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Monday, August 26, 2002
Updated: August 27, 4:08 AM ET
Anderson, Pats agree in principle to deal

By Len Pasquarelli and Chris Mortensen

The New England Patriots have reached agreement in principle with free agent tailback Jamal Anderson, has learned.

Barring any last-minute snags, the contract -- a one-year deal with a base salary of $650,000, and the opportunity to earn another $2 million in incentives -- should be finalized soon.

Anderson visited with New England officials last week, then took a few days to consider his options, which included offers from at least one other NFL team and a television opportunity. Anderson, who missed nearly the entire 1999 and 2001 seasons after severe knee injuries in those years, was also ardently courted in recent days by the Indianapolis Colts.

"It was a tough decision,'' Anderson told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution as he boarded a flight for Boston on Monday. "I looked at a number of teams that were interested in me, and I was going to visit them, but it looked too good in New England.

"They're the defending Super Bowl champions. They play on grass. It's important to me to go somewhere I can win, and with Antowain Smith being there, it's not like there's pressure for me to come in right away. I can work my way in."

Smith, in his first year with the Patriots, rushed for 1,157 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2001.

New England officials apparently have convinced Anderson, however, that they will find a way to use him. Certainly all they need to do is point to the '01 season, when coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis found meaningful roles for many players.

Anderson, 29, rebuffed overtures from teams earlier in the spring, when he felt he was not in sufficient condition for workouts. But in the past several weeks, even as some contended that Anderson had lost the desire to play in 2002, he began hitting his stride in daily workouts.

In eight seasons with the Falcons, he carried 1,329 times for 5,336 yards and 34 touchdowns. But he totaled just five appearances in 1999 and 2001. In '99, he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, returned in 2000 to rush for 1,024 yards, then blew out the ACL in his left knee in 2001.

His 1,846 yards in 1998, when he led Atlanta to the Super Bowl, still rates as one of the top 10 single-season performances in league history. He set the NFL record that year for rushing attempts, with 410 carries. Anderson has played in 88 games and started 64 of them.

Ironically, the Falcons phoned Patriots officials a few years ago to see if New England might be interested in acquiring Anderson via a trade. The talks never moved, however, to the substantive stage.

If he's healthy, Anderson would provide competition for Smith, J.R. Redmond and Kevin Faulk. Belichick praised all three Monday.

"He's way ahead of where he was last year'' in camp, Belichick said of Smith, who signed a long-term contract after rushing for a career-high 1,157 yards in his only season with New England. "I really don't have any complaint with Antowain.''

Redmond "is one of our better backs in terms of blitz pickups,'' while Faulk is "a hard worker'' with the versatility to catch, run and return kicks.

"He still has to make the team like everyone else,'' Redmond said of Anderson. "He's been a proven back and he's done a great job. It'll just add more depth and quality to our running backs. It would be a good thing.''

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for Chris Mortensen covers the NFL for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.