FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots signed free agent running back Chad Morton and free agent guard Bryan Anderson today. Additionally, the team announced the signings of two 2005 draft picks, linebacker Ryan Claridge (selected in the fifth round) and quarterback Matt Cassel (selected in the seventh round). Terms of the four agreements were not disclosed.
Morton, 28, is entering his sixth NFL season and has played in 62 career games with five starts for the New Orleans Saints (2000), New York Jets (2001-02) and Washington Redskins (2003-04). The 5-foot-8-inch, 203-pound Morton has made his greatest impact as a kickoff returner, recording 174 career returns for 4,172 yards (24.0 avg.) and three touchdowns. His career totals also include 88 rushes for 360 yards, 48 receptions for 419 yards and a touchdown, and 79 punt returns for 710 yards (9.0 avg). The Southern Cal product was originally drafted by the Saints in the fifth round (166th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft. As a rookie in 2000, Morton set Saints rookie records with 1,029 kickoff return yards and 1,656 all-purpose yards. Prior to the 2001 season, Morton was traded to the New York Jets, where he had his biggest game to date in the 2002 season opener against the Buffalo Bills. In that game, on Sept. 8, 2002, Morton returned two kickoffs for touchdowns (96 and 98 yards), including the game-winning score in overtime. He is one of five players in NFL history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game and is the only player to achieve the feat since 1994. He finished the 2002 season as the AFC's top kickoff returner. Morton signed with the Washington Redskins as a restricted free agent prior to the 2003 season and spent the last two seasons with Washington. He was the Redskins' primary kickoff and punt returner in 2003, and played in the first six games of the 2004 season before being placed on injured reserve. He was released by the Redskins on June 3, 2005.
Anderson, 25, has played in four games in his professional career and joins the Patriots from the Chicago Bears, where he spent the bulk of the 2003 and 2004 seasons on the practice squad. The 6-foot-4-inch, 330-pound offensive lineman was originally selected by the Bears in the seventh round (261st overall) of the 2003 NFL Draft. He spent the first 15 games of the 2003 season on the Bears' practice squad and was signed to the active roster for the 2003 season finale but was listed among the day-of-game inactives. Last season, the University of Pittsburgh product spent the season's first 12 games on Chicago's practice squad before he was signed to the active roster and played a reserve role in the final four games of 2004.
Claridge, 24, was selected by the Patriots in the fifth round (170th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-2-inch, 254-pound linebacker started 39 of 49 games at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he earned All-Mountain West Conference honors three times. As a senior in 2004, Claridge led the conference and ranked ninth in the country with nine sacks, while starting all 10 games at inside linebacker. In his collegiate career, the Almont, Mich. native recorded 290 tackles (143 solo) with 18.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries, 10 forced fumbles, two interceptions and 10 passes defensed.
Cassel, 23, was selected by the Patriots in the seventh round (230th overall) of the 2005 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-2-inch, 222-pound quarterback played for Southern Cal, where he served as the backup signal caller to Heisman Trophy winners Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. His numbers with the Trojans include appearances in 25 games, completing 20 of 33 passes for 192 yards. Cassel is a native of Northridge, Calif.