by Scott Benson

picNo, we’re not there yet. Don’t be ridiculous. The Patriots still have four and a half months to build their team for 2009 and beyond. Why do we insist on grading them on the hour?

Because like the protagonist in Tom Petty’s You Don’t Know How It Feels, we’ve got a little space to fill.


Out – Matt Cassel (Chiefs)
In – None
Limbo – None

Threat Level – Guarded. After dealing Cassel in a little-publicized swap last week, the Pats entertained Patrick Ramsey on a free agent visit. If you’re like me, you instantly thought of Ramsey being mercilessly pummeled in Washington. My second thought was that the Pats must want a veteran in the mix by fall.

Running Backs

Out – LaMont Jordan (Broncos), Health Evans (Saints)
In – Fred Taylor (Jaguars)
Limbo – None.

Threat Level – Low. This is the Patriots’ deepest position, even with the loss of Evans, the team’s only fullback. A rotation of Morris, Faulk, Green-Ellis and Jordan produced 2300 yards last season; they figure to be stronger with Maroney and Taylor. Unless the Pats get giddy with the return of Tom Brady and go back to throwing up jump balls. As for fullback, you have to believe they’ll secure at least one from the list of free agents and draft choices.


Out – Jabar Gaffney (Broncos)
In – Brad Listorti (Jets), Chris Baker (Jets), Greg Lewis (Eagles)
Limbo – Kelley Washington

Threat Level – Elevated. Lewis should be a familiar face to anyone who’s watched an Eagles game over the last few seasons, especially if they were playing the Patriots. The talk is that he’ll compete for the wide spot Gaffney vacated. Different skill set, and while Lewis has better speed, you wonder how the Patriots will replace Gaffney’s production in the running game. Sam Aiken, the career special teamer who came on as a BIG RECEIVUH! at times last year, may have an opening here. It’s a ghastly thought, but so may…….a draft choice. On the other end of the spectrum, the Pats recently entertained the ancient Joey Galloway.

Offensive Line

Out – None.
In – Billy Yates (Patriots), Russ Hochstein (Patriots), Wesley Britt (Patriots)
Limbo – Barry Stokes

Threat Level – Low. They re-signed two backups and tendered Britt as an exclusive free agent. They’ve poked around at some free agent reserves. So things essentially stay status quo here, but I’ll be watching the draft for someone who could one day push the starters. The Patriots will also have to turn their attention to a new contract for Mankins eventually.

Defensive Line

Out – None.
In – None.
Limbo – Mike Wright, Kenny Smith

Threat Level – Guarded. It’s all about tying down Wilfork, or so we assume. An announcement on a long-term deal would be welcome news to some overly-nervous Pats fans right now, but you know it won’t work like that. It’ll be later, when we’re no longer paying attention. On the other hand, I’d like to see the Pats let Seymour play out his deal next season and then let the market dictate his value beyond that. Wright’s utility is worth noting in the short-term; if he escapes the Pats will need LeKevin Smith to step forward, and we should look for another draft pick here.


Out – Mike Vrabel (Chiefs)
In – Pierre Woods (Patriots), Tully Banta Cain (49ers), Eric Alexander (Patriots)
Limbo – Rosevelt Colvin, Junior Seau

Threat Level – High, but it’s cool, man. Mike Reiss writes in this morning’s Globe that Bill Belichick referenced “a changing game” while discussing the trade of Vrabel recently. Reiss termed the deal “a passing of the torch.” To that I can only say thank God, because the Patriots won’t win another Super Bowl until they do. Still, at this moment, the Pats are firm at only two of the four linebacker positions. There’s a lot of work to do, which is why we’ve been reading all these articles about Julius Peppers and Jason Taylor. Who are both defensive ends, aren’t they? Meanwhile, the draft happens to be stocked with linebacker prospects in the 23-34 range. I lean that way, myself. Banta Cain and Woods may have to backfill if there’s no one other than question mark Shawn Crable on the way.


Out – None.
In – James Sanders (Patriots), Shawn Springs (Redskins)
Limbo – Rodney Harrison, Tank Williams, Lewis Sanders, Deltha O’Neal

Threat Level – Severe. I think the re-signing of James Sanders should remind us how little we sometimes know about the NFL. I’m guessing there were more than a few of us that figured Sanders took too many bad angles and was too inconsistent a tackler to warrant quick action on his free agency. Yet he saw early interest from both the Browns and Eagles, and it seems at least possible the Patriots dumped salary with Vrabel in part to sign James Sanders before he got away. Huh. Well, he is only 25. It’s clear the Patriots weren’t the only ones who thought more of Sanders than we did. It seems now that he will formally become Harrison’s successor next fall, which may also tell us all we need to know about the draft crop at safety. Elsewhere, Mike Lombardi of the National Football Post said this week that Springs played as well as any corner in the league last year, despite being old enough to be the father of many of them. That seems like hype to me, but if Lombardi was willing to go that far out there, Springs couldn’t have been awful. It’s interesting to read Lombardi’s projection of Springs winning match-ups as an inside corner. It makes you wonder if Wilhite and Wheatley will slug it out across from Hobbs, or with four picks in the top 58 and veteran FA’s Leigh Bodden, Chris Carr and Travis Daniels still in the discussion, whether there will be more to come here. Why wouldn’t the Patriots bring back Lewis Sanders as a backup swingman, by the way? I thought he served the team well last season.

Special Teams

Out – Lonie Paxton (Broncos)
In – Chris Hanson (Patriots)
Limbo – Larry Izzo

Threat Level – Guarded. Hanson is greatly underappreciated by Patriots fans, which makes him exactly like every other punter Bill Belichick has ever had (except for Todd Sauerbrun, who not coincidentally bombed away like an idiot). The big question is whether there will ever come a time we wish the Patriots had thrown five and a half million bucks at Lonie Paxton. An underrated benefit of the Pats’ newfound cap space surplus may be a long-term deal with Pro Bowl kicker Stephen Gostkowski.  That’s Stephen’s money! As far as Izzo, do you doubt that he will now simply fade away? I think they’re covered (pun intended) with Alexander, Woods, and Banta Cain returning and others like Gary Guyton and Vince Redd around.