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Patriots.com News Blitz 2/23/05

To no one's surprise, the Patriots slapped their franchise tag on kicker Adam Vinatieri last evening, locking up the Super Bowl hero for at least the 2005 season. According to Jerome Solomon of The Boston Globe, the Patriots tabbed Vinatieri as a "non-exclusive" franchise player, which means he can negotiate with other teams if he fails to reach a long-term agreement with New England. However, as Solomon explains, should he reach a deal with another team, the Patriots would have the right to match the deal or would receive two first-round picks in return. The NFL's highest paid kicker, Vinatieri received a 20 percent increase from his 2004 salary and will be paid just over $2.5 million in 2005.

In addition to the Vinatieri franchising, Michael Felger reports, in his Boston Herald notebook, that the Patriots are currently over the salary cap. According to Felger, the team sits nearly $1 million dollars over the cap, and that does not include Vinatieri's new deal or contracts the team will have to offer its restricted free agents, David Givens, Stephen Neal, Jarvis Green, Tom Ashworth, and Brandon Gorin. Felger projects such dealings will put the team roughly $8 million over the cap, a number that could well be eased by a restructuring of either Ty Law or Tom Brady's contract.

Tom Curran of The Providence Journal also addresses the salary cap situation in Foxboro. Curran suggests one way the team could ease its troubles would be to work out a long-term deal with Corey Dillon. Dillon is in the final year of the contract the Patriots assumed when they brought him from Cincinnati, and he has made it clear he would like to finish his career in New England.

The Journal's NFL Notebook reports the Dallas Cowboys are very close to reaching a deal with free agent quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who was recently released by the Buffalo Bills. Bledsoe, just two years removed from a Pro-Bowl season, has said he will only go to a team that will start him. Should Dallas sign the former Patriots captain, it will likely spell the end of 41-year-old Vinny Testaverde's Cowboys career.

The NFL scouting combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis, as scouts from all NFL teams will convene to judge this year's crop of college talent. The NFL draft is April 23rd, and Patriots preparation is well under way. While there are many intriguing storylines surrounding this year's draft, the Patriots, who pick 32nd, will likely be focusing their early attentions on linebackers, defensive backs, and offensive linemen. Check out ESPN.com's extensive NFL Draft coverage.

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