The New England Patriots may have more than just a passing interest in free agent Ed Hartwell (Falcons) according to a report by the Boston Herald. After making a big splash in the opening weekend of free agency by signing RB Sammy Morris, LB Adalius Thomas and trading for Wes Welker, the Patriots showed that they were willing to open the checkbook to acquire talent. Linebacker is still a position of need, and Hartwell is an intriguing prospect that could fill it.
Hartwell, 28, has battled injuries the past two seasons as a member of the Atlanta Falcons appearing in just 13 games over that span. Schooled in the 3-4 defense while a member of the Baltimore Ravens (2001-04), his knowledge and experience of the defense makes it a likely prospect that Hartwell could land in New England.
The Patriots have concerns with age and depth of their linebacking corps. OLB Tully Banta-Cain left via free agency, signing with the San Francisco 49ers. Two more free agents may be leaving after just one season in Junior Seau and Barry Gardner. Four backers are 29 years of age or older: Tedy Bruschi, 33; Mike Vrabel, 31; Roosevelt Colvin, 29 and Larry Izzo, 32. And finally, the team has a pair of reserve linebackers who were rookies last year who only saw limited playing time in the regular defense; Corey Mays and Pierre Woods.
25-year-old Eric Alexander is the only young veteran on the team with experience. He saw limited action during the season, registering his first start in the AFC Championship game.
Those concerns make it highly probable the Patriots will need to add at least one more linebacker via free agency despite having a pair of first round picks they can use to select one in the Draft. Hartwell is one of the names being bantied about in league circles as a potential target for New England.
This year isn't the first time Hartwell's name came up on the Patriots radar. When he left the Ravens in 2004, he was a highly coveted commodity. Numerous reports linked him to the Patriots as one of his possible suitors. The Falcons won the bidding war and rewarded Hartwell with a four-year deal worth $26.25 million which included a $8.5 signing bonus.
A fourth-round draft pick of the Ravens in 2001 - one season after the Ravens won the Super Bowl -- Hartwell has recorded 400 tackles and seven sacks in 77 regular season games over his career. His best season (2002) he managed 142 tackles. Hartwell has fought nagging knee injuries in his attempt to get back on the field since.
If the Patriots are looking for depth, Hartwell may be a guy they can sign to a deal without breaking the bank.
Other names reportedly being connected to New England are free agent linebackers Donnie Edwards and Kawika Mitchell. PatriotsInsider.com has confirmed that the competition for Edwards has boiled down to the New Orleans Saints and the Kansas City Chiefs. Mitchell is rumored to be a target but not seriously until he lowers his asking price. Currently he is being courted by
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