Friday, March 24, 2006
Patriots keep two of their own in Brown, Neal
By Len Pasquarelli
After watching the door swing mostly outward in the first two weeks of free agency, the New England Patriots finally found a way to bolt it shut.
New England has reached agreement with a pair of its own unrestricted free agents, versatile wide receiver Troy Brown and starting right guard Stephen Neal, and the contracts could be finalized by Friday. Financial details were not immediately available, but sources confirmed Brown will sign a second straight one-year contract, and Neal is likely to receive a multi-year deal.
The retention of Brown is particularly significant given his longevity with the franchise, what he represents to Patriots fans, and the fact that New England has already lost a pair of revered veterans in linebacker Willie McGinest and kicker Adam Vinatieri, along with other key players.
Brown, 34, had considered retirement and had feelers from a few other teams, but opted to return for a 14th season, all with the Patriots.
What has Brown done for the Pats during a long tenure that has included three Super Bowl championships? A little of everything.
The former Marshall star, an eighth-round choice in the 1993 draft, ranks as the second leading receiver in franchise history, with 514 catches for 5,982 yards and 27 touchdowns. And that's despite the fact Brown spent most of his early career as a punt returner, didn't start a game until his fifth season in the league, and didn't record double-digit starts until 2000.
He has averaged 10.5 yards and scored three touchdowns on 244 punt returns and has 87 kickoff returns for a 21.4-yard average. In 2004, with the New England secondary decimated by injuries, Brown played in the secondary for the first time in his career and posted three interceptions. He played cornerback at times in 2005 as well.
Certainly Brown, who came close to signing with New Orleans a year ago, has been a player symbolic of the Patriots' grit and resourcefulness the last few seasons.
In Neal, 29, the Pats have retained a self-made player, a five-year veteran who didn't play college football, was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Cal State-Bakersfield, but who has developed into one of the league's top guards. Neal was the No. 25 player in the ESPN.com free agent rankings.
Neal rarely got on the field early in his career but has started all but two games in the last two seasons.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.