NFL Free Agency 2012: Assessing the New England Patriots' Early Signings

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NFL Free Agency 2012: Assessing the New England Patriots' Early Signings
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Fanene is one of the Patriots' early signings.

At 4 p.m. on Tuesday, the NFL embarked on a new offseason of free-agency madness.

Big-name players have left their former employers for new homes, while some have elected to stay put in their current situations. Certain teams have been dealing out money like it's Monopoly, but not the New England Patriots.

New England has quietly put together some smart signings. They have played the "wait and see" approach, and thus far, it's working for them.

The first signing New England made on the initial day of free agency brought Niko Koutouvides back for another season.

Koutouvides, a veteran backup linebacker was solid for the Pats during the 2011 campaign. In eight games for New England this past season, the former Purdue Boilermaker made 14 tackles and recovered a fumble.

He's not a flashy player, but No. 90 is a serviceable presence on the back end of the roster. The signing was no shocker, as the eight-year pro blended right in since he arrived in December.

Later on in Tuesday's transactions, the Pats retained defensive tackle Kyle Love.

Love has been a consistent interior lineman for New England, and his re-signing will help keep some continuity in the Pats' defensive front.

The former Ole Miss run-stopper has proven to be a gem as far as undrafted free agents are concerned. In 2011, Love played in all 16 regular season contests, totaling 33 tackles, three quarterback sacks, and a fumble recovery. Alongside Vince Wilfork, Love has found his niche and provided depth on the inside of the line.

Elsa/Getty Images
Love will be back for a third season in New England.

When Wednesday rolled around, New England inked defensive end Jonathan Fanene to a three-year contract through the 2014 season.

Fanene, is a versatile pass-rusher who is quick enough to play defensive end, but also has the size at 6'4" and 292 pounds. His girth gives him the ability to clog lanes as a situational defensive tackle.

As a member of the Cincinnati Bengals last season, the roarin' Samoan had 24 tackles, but more importantly, he recorded six-and-a-half sacks. Fanene is a thoughtful pickup for the Patriots and can be used in a variety of ways.

Later on in the busy Wednesday signings, the Pats re-signed linebacker Tracy White.

White is a special teams ace. The 30-year-old had 37 tackles last year for New England, primarily on the special teams unit.

The Howard alum knows his role and is comfortable in the system. The signing makes sense for the Patriots, backup linebackers who can play on the "big four" are necessary in the NFL. His playing style is similar to former New England folk hero Larry Izzo. At the end of the day, White's practically a lock to make the 46-man game-day roster.

It's still early in the game but Patriots haven't wowed people with their moves. With that said, they haven't exactly disappointed either. Only time will tell.

If New England is patient and wise with their money, they can hold out for a more decorated free agent in the upcoming days and weeks. Ultimately, the best is yet to come.

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