March 15, 2003
Patriots Are Free Agent Patsies No More
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
You might say that this is like Troy Brown languishing in obscurity for about six years, and then he's an All-Pro overnight.
Heads must still be spinning all over Norfolk County. Red carpets are being rolled out, and people might finally be warming up to the new stadium as being a magnet for prime talent instead of a facility with bad acoustics and few toilets. Willie McGinest must be grinning ear to ear with thoughts of, after all these years, someone who will finally bring back the good old days when Chris Slade was his pass rushing bud.
After several years of signing a bunch of Joe Averages and Joe Irrelevants, the Patriots changed their free agent modus operandi in the span of a mere twenty-four hours. Leaving Patriot Nation both ecstatic and speechless at the same time, the Patriots inked two high profile free agents, one of whom is labeled by many as the best free agent of the 2003 crop.
The Patriots began this football equivalent of a sonic boom by signing Chicago linebacker Roosevelt Colvin to a seven-year deal on Wednesday. They then struck back the very next morning and procured San Diego All-Pro safety Rodney Harrison for six years. Both men are impact players, with similar and diverse styles, and both men immediately inject life back into a Patriot defense that had become moribund in 2002.
Both Colvin and Harrison opposed the Patriots in 2002, and Harrison came to Foxborough in '01. Harrison might be the better known of the two, but Colvin is the one with the most upside and the most potential to improve the Patriot defense for 2003.
Colvin, who attended Purdue and was a fellow Boilermaker along with Matt Light, played in the Windy City in the shadows of the great Brian Urlacher, perhaps the preeminent linebacker in the league. But Colvin caught Bill Belichick's eye during the Patriots' wild and wacky 33-31 win at Champaign last season, and the coach never forgot his tremendous physical skills which might have been ignored to some degree by the league due to the presence of Urlacher.
Colvin figures to fill a dual purpose in the Patriot defense. In some alignments, he will be a complementary pass rusher to McGinest, which ought to help the Patriot veteran regain some of his lost glory as a pass rusher. Colvin also will help the Patriots greatly if they decide to go to a 3-4 defense, as he will be able to handle short dump passes quite well. Colvin's speed will be seen in both his pass rushing and his pass coverage skills.
Harrison, meanwhile, was a curious signing, but a momentous one to say the least.
Bringing in Harrison to an already crowded Patriot safety corps that features All-Pros left and right might seem a bit imprudent, as well as risky (salary cap problems, finding enough playing time, etc.). Harrison's natural position is strong safety, a position which has been in firm control by Lawyer Milloy since 1996. To make matters more interesting, the Patriots have a free safety, Tebucky Jones, who has had to have the franchise tag slapped on him. Can these three men, along with Victor Green, find happiness all as one on the same team?
Harrison, one of the league's notoriously hard hitters, plays a style of football much like Milloy does. The difference between Harrison and Milloy is that the league has disciplined Harrison on a few occasions. Using Harrison as a nickel safety is one solution, but at the money the Patriots will be paying him, making Harrison a situational player won't be the most prudent way to go.
One question about what to do was answered on Friday. The Patriots let the deadline to remove the franchise tag off of Jones lapse, so the tag will stick on Jones. For the next four months, the Patriots cannot ink Jones to a long-term deal lest they want the franchise tag to remain on Jones for the length of such a deal. But the flip side is that the Patriots will either keep him or lose him for two first round picks in return. And they can keep franchising him as long as they want. There is no urgency to move Jones at any time.
Another scenario that might have happened was that Jones would be traded to New Orleans for a first round pick. New Orleans was cool to the idea of trading a first rounder for Jones, but that could change any day if the Saints want Jones bad enough (and free safety is a position the Saints need to address). Between now and the 15th of July, a team could work a sign-and-trade deal with the Patriots, and the Patriots would not suffer for having let Friday's deadline lapse.
Jones, Milloy and Harrison all carry high cap figures. Some accounts say that the Patriots may try to shop Milloy and get rid of his cap number. The smart thinking is that Belichick may try and find a way to mesh all three men and get cap relief in another way, especially if the Patriots do draft two first rounders.
But this is all detail. For now, the thought of two big defensive studs coming to Foxborough is really something. One of the real positives about Gillette Stadium was supposed to be its ability to attract a better quality of free agents. One year after its debut, it looks like that finally will be the case.
Colvin cautioned to everyone that "I'm a piece of the puzzle, not the solution!" True as that may be, few people will actually pay attention. As far as they're concerned, it's time to get back to the days of holding the Rams to 17 points on the world's biggest football stage, stifling great backs like Jerome Bettis and Marshall Faulk, and making every opposing quarterback run for his life.
At the very least, no one can ever accuse the Patriots of being Patsies in the free agent market anymore.
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