Free Agency: Patriots Win Some & Lose Some

Updates From the Mill: The Patriots have been working behind the scenes, pursuing free agents that are less high profile than say... Randy Moss. PI has an update on one player the team targeted who signed a big money deal to play elsewhere, and another who was targeted by the division rival Jets, but who was signed before he got there.

In checking in with various league sources Monday -- sick kids not withstanding -- I noticed that the Patriots been quick to pull the trigger on trying to get deals done with free agents to prevent other teams from signing their targeted players.

While that strategy is not unique, in some cases it has worked, but more often it has not.

Critics point to the signings of Donte Stallworth by the Browns, Asante Samuel by the Eagles and Randall Gay by the Saints as the Patriots getting beaten by the front offices of other teams. Not so an NFL insider told us. Those moves were all calculated losses the Patriots. They are players the team understood would be lost because the market was going to pay more than the team valued them at. Simply put, those players were more valuable to the Browns, Eagles and Saints than they were to the Patriots.

Ironically losing their own players to other teams forces the Patriots to have to pay more than they want in order to build depth back into the roster.

Take for instance Monday's events. Randy Moss re-signed, and the team added free agent Sam Aiken.

Aiken received a two-year deal worth up to $2 million with incentives. Not knowing whether those are LTBE incentives or not (our source wasn't saying), Aiken got pretty good money for a reserve wide receiver not expected to do much on offense.

We were told the Patriots showed the most interest in Aiken immediately after the start of free agency. New England's front office beat out the Jets and the Bengals for Aikens' services.

Chalk one up to Pioli and Belichick.

However the same day, the Pats lost out on one player we hear they had considerable interest in - Arizona Cardinals linebacker Calvin Pace.

Pace could have solved a lot of the depth issues facing the Patriots with their aging linebacking corps. Unfortunately for New England, there's only so much money to throw at the problem, and the Jets had plenty more than their AFC East rivals. Although Pace met with the Dolphins first, the Jets sweetened the pot to entice the former first round pick of veteran to head north. Pace signed a six-year. $42 million deal with $20 million in bonus money.

Pace is good, but that's a lot of pay for a guy who has yet to become a household name. With Adalius Thomas's $35 million contract ($22 million the first two years) already on the books, Pace was just too expensive, unless he wanted to "play for a ring" like Moss and others have done.

New England did manage to land Randy Moss on Monday, putting to rest speculation that their strategy of not using the franchise tag on him would backfire. However, sources indicate that Moss took less money to play in New England than he could have received elsewhere. Philadelphia had nearly $30 million in cap space at the start of free agency compared to New England's paltry $17.9 million. (numbers found here)

Moss signed a three-year $27 million contract with $15 million in guarantees. $12 million of the guaranteed money is a signing bonus. It cost the Patriots just $9 million a year to have the best receiver in the NFL on their team. New England paid a fair price.

Back to the hunt.

New England had Buffalo Bills defensive back Jason Webster in for a visit this week. According to a Boston Globe report his agent, Vann McElroy said the former Bill will meet with the Patriots Tuesday.

Webster signed with Buffalo in 2007 but broke his forearm in the first game, landing him on IR for the rest of the year. Originally selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round (48th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft, Webster spent time with the 49ers (2000-03), the Atlanta Falcons (2004-06) and Buffalo (2007).

The Patriots see Webster as a possible replacement for Randall Gay who signed with the Saints over the weekend. The hole left by cornerback Asante Samuel when he signed a $57 million deal with the Eagles looks like it will be filled via the Draft.

Update 3:00pm: The Boston Globe, citing an unnamed source, indicates that Webster has agreed to terms with the Patirots.

It appears New England has one hole filled, now to find more healthy bodies to fill in the rest of the team's needs on defense.

Stay tuned, Free agency is just in it's second week. There are still plenty of visits by players coming.


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