Rodney May Not Be In Patriots Plans

Rodney Harrison was in the news recently for his comments about the Super Bowl. A local paper even spoke to him about his rehab from a leg injury. Without Harrison the team has a gaping hole at safety. So why wouldn't Harrison be in the team's plans and what are their options for next season?

New England Patriot safety Rodney Harrison was part of NBC's pregame coverage of Super Bowl XLIII. When asked for his prediction of the Cardinals - Steelers game, Harrison reflected on last year's Super Bowl.

"Unlike last year's Super Bowl, this year's Super Bowl will be won by the best team," Harrison said, "And that's the Pittsburgh Steelers."

The Patriots were upset by the New York Giants last year in Super Bowl XLII. When asked about his memories of David Tyree's late game one-handed grab clutching the ball to his helmet as Harrison ripped him to the ground, the Patriots safety admitted he didn't care to watch the play again.

"It hurts every time I watch it," Harrison said.

The play extended the Giants drive and allowed them to score a few plays later in what became the games final score.

Harrison is a free agent in 2009. He is working to recover from a devastating leg injury, which curtailed his 2008 season. It was Harrison's third serious leg injury in the past four seasons. Harrison told the Boston Globe this past week that he is still trying to decide about making a come back.

"Right now, I'm doing a lot better, and I can't honestly say if I'm going to play or not right now," Harrison told the Globe. "Right now, I'm focusing on being able to run up and down the bases with my son, so once that's established, then I'll decide if I want to play or not."

If the Patriots didn't already have safety in their Draft plans before Harrison's injury, they certainly moved it up on the priority list after the injury. Second-year safety Brandon Meriweather filled in for Harrison at strong safety over the rest of the season while fourth-year pro James Sanders played free safety.

Free agent pickup Lewis Sanders also saw time at safety at Sanders' spot late in the season.

Only Meriweather remains under contract for 2009. The other three are all free agents. Harrison, 36, would be the least likely to return to the Patriots based upon age and cost. His cap number for 2008 was approximately $3.7 million while James Sanders counted roughly $1 million. Lewis Sanders was the bargain of the group holding a veteran qualifying offer which paid him over $730K salary but only counted for roughly $490K against the cap due to the CBA rules protecting vested veterans.

Looking at the rest of the roster, illustrates an ominous situation at the position. Tank Williams, who was slated to take over some of Harrison's duties, landed on IR during the preseason and is set to become a free agent. Meriweather, Raymond Ventrone and practice squad member Mark Dillard are the only safeties listed on the roster that do have contracts to return in 2009. Ventrone was moved to receiver during camp, and Dillard (a rookie) has no playing experience.

O.J. Atogwe managed 85 tackles and 5 INTs during 2008. He is one of the top free agents this year. (Getty images)

If New England wants to save cap space, they could sign a veteran safety (possible Tank Williams) to fill Harrison's spot, while re-signing James Sanders to a veteran minimum contract (cutting his cap number in half). Following that course of action would require the team add at least one more safety, either through the Draft, or via free agency.

If the Patriots want to upgrade the position, Sean Jones is one of the top safeties scheduled to become a free agent. Pulling him away from the Browns - now headed by Eric Mangini - would be something Bill Belichick would likely try to accomplish for multiple reasons. The only issue is Jones' play will earn him a hefty payday from some club. Though he only played in 12 games, Jones managed 56 tackles, 4 passes defended and 4 interceptions.

With top safeties getting roughly $5 million per season, the Draft is looking like a more manageable way to address the situation. Teams can keep their top players by placing the franchise tag on them for $6.34 million.

Other free agents to consider; Jermaine Philips (Buccaneers), Oshiomogho Atogwe (Rams), Mike Brown (Bears), Darren Sharper (Vikings) and even former Patriot Lawyer Milloy (Falcons).

The Patriots could bring back Harrison next season for a reasonable fee and still have cap space to sign another player. That move, according to one NFL insider, is something Bill Belichick would consider doing if Harrison is healthy.

Franchise tags must be designated later this month, free agency begins in March and the Draft is at the end of April. For now, it's wait and see. If Rodney was bitter about the Super Bowl, imagine how he'd feel abotu being replaced.

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