Originally Posted by SHALISE MANZA YOUNG
Few options for Pats on NFL shopping day
07:54 AM EST on Sunday, February 10, 2008
BY SHALISE MANZA YOUNG
Journal Sports Writer
For some, the biggest shopping day of the year is the Friday after Thanksgiving.
In the NFL, it’s March 1, the opening day of free agency.
The New England Patriots won’t be the big buyers they were last year, when they signed Adalius Thomas, Kyle Brady and Sammy Morris in the first three days of free agency, added Donte Stallworth and Kelley Washington within 10 days, and acquired Wes Welker.
That’s because the Patriots’ wallet this year isn’t as fat as it was in 2007. New England is currently somewhere between $8.3 million and $10.9 million under the salary cap, which is expected to be $116.1 million.
Last year, the team had $19 million in spending money.
And there aren’t a lot of options when it comes to one of New England’s biggest needs: inside linebacker. Junior Seau and Tedy Bruschi both could decide to retire, but even if they don’t, Seau is 39 and Bruschi turns 35 in June. Assuming Rosevelt Colvin will be healthy for the start of the season, Thomas will move back inside — though he was beginning to shine toward the end of the year, when he was on the outside — with Colvin and Mike Vrabel outside.
But as shown when Colvin was injured, the unit needs depth.
The Pats’ Eric Alexander, coming off his fourth season and a restricted free agent, has seen few snaps on defense. Oscar Lua, a seventh-round draft pick last year, spent the season on injured reserve, so he is an unknown commodity.
Available players who have experience playing in the middle of a 3-4 defensive system are few: Cleveland’s Chaun Thompson, 27, has played for former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, and was moved from inside to outside during training camp last season. The 6-foot-2, 255-pounder had 21 tackles and a sack for the Browns this year, playing in all 16 games as a reserve.
The Ravens’ Nick Greisen played in 14 games, with two starts, backing up Ray Lewis and Bart Scott. Listed at 6-1, 245 pounds, the 28-year-old has also played with the Jaguars and Giants. He was credited with 30 tackles last year.
Caleb Miller, who has spent his four-year career with the Bengals, plays middle linebacker in a 4-3 system. He played in three games last season before being placed on injured reserve with a back injury.
New England has signed players with an injury history in the past, as they generally don’t carry a high price tag; if the player performs well, it’s a bargain, and if not, the risk wasn’t a big one.
Pittsburgh’s Clark Haggans and the Jets’ Victor Hobson play outside on 3-4 teams. Haggans is an eight-year veteran who has been productive throughout his career, with 58 tackles and 4 sacks in 2007; Hobson had 64 tackles. Bill Belichick has moved players inside in the past, generally smart veterans who have experience in a 3-4, such as Thomas and Vrabel.
Aside from the Pats’ own Asante Samuel, Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha is the biggest name available in the secondary. A five-year veteran, Asomugha has what New England’s corners lack: size; he’s 6-2, 210 pounds. His numbers were down last year (34 tackles, 1 interception, 7 passes defensed), but Asomugha had a big year in ’06 — 80 tackles, 8 picks.
Top corners don’t come cheaply — witness the eight-year, $80-million deal Nate Clements got from San Francisco last year, which Samuel may surpass — but after spending the last few years in Oakland, Asomugha may be willing to take less to come to a winning club.
Safety Ken Hamlin, who spent last year with Dallas after beginning his career with the Seahawks, is 6-2, 206 and strong in pass coverage; he had five interceptions last season. Hamlin’s former teammate, corner Marcus Trufant, is also a free agent. Trufant was a playmaker for Seattle, with 85 tackles and 7 interceptions — 3 against Arizona in December — plus another in the postseason against Washington, which he returned for a touchdown.
Baltimore’s Gerome Sapp, Cincinnati’s Madieu Williams, the Jets’ Erik Coleman, Houston’s Will Demps and Miami’s Yeremiah Bell are all available. Bell tore his Achilles in the Dolphins’ season opener.
Were New England to try and acquire some offensive line help, Carolina’s Jordan Gross is a solid option at right tackle. The 27-year- old Gross, entering his fifth season, is 6-4, 300 pounds.
The team could also bring back a familiar face in Brandon Gorin. Traded to Arizona before the 2006 season, Gorin (6-6, 308 pounds) played in 31 games over three seasons with the Patriots.
Eight-time Bears Pro Bowler Ruben Brown, Steelers’ guard Alan Faneca and Dallas left tackle Flozell Adams are free agents as well.