Andre Carter's situation is beginning to look a lot like that of Brandon Lloyd, who had a well-documented journey on his way to the New England Patriots. Speculation existed for months that paired the Patriots and Lloyd as free-agency darlings before a deal finally came to fruition in March.
Carter's name has been linked to Foxboro all offseason, making a reunion seem almost inevitable at this stage. The Patriots were undoubtedly happy with the team-leading production they got out of the 33-year-old in 2011, and Carter has made his interest in returning quite clear.
The missing piece to this puzzle is made out of muscle fiber, and it's currently healing within Carter's upper thigh. The quadriceps injury he sustained in Week 15 tore muscle off of the bone, requiring surgery and an extended rehab timetable.
Training camp has always been the most realistic recovery expectation for Carter since he went under the knife in mid-December. New England's camp opens up on July 26th, which is still more than a month out, so the sides have some time before that checkpoint is reached.
Carter is still using the team's facility to rehab and meet with medical staff, and neither side has anything to gain by rushing a decision. I agree with the likes of Ian Rapoport and Field Yates of the NFL Network and ESPNBoston, respectively, who feel Carter is a near lock to return.
I'm projecting a longer wait, though, as a signing closer to the actual date that camps break makes much more sense. Carter can continue to beast his way through his strengthening program and show up ready to go.
CBSSports' Jason La Canfora got the inside scoop on Carter's impressive rehab regime, which now includes rigorous resistance band training.
"From your quads to your glutes, everything's on fire, man!" Carter said, "but I tell you what, my legs are stronger than ever. The stuff you pick up in rehab, I always say, man, I wish I learned this a long time ago. I feel like I'm stronger now than ever."
In 2011, he played better than ever, notching the first Pro Bowl berth of his 11-year career. If Carter can bring improved strength to the table in 2012, the youngsters on the Patriots' line may have a tough go at earning much playing time.