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Free agent wish list: Defense/Special Teams

With the Pro Bowl putting a wrap on the 2005 NFL season, the focus now officially moves to 2006. One of the first key phases of the NFL calendar is free agency.

DE -- John Abraham, Robert MathisWith Eric Mangini now in New York, it will be interesting to see if he keeps Abraham to play in the 3-4 defense. If not, Abraham - a tremendous pass rusher with 53.5 sacks in his career - will cash in with another team. Mathis is coming off a year where he had 11.5 sacks but the speed rusher is a restricted free agent, so he would cost another team a top draft pick if they tried to sign him away from the Colts.

Potential PatsDarren Howard, Anthony WeaverThe Patriots probably won't be in the market for a defensive end this season but you can never count anything out with this team. If they do sign a defensive end, both Howard and Weaver have the ability to play end in the 3-4 defense. Weaver, in particular, has experience at both end and tackle in the 3-4, so he could be a player that peaks the Patriots interest.

DT -- Larry Tripplett, Rocky BernardTripplett didn't start for the Colts but still registered four sacks and an interception while splitting time. He isn't huge but he's a playmaker who could be entering the prime of his career. Bernard was a force in the middle of the Seahawks defenses all year long, especially in the playoffs. He recorded 8.5 sacks and is stout against the run. He's sure to generate a lot of interest if Seattle can't re-sign him.

Potential Pats
Grady Jackson
There's a chance the Patriots will bring in a veteran defensive tackle to back up starter Vince Wilfork. If they do, they will be looking for a player with some beef to him and Jackson certainly has plenty of beef. At 6-2, 350 pounds, Jackson is kind of a poor-man's Ted Washington where he uses his size to tie up blockers so linebackers are allowed to roam free. If the Patriots can get Jackson cheap, he could be a possibility.

MLB -- Gary BrackettBrackett took over the starting middle linebacker job for the Colts this season and he was a big reason for the defense's turnaround. He finished the year with 127 tackles, a sack and three interceptions. His speed and quickness allow him to make plays all over the field. Brackett is a restricted free agent and it would be surprising to see the Colts part ways with him, especially with this being a very weak year for middle linebackers in free agency.

Potential PatsEarl HolmesThe Patriots will probably address this position in the draft but they could also look into bringing in a veteran for the right price. One player they may consider is Holmes. He's been a tackling machine over his career and he has the size - 6-2, 245 pounds - to play middle linebacker in the Patriots system.

OLB -- Julian Peterson, Will WitherspoonPeterson will be a hot prospect once the free agency period kicks off. He had 82 tackles and three sacks for the 49ers a year after rupturing his Achilles' tendon. He can really rush the passer well and is also very good in coverage. Peterson would fit in well with the kind of scheme the Patriots run. Witherspoon doesn't get a lot of respect but he's a complete linebacker who ended the 2005 season with 81 tackles, 2.5 sacks and two interceptions. He's a player who looks like he's getting ready to break out and have a career year in 2006

Potential PatsPeterson, Antwan Peek, Ben LeberPeterson, Peek and Leber are all linebackers with experience in the 3-4 and have the ability to rush the quarterback. With Willie McGinest getting older, the Patriots could sign a proven veteran to split time with him. Peterson would be a good fit but he may be out of the Patriots price range. Peek - who is coming off a season where he had six sacks - is an up-and-coming player and would be a cheaper option if the Patriots decide to go that route.

CB -- Charles Woodson, Nate Clements
Woodson is the bigger name and may get the more lucrative contract but Clements is probably the better overall player. Clements is not only good in coverage but he's an asset against the run, as his 99 tackles this season will attest. Woodson's reputation overshadows his lack of production in recent years. He's missed 13 games and recorded only two interceptions the past two seasons but some team will shell out a lot of money for the oft-injured corner.

Potential PatsTy Law, Deshea Townsend, Brian WilliamsLaw isn't a free agent but it's highly unlikely the Jets will pay him his $11 million roster bonus, making the former Patriot available. There is a chance Law could return to New England but after registering 10 interceptions this season, there are sure to be other teams interested in his services. Townsend is a guy who can play both on the outside and in the slot and Williams had four interceptions for the Vikings this season. Both players would be welcomed additions to the New England secondary.

S -- Corey Chavous, Adam Archuleta
This is a good year for teams looking for safeties and the Patriots are one of those teams. Chavous would be an asset to any defense. He's an intelligent player with the versatility to play either corner or safety - something the Patriots like. Archuleta is a big hitter but he misses a lot of tackles and struggles in coverage sometimes. Perhaps a change of scenery will be good for a player who has the talent but has been a bit of an underachiever in St. Louis.

Potential PatsArchuleta, Chavous, Chris Hope, Tank Williams
The Patriots are almost certain to bring in a veteran safety this offseason and Chavous would be a perfect fit. He may cost a little more than some of the other options but his intelligence and versatility are perfect for what the Patriots like to do on defense. Archuleta underachieved in St. Louis but he has the toughness Belichick likes in his players. Hope led the Steelers with three interceptions this season and was a big part of Pittsburgh's success on defense. Williams struggles at times in pass coverage but he's aggressive against the run and like Archuleta, he lays the lumber in the secondary.

K -- Adam Vinatieri
The best kicker in the NFL resides in New England. The question is: will he remain there? Vinatieri is looking for a lot of money but it's hard to imagine the Patriots parting ways with a guy who has made so many pressure kicks for them. Knowing that Vinatieri is trotting onto the field when the game in on the line has to be worth a couple million. It would be a surprise if Vinatieri were kicking for another team in 2006.

Potential PatsNone
Unless the Patriots don't re-sign Vinatieri -- which isn't likely -- they won't be in the market for a kicker. If they are, the next best option would be the Colts Mike Vanderjagt and we all know how he performs under pressure.

P -- Bryan BarkerIt's been said that punters grow on trees but you wouldn't know it from this year's free agent crop. The best available punter is the Rams Bryan Barker and he finished 24th in the NFL with a 35.6-yard net average. If Barker doesn't re-sign with the Rams he'll end up someplace but then again, what punter doesn't? Sean Landeta is still available for crying out loud.

Potential PatsNone
Josh Miller is one of the best punters in the NFL so unless he gets hurt at some point, the Patriots have no use for a punter.

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