Retaining Free Agents the First Phase of Patriots’ Larger Offseason Plans

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March 17, 2010

Retaining Free Agents the First Phase of Patriots' Larger Offseason Plans Less than two weeks into the NFL's free-agency period, the Patriots have made their objectives clear. They've tried to retain their own, while avoiding the temptation to overspend on the thin crop of free agents who were available elsewhere.

The Pats have re-signed cornerback Leigh Bodden (reportedly five years, $28 million), linebacker Tully Banta-Cain (reportedly three years and $13.5 million, with the possibility of it totaling $18 million), running back Kevin Faulk (reportedly one year and potentially $3 million) and right guard Stephen Neal (reportedly two years, $6.5 million), and they've also avoided a messy situation by extending defensive lineman Vince Wilfork's contract (reportedly five years, $40 million).

No, the Patriots haven't added any new, serious talent, but there was a bare market for impact players. Defensive end Julius Peppers inked a deal with the Bears reportedly worth six years and $91.5 million, which is an astounding price for a guy with so many knocks on his resume. And the Dolphins reportedly gave linebacker Karlos Dansby $43 million over five years. That was just too much cheese for the Patriots to lay on the dish, especially since they needed to work so hard to keep their own crop of free agents.

"I'll tell you what, every move [the Patriots] make is to better our football team," Wilfork said. "It's to better our chances that we're getting done what we need to get done. So, as fans, we need to trust that."

New England's front office still has plenty of work remaining on its offseason agenda. It's got to re-sign restricted free agents Logan Mankins, Stephen Gostkowski and, potentially, Pierre Woods. Unrestricted free agent Derrick Burgess might also be an option, as could wide receivers Josh Reed or Muhsin Muhammad, or tight end Alge Crumpler, among other lower-profile players.

Realistically, the Patriots' most prized offseason additions could come during next month's draft, in which they possess four of the first 53 picks. With such a deep pool of talent — particularly among edge rushers, tight ends and wide receivers — the Pats will have a better opportunity to really address their biggest needs.

At this point, the Patriots' biggest personnel moves might not draw the most excitement because they haven't added a marquee name from out of town, but there has been too much in-house maintenance to tend to first. Rest assured, the guys returning to the organization remain optimistic for what the rest of the offseason has in store.

"We always have a great plan each week because we have great coaches and a lot of players that want to do their job," said Neal, who decided against retirement a few weeks ago. "I still want to be a part of that, and I think we can do good things. We just need to start building right now."

Faulk understands the recent outside criticism but offers a reminder that the team's early-decade accomplishments were extremely rare.

"Our goal every year is to make it to the playoffs and make it to the
Super Bowl," said Faulk, who has been with the Patriots since his rookie
season in 1999. "But realistically, how often does that happen to an
organization each and every year? That doesn't happen often. And when we
did it, it was just something that happened and we got on a roll. It's
just something that goes on in professional sports, not just football."

By retaining a core group of the team's free agents, the Patriots have completed a portion of their primary objective. The next phase of the offseason is under way.

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