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Debate Friday: Taylor a must-sign?

Through the draft and free agency, the Patriots appear to have filled nearly every significant void on offense, defense, and special teams.

The only glaring question mark, it seems, is at linebacker. Aside from 2008 Defensive Rookie of the Year Jerod Mayo, the Pats look thin on the inside, while outside, Adalius Thomasis the only returning full-time starter. But is the one perceived drawback enough to derail the team's plans for 2009?

As the *Patriots Football Weekly *crew sat down and analyzed the situation, this week's Debate Friday topic came into focus:

Is Jason Taylor a must-sign player for the Patriots?

Erik Scalavino says, "Yes …"

Earlier this year, almost everyone who follows pro football expected Julius Peppers to be in Foxborough by now. With each passing day, it seems more and more unlikely that his coming here will come to pass, most notably because of his reportedly steep cost.

The buzz surrounding his possible arrival helped fuel the considerable buzz surrounding the Patriots this offseason. With the return of Tom Brady and the free agent signings of running back Fred Taylor, tight end Chris Baker, and receivers Joey Galloway and Greg Lewis, the team filled every area of need.

With the signings of Shawn Springs and Leigh Bodden and the drafting of Darius Butler and Patrick Chung, the Patriots have done what they needed to do to secure their defensive backfield.

Up front, the team still has one of, if not the best group of defensive linemen in football, with former Pro Bowlers Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork, always-improving Ty Warren, and a stable of reliable backups.

New England's Achilles heel, therefore, is at linebacker. If the numerous media reports are true, third-round selection Tyrone McKenzie won't be seeing the field in his rookie year after injuring his knee during last weekend's mini-camp. That might necessitate the moving of Adalius Thomas from outside to inside, if not permanently, then at least on a situational basis. Which would then further deplete an already-thin outside position. The Pats can ill afford such a move.

Adding Taylor to the mix would allow the Patriots to field at least one legitimate playmaker on the outside, if Thomas is in fact asked to help pick up the slack inside.

One other factor to consider: The last time New England built this much consensus about its being the team to beat, you'll recall they went 16-0, only to fall seconds short of a perfect season in Super Bowl XLII. Their less-than-perfect defense was protected all season by their unstoppable offense.

Now, the New England offense wasn't itself that game, but what cost them the championship (and an undefeated season) was the defense's inability to come up with a play in the final minute. If the Pats are even close to being as good this year as they were in '07 (as some in the media and Vegas are suggesting), they need to learn from the heartbreak of their nearly-perfect season.

While I still feel Taylor would be a Plan-B acquisition (Peppers, of course, being Plan A), it's a move the Patriots must make for me to feel fully comfortable about the roster going into this season.

~ ES

Paul Perillo argues, "No …"

No one player is going to make or break the Patriots at this point, regardless of position or need. Jason Taylor would certainly improve New England's defense, and on paper the unit needs a viable starter at outside linebacker opposite Adalius Thomas. But as good as Taylor is, he's not the difference between winning the Super Bowl and falling short.

First, Taylor is not currently on the roster and the Vegas wise guys have the Patriots as the favorite to win the Super Bowl. Vegas is not in the business of losing money and they obviously have enough faith in what Bill Belichick does have at his disposal to put New England is such a lofty spot.

Second, Taylor will be 35 when the season starts and he's coming off some injuries that limited him last year in Washington. While he was a terrific player in his prime, I'm not sure he's capable of making the kind of impact that can put a team over the top by himself.

Third, there are some guys, although unproven at this point, who might be able to fill the void. Pierre Woods started three games last season before breaking his jaw against Pittsburgh. He was playing well and showing promise when he went on IR and he could factor into the plans with a solid camp. Tully Banta-Cain returned from San Francisco with a base knowledge of the system and some past starting experience of his own. While I wouldn't necessarily be comfortable with him being a full-time player, I could see him being used situationally to provide depth. And Shawn Crable missed his entire rookie season in 2008 but he's healthy now and could potentially contribute. He was a third-round pick so he came in with some promise before injuries set him back.

Any of those players could factor into the equation and limit the need to sign Taylor. And this doesn't even take into account the Belichick factor. How many times have we seen him devise ways to maximize his personnel and work around any perceived deficiencies in the past? Probably too many to count, and that's another reason I don't feel Taylor is a must. Belichick will find a way to mix, match and scheme his way through if he's unable to sign a proven veteran.

Of course, having him would probably make life a lot easier.

~ PP

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