The Patriots officially announced the signings of four free agents on Tuesday, confirming earlier reports that had former Carolina receiver Donald Hayes and former Jets safety Chris Hayes and defensive end Rick Lyle coming to town. The fourth player is former Chicago fullback/tight end Scott Dragos, who played his college ball at Boston College.
Hayes was an unrestricted free agent who spent the first four years of his career with Carolina after being drafted in the fourth round of the 1998 draft out of Wisconsin. 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, who will add badly needed size to a rather small receiving corps.
"The best part about my visit up there was that they were very straight forward and honest with me," Hayes said of the Patriots coaching staff. "They told me exactly what they were looking for and didn't tell me what I wanted to hear. They didn't make any promises about starting jobs or anything like that. They told me I'd get an opportunity to showcase my skills and that's what I was looking for."
Hayes caught 52 passes from rookie Chris Weinke in 2001 for 597 yards for the 1-15 Panthers. But two years ago, he enjoyed a breakout campaign with 66 grabs for 926 yards while playing with veteran quarterback Steve Beuerlein.
Terms of the deal were not released, but reports indicated that it was a two-year deal worth between $3.5 million and $4 million. Hayes has a chance to 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.
Chris Hayes will provide another solid special teams player with experience in the secondary. He spent the last five seasons with the Jets before starting his career in 1996 with Green Bay. He played just two games for the Packers but did participate in all three of Green Bay's postseason games, including a Super Bowl XXXI victory over the Patriots. The Packers traded him to New York in 1997 in exchange for cornerback Carl Greenwood and Hayes has been a fixture on the Jets coverage units ever since.
Citing Chris Hayes' familiarity with several Patriots players and coaches as the main factor for signing, agent Brian Levy expects his client to fit in nicely with the Super Bowl champs.
"He has a lot of experience working with not only Bill but Eric Mangini, Romeo Crennel, Scott Pioli and a number of former Jets players that are up there."
Chris Hayes led the team in special teams tackles during his tenure, compiling 74 during his first four years with the club, more than any other Jet in team history. It's unclear exactly what role he'll have in New England, but Levy indicated that Hayes met with team officials Tuesday afternoon to discuss how he'll be used.
Lyle, 31, just finished his eighth NFL season. He is a stout run-stopper who played for Belichick in both Cleveland (1994-95) and New York (1997-99) and gives the team an experienced two-gap defensive lineman. He finished last season with 40 tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Jets.
Dragos finished last season with Chicago and was on the Bears roster for the postseason but was inactive during their loss to Philadelphia.
Donald Hayes' Statistics