Change is inevitable. While the Patriots have avoided any major overhauls during their recent run of dominance, this offseason has been somewhat different. Or has it?
New England added oft-injured tackle Adrian Klemm to its list of losses this offseason and now have let go of Ty Law, Troy Brown and Roman Phifer while watching David Patten, Joe Andruzzi and Klemm leave via free agency.
But while Brown is an aging fan favorite that New England would like to re-sign, he saw limited action on offense last season while playing more as the team's nickel back but was not a starter on either side of the ball. In fact, Law and Andruzzi are the only 2004 Patriots starters not expected return.
To be sure, Law is a star and will likely remain one when he returns from the foot surgery that is currently hampering his free agent prospects. But the Patriots went 12-1 without his services last year and traded for the capable Duane Starks to add depth to a thin secondary.
Andruzzi, for all is leadership and toughness, is replaceable as most guards are beyond a select few. Andruzzi is not as talented as Damien Woody, who the Patriots lost in free agency last year, and the Patriots hardly missed Woody in 2004.
Andruzzi, like Brown, developed into a fan favorite for his toughness, attitude and community involvement, but is not a Pro Bowl caliber player.
The 37-year-old Phifer saw his playing time diminish last year and may have finally shown his age. Patten was a solid contributor as a third receiver, but it's hard to imagine that New England will not be able to replace his production (44 receptions and 7 TDs), especially with tight end Benjamin Watson returning from an injury. The team hopes newly signed receiver Tim Dwight can also help in that area.
Klemm was the first pick of the Bill Belichick era, a second round pick in 2000, but played in only 26 games in five seasons while battling constant injuries. He can hardly be considered much of a loss even if he goes on to have a productive career with the Packers.
"Every team in the league is in the same situation," Belichick said. "As your younger players develop and end up going into their second or third contract, at some point there isn't enough money to pay everybody at the level that they've been getting paid at. If another team can come along and offer that, that's an opportunity (the players) have to look at. We'd like to have as many as possible, but there is a limit to how many we can have and how much we can pay. We just can't keep everybody.
"We could keep anybody," Belichick continued. "but then something else has to happen. That's one thing that I don't think is understood or explained. You can keep anybody you want, but it's going to be at an expense of ... put some other names in there. You can't keep everybody even if you wanted to. Joe Montana played for the Chiefs. Jerry Rice played for the Raiders. I've coached on seven different teams. That's the way it is. It's not like it was 20 years ago."
--The Patriots will bring the Lombardi Trophy to Portland, Maine on April 8 to participate in a patriotic parade honoring and welcoming home Maine's active servicemen and women as well as war veterans and local police and firefighters.
"It's a privilege and an honor to be invited to participate in a parade of thousands of Patriots and true American heroes," Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. "We are flattered to be included and graciously welcome the opportunity to team up with our troops during this event."
--The Patriots have three quarterbacks in the fold with Tom Brady, Rohan Davey and Chris Redman, but if Belichick is looking for an experienced veteran to vie for a backup job, recently released Dough Flutie could be his man. The Natick, Mass., native still lives in Massachusetts and spent 1987-1989 with the Patriots. It's not unreasonable to think the Patriots might want a fourth quarterback in training camp to take some of the throwing load off of Brady, but they haven't expressed interest in the ageless 42-year-old former Boston College star. It's unlikely that New England would bring in Flutie into camp unless it intended on keeping him on the roster. That would mean either Davey or Redman would be released.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Ty (Warren) had a real good offseason, one of the best of any of our players. That continued into training camp and into our season. Physically, he improved. His technique improved. I thought he had a real good year and played well. I thought he did a good job his rookie year, but there was a significant jump." - Bill Belichick on DL Ty Warren's improvement from his first to second year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Inside linebacker. Tedy Bruschi's playing status remains unknown. He reportedly will have surgery to repair a hole in his heart that, if successful, could allow him to return to action if in fact that hole is determined to be the cause of his stroke. It has to be considered a stretch at this point, though, to think that Bruschi will be able to return to football in 2005 after suffering the stroke and now undergoing heart surgery. But if the hole contributed to the stroke and can be repaired, then doctors believe Bruschi would have a chance to return. Until that is determined, inside linebacker remains the Patriots top need since 32-year-old Ted Johnson is the only true inside linebacker left on the roster and he has a spotty injury history even though he played in 16 games last season. If Bruschi were cleared to play, this position would drop out of the top spot, but his uncertainty along with Johnson's injury history would leave it on the list.
2. Wide receiver. David Patten and Troy Brown are gone and David Givens has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender. That leaves Deion Branch as the only productive returning receiver under contract along with newly acquired Tim Dwight, inconsistent third-year speedster Bethel Johnson and second-year man P.K. Sam. The Patriots would like to re-sign Brown, but until they do, this remains a position of need.
3. Offensive line. Starting LG Joe Andruzzi left in free agency and T Tom Ashworth has to prove he can overcome back problems to reclaim his starting right tackle job. But the Pats are thin across the front with Matt Light, Ashworth and Brandon Gorin the only experienced tackles while Stephen Neal, and to an extent, Russ Hochstein the only experienced guards. There isn't much individual talent in the group although Gene Mruczkowski may be ready to take the step that Ashworth, Neal and Gorin took in their development and vie for playing time as Andruzzi's replacement. Look for the Pats to sigh a veteran and use a second day draft pick on a lineman. A young corner may also still be on the radar screen even after the team traded for Duane Starks.
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