New England has a number of challenges to address to fill out their roster which was filled with aging, injured players the past few seasons. With the departures of names like; Rosevelt Colvin, Donte Stallworth, Asante Samuel and Kyle Brady, the needs on both sides of the ball are apparent. The Patriots did make some free agent acquisitions, notably re-signing Randy Moss -- easily their most important acquisition of the past four years
Here's a look at an updated version of the teams' top 3 needs based upon the transactions to date:
1) Linebacker: Although the Patriots have need in the secondary, a key issue at this time is the linebacker unit which lost Rosevelt Colvin to injury and may not see him return. Tedy Bruschi re-signed for two years, but Bruschi only played roughly half the plays on defense and is better suited to running situations during games. Junior Seau has yet to decide what to do for next season. At 38, Seau (still a free agent) may be ready to call it a career after coming so close to his first championship... or he may be recharged for one more run. In either case, depth is a major issue, and one the Patriots will address through the Draft even though they signed T.J. Slaughter and have Eric Alexander and Pierre Woods set to return. Mike Vrabel and Adalius Thomas are the other starters to return.
2) Defensive back: Although you could argue corner is still the top concern, the Patriots did sign three cornerbacks / defensive backs through free agency (Lewis Sanders, Fernando Bryant and Jason Webster), alleviating the desperate need for a corner, but not addressing the issue completely. A player who can fill in as a safety, nickel corner or corner is high on New England's list of needs. The team lost three starters (Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson and Randall Gay), and the replacements, although talented, aren't statistically a match for what was lost.
3) Tight End: No, it's not a misprint. The Patriots need another tight end to help shore up a position which has been decimated by injury over the past three seasons. Kyle Brady was released, and may return, although there's been no indication that possibility remains. Ben Watson and David Thomas have struggled with injuries the past two seasons. New England was so desperate for help at the position in 2007, that they signed players off the street just to field healthy bodies in the preseason. Names like Marcellus Rivers, Jake Nordin, Jason Rader, Matt Kranchick, Brian Jones and Stephen Spach shuttled in and out of Foxboro during the 2007 season. In the Draft, the Patriots' most recent TE pick was Thomas, but they also selected TE/FB prospect Garrett Mills (2006, Tulsa) and TE Andy Stokes (2005, William Penn). Neither made the final roster although Mills is currently with the Vikings.
MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Troy Brown played just one game in his 15th season after starting the year on PUP. He may retire, but if he doesn't the team has reportedly told him that he's not in its plans moving forward.
--S Mel Mitchell played in 10 games and is a core special teams-type guy. He might choose to go elsewhere as New England only has room for so many one-dimensional special teamers.
--CB Chad Scott didn't make it through training camp and has been hurt often. He's a solid veteran backup and could be back with the team in the market for corner depth.
--LB Junior Seau was expected to get his first Super Bowl ring and retire. The Giants messed that little story up. He was healthy all year and made plays. If he doesn't retire after his 18th season, the only place he'll be playing is in New England.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS:
--LB Eric Alexander is a decent though injury prone special teamer although he's yet to show anything on defense, other than of course his still inexplicable start in the 2006 AFC title loss in Indianapolis.
--WR Sam Aiken: UFA Bills; $1.555M/2 yrs, $225,000 SB/$40,000 WO; 2008 cap: $757,500.
--CB Fernando Bryant: FA Lions; $776,000/1 yr, $20,000 SB/$20,000 WO; 2008 cap: $491,000.
--CB Lewis Sanders: FA Falcons; $770,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB; 2008 cap: $491,000.
--LB T.J. Slaughter: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--CB Jason Webster: UFA Bills; $800,000/1 yr, $130,000 guaranteed/$70,000 WO.
--S Tank Williams: UFA Vikings; $645,000/1 yr, $40,000 WO; 2008 cap: $491,000.
--T Wesley Britt: ERFA; terms unknown.
--LB Tedy Bruschi: Potential UFA; $4.1M/2 yrs, $1.2M SB; 2008 cap: $1.6M.
--WR Jabar Gaffney: UFA; $1.281M/1 yr, $500,000 SB/$75,000 WO.
--LB Larry Izzo: Potential UFA; $870,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB; 2008 cap: 485,000.
--WR Randy Moss: UFA; $27M/3 yrs, $12M SB/$3M base guarantee; 2008 cap: $6M.
--LS Lonie Paxton: UFA; $880,000/1 yr, $150,000 SB.
--S Ray Ventrone: ERFA; $370,000/1 yr.
--WR Kelley Washington: UFA; $1.855M/2 yrs, $450,000 SB; 2008: $830,000.
--LB Pierre Woods: ERFA; terms unknown.
--DL Mike Wright: RFA; terms unknown (tendered at $1.47M).
--TE Kyle Brady (released/failed physical).
--LB Rosevelt Colvin (released/failed physical).
--CB Randall Gay: UFA Saints; $12M/4 yrs, $3.75M SB.
--DL Rashad Moore: Not tendered as RFA/Falcons; terms unknown.
--CB Asante Samuel: UFA Eagles; $59.475M/6 yrs, $6M SB/$7M RB 08-09.
--WR Donte Stallworth: UFA Browns; $35M/7 yrs, $10M guaranteed.
--DB Eugene Wilson: UFA Buccaneers; $1.8M/1 yr, $500,000 guaranteed.
--LB Oscar Lua (released)
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Material from The Sports Xchange was used in this report (with permission).