The New England Patriots' quick, effective execution on the free agent market helped answer some of the questions surrounding this team at the end of last season. Now we have an idea of what they're trying to do.
Aside from being busy with trades, the Patriots made a number of signings at the start of the free agent period - most notably Fred Taylor, the former Jacksonville running back who was let go during the offseason because the Jaguars decided to stick with the younger Maurice Jones-Drew.
While the Matt Cassel/Mike Vrabel trade to Kansas City grabbed the most headlines, a smaller, more innocuous deal indicates what the Patriots felt was one of their areas of weakness last year. They shipped a fifth-round draft pick to Philadelphia in exchange for wide receiver Greg Lewis. They then added Joey Galloway to the mix with a one-year deal.
Offense wasn't a huge problem for the Patriots last year, but the abilities of Randy Moss and Wes Welker overshadowed the fact they were way too top-heavy at that position. After the top two, they were left with Jabar Gaffney as the No. 3 receiver. Since Welker is a slot receiver, there was no one talented enough on the opposite side to prevent opponents from double-teaming Moss.
Lewis and/or Gaffney should demand enough respect from opposing defensive coordinators and be an upgrade over Gaffney, who rejoined former offensive coordinator and newly hired Broncos coach Josh McDaniels in Denver. Last year, Lewis caught 19 passes 247 yards and a touchdown. He had a knack for making the big catch throughout his Philadelphia career, which began in 2003 when the Eagles signed him as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Illinois.
From an overall standpoint, Gaffney has better career numbers, but it also appears he's peaked. The Patriots see more potential and more room for flexibility with Lewis, who was a pretty good bargain in Philadelphia.
The signing of Taylor is essentially a swap for LaMont Jordan, who also signed with the Broncos. Taylor is 33 and his best years are behind him, so there's no chance he'd serve as a viable replacement for Laurence Maroney if the Patriots decided to trade their No. 1 running back.
Maroney has dealt with injuries and confidence issues the past three years, conjuring up rumors of a potential trade. For now, it appears he's here to stay, unless a major deal gets done on draft day. So do these moves mean the Patriots are more focused on improving the passing game than the running game? For now, yes, though a lot could change on draft weekend.
Springs Feeling It
--There's some doubt as to whether or not recently-acquired cornerback Shawn Springs has anything left in the tank at 34, but Springs is confident he can help upgrade a secondary that had a problem preventing big plays in the passing game last year.
The fun part will be watching him cover Terrell Owens, who is now a member of the Buffalo Bills. The two have some history together and have been matched up a lot throughout their careers.
"I texted (Owens) and told him, 'Stop following me around.' We've been in the NFC West together, we were in the NFC East together and now we're in the AFC East together," Springs said. "With me and Terrell, people know that I think he's a competitor and I'm a competitor. We never made it about us. It was always both of us trying to work really hard to help our teams win."
Stepehen Wants To Stick Around
--Stephen Gostkowski is one of several players whose contracts will expire at the end of next season.
The Pro-Bowl kicker, who chimed in with a career year last season, wants to stay with the team, but understands football is a business. He might be a candidate for the franchise tag depending on his asking price.
"I love it here," he said. "I love the organization. I love the community. I love how much New England is into their sports, so of course I'd love to be here, but you never know what happens in any situation. But I'm going to try my best to stay here."
Vrabel Stll Has The Fire
-- Mike Vrabel didn't come off as bitter in his first interview with the Kansas City media, though it appears he feels he still has plenty of football left after the Patriots sent him to the Chiefs in the Cassel trade.
"This is a production business and the bottom line is it is all about production," Vrabel said. "You put those eight years (I spent in New England) up against a lot of different guys, then I would be really happy with what I did in those eight years.
"With that being said, I know that I have got some more football left. I can still play and I can still help the Chiefs and I will help the Chiefs. I have never gone into a season and said, 'I am going to do this, this and this.' I promise you that I will work, I will be consistent and, God willing, I will be durable."
Baker Set To Contribute
--The Patriots recently signed former Jets tight end Chris Baker, who caught more passes against his new team than anyone else.
Surely, the Patriots knew this when they signed him, though Baker had no idea he'd had some of his best games against his former division rivals.
"I always got up a little bit more for that game to be honest because they were always the best team," Baker said. "Besides the '02 year they have won the division every year in the AFC East since I have been in the league. So, I always looked forward to playing them or maybe it just could have worked out that way.
"I always really try my best to have good games against New England because they have been the best in the division since I've been in the league."