The team has signed Armond Armstead, a former standout defensive lineman from the University of Southern California. Armstead will be just 23 years old at the start of the 2013 season, and at 6'5" 300 pounds, has the potential to be an excellent under-the-radar pickup by New England.
Armstead was recruited by USC as a highly decorated offensive and defensive lineman from Pleasant Grove High in Elk Grove, California. He recorded a combined 167 tackles and 16 sacks his junior and senior seasons, and received a plethora of accolades including the All-Metro League MVP Award in 2007. Armstead was also a member of the basketball and track teams at Pleasant Grove.
ESPN ranked Armstead as the nation's No. 40 defensive tackle in the 2008 recruiting class, grading him at a 77 as "a good looking prospect at the defensive end position." He was also recognized for his blocking ability on offense and a possible tight end-conversion project in college. Then-Trojans coach Pete Carroll landed Armstead at USC, and the true-freshman recorded 10 tackles while appearing in 9 games before breaking his hand and missing the Trojans' 38-24 Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.
After landing a starting job at defensive end in the Trojans' 2009 spring drills, Armstead broke his left foot and was forced to miss the first five games, including an awful 16-13 loss to Pac-10 rival Washington.
He returned to start five of the final eight games, recording just six tackles and one blocked PAT. The Trojans finished the season 8-4, their worst record since 2001, but managed a 24-13 Emerald Bowl victory over Boston College. Armstead recorded two tackles in the finale.
Pete Carroll announced he would leave USC for the NFL's Seattle Seahawks on January 9, 2010, amidst NCAA investigations into Reggie Bush receiving illegal benefits while playing for the Trojans from 2003-2005. The team eventually was suspended from post-season play for two years, lost 30 football scholarships, and vacated all wins from the three seasons Bush participated in, including the 2005 National Championship.
However, just three days after Carroll's resignation, Lane Kiffin was hired as the new head coach, spurning the University of Tennessee after just one sub-par season. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Armstead.
Armstead would start twelve games for the Trojans' defense in 2010, missing only a blowout victory over Washington State with a shoulder sprain. While the post-season ineligible squad went 8-5, including 5-4 in conference play, Armstead was busy racking up 43 tackles, including seven tackles and a fumble recovery in a loss to then-No. 2 ranked Oregon.
The Trojans announced they would move Armstead to defensive tackle prior to the 2011 season. However, Armstead wasn't medically cleared by team doctors due to a heart attack suffered in March 2011. In turn, Armstead filed a lawsuit against USC in August 2011, claiming the pain-killing shots administered by the team caused the heart attack.
In an interview with ABC regarding the overuse of pain-killers, Armstead stated he and many other USC players would receive injections of what was known only as "the shot" in a specific training room before big games and again at half-time. "No discussion, just go in. He would give the shot and I would be on my way" Armstead told ABC News."
Armstead was rumored to be considering a transfer from USC to Oregon, where his brother Arik played defensive line as a freshman in 2012. But Armstead claimed USC blocked the transfer request to the Pac-12 rival, and that he instead would turn pro. According to CBS Sports, USC's attorneys threw another hitch into Armstead's plans, barring him from the team's Pro Day workout citing liability concerns. The NFL had evaluated Armstead as a second-round pick following the 2010 season, but expectations were a lot lower after the heart attack diagnosis and missing an entire year of football.
As an alternative, Armstead worked out for a dozen NFL teams at Cal State Sacramento in early April 2012, after clearance from physicians who maintain that his health is a non-issue. According to NFL Draft Scout, Armstead displayed a 30-inch vertical leap, a broad jump just short of 10 feet, and a 5.05 second 40-yard dash. However, even after clearance by multiple NFL team doctors, Armstead was not among the 44 defensive lineman selected in the 2012 NFL Draft.
Instead of waiting for a tryout when NFL training camps opened in July, Armstead signed with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League just before the 2012 season began in June. Armstead enjoyed plenty of success in his lone season with the Argos, recording 43 tackles and 6 sacks, as well as two fumble recoveries. He helped the Argos to their league-leading 16th Grey Cup Championship in coach Scott Milanovich's first season as head coach.
Prior to the 2013 NFL Season, Armstead leads the way for CFL alumni making the jump to the NFL. The Chicago Bears have already hired former Montreal Alouettes head coach Marc Trestman to the same position, after he had interviewed with the Cleveland Browns as well as the Indianapolis Colts in early 2012.
Armstead isn't the first CFL player to seek parallel NFL success, as quite a few CFL standouts have gone on to stellar careers in the NFL. Examples include Joe Theismann, Warren Moon, Doug Flutie, and Rocket Ismail. The common denominator? Except for Moon, they all played for the Argos prior to their NFL careers.
Although the Patriots have 18 unrestricted free agents, they only stand to lose defensive end Trevor Scott from their defensive line. All of their starters, including 2012 rookie Chandler Jones and sack-specialist Rob Ninkovich, are set to return next season. But depth across all positions is an absolute necessity in the injury-riddled NFL and anything Armstead can contribute is an added bonus for New England.
After Vince Wilfork, Jones, Ninkovich, Justin Francis and Brandon Deaderick, the Patriots have plenty of need on their defensive line. The majority of Bill Belichick recent draft picks have been failures, including Ron Brace, Myron Pryor, Kareem Brown and Jeremy Mincey.
Only time will tell whether Armstead is considered a notable acquisition, or a low-risk free agent bust.