With the team's depth along the defensive line taking a hit earlier this week with the loss of Rodney Bailey, the Patriots signed veteran defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield Thursday afternoon.
The unrestricted free agent is an 11-year NFL veteran who has spent time in San Francisco (1993-97, 2001-02), Washington (1998-2000) and Oakland (2003). Stubblefield, 33, is a 6-2, 290-pounder with 149 starts in 154 career games. He's a three-time Pro Bowler (1994-95, '97) and was named Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year following his 15-sack season with the 49ers in 1997.
Stubblefield has played most of his career as a defensive tackle in 4-3 sets, but will project as an end in the Patriots 3-4 scheme. Obviously he'll remain a tackle when the team uses four-man fronts. Either way he'll bolster a group that became a little less formidable earlier in the week when Bailey was placed on injured reserve with a ruptured Achilles' tendon.
Richard Seymour and Ty Warren have spent all of camp as the starters at end in 3-4 looks while Jarvis Green has joined them and starting nose tackle Keith Traylor, who moves to tackle, in the 4-3. Bailey figured to join Green and perhaps rookie Marquise Hill in a rotation at end. The combination of Bailey being out and Hill possibly needing more time to develop likely led Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli to the conclusion that more help was necessary.
Stubblefield's production has slowed considerably in recent years. Since his monster season in 1997, the most sacks he's had in any season is four, which he accomplished in 2001 during his second tour of duty with the Niners. His tackle totals also have been on the decline, bottoming out with 18 last year in just eight games with Oakland.
Also, he was one of several players implicated in the recent testing for THG, a designer steroid now on the NFL's banned substance list. Stubblefield tested positive last October but the players' association and the league just recently agreed to punishment since THG was an unknown substance to the NFL before last Oct. 6 and was only banned after that date.
Because of that, the league agreed not to suspend Stubblefield, and others who tested positive, for four games, which is the normal course of action in such instances. Instead, it decided last month to fine the players three game checks.
Stubblefield has 428 career tackles (341 solos) with 53.5 sacks and 32 pass deflections, two interceptions, nine forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. His best season obviously was 1997 when he started all 16 games, recorded 61 tackles and forced three fumbles in addition to his 15 sacks. The Kansas product was San Francisco's first-round pick (No. 26 overall) in 1993 and played seven of his 11 years there. His 46.5 sacks are the sixth highest total in team history. He was a member of San Francisco's 1994 Super Bowl championship team.