As of midnight on Friday the NFL free agency period officially opened. With a number of moves on Thursday afternoon the Patriots reportedly sit a comfortable $4 million under the league's 2003 $75 million salary cap to pursue potential players.
The Patriots will likely be active in the free agent market, looking to improve a roster that failed to make the playoffs last season. The question remains though as to whether the team will alter its recent trend and pursue a higher level of players. Last year's biggest free agent catch, wide receiver Donald Hayes, was a huge disappointment and the team will look to avoid making a similar mistake this offseason.
By either re-signing its own free agents or through the open market the Patriots may be on the lookout in free agency for players at fullback, wide receiver, offensive line, running back and the better part of the entire defense. That being said there are a number of potential players available in each category and even more recognizable names were added to the free agent pool on Thursday.
The list of players now available following Thursday's cuts is an interesting one. Notable players released yesterday include Bills tight end Jay Riemersma, Chargers safety Rodney Harrison and wide receiver Cutis Conway, Raiders defensive tackle Sam Adams and safety Anthony Dorsett, Browns linebacker Jamir Miller, Buccaneers center Jeff Christy and Rams cornerback Aeneas Williams.
A few players who may have been on the Patriots want list of free agents were taken off the market. Wide receiver Brian Finneran signed a four-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons and linebacker Mike Maslowski signed a deal to remain with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Patriots officially announced the signing of long snapper Lonie Paxton late Friday. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but it has been reported as a five-year pact for more than $3 million. Paxton would have become a restricted free agent had the sides not reached the new agreement. … The Patriots tendered offers of $605,000 to each of the team's other three restricted free agents, linebacker Matt Chatham, cornerback Ben Kelly and fullback Patrick Pass. … The team also tendered offers to three of its four exclusive rights free agents, offensive lineman Matt Knutson, guard Stephen Neal and linebacker Maugaula Tuitele. The team did not tender an offer to wide receiver Fred "Boom Boom" Coleman and he is now an unrestricted free agent. … The San Deigo Chargers released former Patriot Ed Ellis on Thursday. … The Houston Texans released former Patriots safety Matt Stevens on Thursday. The Texans had selected Stevens from New England in last year's expansion draft. … The Cleveland Browns released former Patriots center Dave Wohlabaugh on Thursday. The center was subsequently snapped up and signed with the St. Louis Rams on Friday. … ESPN Insider's Mel Kiper Jr. updated his first round mock draft following the results of last week's Scouting Combine. Kiper now projects the Patriots to select Oklahoma defensive tackle Kevin Williams with the 14th pick and Georgia linebacker Boss Bailey with the 19th selection. Kiper lists USC quarterback Carson Palmer, Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers, Utah tackle Jordan Gross, Arizona State defensive end Terrell Suggs and Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman as his likely first five picks.