New England Patriots

Stadium: Gillette Stadium | Coach: Bill Belichick
Team RankingOverallRushingPassing
Offense2nd118.1 (10th)276.1 (2nd)
Defense28th114.8 (19th)251.2 (29th)

Patriots report: Inside slant

The Sports Xchange
Inside slant · Notes, quotes · Strategy and personnel

According to an ESPN report, former Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor is now leaning toward a return to his original team, the Miami Dolphins, over signing with the Patriots.

Taylor became a hot commodity when the Redskins released him during the offseason and the Patriots were immediately considered among the favorites to win his services -- especially after they dealt veteran outside linebacker Mike Vrabel to the Kansas City Chiefs as part of the Matt Cassel trade.

Taylor would've been the perfect fit for several reasons.

First, he's somewhat of an undersized defensive end by today's NFL standards, but his speed and athleticism made him one of the league's top pass-rushers over the past decade. Nonetheless, his size is perfect for an outside linebacker in the system used in New England, which would've been an immediate upgrade for the Patriots.

Vrabel's a fine player and he earned accolades for his savvy and intelligence in New England, but he dropped from a career-high 12.5 sacks in 2007 to just four in 2008. No one in New England has disappeared like that since Lawyer Milloy, whose performance dropped considerably in 2002, leading to his inevitable release just days before the start of the '03 season.

Few will confuse Vrabel with Taylor, but it's worth noting both players are among Bill Belichick's favorites. The same words Belichick has used to describe Vrabel have been used publicly in discussions about Taylor through the years (at least twice a season when Taylor was playing for the Dolphins). Taylor turns 35 in September, but there's little doubt he can handle Belichick's complicated defensive system from a mental standpoint.

However, it seems this dream is no longer a reality. The Patriots will have to look elsewhere to address what has become their most pressing need. Whether or not Pierre Woods is ready to handle Vrabel's role on a full-time basis remains to be seen. Woods was given a chance last year when Adalius Thomas suffered a season-ending injury, but Woods ultimately broke his jaw.

The Patriots still have draft picks to play with and there are usually plenty of college defensive ends who can be converted to linebackers in a 3-4 system. These are the players the Patriots generally target when looking for outside linebackers, which is what makes this particular evaluation such a crapshoot -- you never know if a player who spent four years with a hand on the ground can suddenly stand up and play in space, no matter how simple it seems.

There isn't much left on the market besides Taylor, so it appears whoever comes on board between now and training camp -- assuming someone does -- will have to fight for playing time. Woods has a leg up on the eventual competition because he's been in the system and has shown he can make progress. Last year was huge for Woods despite the jaw injury and if Taylor becomes unavailable it appears he's in line for a major boost in playing time.

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