Free Agency: Hartwell Deal Close?

Patriots Insider has been keeping track of the plight of free agent linebacker Ed Hartwell since word first surfaced in the Rumor Mill that he might be on the Patriots radar. insiders have the latest on his future. He's close to signing with a team, but who will it be? The Pats are just one of three teams on his list.

Hartwell Update

The Ed Hartwell sweepstakes remains up in the air. A month ago, league sources confided in that the former Atlanta Falcon and Baltimore Raven would sign with the Denver Broncos once the team traded Al Wilson. Unable to pull off a trade due to Wilson's physical condition, he was cut loose by Denver on Friday.

Hartwell isn't a lock to land in Denver though. Word is that the Cincinnati Bengals have made a play to land the six-year veteran. Sources have told insiders that Hartwell came away impressed after meeting head coach Marvin Lewis. The appeal of playing for Lewis is weighing heavily in his decision where to play next year. Hartwell played under Lewis in his rookie season (2001) with the Ravens when Lewis was their defensive coordinator.

The Bengals have a need for a veteran linebacker after the team released MLB/WLB Brian Simmons. The Patriots, who met with Hartwell early in the process, were the dark horse in what turns out to be a two horse race.

What's Next?

Patriots Insider Jon Scott confirmed a number of other linebackers were not in the mix with the Patriots - at least not as of last week. Some of those names include Orlando Huff, Jeff Posey, Peter Sirmon.

Huff remains unsigned, and the Patriots have not made any advances toward his services according a league source. Calls to Posey's agent were not immediately returned, but a league insider said it is unlikely Posey is in the team's plans at this time. Peter Sirmon turned down an offer by the Cardinals. Patriots Insider has learned that while Sirmon has considered retirement, it's possible he'll play again for the right team at the right price.That situation does not seem to fit with the Patriots as Sirmon is a bit undersized to fit well in the Patriots' defense.

That leaves a few other free agent prospects, including some players who were with the team last year. Barry Gardner (broken leg) and Junior Seau (Broken arm) were both in the team's plans last season. A broken leg derailed Gardner in the preseason, while Seau broke his arm against the Bears just after Thanksgiving ending his brief but highly productive season in New England. No word has been forthcoming from Gardner's camp, but a devastating injury such as his may be enough to sideline the veteran backer. Seau has stated he would like to play one more season.

New England appears poised to select one - possibly more - linebackers in the 2007 NFL Draft. Some college defensive ends have made trips to Foxborough, or worked out for the Patriots in linebacker drills. New England has a history of drafting former college defensive ends and turning them into solid playmakers at outside backer in their 3-4 defense. Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest and Tully Banta-Cain were all defensive ends before reaching the pros.

Adam Caplan and Tony Pauline of contributed to this report.

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