A couple weeks ago the where-there-is-smoke... story in New England involved the possible addition of pass-rushing defensive end Julius Peppers.
Now, while the Peppers' rumors and reports have quieted a bit, the smoldering subject involves the seemingly mutual interest and admiration between the Patriots and free agent pass-rushing defensive end Jason Taylor.
The former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and constant thorn in New England's side during his days with the Dolphins was released by the Redskins this spring after one disappointing and injury slowed campaign in Washington. Since then, his football future has been in doubt.
The Taylor-to-New England talk picked up speed at the NFL owners' meetings when Robert Kraft was asked about his team's former long-time division foe potentially signing with the Patriots.
"Great player," Kraft told Yahoo Sports. "I'm sure that can happen if he wants it."
New England has an obvious hole on the outside since Mike Vrabel's trade to Kansas City. And Taylor has experience in a Patriots-like defense thanks to his time playing under former Bill Belichick assistant Nick Saban in Miami. So those few words from Kraft shifted fans' dreams from Peppers to Taylor.
Even the sack master himself was a bit intrigued by Kraft's comments.
"I did hear that. I can't lie," Taylor told reporters March 29 prior to an event for his foundation at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino outside of Miami. "I have not talked to Robert Kraft. We'll leave it at that. Those things will sort themselves out, and hopefully in the near future so I can get back to work.
"But it's great to be wanted. It's great to be wanted. Sure, especially an organization like them or the Dolphins."
Before New Englanders get too attached to the idea of adding a future Hall of Famer, with his last few words Taylor clearly left the door open for a return to Miami just a year removed from seemingly paving his own way out of town after butting heads with Bill Parcells.
Regardless of where Taylor actually ends up, or Peppers for that matter, the last month has been an intriguing one for New England fans watching from afar as the Patriots work to fill a major void at outside linebacker.
True, right now the New England depth chart shows lackluster names like Pierre Woods and Tully Banta-Cain as placeholders in Vrabel's vacant starting job. But based on the old where-there-is-smoke-there-is-fire theory Patriots fans could very well be watching an elite pass-rushing defensive end transition to outside linebacker this fall in the former of either Peppers or Taylor. That would clearly be a case of the rich getting richer and another reason to include the team among potential 2009 Super Bowl contenders.
--The Patriots announced their four preseason opponents March 30, although the times and exact dates of the games have yet to be determined. New England opens exhibition action in Philadelphia (sometime on the weekend of Aug.13-17), hosts the Bengals (Aug. 20-24), visits the Redskins in a nationally televised primetime matchup on Aug. 28 and closes out the preseason hosting the Giants (Sept. 3-4).
--Backed by the star power of the return of Tom Brady and the Buffalo debut of Terrell Owens the AFC East rival Patriots and Bills will be part of the prime time action for opening weekend 2009. New England will host their new-look divisional visitors on Monday Night Football on September 14 at Gillette Stadium in a matchup of playmaking No. 81 wide receivers - T.O. and Randy Moss. The game will also pay homage to the two teams' celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the start of the American Football League in 1960. Both squads will honor their inaugural season by wearing throwback jerseys for the prime time meeting.
--Lou Saban, the first coach of the Patriots in 1960, died March 29 at the age of 87.
"On behalf of the New England Patriots organization and my entire family, we are deeply saddened by the news of Lou Saban's passing and extend sincere sympathies to the entire Saban family," said Patriots Chairman and CEO Robert Kraft. "As the Patriots' first head coach, Lou helped kick off a new era of football in Boston. As a result, a part of his football legacy will forever be linked to many of the firsts in our franchise's history. This season, we will be celebrating the Patriots' 50th anniversary and reflecting back on that inaugural season. It should give us all cause to appreciate Lou's many contributions during the Patriots' formative years."
--OL Damane Duckett signed with New England March 23. The former undrafted free agent actually entered the NFL as a defensive lineman and has spent time with the Panthers, Giants and 49ers. While he's appeared in 20 games, all that action came prior to the switch to offense in San Francisco in 2007. He spent that season on the team's practice squad and last fall on its injured reserve list.
They Said It: "Those guys try to get everybody," -- Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown on talk that former teammate Jason Taylor could land with the Patriots.
For more on Adam Caplan's take on the Taylor situation, check the Insider's Lounge where Caplan shared some insight into the debate between signing Jason Taylor or trading for Julius Peppers
Hot Topic: Julius Peppers to the Pats?