Ten-year veteran Fernando Bryant signed a one-year, low-money deal with the Patriots in late March, bringing 109 starts in 110 career games worth of experience with him from his time in Jacksonville and Detroit. The 30-year-old former first-round pick spent the last four years with the Lions, a span spent battling injuries although he did fight through an ankle issue to play in all 16 games last fall.
He had 76 tackles last season while tying career bests with two interceptions and 14 passes defensed. Despite his best season in the Motor City since joining the team as a free agent in 2004, Bryant was released at the end of February before he was due a $3.35 million roster bonus.
"It was time for a change," Bryant said recently after completing a workout in the Patriots offseason program at Gillette Stadium. "I was disappointed (with his time in Detroit) but I knew it was time for a change. They were looking to go in a different direction. I wish them the best, but it was time to move on."
|Fernando Bryant (getty Images)|
The freedom of free agency ended with Bryant moving from one of the NFL's sorriest franchises in recent years to a team that annually competes for a title. And at this point in his career, the veteran couldn't be happier with where he landed.
"(The Patriots) called and said they were interested and eventually if I hadn't signed with anybody they wanted to talk to me," Bryant said. "I had a couple visits set up, but they called and said they were ready for me to come in. I just decided to pick here because of the opportunity to win and to have the opportunity to try to win a Super Bowl now. That's what every player wants."
Primarily a left corner over his nine seasons in the league, a spot Samuel held down of late with the Patriots, Bryant will likely be asked to do a variety of different things in New England. He could see time at right corner as well as in situational roles in nickel and other sub packages to see exactly were the veteran fits into his new team's scheme.
"Adding a cornerback with Fernando's experience and production is a good opportunity for us," coach Bill Belichick said in the release announcing Bryant's signing.
"I approach it like I approach everything else -- I let the chips fall," Bryant said of his potential role. "Obviously they brought me here for a reason. It's going to be competitive. That's one thing I do know about here. Nothing's a given. They were up front with me. That's the great thing about this system there is so much flexibility in everything that they do. It gives veterans a way to find a home."
Based on Bryant's own self-scouting report, wherever he lands in the New England secondary he's ready to consistently fill the role he's assigned to each game in Belichick's always changing game plans.
"I'm a system guy. I believe in doing what you are supposed to do. I don't gamble. I might not have a lot of picks, but I have a lot of pass breakups," Bryant said of his playing style that's led to seven career interceptions and 88 passes defensed. "On third down, I know how to get off the field. I know the responsibilities of a corner on first and second down and trying to get to third down and winning on the big downs. That's what I've done throughout my career.
"Consistency. That's one thing I pride myself on. I pride myself on knowing where to be and being there. I'm not the flashy corner. I don't celebrate a lot. I don't do a lot of things. But I don't give up a lot of touchdowns. That's what I've been known for. I don't' get beat deep a lot. As far as knowing what to do and being there down in and down out, that's what I thrive on."
Despite the obvious opening atop the secondary depth chart trying to replace Samuel, a guy who not only rarely got beat but also came up with 16 regular-season interceptions over the last two seasons, isn't what Bryant signed on for.
"The pressure is winning the Super Bowl," Bryant said. "That's the pressure. I don't really look at following somebody. That's the question you would have asked Asante after Ty Law left. I think he did fine. As long as we play within the scheme and we play as a team, as a defensive unit, I think we'll be fine."
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