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A Free Agent Farm In Foxborough

Bob George
Bob George on Twitter
22 years ago at 6:29 pm ET

Print lots of media guides, fellas. We’ll need ’em.

Just let us know if Bill Belichick is one of the orderees. Not that we’ll be surprised or anything. He may need one just to remember all those new faces he’s bringing in this fall.

It is becoming quite clear why the Patriots took the tack they did on draft day. In what is clearly a melting pot bigger than a steel mill in Pittsburgh, the Patriots are bringing in new face after new face to Smithfield in a few weeks. Chances are you’ll see someone who the Patriots played against in each of their sixteen games last year.

Will it produce a winner? So far, the 2001 AFC East looks as up in the air as a brand new CMGi Field steel girder. If there were any year for Belichick to shake things up and throw out a brand new Patriot team that perhaps he doesn’t even know, this might be the time to do it. With virtually every team in the division in transition right now, the timing is good.

The Patriots perhaps lead the league in ex-Dolphins. Yesterday, the Pats signed CB Terrell Buckley to a veteran-minimum deal, with incentives that could put it in the $1 million range. Buckley will now compete for the job opposite his friend Ty Law, and join Terrence Shaw, Kato Serwanga and Otis Smith for the starting RCB job. Buckley joins Damon Huard, Larry Izzo and Bert Emmanuel who have made the 1,500-mile ride up I-95 from Miami to Foxborough. We aren’t kidding, the interstate does traverse both locales.

Patriot fans who have denounced Belichick for his questionable draft strategy are perhaps cooling off a bit lately. Belichick has literally flung open the gates of free agency, and the Patriots have been one of the more active teams in the NFL in this area. They have upgraded many areas on the team, such that while it won’t guarantee a Vince, it might help veer the good ship Patriot back towards consistent playoff contention.

By swapping Huard for John Friesz as backup quarterback, the Patriots provided a huge upgrade at the position as well as immense cap savings. Friesz’ cap hit is now only $200,000, about ten percent less than if they had not released him. Having Huard in a Patriot uniform is good news enough, as he won’t be starting for Miami any more. Jay Fiedler still holds that position down in Miami, though Huard is a better choice as their starter. Instead of starting for Miami like he should, now he’s Drew Bledsoe’s backup.

Fans screamed for running back help in the draft. Instead, Belichick brought in two fresh new faces to try and be the next Curtis Martin and Sam Gash. RB Antowain Smith comes in from Buffalo, while FB Marc Edwards moves to Foxborough from Cleveland. Edwards provides an immediate upgrade from Tony Carter, and Smith, if he is healthy, gives the Patriots a powerful backfielder who may have some good years left in him. Robert Edwards continues his saga, but Smith may be just what J.R. Redmond and Kevin Faulk need at this time.

Is it possible to go from a lousy offensive line to a good one in just one offseason? The Patriots could very well send out a line that reads, left to right, Adrian Klemm, free agent Mike Compton (Lions), Damien Woody, free agent Joe Panos (Bills), and Greg Robinson-Randall. Waiting in the wings would be draftees Matt Light and Kenyatta Jones. This right away represents an upgraded offensive line. It may not be able to carve a tunnel through solid bedrock, but it sure is better than previous years. Klemm and Randall have a lot to prove at the all-important tackle positions, but the running game is sure to benefit from three solid interior blockers. If Klemm is healthy and can keep Bledsoe’s backside safe, and if Randall improves on the promise he showed last year, the prospects for the line are encouraging.

Patriot wideouts are becoming like the Red Sox starting pitchers. You lose Pedro Martinez, and his replacement gets beaten only because one of their guys threw a one-hit shutout. Here, Terry Glenn gets busted and has one foot in the slammer and the other on a banana peel, and the Patriots have four new guys to step in and take his place. Charles Johnson, Torrance Small, David Patten and Emmanuel provide sudden depth at the position. It almost guarantees that Troy Brown will be allowed to return to the slot position, where he is among the league’s best. If Glenn does not return, none of these guys will evenly replace him, but it does give Bledsoe more than just clay ducks out there to shoot at.

Chad Eaton has not yet been replaced as the nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. It may not matter. All signs point to the Patriots returning to a 4-3 alignment for 2001. Top draft pick Richard Seymour is far better suited for a defensive tackle position in a 4-3. Anthony Pleasant, formerly of the Jets, will come in and play end. Brandon Mitchell will return, and Riddick Parker was signed as a free agent as well. Mike Vrabel was also brought in, and the ex-Steeler may be a help on situational pass-rushing downs. Izzo was signed mostly for his talent on special teams, but he is a linebacker who will give the Pats some needed depth in the defensive front seven.

Buckley now joins the long list of Patriot free agent chaps. Buckley has long desired to play for the Patriots and with his friend Law. Last year, Buckley played in Denver and had six interceptions. Buckley is known as a “gambler”, who gets lots of picks but also is susceptible to giving up the big play if he misses on his gamble. The Patriots are Buckley’s fourth NFL team.

Right now, the positions still in need of help are linebacker and defensive line. Every other position has received adequate attention in the offseason, either by draft or by free agency. And in the case of linebacker and DL, both of these positions did receive help (Seymour, Pleasant, Vrabel, draftee T.J. Turner). More linebacker depth would be nice, as would someone who could fill Eaton’s spot if Belichick still wishes to tinker in a 3-4 alignment.

Again, don’t expect a Vince with this bunch. At least not right away. If what Baltimore did last year is any indication of the direction of the league right now, the Patriot defense has a ways to go. Patriot Nation screamed for David Terrell on draft day, a wideout. Yet it was Ray Lewis, a linebacker, who was the Super Bowl MVP. Like I sometimes say, what do we know.

With these free agent upgrades, along with a second straight last place schedule, the Patriots at least figure to score more points and not allow teams to run the ball down their throats in 2001. Even minus Glenn, the Patriots do look a little brighter on the offensive side of the ball, and Seymour will be the focal point of the defense for the forseeable future.

And the possibility exists that Belichick is not yet done. There will be lots of other serviceable veterans out there who may be available before opening day. The Pats are $3 million under the cap right now. Seymour and Light still need to be signed. But other moves might yet be made (cutting veterans like Grant Williams, Rod Rutledge and Tony Simmons would free up $2.4 million right there).

Belichick may yet be hung out to dry in 2001. But do not blame the man for not trying. And do not blame the man for not having a plan. Rick Pitino should have been more like this, though his cap problems over at the Fleet were far more crippling than any cap problems here.

Like New England weather, if you want a change, wait a minute. If you want a new free agent linebacker, wait a minute. One’s probably on its way right now.

Posted Under: 2001 Patriots Offseason
Tags: 2001 Patriots Offseason Adrian Klemm Bert Emmanuel Bill Belichick Charles Johnson Damon Huard David Patten Kato Serwanga Larry Izzo New England Patriots Otis Smith Terrell Buckley Terrence Shaw Tony Carter Torrance Small Ty Law

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