Patriots Insider has learned that free agent OL Tom Ashworth has started the process of negotiations with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ashworth, who has had visits to New York (Jets), Miami and Tampa Bay, is considered a viable candidate to be a starter for those teams. Ashworth's agent Thomas H. Mills appeared optimistic in recent comments about the possibility of getting a deal done. "I think Tampa would be a good fit, a really good fit for Tom," Mills told the Tampa Tribune.
Ashworth may be a solid fit for Tampa if the team doesn't decide to pursue one of the other free agents they've had in recently (Brad Hopkins, Jason Fabini, Mike Pearson). For Ashworth, it appears that he is headed somewhere other than Foxboro. The Patriots have not been mentioned in any contract discussions.
"We're still engaged in talks with all three clubs that brought him in over the weekend," Mills told The Pewter Report. "We're not really close yet. He liked all three visits, and all three of them do have needs."
If Ashworth leaves, it would allow Brandon Gorin, Nick Kaczur or another free agent to step in at right tackle. Matt Light is expected to return to the left side after recovering from a broken leg suffered early last season.
As a backup plan, the Patriots have been looking into other free agent linemen on the market. They met with Kevin Mawae who has since signed with the Titans. They are expected to meet with Mawae's former teammate Jason Fabini, who has also been to Tampa Bay and is a candidate for a job with the Dallas Cowboys.
One thing is certain; the Patriots are looking to upgrade their line. With the likely departures of Ashworth and guard Stephen Neal who visited with the Minnesota Vikings yesterday, New England will make changes to the right side.
Fabini would be a candidate to move into the lineup at tackle, while Mawae was more of a candidate for guard. New England could target some of the same players Tampa has had in for visits, or they could look to the draft.
As for Draft candidates, New England has taken a serious interest in a number of players from the Senior Bowl to the NFL Combine and more recently their pro days, Patriots scouts have met with a number of top rated linemen. Some names include Ryan O'Callaghan (Cal), Mike Degory (Florida), Daryn Colledge (Boise State) and little known Josh House (UTEP) among others.
A league source tells Patriots Insider that the team is serious about the prospect of adding a lineman in the Draft. The question now is whether to add another in free agency. Stay tuned to Patriots insider as we continue to monitor the Patriots off-season changes and the Draft prospects on their radar.