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Patriots officially sign free agent Dwight

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots have officially added their first free agent of the offseason, signing former San Diego Chargers free agent wide receiver Tim Dwight.

As is team policy, terms of the agreement were not disclosed in a statement announcing the signing. USA Today, which initially broke the story on Friday, reported Dwight agreed to a one-year contract with the Patriots.

Dwight, 29, visited the Patriots at Gillette Stadium last week. He was released by San Diego on Feb. 22, several weeks before he was scheduled to receive a $100,000 roster bonus, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

The 5-foot-8, 180-pound wideout had been hampered by injuries in three of his four seasons in San Diego, forcing him to miss 17 games for the Chargers from 2001-04. He has played in all 16 games only once in his career, in 2002.

Dwight missed four games last season with toe and hamstring injuries and was used almost exclusively as a return specialist. He finished the season ranked sixth in the AFC with a 24.4-yard per return average, returning 50 kickoffs for 1,222 yards, both career highs. His 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the New York Jets on Sept. 19 was his second career return for a score. It was also the second-highest kickoff return average of his career, trailing only his 27.0-yard average as a rookie in 1998. He was slowed by a collapsed lung in 2003 that limited him to nine games.

Dwight's best season was in 2002, his only season as a full-time starter in San Diego. He started 14 of 16 games, establishing career-highs in both receptions (50) and receiving yards (623) while adding two touchdowns. In seven seasons with Atlanta and San Diego, spent mostly as a No. 3 receiver, Dwight has 153 career receptions for 2,422 yards and 14 touchdowns. He also has130 punt returns for 1,300 yards and three touchdowns, and 192 career kickoff returns for 4,473 yards (a career 23.3-yard average) and two touchdowns.

Dwight, who originally went to San Diego as part of the trade the sent the first overall pick in the 2001 NFL Draft to Atlanta, signed a five-year, $15 million contract before the 2002 season that included an initial $5 million signing bonus, according to the Union-Tribune. He took a pay cut as part of a restructured three-year contract before last season.

Based on his experience as a return specialist, Dwight could be used in one or both of those roles in New England. He ranked among the AFC leaders in punt returns his first two seasons with the Chargers, averaging 11.3-yards per return in 2001 and 12.2 yards in 2002. He also handled both punt and kick return duties for the Falcons from 1998-2000. Veteran Troy Brown, who was released on March 1, and Kevin Faulk handled punt return duties in 2004 as the Patriots ranked 28th overall in the NFL in punt return average.

With the addition of Dwight, the Patriots currently have nine wide receivers listed on their official roster: Deion Branch, P.K. Sam, Cedric James, Ricky Bryant, Mark Bartosic, Jake Schifino, Bethel Johnson and David Givens. Bartosic, Bryant, James and Schifino will play in NFL Europe this summer. Givens, a restricted free agent, was offered a $1.43 million contract tender by the team.

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