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Insiders Report: Patriots Thinking Draft Moves

<p>The Patriots continue to shuffle their draft board as they figure to add pieces in free agency and possibly after the June 1st cuts. The Insiders report includes more on what the team has been up to, and what to expect come draft day also analysis of past draft day maneuvers the team has pulled off.</p><p><I>Not An Insider yet? Check out our <B><A HREF="http://patriots.scout.com/3/PI-Promo-blip.html">Special Offer!</A></B> to get a <B>free</B> Patriots Superbowl DVD, or other gift.</I

PHOTO: New England Patriots' Benjamin Watson (84) celebrates his 6-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2004. (AP Photo/Mike McCarn)

INSIDERS REPORT

Corey Dillon accepted a pay cut to become a Patriot last spring and after rushing for a franchise record 1,635 yards in 2004, he was rewarded for his work with a restructured five-year contract that could be worth $25 million.

The deal includes $6 million in bonuses and guaranteed salary over the first two years and a team option bonus that would have to be picked up after the 2005 season to trigger the last three years of the contract.

The Patriots saved more than $2 million against the 2005 cap with the move by reducing Dillon's cap figure from about $4.5 million down to the $2.1 million range. That amount includes a $1 million base salary in 2005. Dillon was entering the final year of his contract and was due to earn $3.85 million.

If the team declines to pick up the option after the season, Dillon's 2006 cap figure will be sizable because his bonus money, which is currently amortized over the life of the extension, will be recalculated and essentially accelerate to 2006, which would be the last year of the deal.
The Patriots will have an interesting decision to make at that point because picking up the option means the team will have a commitment to Dillon into his mid-30s despite the fact that he has eight years of wear already on his tires and is a very physical runner who could decline quickly similar to the way Eddie George did.

The Patriots are very tight against the cap and will likely to need to free space as training camp nears in order to sign their draft picks. They had to rework Kevin Faulk's deal to sign David Terrell and the Dillon savings was likely used to sign linebacker Monty Beisel last week.

The Patriots dealt a second round pick to the Bengals last April for Dillon, who responded with the best season ever by a Patriots runner while helping the team capture its second straight Super Bowl title with his record rushing totals and 12 touchdowns. He added another 292 yards and two scores in the postseason.

DRAFT STRATEGY -- The Patriots make it very difficult to predict their maneuvers, draft related or not. But with the team selecting 32nd overall in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft, it's nearly impossible to figure who or even what position the tightlipped organization might target even as you identify the club's needs.

The Patriots have flown their share of prospects into New England for official visits and sent coaches and scouts to work out linebackers, defensive backs, quarterbacks and even projected special teamers, but they are masters of misinformation and smokescreens.

Last year offers a prime example of the team's flexibility and unpredictability. The Pats didn't figure to have a shot at Miami defensive lineman Vince Wilfork with the 21st pick and predictably jumped at the chance to take him when he slipped and was still on the board. After losing Ted Washington to free agency, the Pats were certainly in need of a stout interior lineman they could groom to replace Washington, but they couldn't have figured Wilfork would be available. Perhaps they would have taken defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs with the pick if Wilfork was gone since Tubbs went to Seattle two picks later, but the point is that they deviated from their original plan.

But they then used their second first round pick in three years on a tight end when they took Georgia's Benjamin Watson at 32. They were actually set to grab running back Kevin Jones with that pick even after trading for Corey Dillon, but the Lions foiled that plan by trading up ahead of the Pats for Jones at 30. Neither one of those players filled an obvious need and wouldn't likely have been on any prognosticator's list of top 10 options for the Pats in that slot.

So New England is certainly a team that combines need with best available as well as any team in the league. It has no set draft day philosophy and prides itself on being flexible. Last April marked the first time a Bill Belichick-coached team failed to make a draft day trade, but the Pats have been very active in other years and aren't afraid to give up picks to gain better selections in future years.

Looking for trends? Under Belichick and Scott Pioli, the Patriots have spent three first round picks on defensive linemen and two on tight ends. They have looked for receivers and offensive tackles in Round 2, where they drafted wideouts Bethel Johnson and Deion Branch and tackles Adrian Klemm and Matt Light. They have never drafted a guard and have drafted a quarterback in three out of five drafts.

But when in doubt after the first round, think defensive back since they have drafted eight in five years, only one of which has come in the first two rounds (Eugene Wilson, 2nd round, 2002). That position has been second most popular to defensive line (9) but four of those nine linemen have been picked in the first two rounds.

Quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels has worked out Connecticut's Dan Orlovsky, Louisville's Stefan LeFors and Akron's Charlie Frye and it's quite likely that the Pats will take a quarterback on Day 2. If Georgia's David Greene is available in the middle rounds, he could certainly be the pick since he is a sound game manager and has superb leadership skills -- the qualities New England prioritizes in a middle-to-late round quarterback. They also worked Greene out this spring.

New England has had terrific success on Day 2 of the draft, landing key contributors like Tom Brady (sixth), David Givens (seventh), Jarvis Green, Dan Koppen and Asante Samuel (all fourth) and it will have six picks in the last four rounds including two compensatory picks in the fifth and seventh round that can't be dealt.

Other than taking a quarterback, the Pats could go just about anywhere on Day 2, but look for them to target production over measureables just as they did when they took Dan Klecko in the fourth round two years ago.

But as much as scoring in the middle rounds can enhance the draft, its true success is based on Day 1 hits. With three picks on the first day, the Pats will likely look to fill needs at linebacker, cornerback and then either wide receiver or tackle. Taking two linebackers is not out of the question since the Patriots have an obvious need at inside linebacker, but aren't getting any younger on the outside where Willie McGinest is on the back nine and Mike Vrabel's contract carries an $11 million cap number in 2006.

The Pats have shown intense interest in Florida's Channing Crowder, bringing him for a visit even after working him out privately in Gainesville. If outside linebacker is the choice, it could be Tennessee's Kevin Burnett, who visited Foxborough, or maybe even Virginia's Darryl Blackstock if available. The Patriots did not fly Blackstock to town, but have excellent knowledge of the player through Virginia coach Al Groh, who still maintains a relationship with Belichick after working with him for several years.

At cornerback, the Patriots will most likely pick from LSU's Corey Webster and Michigan's Marlin Jackson. Webster played for Nick Saban at LSU and has familiarity with the Pats defensive scheme because of that, while Jackson offers the position flexibility Belichick likes with his ability to play both corner and safety.

Other first day options include UAB wideout Roddy White, Oklahoma safety Brodney Pool and North Carolina State tackle Chris Colmer, all of whom have visited Gillette Stadium.

One other trend? Look for New England to target players who played college football in the Southeastern part of the country. Of their 44 picks in five years, 18 have come from schools in that region while nearly all of their picks have come from major Division I conferences.

NOTES, QUOTES

  • The Patriots reportedly hosted four draft prospects last week. LSU cornerback Corey Webster, Louisville safety Kerry Rhodes, Northwestern defensive tackle Luis Castillo and North Carolina State offensive tackle Chris Colmer all visited, according to the Metro West Daily News. The team does not confirm the college visits, but did acknowledge that former Atlanta Falcons linebacker Chris Draft visited Gillette Stadium late last week. The 5-11, 232-pound Draft, 29, played in 79 games with 52 starts in five years with the Falcons and would give the Pats another experienced inside linebacker to team up with Ted Johnson.

  • The Patriots will play four prime time games in 2005 with three of them at Gillette Stadium. New England opens with a Thursday night game against the Raiders and plays back-to-back home night games against Buffalo and Indianapolis on Oct. 30 and Nov. 7 before traveling to the Jets on Dec. 26. The Pats will play four of their first six games on the road with four of the six coming against 2004 playoff teams. All six of the team's division games come in the final 10 weeks of the season. The Patriots will also host a nationally televised night game against the Saints in the preseason.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I heard of him. But all I knew was championships and I told him I'm trying to get his record and then he said, 'which one? Eight in a row or 11 in 13 years.' I told him I'm 3 for 4 right now. That's not bad." - Patriots DL Richard Seymour in a conversation with Celtics legend Bill Russell during the Red Sox opening day pre-game festivities

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RB Rabih Abdullah; S Je'Rod Cherry; WR Kevin Kasper.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: OL Gene Mruczkowski; S Guss Scott.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Tom Ashworth; LB Don Davis; WR David Givens; OT Brandon Gorin; DL Jarvis Green; DT Ethan Kelley; OG Stephen Neal; FB Patrick Pass; CB Hank Poteat; PK Adam Vinatieri; TE Jed Weaver.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: LB Monty Beisel; WR/KR Tim Dwight; CB Duane Starks; WR David Terrell.

PLAYERS LOST: OG Joe Andruzzi; TE Zeron Flemister; OT Adrian Klemm; CB Ty Law; QB Jim Miller; CB Earthwind Moreland; WR David Patten; LB Roman Phifer.


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