The Patriots made their first jump into free agency this season after using the system so effectively last year. New England has agreed in principle on a deal with unrestricted free agent wide receiver Donald Hayes, according to his agent, Rick Smith.
"Donald is thrilled and excited to be coming to New England," Smith said of his client. "The deal is basically done and he's ready to get out there and get to work."
Hayes spent his first four NFL seasons in Carolina. He was in Foxborough earlier this offseason for a workout and evidently Head Coach Bill Belichick liked what he saw from the 6-4, 218 pounder out of Wisconsin. He caught 52 passes from rookie Chris Weinke last season for 597 yards for the 1-15 Panthers. But two years ago, Hayes enjoyed a breakout campaign with 66 grabs for 926 yards while playing with veteran quarterback Steve Beuerlein.
Smith would not comment on the details of the contract, but a report of CNNSI.com indicated it's a two-year deal worth roughly $3.5 million. Hayes would fit in well with the Patriots small receiving corps and could even crack the starting lineup alongside Pro Bowler Troy Brown. If that's the case, last year's starter, David Patten, could slip back to the No. 3 role and provide New England with a home run threat off the bench.
"We feel he is a missing piece to the puzzle," Smith said. "The offensive coaches of the Patriots wanted a big guy and Donald will certainly be a great complement to Troy and David."
The Patriots obviously hoped to add a big target in free agency after earlier entertaining New York Giants free agent Joe Jurevicius, but seem to have settled on Hayes.
Also, the CNNSI report stated the Patriots were close coming to terms with a pair of former New York Jets in safety Chris Hayes and defensive end Rick Lyle. Chris Hayes has a reputation as a solid special teams player while Lyle is an eight-year veteran who spent some time with Belichick both in Cleveland (1994-95) and in New York (1997-99). He also has experience playing in Belichick's two-gap system.
Now word yet on when Chris Hayes and Lyle may be brought on board but the Patriots have made their first move in an effort to defend their Super Bowl title.