The signing of tight end Cam Cleeland was made official late Thursday, finally completing a transaction that has been reported for about a week.
The four-year veteran reportedly got a deal worth $525,000 with incentives that could push the total closer to $1 million. The 6-4, 272-pound Cleeland will bring more competition to a position New England has obviously made a priority this offseason.
After getting a combined 19 catches and four touchdowns from Rod Rutledge and Jermaine Wiggins last season, the Patriots have already signed former Seattle tight end Christian Fauria. Wiggins is still with the team, as are 2001 draft picks Jabari Holloway and Arther Love, neither of whom saw the field as rookies. Rutledge is an unrestricted free agent who isn't expected to return.
Cleelend is probably the most talented of the bunch when playing, which has not been often. As a rookie in 1998 he played every game and caught 54 passes for 684 yards and six touchdowns. He has since earned the injury-prone label by playing in just 20 games in the last three seasons. Since his strong rookie year he has 39 catches and five touchdowns. He missed all of the 2000 season and has had three serious injuries to his Achilles tendon, among other injuries.
If the offseason focus on tight ends is any indication, the Patriots have questions about whether their young players can handle the position. Of course, searching for answers at tight end is nothing new. In the last three seasons, the team has signed free agents Fauria, Eric Bjornson and Johnny McWilliams, claimed Wiggins off waivers from the Jets and drafted Dave Stachelski, Holloway and Love. They also had rookie free agent Chris Eitzmann of Harvard work his way off the practice squad into game action in 2000.
Cox not returning
One of New England's free agents definitely will not return next season. Linebacker Bryan Cox, a team captain in his only season with the Patriots, signed a one-year contract with New Orleans Thursday.
Cox was a strong addition both on the field and in the locker room for the Patriots, helping establish a tough attitude for the team. He started seven of the 11 games he played, but saw his playing time dwindle after returning from a broken leg suffered at Denver. It was his second broken leg in two seasons.