The free agent signing period doesn't begin until March 1, but with some league-wide cuts made late Thursday, several interesting names are already available to teams.
The Indianapolis Colts, New England's AFC East rival that has changed divisions when realignment, let go of tight end Ken Dilger, cornerback Jeff Burris, safety Chad Cota and defensive tackle Mike Wells. Minnesota terminated deals with linebacker Ed McDaniel, free safety Orlando Thomas and defensive end Stalin Colinet among others, and Denver jettisoned linebacker Bill Romanowski.
New England could have interest in some of the players made available, particularly Dilger. A starter for his entire seven-year career, Dilger started 16 games and caught 32 passes and one touchdown. For his career he has started 106 of 109 games, caught 261 passes and 18 touchdowns while also serving as a quality blocker off the end of the line.
Dilger was expendable because the Colts have Marcus Pollard at the position, plus Dilger's base salary was going to see a big jump for 2002. His agent, Mark Bartelstein, expects a deal for Dilger to happen with somebody by the middle of next week, but he didn't want to get into specifics.
"We have had a number of teams call," Bartelstein said. "There is a need for a guy like Ken out there. We expect things to come together pretty quickly."
The Patriots are very familiar with Dilger, having seen him in division play for the last seven seasons. Tight end is an obvious need for New England, with 2001 starter Rod Rutledge being an unrestricted free agent and Jermaine Wiggins the only other end with experience. Neither of the 2001 draft picks, Jabari Holloway and Arther Love, saw the playing field last season. The position has not been a strong point since Ben Coates was in is prime in the mid- to late 1990s.
Another possibility could be Colinet, who is represented by agent Brad Blank. Blank, who represents former Patriots linebacker Chris Slade, said the Patriots had not contacted him as of 11 a.m. Friday, but he pointed out that Colinet had only been released at 4 p.m. on Thursday. As is the case with Dilger, Blank is hopeful to have Colinet in place very soon.
Colinet had his best season while playing in Cleveland for current Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. Crennel was the Browns defensive coordinator and defensive line coach in 2000, the only season Colinet started and played all 16 games. That season Colinet posted career highs of 33 tackles, 3.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and three passes defensed.
A five-year veteran, Colinet played five games and had one tackle for Cleveland last season before getting released. He signed with Minnesota and started 11 games. He came into the league with the Vikings in 1997 and played 2 ½ seasons before being traded to Cleveland in 1999 with a draft pick for Jerry Ball.
New England has starting ends Bobby Hamilton and Anthony Pleasant returning along with veterans Willie McGinest, Chris Sullivan and David Nugent. Pleasant is entering his 13th season, McGinest was effective at times but again battled injuries, and neither Sullivan nor Nugent played down the stretch. Sullivan actually did not play at all in 2001 after missing the start of the season and then signing with the Patriots. Also listed as defensive ends are 2001 practice squad member Setema Gali and first-year player Radell Lockhart, who was signed and allocated to NFL Europe.