AFC East: Vince Redd
We examined each AFC East team's "weak spot" based on its 2008 performance. In this post, we explore the Patriots' outsider linebacker position.
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|Losing linebacker Mike Vrabel to Kansas City isn't a huge concern for the Pats, but they still need to fill a gap at outside linebacker.|
It doesn't concern me that Mike Vrabel was shipped off to Kansas City. His play fell off dramatically last season and his presence in Kansas City is to be as a mentor and trend setter of sorts. Also, the Chiefs' roster is not as well stocked as the Patriots and they need every close-to-able body they can get their hands on. I am not so sure Vrabel would have even made the Patriots' final roster this year. So his loss is minimal.
Adalius Thomas hasn't quite lived up to expectations in New England since being added in free agency from the Ravens. He has played in the league now for nine seasons, is coming off an injury plagued season and it is possible that he is beginning to decline. However, I still hold out hope that Thomas can be a similar versatile playmaker as he was in Baltimore, especially if there were a difference maker opposite him at the other outside linebacker position.
There are three young players of interest here in Shawn Crable, Vince Redd and Pierre Woods. Crable or Woods is probably the front runner to start right now with Crable having the more upside of the two former Michigan Wolverines. Still, for a team as strong as New England, this starting spot is not up to par and presents far more questions than answers.
What I have no doubts about is the fact that New England's offense is going to score points. They are going to score in bunches. This should put the Patriots' pass rushers in very favorable situations late in games when New England's opponents are forced to throw. Think Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis coming off the edge when the Colts are ahead in the fourth quarter.
Jason Taylor just signed with divisional rival Miami and while he doesn't look like a player who is ideally suited to play a high number of snaps, he could have been a mentor and bridge to the Patriots' younger outside linebackers and provided a pass rush specialist that New England presently lacks. However, Taylor is not going to remind anyone of Vrabel from a toughness standpoint and may not be a real Bill Belichick type of player. Losing out on Taylor to Miami isn't the end of the world.
Another option could be Julius Peppers, who also isn't a glass eater but clearly would be a more desirable choice than Taylor... or any other available option. Before the draft, Peppers was often linked to the Patriots. Sometimes when there is smoke there is fire in situations like this and obviously New England has a lot of resources at its disposal in the form of selections in the 2010 draft to make something happen. Peppers' inconsistencies worry me, but adding him to this team would turn New England's number one weakness into a potential great strength.
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|Jason Taylor would like to play for the Dolphins again.|
They need an outside linebacker. Patriots owner Robert Kraft twice declared he'd gladly give Taylor a Gillette Stadium locker stall if he wanted one.
And what free agent wouldn't be flattered? The Patriots are a Super Bowl contender that could bring Taylor a championship in the gloaming of his career. Taylor is good friends with Tom Brady and Wes Welker. Patriots coach Bill Belichick gushes over Taylor's pass-rushing skills.
Taylor and the Patriots seem like such a perfect fit.
The problem with that proposition is the man who must sign the contract. Multiple sources close to Taylor say he doesn't want to be a Patriot nearly as much as he wants to return to the Miami Dolphins.
While the Dolphins have been cool about the possibility of bringing him back, they're warming up to the idea.
Dolphins coach Tony Sparano, on a Tuesday morning radio show hosted by former Dolphins tight end Joe Rose, said the front office would revisit Taylor's availability this week. Sparano's tone sounded borderline apathetic, but there's a real possibility a deal could be struck.
The draft is complete. Most free agents have been signed. Teams are starting to gather for full voluntary workouts.
Why would Taylor prefer to be on the field when the Dolphins assemble Monday for their first organized team activity? Why not the Patriots? Why not the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Green Bay Packers, where his old defensive coordinators work?
The paramount reason is family. Taylor's wife and three children remained in South Florida last summer after the Dolphins sentenced Taylor to a lost season with the Washington Redskins.
Taylor has remarked how miserable he was away from home. When the Redskins approached Taylor about modifying his contract to include a clause that would insist upon 25 offseason workouts in Ashburn, Va., he balked. They agreed to part ways. He would have made more than $8 million this year.
"He wanted to spend the offseason with his family," Taylor's agent, Gary Wichard, told the Associated Press at the time. "He just kind of chose family over going up there."
Seau, who will turn 40 next month, didn't go to a training camp and hasn't played a down this year. But the old warrior was good enough to appear in every game for the Patriots during their 18-1 campaign a year ago.
The reason for Seau's return could be for a spiritual kick in the pants for a team that needs to close out its final four games with authority as much as it might be for any on-field contributions he can deliver.
The Patriots haven't won consecutive games since October and haven't put together more than two victories in a row all season.
Jerod Mayo has taken Seau's place and almost certainly will be the defensive rookie of the year, but Boston Globe reporter Mike Reiss speculates inside linebacker Tedy Bruschi's knee injury could be serious enough to require reinforcements.
Reiss reports that during pregame warm-ups for Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, "Bruschi was worked out by members of the team's medical and training staff on the field, which appeared to be an indication that his knee injury was serious enough to potentially keep him out of action."
Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter broke the Seau story, citing an unnamed member of the Junior Seau Foundation:
New England coaches left open the door for Seau, 40, to return at the start of the season, but the sides could not come to terms on a new contract after Seau had offseason shoulder surgery. Seau has spent the past three months exploring business ventures and surfing in San Diego. But he always keeps himself in tremendous shape and as recently as Tuesday night at a foundation event appeared physically capable of suiting up again.
Even though they already were at the 53-man limit, the New England Patriots made compelling roster cuts for the second straight day.
But for the sake of bringing you the news ASAP, the Patriots also announced their practice squad:
Dillard, Green-Ellis and Redd are rookies. Spann, in his third NFL season, is the most experienced.