After narrowly missing out on a playoff spot after last years’ season—one that was marked by the injury of All-Pro quarterback Tom Brady in the first game of the regular season—the New England Patriots are looking to reestablish themselves as one of the top teams in the NFL.
Even though their offseason was marked by the trade of franchised quarterback Matt Cassel and linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs, other moves that have gotten less attention could prove to be more significant.
The signing of ex-Jaguars running back Fred Taylor is perhaps the most important of all free-agent signings thus far. Even though Taylor is coming off his least productive season as a pro (rushing for under 600 yards) and is 33 years old, he could prove to be a vital part of the Patriots’ backfield in the coming season.
With Patriots’ management growing impatient with the lack of progress shown by oft-injured Lawrence Maroney, and the only alternatives being Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk, who the Patriots prefer to use as a receive out of the backfield, Taylor could be in store for a large share of the Patriots’ carries this coming season.
While some of Taylor’s failure last year can be attributed to his age and the wear and tear of being a 12-year NFL running back, some of the blame must be put on the injuries suffered by the Jaguars’ offensive line.
With other teams already loading the box with defenders because of the inconsistent play of the Jaguars’ receivers, the injuries to starting offensive lineman provided a very difficult task for Taylor to overcome.
With the play of Tom Brady and Randy Moss assuring that every team will have to keep their safeties out of the box, and the presence of Logan Mankins and Matt Light anchoring the offensive line, Taylor could see success as a part of the Patriots’ backfield.
Also acquired to help boost an already stacked offensive are receivers Greg Lewis and Joey Galloway, and tight ends Chris Baker and Alex Smith. Lewis, an ex-Eagle who had his best season in 2005 where he caught 48 passes, looks to fill the void left by Jabar Gaffney.
Galloway, the long time Tampa Bay Buc, will provide a deep threat in the Patriots receiving core with his elite speed, even at age 37. While Baker will be used mostly as an asset to the running game, Smith serves more as a receiving tight end and will be used to backup oft-injured Benjamin Watson.
On the defensive side, the Patriots were often vulnerable to the pass last season—a sign of weak secondary play. Although the departure of Asante Samuel and injuries to Rodney Harrison and second round pick Tyrone Wheatley did not help the cause, the need still remained for help at the cornerback positions.
The Patriots signed Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden to bolster their defensive talent. Bodden, one of the few bright spots on a 0-16 Detroit Lions team, had a good season in which he defended 11 passes, intercepting one. Also, being only 27, Bodden has time to develop under Bill Belichick’s complex defensive system.
Springs, a 13-year veteran, has spent the majority of his career with the Seahawks and Redskins. He provides physical play at the corner position with his ability to jam receivers and bump them off their routes.
Even though the Patriots traded veteran Ellis Hobbs, the addition of Springs and Bodden coupled with the return of Wheatley and drafting of Darius Butler, the freakishly athletic cornerback from UConn should serve as a great defensive backs corp.
The impact of offseason acquisitions will play a major part in how much success the Patriots will achieve this coming season. Already a Super-Bowl-caliber team before the signing of Fred Taylor, Leigh Bodden, and others, the Patriots are hoping that these additions will carry them to the Lombardi Trophy in February.