Despite coming off an undefeated regular season and maintaining strong continuity on the coaching staff, the 2008 Patriots will look very different. While Tom Brady's offense will retain the bulk of its key parts, highlighted by the team's re-signing of record-breaking wide receiver Randy Moss, things will look a bit different on defense moving forward.
Linebacker and the defensive backfield could be greatly affected by offseason changes. Aging veteran Tedy Bruschi (34) re-signed for another run but Junior Seau (38) remains a free agent and could retire. Outside linebacker Rosevelt Colvin, coming off a season-ending foot injury, was released in late February thanks in large part to his $7.6 million cap number moving forward.
In the secondary, All-Pro free agent CB Asante Samuel flew south to Philly, while free agent nickel back Randall Guy marched off to New Orleans and FS/CB Eugene Wilson is likely to land elsewhere leaving major holes in the back end of the defense. The team has added veteran depth in the secondary with the likes of Tank Williams, Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders, but both linebacker and the defensive backfield very much remain works in progress. All NFL rosters are fluid at this point, but the record-breaking Patriots will once again have lot of work to do before the team is ready to compete next fall.
1. Cornerback: All-Pro and key playmaker Asante Samuel is now an Eagle. Nickel man Randall Gay is a Saint. Two of the team's top three corners from last fall are gone and the one returnee, Ellis Hobbs, had a terrible third season and got toasted in the Super Bowl. The position needs top-end talent to go with the veteran depth it has already added through free agency with the likes of Jason Webster and Lewis Sanders.
2. Linebacker: Tedy Bruschi passed up retirement to return for another run, but Junior Seau is still mulling his future. Rosevelt Colvin is gone thanks in part to injuries and what would have been a $7.6 million cap number in 2008. None of the team's younger linebackers are in line to earn significant roles moving forward. Youth and athleticism are both clearly needed at a spot that does still include All-Pro Mike Vrabel and '07 free agent prize Adalius Thomas.
3. Safety: Rodney Harrison is 35 and isn't the player he used to be. Free agent Eugene Wilson is as good as gone. First-round pick Brandon Meriweather played more late in the year, but is still very much unproven. Harrison stayed healthy last fall for the first time in three years, but it's hard to count on the same happening moving forward so depth surrounding budding starter James Sanders could be an issue. Veteran Tank Williams has been added, but more playmaking depth and versatility could be in the cards.
MEDICAL WATCH: CB Ellis Hobbs said after the Super Bowl that he would be having surgery soon, reportedly to deal with a groin injury he played with late in the year.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--WR Troy Brown played just one game in his 15th season after starting the year on PUP. He may retire, but if he doesn't the team has reportedly told him that he's not in its plans moving forward.
--S Mel Mitchell played in 10 games and is a core special teams-type guy. He might choose to go elsewhere as New England only has room for so many one-dimensional special teamers.
--CB Chad Scott didn't make it through training camp and has been hurt often. He's a solid veteran backup and could be back with the team in the market for corner depth.
--LB Junior Seau was expected to get his first Super Bowl ring and retire. The Giants messed that little story up. He was healthy all year and made plays. If he doesn't retire after his 18th season, the only place he'll be playing is in New England.
--DB Eugene Wilson spent time as a healthy scratch during portions of 2007, a fall from his first couple season in New England when he was an up-and-coming playmaker. He's been hurt too often and hasn't made plays much over the last couple years. He's due a change of scenery and will likely welcome it.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: (see below)
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--LB Eric Alexander is a decent though injury prone special teamer although he's yet to show anything on defense, other than of course his still inexplicable start in the 2006 AFC title loss in Indianapolis.
--T Wesley Britt is a serviceable backup swing tackle.
--LB Pierre Woods is another solid special teamer who's yet to do much on defense, although he did see some rare playing time New England's Super Bowl XLII loss to New York.
--WR Sam Aiken: UFA Bills; $1.555M/2 yrs, $225,000 SB/$40,000 WO; 2008 cap: $757,500.
--CB Lewis Sanders: FA Falcons; $770,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB; 2008 cap: $491,000.
--LB T.J. Slaughter: FA; $730,000/1 yr.
--CB Jason Webster: UFA Bills; $800,000/1 yr, $130,000 guaranteed/$70,000 WO.
--S Tank Williams: UFA Vikings; $645,000/1 yr, $40,000 WO; 2008 cap: $491,000.
--LB Tedy Bruschi: Potential UFA; $4.1M/2 yrs, $1.2M SB; 2008 cap: $1.6M.
--WR Jabar Gaffney: UFA; $1.281M/1 yr, $500,000 SB/$75,000 WO.
--LB Larry Izzo: Potential UFA; $870,000/1 yr, $40,000 SB; 2008 cap: 485,000.
--WR Randy Moss: UFA; $27M/3 yrs, $12M SB/$3M base guarantee; 2008 cap: $6M.
--LS Lonie Paxton: UFA; $880,000/1 yr, $150,000 SB.
--S Ray Ventrone: ERFA; $370,000/1 yr.
--WR Kelley Washington: UFA; $1.855M/2 yrs, $450,000 SB; 2008: $830,000.
--DL Mike Wright: RFA; terms unknown
--TE Kyle Brady (released/failed physical).
--LB Rosevelt Colvin (released/failed physical).
--CB Randall Gay: UFA Saints; $12M/4 yrs, $3.75M SB.
--DL Rashad Moore: Not tendered as RFA/Falcons; terms unknown.
--CB Asante Samuel: UFA Eagles; $59.475M/6 yrs, $20M guaranteed.
--WR Donte Stallworth: UFA Browns; $35M/7 yrs, $10M guaranteed.
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