Sammy Morris has only been in New England for a couple months now as part of the team's ever-growing list of offseason additions, but the Patriots have had their organizational eye on the veteran running since he first landed on the NFL radar as a prospect out of Texas Tech before the 2000 NFL Draft. That spring, then-New England offensive coordinator Charlie Weis personally worked the Red Raider out, but as so often is the case on draft weekend the team went in what Morris called "a different direction" and he landed in Buffalo as a fifth-round pick.
Four years later after displaying his versatility mostly as a backup with the Bills -- a time that saw Morris start nine of 53 games while rushing 134 times for 488 yards and six scores and catching 61 balls for 452 yards and one touchdown -- the 6-0, 218-pounder tested the free agent waters. He visited the Patriots during the spring of '04 and once again talked about signing with Bill Belichick and Co. but ended up with another AFC rival, the Dolphins.
After another three seasons of regular action against the Patriots -- Morris started 14 of 41 games played in Miami, rushing for 981 yards on 240 carries and eight touchdowns to go along with 51 catches for 340 yards -- the veteran hit the free market this spring and this time New England got its man. The Patriots were the first team to contact Morris' agent when free agency opened, quickly signing the seven-year veteran to a four-year deal that was officially announced on March 3.
"Sammy Morris is a good all-around running back," Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said in a release official announcing the Morris signing, as well as the addition of Adalius Thomas and Kyle Brady. "From his years in the division, we have first-hand knowledge of all his skills; running, receiving, blocking and several roles on special teams."
That versatility, both on offense and in the kicking game, is the strength of Morris' game. Getting to put that to use for a team that so values such a skill set is one of the major reasons the veteran chose New England.
"The Patriots are one of the most respected teams in the league and I think just as a back that they utilize their players well and utilize their backs well," Morris said at Gillette Stadium following a recent workout in his new team's offseason program. "With what they are doing here I think I fit in well here."
Even with the departure of Corey Dillon, Morris knows that 2006 first-round pick Laurence Maroney is likely penciled in as the starter and if healthy will ideally handle the bulk of the carries. While he could have looked for a team where he had a chance to be the guy, his focus was getting to a team that had a chance to win but where they would also utilize his skills even if it was as a backup.
"I think a lot of times it gets painted in kind of a negative light," Morris said of the term that's more or less described his entire NFL career. "Obviously not everyone on the roster can be the starter. That's one thing, talking to Josh (McDaniels, Patriots offensive coordinator) when I came to visit, that they see the backs as that at some point they are all starters. So at some point somebody else is going to have to start. It doesn't really bother me. I do what I can and bring my best to the table and just kind of leave it up to the coaches to implement that with the team."
One reason the Patriots may have been so interested in Morris is his success against the team in recent years. Last December he rushed for a career-high 123 yards on 25 carries against New England. He previously set career single-game bests for touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards against the Patriots.
Now in New England, Morris hopes to be implemented in some of the same ways that Kevin Faulk has been used over the years. Watching from afar and having played against New England, Morris sees plenty in the offense that he likes. He remembers watching Faulk run a variety of pass routes out of the backfield, many more than the average offense employs.
"That's what I like about the Patriots offense, it's very diverse," Morris said. "Most teams practice different routes, but you can tell just by watching film that the Patriots actually run them. That was a big draw for me."
In the end, Morris hopes he's landed in his final AFC East stop, with a team that's been chasing his versatile services for years. As of now he has no plans of completing the divisional checklist by joining the Jets any time soon.
"Hopefully I'll just keep it here," Morris said with a smile. "Three out of four ain't bad."