Things are pretty quiet in the football operations area of Gillette Stadium these days. While the NFL has become essentially a year-round business, the current time between the end of mini camp and the start of training camp remains the one lull in the football calendar. With the amount of time teams put into scouting, draft preparation, free agency and their offseason programs, the last weeks of June and early weeks of July become the only period when football staffs can really take a breath.
Over the next few weeks as the coaches take their well-deserved vacation time the main emphasis in terms of roster moves will likely be getting the team's 10 draft picks signed. As it stands today the Patriots have 90 players listed on the roster, although the draft picks technically don't count towards the NFL 80-man roster limit until they officially sign. New England also has seven NFL Europe roster exemptions for the players the team sent to play across the pond this spring.
Essentially the team will have to cut three players from the current roster when the organization reaches deals with the draft picks, which based on its past track record should be by the start of training camp as the team has made a habit of locking the picks up without missing camp time. The first full day of training camp with both veterans and rookies as well as public admittance at Gillette Stadium is July 23.
While the focus may be on the rookies and camp preparation right now, there are still a number of free agents on the market that, at least on paper, could fit into the Patriots plans. But Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick told Patriots Football Weekly just before the June 1 cuts that he didn't anticipate that the team would be as active in the late summer free agency period as it has been in the past with such signings as Roman Phifer, Bryan Cox and Antowain Smith.
"It's still a little early but I wouldn't anticipate anything," Belichick said of potential Patriots activity in the post-June 1 free agency market.
With that said, here is a quick rundown of some of the free agents that have been mentioned in the same breath as the Patriots in recent months.
Gilbert Brown – While Brown is still available, all signs point to his return to Green Bay. A behemoth nose tackle type, he has severe weight and injury concerns that put a limit on his value. Packers coach Mike Sherman recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he expects the 10-year veteran to be back with the team by training camp competing for the nose spot.
"I don't think he's doing any Speedo commercials," Sherman said of Brown. "But I think he's getting himself in shape and ready to go. Gilbert's Gilbert, he's a big man, he's probably going to be a little heavy, will have to work himself in to a little better shape when he gets here, but he's in training right now and I trust that if we do get him signed, sealed and delivered, he'll contribute in some fashion."
Mike Cloud – Cloud had a tryout with the Patriots during mini camp, but not much movement has been made on the front since. Cloud himself admitted during the camp that he hadn't gotten much interest from other teams thanks likely to the four-game NFL suspension he must serve after signing with any team. But he did that he would be excited to land in New England. Belichick said during mini camp that the suspension would not be a key factor in the team's decision to sign the former Chiefs and Boston College running back.
"I don't think that is going to hold up the process because we are aware of it and we know what it is," Belichick said of the suspension issue. "If we don't want to deal with it, then we wouldn't be at this point right now."
That having been said, Cloud is still available and at last check nothing immediate was brewing.
John Fiala – Fiala is an experienced back up 3-4 linebacker with a high-level special teams background who was recently let go by the Steelers. The 6-3, 237-pound five-year veteran actually got consideration as an option as a starter at times in Pittsburgh and could be a viable option for any team looking for linebacker depth and special teams help. While he would appear to be the type of player the Patriots have targeted in the past, Fiala's agent, Paul Sheehy, said earlier this week that he had not had any contact from the Patriots. He went on to say that while they are currently in talks with three teams, with one contract offer pending, that they had no time frame to find a new team. "Timing is irrelevant," Sheehy said. "We are looking for the best place for John to play."
Oronde Gadsden and J.J. Stokes – Both are the type of big receivers that the Patriots have been searching for over the years with little success. And as much as each player's name has been linked to rumored interest from the Patriots this offseason, neither seems to have ever had a realistic shot of coming to New England. The 6-4, 225-pound Stokes signed with the Jaguars earlier this week to compete for the team's number two receiver job, while the 6-2, 215-pound Gadsden appears close to swallowing his pride and returning to the Dolphins.
It appears after last season's failed free agent signing of Donald Hayes, Belichick is comfortable entering the season with his small wide receiver corps that added rookie Bethel Johnson and veteran Dedric Ward this offseason.
"We have some that are bigger and some that aren't," Belichick said of his current group of receivers. "In the end, I think the bottom line for the receiver is the receiver's ability to get open and catch the ball. In whatever shape, form or fashion it comes in that's good and if it doesn't come then that is bad regardless of whether the guy is six-foot five inches and 250 pounds. If he can't get open and he can't catch the ball, then it is really hard to play receiver. It is nice when you have a big guy that can do that. The bottom line is that you need receivers that can do that, whatever size they are."
And with the relatively strong production the Patriots have had from Troy Brown, David Patten and even Deion Branch, it appears Belichick is ready to attack another season without a glamorous big wide receiver.
Victor Green – Green is still on the market, despite both published reports and comments from his agent that he looks to be headed to New Orleans. With the Patriots holding a negotiated right of first refusal for Green and some depth questions at safety, a late return to New England can't be ruled out, although it still has to be considered unlikely. Just a note, but it is interesting that Green's number-27 jersey is still available in New England. Maybe that door isn't completely closed just yet