March 08, 2009
A Week and Two Days of Furious Free Agency
By:  Stan Jaksina
PatsFans.com Fan Columnist

That in some way sums up free agency so far for the Patriots. It's been a bit crazy with ups and downs, but this team is headed in the right direction. Here are some observations day by day of what has happened so far.

Day One---Friday

I really had not expected all that much going on given the money situation, but just after I left my wife off for work, the word came down that running back Fred Taylor was signing with the team. It had been rumored, but having that in the bag only made me smile a great deal. Bye bye Lamont, hello Fred! It was a super pick up. Many thought he was on the decline and as a 'only go to' running back, that was the case, but with Faulk, Morris and Maroney, he would be a solid addition. Not only was he consistently a good runner, but he could catch the ball. It was a great move and one that brightened the first hours for the team.

A few minutes after that, there was talk about Julius Peppers coming to Foxboro and how that would change the Patriot's D. As a rumor it was interesting, but I felt in my gut it was a non starter. For one, Peppers wanted a boatload of money and seemed adamant on wanting that. He's had a lot of problems with Carolina and always wishing for more, so maybe MORE of a headache. Also, more importantly is that he would not really have a position. I just did not see him at end, especially with Seymour and Warren and the fact he was more suited for a four man line. As an outside linebacker, more the elephant as McGinest was, that was possible. But should a team pay megabucks for one who is changing positions? I really doubted that was going to happen.

And after that, it was more on quarterbacks and it was mentioned that Cassel was being looked at by some as one of the top eight in the league. That was quite interesting, but the big question I had was if that was going to translate into two picks for the Patriots. I had my doubts, but it would be very interesting to see if that happened.

An hour or so later, word came out that tight end Chris Baker who had been with the Jets was also signed. What a wonderful start to free agency! He was released and many thought would be a good fit for the team. The tight end position that was a bit weak with question marks was now in a bit of a shift. With Baker as a solid blocker and one who had sure hands, he could definitely compete for a starting job and compete with Watson. That would also light a fire under the other three, Thomas, who has shown a little here and there, soph DeVree as well as newcomer Listorti.

Also of note was that Leigh Boddin, a tall free agent cornerback was in town. He was exactly the type the Pats were looking for and if he could be signed, that would be a big step to shore up the secondary.

It all was really good news, but then, word came in that long snapper Lonie Paxton had jumped ship and signed with Denver. It wasn't really a large surprise, but I really thought he would be back with Gostkowski and others on this Patriot team. The original 'snow angel' was now a Bronc. That was not good at all.

And then a few minutes later, a bombshell; Mike Vrabel being traded to the Chiefs. I was just reading a bit and then heard the words on NFL Network; 'Vrabel, KC, physical'. What? Immediately, I was online and looking at all types of Patriot and football sites. It was a shocker and quite and odd. Why Vrabel? Many saw it as purely money and the fact that a bonus was only a few days away made it seem more so. And then there was the 'he insulted the Krafts' angle. Apparently he had talked about Kraft and Patriot Place, in November and some saw that as a possibility/ To me, if that was the case, it was only a black mark against the team in being so petty.

The more one thought about it, the more it seemed that there would be a big reason for it and that there was something afloat that would totally justify it all. Iy was as if this move was only the start. As much as there was speculation on Peppers coming north, there was also thoughts that this was part of a move with Cassel. As time went on in the day, with few answers and more questions, this possibility seemed to gain and grow. But why Vrabel? For KC, he would be like a coach on the field and one who younger players could learn from. That in itself would be a real plus to their D. That was what many saw in that part of the trade, but what the Patriots would get was still clouded. A reduced cap hit with him was one benefit, but losing a top nosed smart player who could play on defense, offense and special teams was a bit hard to swallow.

It meant a real change for the linebackers and speculation grew as the day went on as to who would replace him. Some saw immediate free agents, like Peppers, but others thought maybe Woods or Crable might be the one to step in. I thought that was more a stretch as Crable hardly made the field and Woods was hot and cold and still had a lot to learn . Banta-Cain was also a possibility. Still others were looking at the draft; one that was deep in outside linebackers.

While Vrabel did play a lot, his performance went down and he had played injured a lot of last year. It was very possible that the injuries would only reduce his level of play even more. There were plenty of question marks, but no answers.

As the evening wore on, more bad news. Wide receiver Gaffney had signed with Denver. Again, that was not a surprise at all and all that meant was that another wideout would be needed, which was the case before, That it would not be Gaffney was the only thing different. There would be chances for an upgrade, but a new receiver would need to learn the system. Given how he had a few key drops, it was easier to take, but I knew too would be missed,as he had made some solid plays.

What I found telling was that both Gaffney and Paxton got multiple year deals and that may have been a large factor in their signing in Denver. Both only had one year deals here and maybe both wanted that reassurance, even though in the NFL, it means a lot less.

The bad frosting on the cake was that Leigh Bodden had left Gillette without a contract. Just another downer.

There was more and more thoughts that the Vrabel deal was part of something a lot larger and that it might involve Cassel. I also wondered if somehow the word leaked out prematurely about Vrabel and that that might be forcing the issue a little more. There was talk of Peppers and then as well Ray Lewis or Jonathon Vilma. All was really interesting, but I felt like it would all come out in the larger picture and that trying to look at it with a microscope was missing a great deal. Still, it was a bit of a down day, with question marks flying around everywhere.

Day Two---Saturday

This was a day of travel, as my wife, stepdaughter and I were going to see her grandmother, son and others. I was up early and checked to see if there was any news regarding the Pats. The fact that there was none, was no surprise at all. After a crazy day with question marks, I did not expect news early, only a rehashing of possibilities, speculation and a search for reasons. After a few hours, once there, I used my wife's Kindle to check and again, there was no breaking news. There was talk about Vrabel, about other possibilities of trades and pick ups, but nothing that was really new or stunning. I was saddened by Vrabel's quick trade, but I knew if that was needed to be done for a greater move, it would be fine. Having seen the many moves of the team in the past, I could see how changes have to be made and that personality and personal feelings could interfere with making business decisions and in fact hurt a team. That was something that the Patriots tried their best not to have happen. Would I have loved it if he had retired a Patriot? Of course, but some things do not happen like they should. Kansas City was getting a solid player who could help the younger ones. That was a big plus to them. What the Patriots would get would need to somehow offset that.

There were eight in the living room as we were celebrating my wife's grandmother's one hundred and first birthday. There was light talk on many topics, but it was quiet and fun and a real honor to be there with her. Quickly at the bottom of the TV screen there flashed the news: 'Matt Cassell traded to the Kansas City Chiefs'. I saw it and didn't blink an eye. No surprise at all. My step son saw that as well and he noted that now KC might be slowly a team on the rise in the west. His friend, who was a Redskins fan agreed, but he was still in heaven from their Haynesworth signing and getting a big piece of their D together. That Cassel was gone was not a surprise. It was the way it was planned with Brady's recovery. My wife asked if the team was taking a gamble at trading him so early and my only response was that they would not have done this unless Brady was going to be able to come back and that they had positive signs of that. While it might not be with a hundred percent certainty, I felt they would not do this without knowing that he would be OK for the season. Maybe it was more like ninety nine percent, or close. They would be shooting themselves in the foot if they did anything otherwise and I knew they were a lot smarter than that. What they had now was money, a lot of it, and thus could bid for players in free agency and also extend some of their own platers who would be up after this year.

When at a friend's house, I learned a bit more. The only return the Patriots would have for both Cassel and Vrabel would be a second round pick. At first this hit me hard as too little, but then I also realized that it was a second round pick that was at the top, so it was like a late first round pick. That there might be a player that drops out of the first round and gets snared quickly, always happens. And usually that is second round money for a first round player and that equals value. That made sense. There were some others on ESPN that pointed out that the Chiefs would now have two steady players on offense and defense. Cassel, while only having one year of play, was still experienced and would know how to deal with many situations. He could grow to be the offensive leader amongst the young ones. Vrabel, on defense, could add an older player's experience into the mix and be the coach on the field and have a locker room presence. For a young team like KC, that would be golden. It seemed fair to me, even though I would have loved to see more come back, but I also felt that they did what they could to get the best deal and that was it.

It seemed like a whole like a long ride home, but I was on the Kindle and was surprised that so many were so against the deal. It was almost like the storm that hit when Milloy was released. Vrabel and Cassel for a second round pick? That was totally wrong. It was great to be on the road coming back and looking on line at all that was going on. It was like a pack of wolves that were going after CoachB. It was hot and strong, almost the words almost burning up in my hands as I read. 'We got fleeced hard'. 'what a freakin hose job!!!! I am speechless absolutely speechless!!!!!!!!'. 'We GOT: RIPPED, HOSED, BURGLARIZED.....' 'is this some sort of a joke? it's not April 1 yet.' There were voices of reason, in between the many who were out to lynch CoachB. I read more and then wanted to wait till I got home to explore further.

On the way back, I was listening to ESPN and scout Chris Landry talked about the trade and how it really was a win-win situation. I did not hear all of it, but in many ways, it made a lot of sense. The Patriots got what was needed, cap relief and a solid pick in a great place. I did not think they would be greedy like they could have been, but also, timing was an essential part as the cap space was needed to be cleared immediately. That happened and was a positive in the total picture. I was feeling good about it, while many wanted more and may have really missed the dynamics of the whole trade.

What I missed was that wide receiver Michael Furrey had visited and that he would be a nice addition to the wideout corps. I remember him three years ago when Detroit played the Pats. He always seemed smart and able to get open; more of a slower Welker. But that he was in that mode was a real positive. I hope that he would, in time, joining the team.

But what was learned was that there was some kind of three way deal that was suppose to happen and did not. That I found so interesting especially that it leaked out only a bit after the initial deal. Three teams involved? It was Tampa, Denver and the Patriots and it seemed that Cutler would be traded to the Bucs, Cassel to rejoin McDaniels with the Broncos and a first and third pick would come to the Patriots. It was totally intriguing and now that the deal did not go through, Cutler was all upset about it and whimpering like a child. Josh basically stepped in it on this one, but the fallout also hit CoachB as the many who hated the deal were piling on with more what ifs and why nots. And then there was supposedly a deal with the Lions which was only more pablum for the media idiots.

A large question was whether Cassel had any input into any of this for it could have been a larger factor in the trade. That Cassel also did not have a long term deal worked out might also have been a factor in it all. That was a bit of a risk that KC was taking.

Day Three---Sunday

The day started with daggers flying at CoachB and the Pats as the news broke about the Patriots turning down a first and third pick in a three way deal with Tampa Bay and Denver. Cassel would have gone to Denver, Cutler to the Bucs and the Pats with a first and third. That they apparently turned it down angered many. As the day went on though, it seemed like much of what was speculated was hardly true and Cutler was know quite upset with his coach. Many in Patriot Nation were saying that the Pats either got robbed or that CoachB gave Pioli a big present. It was more garbage in my book, as I saw that there were words after a trade that could be easily so untrue trying to make something that was miles apart appear close. That was my gut feeling about both Tampa, Denver and Detroit, but many in Patriot Nation acted more like chicken littles and had no clue as to what this Patriot team has been about over the years.

What was interesting was that Denver was in an uproar over what McDaniels did in trying to trade Cutler away. Sports writer, Woody Paige, was leading the charge against McDaniels saying that the team had already lost Cutler and the Orange message boards were lighting up with all kinds of hate. Meanwhile, it seemed national opinion was strong that the Pats got the shaft with the deal they had and really blew it by not waiting longer and getting more.

Tom Curran's column in NBC Sports said it best about the trade and really what happened. He had the best breakdown of the real story and the best analogies. From what he said, there were other offers from Tampa and Detroit involving Cutler from Denver, but these were not even looked at until after the deal was starting to leak, midday on Saturday. When they learned that it was only a second round pick, all of a sudden they wanted to become players in it all. The problem was that it was way too late to really get the deal done. Three way deals were virtually impossible with so many paths and possibilities of it not going through and being completed. In this case, the deal was about finished when these other teams entered the market. Where were they days before?

Curran's analogy of the Patriot's receiving a house in an inheritance and not wanting to pay two mortgages was right to the point. That after the sign had been on the lawn there was only one taker was what happened in this case. That at the closing, others buyers showed up wanting to purchase at the last minute, was just silly. The Patriots did the correct thing and Detroit and Tampa Bay, who had opportunities before, showed why their organizations like that are so poor. Thank you TC for hitting the nail on the head on this one!

It was rumored that cornerback Shawn Springs would be in Gillette and that the team had made a call to another, Jabari Greer. It was obvious with this deal, that freeing up money was a large part of what was needed. Waiting was just not part of the equation and getting the best deal done, quick, was what was accomplished and what was really needed.

Then there was the announcement that safety James Sanders had re-signed with the team. That was the good news that I think was needed after the big trade. It was good that the defensive backfield was getting to be a bit clearer. Three down and seven eight, to go! Day Four---Monday

As the snow storm hit New England hard, there was more talk about the trade and of what the Pats should have done. The more one looked at the late Tampa Bay and Denver entry, the more it seemed they were totally unprepared and dumb. As word came Friday about Vrabel being in KC, what were they waiting for if they were really interested? Either they were not at all serious about it and just wanted to show the fans they were trying to do something, when in fact they were not or they were just bumbling idiots. What was Denver thinking with this late attempt, knowing if they could not get it done, Cutler would be a bit upset? It was all foolishness and slowly the Patriot fans were feeling better about the trade.

And early in the AM came word about Randy Moss's contract and how he had it changed a bit, enough to free up some money to sign Taylor and Baker. That being known, I think all of the loud mouths who said the team could wait a few more days would know understand how cash strapped the team really was. Waiting a day or so could have been very costly to the team. Sometimes, it takes days for a deal to be made, but that can could not happen being tied up in cap hell. That point really brought the time factor back to reality and why it was all related to getting it done quick and fast, early in free agency. That made anything late really silly and amateurish. Why did these teams wait so long? Were they not really interested or really playing a game of chicken with the Pats and losing out.

National reaction was not at all good for the Patriots with so writers from Banks, Graham and others thinking that the Pats gave Pioli a big 'Christmas present'. But what was clear was that they are talking from ignorance and presenting a case that never happened. They basically made the situation out to be that the Pats had other options on the table and the took the lesser one. That was never the case at all as there was never other possibilities until later when the trade was done. Sorry, the timing factor was big and missing that meant that these writers missed the story totally. The worst was without a doubt, Marrioti's, who stuffed so many pulled pork sandwiches into his fat mouth of his that he acted as if he were brain dead. Investigate the Patriots? .Maybe the NFL should investigate the front offices of Detroit, Tampa Bay and Denver, who sat on their backsides and did nothing for a few days. The reaction? Typical of the Patriot haters.

There was more good news as offensive lineman Russ Hochstein signed a one year deal with the team. Some were surprised, but that also raised a lot of questions in that he might have been added so that he could play multiple positions. He was a back up long snapper and might be looked at for that this year. He also played fullback on occasions and maybe that would also be a primary slot as well. With a few positions in hand, a few roster spots might be saved. I liked him as a backup as he's been solid in so many ways, but adding his versatility only makes him a bit more special. >p>It was interesting to see Cassel and hear his words about the trade. He showed excitement and class and while I knew it was going to happen, felt a bit sad that he had departed. He gave all he could to the team and that the team missed the post season with an eleven win season was disappointing. But he led the team with class and grew into a young, confident quarterback. I wish him well in his career in KC.

And then Jason Taylor was released from the Redskins and many thought he would find a way to Foxboro. He was close friends with Brady and that might help get him here, but in a larger picture, why would the team pay more for him than Vrabel? Taylor was older and liked to take the summers off. How would CoachB deal with that? Why pay more for a player who does not have the passion of someone like MikeV? That really didn't make a lot of sense. What I could see was an understanding with Taylor, signing him just before training camp. That would make the most sense and the best of both for bith team and player.

What was true was that the evaluation of Vrabel was that his playing with the team was not what they wanted. Whether it was a slip this past year and seeing it worsen with his injury or that they felt the need to go younger, it was obvious that the Patriots had other plans for the position. Whether that be a top draft pick, someone already on the team or a free agent pickup, the team was going in another direction. In thinking about his play, I do think he was slow at times, but again, so was Bruschi. One play that came to mind was the game in Miami late in the game on a third down pass to Bess.He got away from Varbel and scampered down the sideline for 36 yards. That play really stuck out in my mind in thinking about him. I really will miss him because he's the consummate professional who can do all things; defense, offense and special teams. That he's a vocal team leader and the class clown will only leave a larger hole in the clubhouse. I wish him the best in KC!

During all of the craziness on Friday, rookie linebacker Darrell Robertson was released which in itself was no surprise, but he was told that one of the reasons was that there was a logjam at his position. Obviously, he was the low man on the totem pole with Crable, Redd, Ruud and Craig all developmental outside linebackers ahead of him.

And as other were panning the deal and not understanding a lot of it, others were looking into it and as it turned out, the Patriots were not anywhere in line for a first and a third pick. Any first round pick was headed to Denver for losing Cutler, not the Patriots. It was clear that the Pats were only going to get a second round pick out of the deal. That this came out a few days later only made what CoachB did even better, as he did this on the fly quick, while a few days later, reporters aren't even getting the facts right about the late offer, what it was and when it was. It's all pretty sad, but ignorance of the trade was at a high and many in Patriotland were amongst those who led the pack on that one, sad to say. And as an odd twist as Cutler seemed so upset that he was being traded, it turned out he had asked for a trade a few weeks before after their offensive coordinator had departed. That made the whole thing even weirder and in my mind, took McDaniels off the hook to a large degree.

Day Five---Tuesday

I thought a lot about the past and how many Patriot fans were not getting it. When Milloy was cut, they wanted to roast him and yet that year they won the Superbowl. And after they won in 04, back to back, I thought most fans were starting to get it. But that has not been the case. They did not sign Vinatieri and there were many that were so upset by that and when they cut McGinest, it was the same thing. More fans did understand about moves and the greater good being more important than a particular player. With Vrabel, it was back a long way with so many supposedly knowledgeable fans taking pot shots at the coach.

It was time for The Hat, the cap I had stitched up in September of 07, when lie-gate broke and CoachB was taking it from all angles. The Hat simply says, 'IN BB WE STILL TRUST'. This was the time to take it out and wear it. And so I did have that on for some of the day in my travels. I got two thumbs up and a few smiles and my friend, Ronnie, knew exactly what that was for when he saw me. It was again time for me to make known how strongly I supported the coach. To wear it was important to me as a Patriot fan. Many had the colors the emblems, but this was specific and in a way, I was surprised it was needed again.

Unlike a few days before, It was a quiet day, relatively and there was more regurgitation of the Cassel/Vrabel deal, but nothing really was added that was important. I felt that more fans were understanding the trade and that was quite good, but so many wanted that big deal to arrive and were holding judgement to that happened. Works in progress were really hard to look at, but with so many offseasons, one would get less itchy and more patient, over time. That really was not the case with some Patriot fans, but I felt that many were understanding things better. I think the whole monetary situation was better understood and that in real terms of a particular draft, there might be very little difference between a twentieth pick and one forty five or so. .They may be on the same tier playing wise, but the higher pick would get a lot more money. That is why the second pick in Round Two is not all that bad. A first rounder who falls could be a real target for a team like the Patriots. That they have a lot of picks, four in the first sixty, and possibly two in the third round, it only means that they will be able to move about the first day and get a few players that they want. That is always what CoachB does and this year, with the draft very strong on day one, it will be interesting as usual.

It was surprising that Heath Evans was visiting New Orleans, but not at all that LaMont Jordan was in Arizona. Jordan will go elsewhere now that Taylor is aboard. That Evans is shopping means that the team might be looking at Hochstein or another.

Michael Holley had an interesting rumor about Ray Lewis, who was still unsigned as a free agent. He said there were two other teams interested in him besides the Ravens, the Browns and the Patriots. He also mentioned that CoachB had been quite impressed with him when he was in Florida as he loved breaking down film in the offseason and had a passion and a way to get himself back into the game seeing where players could have been and diagnosing it way after the fact. Would that mean that Lewis might have been the one targeted to come here? It was an interesting notion, but like the Peppers rumor, I thought way too much money involved. It was interesting to speculate, but I just did not see that as possible.

The more I thought about the reason Vrabel was part of the trade, the more it made sense in a larger way. Firstly, to have just cut him would have been a really bad move for the team, considering how so many of the players looked up to him, The fact that he was active in the union and a bit outspoken would have also have been a real downside to the release. By trading him, it put a better face on it all, something that really was needed. Also, by trading him, it guaranteed he would get his roster bonus and keep his salary at the same place. If he was cut, it could have gone down a great deal in the open market. In going to KC, he was in a place where he was needed and could really help the team in his latter years, getting a bit of time working with younger players and being the leader with an up and coming team. Also, by him going to a team in a trade, it made sure that he would not wind up on the Jets or Browns, in a place where the Pats would not have liked. Keeping him away from Mangini, I think, might have been a large part of it, for Vrabel had Ohio connections and might have been an easy spot for him to land, if he had been released.

The Patriots brought in two players, neither of whom signed. Linebacker Heath Farwell was the special teams leader in tackles on the Vikings. Having him in camp would mean that Izzo would be going elsewhere. It would make sense to sign him because he might also be able to play some linebacker as well, although devoting a lot of time to special teams. The other one brought in was safety Mike Adams, who had plated with the Niners and Browns. He would bean addition to the backfield and most likely also a special teams player.

Day Six---Wednesday

This was an even quieter day as the talk of the trade was dying down and there was more focus on what the Patriot's were going to do. Many fans though were by the sideline and waiting and some were getting quite impatient. It was almost like the season was going to start in a day or so and that a big free agent signing was needed ASAP. Others were feeling good about themselves by pointing out that an outside linebacker was needed, as if, they were the only one to understand that. But that was the mentality of some fans.

Arnold and Holley had on TedyB and it was great to hear his voice in the middle of the craziness. One could feel the emotion and the loss of his friend, MikeV, and yet, he was enthusiastic about the season and moving forward. It was really great to hear his voice and opinions and one could tell how fired up he was inside about the upcoming season. Holley seemed to think that CoachB would talk to the press sometime soon as there was so much ignorance still swirling around the trade, but I thought he would wait for a later time, maybe after something large. That would make more sense, but that he hadn't might have indicated something was going to happen in the next week or so.

It was the second day that I wore The Hat and I got a few smiles, but it seemed that from reactions, the trade was history and fans understood that they did their best with it. That was all the good news.

Defenisive lineman Mike Wright visited the Cardinals and oft injured running back Lamont Jordan signed with the Broncos. It seemed that McDaniels was bringing a few familiar players in to help the offense.

There were four players that came into Gillette; Derrick Ramsey, the vet quarterback; Scott Young, the young interior lineman who might grow in Dante's school; Chris Carr, the Hobbs-like cornerback who also was a nifty returner and Joey Galloway, the flashy older receiver. Adding Ramsey made sense, for another quarterback will be in camp and having a vet is more what is needed. There are two young ones besides Brady and possibly a vet can help and be the true backup or at least vie for that position. O'Connell might not be ready and that is the point. Adding a cheap vet QB is something that will happen now or later in the offseason. Scott Young also would be a nice addition to battle with Yates, Connolly and Hochstein and might really be able to be a solid lineman with Dante's help. Chris Carr seems like the quick small cornerback that can play in the nickel and dime and be effective. That he can return kickoffs and punts only added to his value. With Hobbs, Welker and Faulk playing more on D and O, having a player more devoted to that would be a lot better and safer as an injury to those three would hurt a lot. Adding a flashy type receiver like Joey Galloway would lengthen the field with Moss and him running routes. Add in a Welker and what a corps of receivers that would be! The down side would be chemistry, injuries and possible paying way too much for that. All four were possibilities, but none were signed.

Day Seven---Thursday

'TO Released?' That was the loud headline that overtook the football news all day and with that focus on the ex-Dallas wideout, all else was way behind news wise. With that as the focus, it was even quieter in Patriotland. There were very few words about the trade as the reverberations were lowered. But what would the Pats do? That was the looming question now that they had a lot of money. Obviously, part of that would go to keep Big Vince in tow and with good reason. He was one of the most important players on the D and was needed going forward. But what about the other needs of the team? That was where a lot of the quiet focus was especially with the TO story blasting in all quarters. And then Dallas released safety Roy Williams in another move and many thought he would be a fit here, especially if Rodney was not returning.

It was the third day for The Hat and the reaction was a bit less than the previous day, but I still found it important to wear given how so many had attacked him so easily. It was sort of a special Patriot hat, one that I had before and knew I would wear in the future.

Then amongst the silence of the day came three moves. It was like one after the other in the afternoon, the first two being more major moves, but all three really making the team's situation quite strong.

It was reported that the Pats came to an agreement with cornerback Shawn Springs. Being a wily vet of twelve years, he had the knowledge and ability to play that number one position. He also would be able to help the younger players in the backfield as that was something that was really needed. It was a great signing and a step up from O'Neal, Bryant and others who were at that slot last year. It also offered a transition to the younger players, Wheatley, Wilhite and Richardson and would also solidify the whole backfield as far as experience went if Rodney did not return. At about six foot tall, he was amongst the taller ones and with that experience, improve the backfield in an instant. Whether he would be the only vet added or not, it was a solid move for the team.

A bit later, it was a trade with the Eagles that was announced. It was receiver Greg Lewis and a seventh round Eagle pick from 2010 for a 2009 fifth round pick. That was pretty nice as Lewis might be that third receiver who would be taking Gaffney's place. He was a bit shorter, more of a deep threat and cheaper. It was all a real plus to the team and as some pointed out, what was really the unknown was if he could play all three receiver positions. That was what Gaffney learned to do and that invreased his value as a versatile receiver. If Lewis could do that, it would make him as valuable. He also had a nice upside and with other receivers in place in Phillie, was down on their depth charts. This trade looked really good now, but could look even better in the future, if all worked out.

The last move of the day was to bring back punter Chris Hansen. He and Tom Malone would be fighting it out, but I also saw that they could bring another vet in, It was all interesting.

Vet center Al Johnson came in for a visit and it looked like both the Patriots and the Chiefs were chasing after cornerback Travis Daniels. With Springs signed, this was not a large move, but another vet cornerback would make competition quite stiff and that was always a plus.

Just after there was some jubilation about these signings, word came out that Heath Evans was now a Saint. It seemed that the Patriots wanted him back, but it came down to money and that was why he departed. I really had thought he would be one who stayed with the team, but when he visited New Orleans, thought he would end up elsewhere. With that signing, there was now a hole at fullback and with that there could be a few different directions and options. They could find a fullback to sign for short money as there were a few on the market. There was also the option of finding one in the draft. Also, they could use a lineman like Hochstein, which they did last year or could use a tight end like Baker or Listorti in that place. They also could use two running backs at times, but it did seem they were downgrading the position somewhat.

Day Eight---Friday

This was probably the quietest day so far since the free agency frenzy of a week ago. There were still deals to be made, but the initial craziness was over and now it was more the TO sweepstakes and other surprises.

The biggest thing were some comments by Mike Vrabel in Kansas City, but while some looked at his remarks as sour grapes, I really didn't take them at that and wish him well; end of that story.

Day Nine---Saturday

This was a day of quiet reflection and looking at other things. And yes TO signed a one year deal in Buffalo. Given how poor the coaches are there, this will not improve the situation and could prove to be a bit toxic.

So what is left for the Patriots to do? The offense is a lot closer to being ready. A vet quarterback is needed as I doubt they really wish to have three young QBs in camp with Brady. A cheap vet is one need. The team also needs a fullback and even though there will be other options, I do think one will be brought in for camp. Another wideout is certainly a possibility and another lineman, more likely tackle than interior, is also on the wanted list. The defense is a bit different. There's a large hole to fill at outside linebacker and a backup nose tavkle is another position of need. The defensive backfield, while a bit stronger now, is still closer to swiss cheese. A tough nickel back and a strong safety who can stop the run being the eighth in the box are real needs. On special teams, a long snapper is a definite one and I would not be surprised if another punter came in.

At this point in the offseason, the Patriots are in a really great position with a ton of high draft picks and really few holes to fill. The draft will be making the weaker positions competitive and this team will be stronger going into training camp. They have a real shot at being a very strong team on opening day. The real barrier to that is the injury situation which is always there and always has some negative effect. Optimism is always high and this season it should be very high with Brady's return and the many additions to the team.

As an aside to this incredible sport of football is a situation I was involved in a few weeks ago when a young cashier, named Ashley, asked me if I thought cheer leading was a sport. I thought for a second or two. Gymnastics was a sport as was figure skating. Synchronized swimming was a sport and dancing was one of demonstration in one Olympics. With all those as sports, cheerleading was a sport as well, with elements of a few of those. I told her that it was, she smiled and gave me a high five. I guess it settled a long standing discussion with some that she worked with. For me, it was a simple answer and I was glad that it helped further her argument. There are many activities that are sports, in many shapes and varieties, from many cultures and cheer leading does need to be included, without any doubt.

 Stan Jaksina
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