By Bruce Allen, Patriots Daily Staff

The new league year kicked off this month, and with the impending labor situation on the horizon, it’s hard to tell what next March will look like.

Let’s catch up with what went on this month…

Staying Home

The Patriots made their own players their top priority as free agency began on March 5th. They signed Tully Banta-Cain to a three year contract, Vince Wilfork to a five-year contract, Leigh Bodden to a four-year contract, Stephen Neal to a two-year contract and Kevin Faulk to a one-year deal. Getting those veterans back into the fold ensures that their leadership, production and presence will not need to be replaced.

After signing his deal, Wilfork talked a lot about asserting his own leadership more forcefully now with the security of a long term contract. Leadership has perhaps been the number-one topic discussed when talking about the Patriots this offseason.

Welcome Aboard

Did You Forget The Marcus Pollard Era? So Did We.

After signing their own players, the team has been quiet in their pursuit of outside free agents. To this point only two players former Jets linebacker/special teams player Marques Murrell and former Atlanta/Tennessee Tight End Alge Crumpler have been signed by the team. Crumpler is not much more than a blocker right now, but if the Patriots have aims of becoming a more physical running team, he might contribute there. With leadership being such a hot topic, it has also been noted that Crumpler is a very good locker room presence, and mentor to younger players. That has to be considered a positive.

On the downside, I just really don’t know how much he has left. I have visions of Marcus Pollard‘s preseason stint with the Patriots a couple years back, and hope this isn’t a repeat of that.

Attracting Crowds

These days, whenever there is a possibility of Patriots news, there are sure to be hoards of reporters. This was evident in last month’s NFL  Combine in Indianapolis, where there were more than a dozen reporters there to cover the Patriots side of things. Most teams had maybe one or two.

The voluntary offseason workouts began on March 15th, and for the first time in my memory, there were structured media sessions set up to talk to key Patriots players. Again, there were double-digit reporters on hand to talk to the likes of David Patten, Leigh Bodden, Sebastian Vollmer and Jerod Mayo.

A big deal was made out of the fact that Randy Moss and Tom Brady were not on hand for the very first day of such workouts. Such talk quieted down a bit when both players made an appearance in week two.

Similar crowds were seen at the NFL Owners meetings in the Orlando, where the Patriots again had upwards of ten reporters on hand to cover anything involving them, including three from the Boston Globe. (Why?)Included at the owners meetings was a media breakfast with coach Bill Belichick.

During those meetings owner Robert Kraft said that the team will get a new deal down with QB Tom Brady. His son Jonathan repeated that promise in a phone call to WEEI’s Dennis and Callahan the following week. During that appearance, JK made a few unfortunate remarks, including his proud quip that the owners had to get all the “football people” out of the room so that they could vote on the new overtime rules.

Overall, there were a number of Patriots-related items that could be taken away from the owners meetings.

Feeling The Draft

It has been stated that this year’s draft is the most critical in years for this franchise. The thinking goes that the team need to reload with the youth that four top picks in the first two rounds will net them if they hope to  continue to enjoy anything resembling the success of the last decade in this new one.

Because of that, interest in the draft, and any prospects the team might be talking to has reached an all-time high. There are various lists out there of players that the team has worked out. They’ve probably talked to just about everyone. When looking for who the Patriots have talked to, I think this is a safe rule of thumb – eliminate the players at the very top of the draft – Ndamukong Suh, Jimmy Clausen, Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy, and Russell Okung – since there is virtually no chance they will end up Patriots, and figure that they’ve talked to everyone else.

Not Here To Talk About The Past

This article in the Denver Post (free registration may be required) on March 28th on the first year of Denver Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels raised a lot of interest locally because it contains a ton of Patriots-related information. Most notable was perhaps the tidbit that when McDaniels first ascended to the position of (de facto) offensive coordinator with the Patriots in 2005, during the course of that first year, he and Tom Brady once went three weeks without speaking to each other. We know that the two eventually grew to become very close.

Can there be any similarities to that situation and the one faced by Bill O’Brien this season? There were rumors that Brady and O’Brien didn’t get along at times this year. Perhaps the relationship, like the one between Brady and McDaniels can be salvaged and the two can enjoy success going forward similar to that which the offense has had in the past.

A few last quick-hit links and items:

All in all, there was a lot going on in March with the Patriots. April figures to be even busier, and we’ll do our best to keep you updated as things unfold.