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Fuamatu-Ma'afala signs offer sheet

More competition in the backfield is on the way to New England, barring unforeseen circumstances. The Patriots signed restricted free agent Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala, giving the team five running backs and no certain starters.

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            At 5-11 and 252 pounds, Fuamatu-Ma'afala is a bruiser who has played fullback and tailback, but he is probably best suited for the latter. His running style is similar to that of Steeler teammate Jerome Bettis, the man he backed up for three years.  

Fuamatu-Ma'afala's biggest problem during his three seasons has been staying on the field. He missed at least four games each season and played in just 29 of 48 games because of shoulder, hamstring and foot injuries. He made his first career start in Week Eight of the 2000 season against Cleveland, but a broken foot caused him to miss the final nine games of the season.

When healthy, Fuamatu-Ma'afala has put up impressive numbers. Playing behind Jerome Bettis he didn't see the ball much, but Fuamatu-Ma'afala ran 29 times for 183 yards, good for 6.3 yards per carry. Last season he saw his most extensive duty, carrying 21 times for 149 yards (7.1 average).

The deal with Fuamatu-Ma'afala marks the second straight year New England has gone after a restricted free agent. Last year the Patriots signed Baltimore tackle Spencer Folau, but the Ravens matched the offer.

Pittsburgh is much less likely to match the deal for Fuamatu-Ma'afala. Starter Jerome Bettis recently signed a six-year contract, and fullback Jonathan Witman re-signed after recovering from a broken leg. The Steelers also have veterans Richard Huntley and Amos Zereoue as reserves. In addition, the Steelers have just six picks in this weekend's draft. New England would have to send a sixth-round pick in exchange for Fuamatu-Ma'afala.

Pittsburgh has until Friday to match the offer.

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