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Monday, March 19, 2012
Don't forget the defense

By Mike Reiss

If there is one message from Twitter followers that stands out as it relates to the Patriots' free-agent activity, it's this: "Hey Bill, don't forget about the defense!"

Less than a week into free agency, the Patriots have either signed or agreed to terms with eight free agents from other teams. The offense has received more attention, with five agreements.

Offense: TE Daniel Fells (Broncos), OL Robert Gallery (Seahawks), WR Anthony Gonzalez (Colts), WR Brandon Lloyd (Rams), WR Donte Stallworth (Redskins)

Defense: DL Jonathan Fanene (Bengals), S Steve Gregory (Chargers), DE Trevor Scott (Raiders)

Given that the team's more pressing problems in 2011 were on defense, the heavier focus on offense has some wondering about Bill Belichick's plan.

Here is my view of what the Patriots have done so far:

Belichick is building up the middle class of the team's roster (players 20-40), which will create more depth and increase the level of competition. Part of this is tied to only three draft choices remaining on the roster from drafts in 2006, 2007 and 2008. 

It's been an aggressive approach at the middle and low levels of the market, and most of the deals come with limited financial risk. Some of the signings might not even stick on the roster (e.g. Gonzalez, Stallworth), while others fill specific needs to create more flexibility entering the draft (e.g. Fells as a third tight end).

While using free agency to mostly address the 20-40 range of the roster, it adds importance to this year's draft as the primary vehicle to address the 1-20 range. That's the Patriots' chance to add a much-needed playmaker to the defense at a cost with which they are more comfortable.

The free-agent signings of Fanene, Gregory and Scott should all help on D, but those three alone won't be enough and Belichick surely knows this.

So this isn't the complete picture.

While there could be more free-agent signings (DL Luis Castillo), the key remains the draft. Belichick can't overlook D in the draft like he did in 2011.