a possibility to join New England in 2007. Edwards was part of trade talk rumors surrounding the Patriots in last year's off-season before it was determined the Chargers were asking too steep a price for a veteran linebacker whose best days were behind him.

More on the top free agent linebackers can be found here from Viking Update's Tim Yotter: http://story.scout.com/a.z?s=121&p=2&c=619997

Track the Latest Rumors in the Insider's Lounge where members can ask Scout.com insiders about the latest rumblings around the league.

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