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Free agent Edwards signs with Jacksonville

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            Patriots free agent fullback Marc Edwards made his departure from New England official over the weekend by signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars. According to Jaguars.com Edwards signed a three-year deal with Jacksonville that totals $3 million and has an $875,000 signing bonus.  

With Edwards completely out of the picture, the Patriots now have a serious hole at fullback. The 6-0, 245-pound veteran played in all 32 games in his two seasons in New England with 23 starts. As it stands today the only fullback on the team's roster is first-year free agent and former Brown University player Michael Malan. Malan is currently spending the spring with the Scottish Claymores in NFL Europe. One other fullback, fourth-year veteran Patrick Pass is a restricted free agent who the team tendered a $605,000 qualifying offer to. It is likely that Pass will be in the fullback mix when training camp rolls around.

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            Pass has seen limited action at fullback in recent seasons and has been primarily a special teams contributor. Last season he played in 15 games and carried the ball just four times for 27 yards. He tied for fourth on the team with eight special teams tackles. The 5-10, 217-pound, former seventh-round pick out of Georgia came into the league as a tailback but has grown into his role as a backup fullback over the last few offseasons. While he could receive consideration for the job, his lack of size and experience make it unlikely that the team would go to camp without other options.  

The hole left by Edwards could be a significant one. The versatile blocking, running and catching fullback was a regular contributor to Charlie Weis' offense and short passing game. Over the last two seasons Edwards carried the ball 82 times for 237 yards and one touchdown. He also caught 48 passes for 362 yards and two scores.

Adding to the question at fullback is the fact that the position has been a hot one on the free agent market. Many fullbacks have already signed and after its initial run at former-Jet and new-Cowboy, Richie Anderson, the Patriots have been quiet at the position. As it stands now there are 18 free agent fullbacks left on the open market, including Pass. Notable names on the list include former Patriot Sam Gash, restricted free agent Dan Kreider, Joel Makovicka, Cecil Martin and Mack Strong.

Another option at fullback is filling the need through the draft, although that is a less-likely route. Fullback is not necessarily a position teams pursue in the draft as it can generally be filled through free agency or by moving players such as a former tailback to the slot. It is also unlikely that Bill Belichick and company would bring in a rookie and throw him into the fire as a fullback, what can be a key position in both the passing and running game.

So while the window may seem to be closing on the free agency market at fullback, in all likelihood New England will have to make a signing from the remaining pool of talent. Who that player will be and what role he takes within the offense is a different story, one that will likely unfold as the coaching staff puts together the offensive pieces heading into training camp and the 2003 season.

Notes

Free agent signings of note continued over the weekend. The biggest in the mix was defensive end Hugh Douglas landing in Jacksonville with a reported five-year deal. … Former Lions starter Charlie Batch reportedly agreed to terms with the Pittsburgh Steelers, linebacker Nate Wayne signed with the Philadelphia Eagles and punter Hunter Smith signed with the Indianapolis Colts. … Rams free agent offensive lineman Andy McCollum visited Gillette Stadium today. The team confirmed the visit this afternoon. The nine-year NFL veteran started 16 games for the Rams last season and has started every game in each of the last three seasons. Primarily a center, McCollum has also seen time at guard in his 123-game career. The lineman played under Belichick at the start of his career when he was on the Browns practice squad early in the 1994 season

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