- Mike Reiss, ESPN New England Patriots reporter
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For those wondering why the NFL and the New England Patriots continue to grow in popularity, Tuesday was a prime example. Almost two months after the Patriots' embarrassing 33-14 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, this is what unfolded:
Owner Robert Kraft was chatting on sports radio WEEI and mentioning things like "quality depth management" Cornerback Leigh Bodden's free-agent contract agreement with the club was revealed -- four years, $22 million, with $10 million guaranteed Jarvis Green, who played the past eight seasons in New England, signed a four-year deal with Denver Nose tackle Vince Wilfork generated a buzz as he made the rounds at Gillette Stadium Running back Kevin Faulk told the Boston Herald that his free-agent situation with the team is in a holding pattern Little-known linebacker Marques Murrell reached an agreement with the team.
The question is sometimes asked to a football reporter: What do you do when the season ends? A day like Tuesday illustrates the answer.
The season seems to never end.
With that in mind, let's break down Tuesday's key talking points.
Kraft: Re-signed players rated by team as top players in market
Each year, Kraft joins sports radio WEEI for an extended interview, usually at the Super Bowl. This year's interview was pushed back, with Kraft sitting in with hosts Glenn Ordway, Steve DeOssie and Fred Smerlas and touching on a wide range of topics -- from the Patriots to the NFL's labor situation to the economy.
Addressing the team's strategy of re-signing its own players -- and passing on "name" players on the open market -- Kraft explained that the club rated its own talent as the best available.
"In the end, we're always comparing the players we have and what the status of their contracts are with what the marketplace is, because everything in life you have to say, 'What's the alternative? How do we improve?'" Kraft said. "Take someone like Vince Wilfork. We don't think there is a better player in the marketplace for this team."
Kraft pointed out that a player like Wilfork has added value for more than his performance, which highlighted one of the club's significant issues in 2009.
"It's the chemistry in the locker room," he said. "You guys know how many games are lost in the locker room, if you have a few bad apples who lead people along the wrong way. So we have to put all that together, and we've been able to sign a number of our guys this year that we felt were No. 1 or 2 in the marketplace. If we had to go out and sign someone else, and bring someone else in here, we wouldn't have the same knowledge of that individual."
On the NFL's labor situation, Kraft said he'd be shocked if the sides didn't come to an agreement.
When the Patriots assessed the marketplace, they probably realized that it would be unlikely for a draft choice or someone from a weak free-agent crop to step in as a starter at cornerback. That led them to the conclusion that losing Bodden would be an especially difficult blow to absorb, so they stepped up with a four-year, $22 million contract that was considered by one NFL personnel man to be rich for a player of Bodden's caliber.
Bodden had visited the Houston Texans on Monday, and veteran NFL reporter John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tweeted that the Texans were willing to offer around $5 million per season. The Patriots didn't just match that; they exceeded it.
The agreement dramatically lessens the team's need for a cornerback in free agency and the draft, giving the club important flexibility as it continues to put the pieces together on its 2010 roster.
Who's the right defensive end? That has been one of the Patriots' more significant offseason questions and with Green departing, it makes the void a bit larger.
Green didn't figure to be a full-time option in 2010, but he would have provided important depth. The Patriots had offered him a contract, but it fell well short of the Broncos' package.
As for who lines up at end, the Patriots would love to see second-year man Ron Brace emerge, but that seems like a long shot at this point. Six-year veteran Mike Wright could pinch hit at times, and don't count out 2009 seventh-round draft choice Darryl Richard.
But this looks like a spot that figures to be addressed further in some form, likely in the draft, where the crop of linemen is considered deep.
Second chapter of Wilfork's Patriots career begins; Will Faulk be back?
Entering the seventh year of his NFL career, Wilfork touched on the possibility of going wire to wire with the Patriots.
"When I signed here as a rookie six years ago, the first thing I said was that I want to start and end my career in New England," Wilfork told Patriots Football Weekly. "That's been the motive all this while."
Meanwhile, the longest-tenured player on the team -- Faulk -- remained on the open market. Will he be back for his 12th season with the club? Faulk told Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald that he has received an offer from the Patriots, but things are in a holding pattern.
Murrell: Possible help for the pass rush
An inconsistent pass rush hurt the Patriots in 2009 and perhaps Murrell, who enters his fourth NFL season, will help in obvious passing situations. Although he's an under-the-radar player, it should be noted that the Patriots were facing competition from the Broncos, with Murrell having traveled to Denver on Tuesday for a visit before agreeing to a deal with New England.
Murrell was a disruptive pass-rusher at Appalachian State, but most of his contributions in the NFL have been on special teams. If he's going to help the Patriots, it figures to come on third and fourth downs.
Robert Kraft, Vince Wilfork weigh in on a busy day for Patriots.