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Patriots 2006 defensive free agents

With the free agency period just over a month away, here is a look at the Patriots on the defensive side of the ball who will be unrestricted free agents on March 3.

Matt Chatham – There is a good possibility Chatham won't be with the Patriots next season. This is the year the team is looking to bring in some young linebackers to groom behind their proven veterans and Chatham could get caught in a numbers game. He's a good special teams player and an emergency backup linebacker but he's been in New England for six seasons now and hasn't done much to distinguish himself. If he doesn't sign with another team and the Patriots fail to address the linebacker position early in the draft, there's a chance Chatham will be back with the team but it's probably a long shot.

Don Davis – Davis had 25 special teams tackles in 2005 and he's still a very valuable member of this team. In addition to being a special teams ace, Davis is a spiritual leader in the locker and can also play both linebacker and safety if called upon. He's getting up there in age – he'll be 34 in December – but Davis' leadership on special teams and in the locker room will probably bring him back to New England for at least one more season.

Artrell Hawkins – Of all the free agents the Patriots signed this season, Hawkins turned out to be the biggest surprise. He played cornerback during his first seven seasons in the league but new defensive coordinator Dean Pees suggested Hawkins would be productive at safety – a position he played early in his college career at Cincinnati. Well, the move to safety worked out for Hawkins and the Patriots. Hawkins was able to use his coverage skills as a corner to help prevent long gains through the air and he was surprisingly physical against the run. Will Hawkins be the Patriots opening day starter at safety in 2006? Probably not but his versatility to play both corner and safety and his intelligence to learn a new system as quickly as he did has likely earned Hawkins a new contract with the Patriots. He's the kind of player who will provide quality veteran depth in the New England secondary.

Hank Poteat – Poteat was signed because of all the injuries the Patriots had in their secondary this season. He's not the worst corner in the league but he also doesn't make many plays or do much to stand out. If the Patriots upgrade their secondary this offseason – like they are expected to do – Poteat's time in New England has most likely come to an end. At best, Poteat will be invited to training camp and have a chance to make the team but even then, his chances are slim.

Chad Scott – New England signed the veteran Scott this offseason to provide depth at cornerback but like virtually every other defensive back on the team, Scott was injured early in the year and lost for the season. Scott is a tough player to predict because he didn't play enough to make an impression one way or another. If the coaches were pleased with what they saw out of Scott while he was on the field, there's a chance he could be signed to another one-year deal but it's not a guarantee. Scott has nine years of playing corner in the NFL on his resume and there is always a demand for experienced cornerbacks in free agency. Still, out of all the veteran corners on the team, Scott probably has the best chance of returning in 2006 if a better offer doesn't come his way.

Michael Stone – Stone was signed in late September and started three games for the Patriots at safety. Stone didn't have experience playing safety in the NFL and it showed. He was eventually replaced in the starting lineup by Hawkins and relegated to a backup role. One area Stone did excel in was special teams. He tied for third on the team with 17 special teams tackles and that's pretty impressive considering he didn't play in New England's first three games. Because he is an asset in kick coverage – something Bill Belichick likes – and he can be a backup safety, there is a chance Stone could be in training camp this summer with a chance to make the team. If he does make the 53-man roster, however, it will be because of his play on special teams, not safety.

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