Thursday, March 01, 2007

TALKING PATRIOTS BEATS WATCHING THE COMBINE ANY DAY

With the mad amounts of cap money available, there are few potential bargains available on the free agent market, and, as we all know, the New England Patriots were built upon the backs of bargain free agents. John Clayton over at ESPN.com looks at a few of who are available. I thought I would review them as how they may fit in Red, White (Silver), and Blue in 2007:

1. T.J. Duckett - RB: I love the idea of Duckett in New England to replace Corey Dillon. Not since the days the Patriots of the early nineties running out Marion Butts and Sam Gash in the same backfield was the English language in such dire straights (The Patriots have Gash’n’Butts in the backfield). With Duckett, after every score, I can start texting everyone: F$##&@ it, just give it to Duckett!

2. Hank Fraley - C: Not applicable. Dan Koppen is going nowhere anytime soon.

3. Kevin Kaesviharn - S: Intriguing, as another coverage safety would be nice, but I doubt that any safety in New England will be paid more than Rodney Harrison, especially with Eugene Wilson in the final year of his contract.

4. Kelley Washington - WR: I could refer to him as Wash, which would delight the Firefly/Serenity fan in me to no small amount; however, big receivers do not have a good track record in the Bill Belichick offense.

5. Eric Johnson - TE: On the assumption that Dan Graham is a goner, this makes sense. I sort of remember Belichick gushing about Johnson once upon a time, but I am waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too lazy to look it up. More likely would be the return of a known quantity for a year as a third TE: the ever-popular, recently cut, lady-killer Christian Fauria.

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The most prolific, hustling, and knowledgeable football writer west of Mike Reiss is at ESPN.com, the redoubtable Len Pasquarelli. Big Len checks in with a look at the top Free Agents, and I thought I would play Scott Pioli and determine who other than T.J. Duckett and Christian Fauria could end up in beautiful downtown Foxboro in the fall.

* I have waxed poetic recently about the perfect fit that Adalius Thomas would be in a Belichick defense, so I will try not to rattle on about him. Amazing speed, smarts, and versatility make him the kind of linebacker Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli dream about at night.

* London Fletcher-Baker would be a stop-gap at linebacker, but the money will likely get out of control. He would be a great two year option to phase out Teddy Bruschi and develop a first day ILB pick.

* Ahman Green would be a cheaper Corey Dillon, no?

* Nick Harper would be a great nickel corner. I just question if after so many years in Indy, if he can adapt to the New England defense, which is night-and-day from the Dungy D.

* Napoleon Harris could fit in New England with the 3-4 defense exposure he had in Oakland under Rex Ryan. A steady veteran who can play inside and outside seems like a fit.

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THREE PLUS ONE

Three major news stories dominate Boston sports at the moment, but there is one bonus note below about the most important free agent out in the market who should be locked-on as the ONLY Patriots target on their radar. First, the big three:

3. RIP DJ:
Dennis Johnson should be number one, but he wore number three in Boston and it seems appropriate. DJ was far from the best guard in Celtics history. Heck, he was really a shooting guard playing the point. But he was part of what will ALWAYS be the starting five of the Celtics in my mind: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, and Dennis Johnson. That was the starting five during the glory days. When the Celtics were the biggest draw in town. When basketball ruled Boston. When DJ always hit the big shot.

2. Hundred Dollar Bills, Y’all:
Corey Dillon retiring (or being released) is big news, but not much of a surprise to the Patriots front-office, I believe. Dillon was not playing with a $4.4 million cap number, believe me. Plain and simple, that is why he is gone. He did a good PR move by coming out early, but it was obvious last year after the draft that Maroney was going to be Stephen Jackson in New England. The Patriots will find a big, cheap body to replace Dillon and pound the middle of the line next year.

The other mo money deal was the no-brainer franchising of Asante Samuel. Expect either a long-term deal by the beginning of training camp or a very uncomfortable 2007 season. Samuel is a good corner, and he is in the perfect system. Unless he is going to a Belichick-lite defense (Cleveland, Oakland, Jets, etc), he had better make sure that money is up-front.

3. Holy Crap!
Yes, the Celtics have won two games in two weeks. The lead for ping-pong balls is down to one game. Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? I think Oden is going to be a Tim Duncan/Shaq type player in the NBA some day. Durant is simply the next Kobe (minus the rape allegations, I hope). Nobody loses with either of those two. If the Celtics get Oden, great. If they get Durant, great. If they get neither, Danny has a whole lot of wheeling and dealing ahead of him. I said it before, but I still say this should be the Celtics Dump List:

G: Delonte West: This guy is one of the worst decision-makers at the point, fires up threes like he was the illegitimate son of Antoine, and everyone loves him. I do not get it! TRADE HIM NOW!
G/F: Wally Szczerbiak: I’d rather have Wally the Green Monster at this point.
F: Tony Allen: What has he done? Three good games? He should have been traded two days before that knee blew out. SHAME, DANNY, SHAME!
F: Brian Scalabrine: Slow white guy, soft on defense, cannot rebound, horrible shot but fires threes anyway, and bitches about playing time. Gee, why would we want him around?
C: Theo Ratliff: At least next year he will have value as an expiring contract.
C: Michael Olawakandi, aka the Kandi Man: At least get a few practice balls for him or something.

BONUS:

Adalius Thomas Not Franchised by Baltimore:
It does not matter what it costs. Give him $10 million in bonuses up front and $10 million a year. This guy is the answer at linebacker. Belichick, Pioli: JUST DO IT!

* * *

Champions' league recap

The first week of the UEFA Champions' League elimination round is over, and I am stoked, to say the least! Several good matchups in the first elimination round leading to very entertaining matches, and even some surprise results. Here's my thoughts...

Roma v. Lyon - Roma didn't help themselves with a 0-0 draw at Olimpico on Thursday vs. Olympique Lyonnais. A home goal would have been the preferred way to go into France in 2 weeks. At this point, I'd say Roma are sitting ducks to be eliminated in the first knockout round.

Barcelona vs. Liverpool - A tale of 2 teams, one on its way up in the Premeirship with new ownership and talks of acquiring Juventus's Davide Trezguet for next season, bolstering the already dangerous offense, and the other club in the midst of turmoil in the media with talk of in-fighting and the manager on his way out after this season. Barca started the game off right, with a fortuitous goal by Deco, but the defending and overall play turned sloppy as Liverpool scored twice to shock the defending champs at Camp Nou. If there is any club that can pull off an away win at Anfield, though, it would be Barca. However, they have to bring it together and play like a team. Furthermore, we have to see Ronaldinho's presence on the pitch, and even though he played the entire match, he never really got going.

Porto vs. Chelsea - Porto will have reason to be upset with the final scoreline in this one as Jose Mourinho visits his old club and comes away with a crucial away goal. Porto played very well, but shots never managed to find the net after the original goal was scored. It was good to see Petr Cech back in goal after the head injury that has kept him out for most of the season. He was safe enough when called upon, and even though he conceded the one goal, should be very happy with his performance.

Losc Lille Metropole vs. Manchester United - An unfortunate turn of events in this one, as confusion reigned on the pitch during a Ryan Giggs free kick, he booted one into the back of the net as the Lille players were caught unaware that play had even started.

Who will win it all? I still say ManU has a great chance to hoist the trophy. However, this could be the year Lyon sees it through and wins it all. My dark horse is PSV Eindhoven, as they looked like a good squad against a lacklustre Arsenal.

The most impressive player of this first leg, in my opinion, was Heurelho Gomes, goalkeeper from PSV, who was a wall against some potent Arsenal shots on goal. Also impressive was Petr Cech, who settled down nicely after allowing the first and only goal at Stadio de Dragao in Porto.

-Christopher J. Brigham

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