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Bailey officially aboard

Restricted free agency hasn't exactly been a boon for the Patriots in recent years. Efforts to sign linebacker Mike Maslowski (Kansas City), defensive tackle Cedric Woodard (Seattle), offensive tackle Spencer Folau (Baltimore), and running back Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala (Pittsburgh) were all unsuccessful when New England's offer sheets were matched.

That pattern has come to an end, however, as New England finally got its man. The newest member of the Patriots is defensive end Rodney Bailey, who will be paid $1.3 million, including a $650,000 signing bonus. Bailey had plied his trade in Pittsburgh the last three seasons, but the Steelers declined to match New England's offer.

The Patriots must send a sixth-round pick to Pittsburgh as compensation. Bailey said he's excited and flattered by the Patriots' interest.

"I really didn't know what was going to happen, but I'm honored to have this offer from the Patriots, and I'm very happy to be a Patriot," he said. "I'm just here to become another team player with a great group of team players that are up in New England."

Bailey's career mirrors that of current Patriot Mike Vrabel. Both starred at Ohio State before being drafted by Pittsburgh. Now they'll play side-by-side in Foxborough. The Patriots, of course, are tickled with Vrabel, who signed with New England as an unrestricted free agent in 2001 and has become a vital cog. New England is hoping for the same fortune with Bailey, who has been in a rotation on the Steelers' line. His best season was 2002 when he totaled 5 1/2 sacks subbing for injured Kimo von Oelhoffen that season. Bailey's time was limited last season, but he was effective.

Bailey became expendable in Pittsburgh when the Steelers signed Travis Kirschke, a starter for San Francisco last season, to a four-year, $6.4 million deal that included a $1.1 million signing bonus.

The recently married Bailey, 24, was a sixth-round pick in 2001 and has played in all 48 games since he turned pro. He's collected 9 1/2 sacks in Pittsburgh's 3-4 defense, a key reason the Patriots targeted him.

At the very least, Bailey will be in an end rotation with Ty Warren and Jarvis Green. If the Patriots stay with a 3-4 alignment, he may have a shot at competing with Warren for Bobby Hamilton's end spot. Hamilton is currently testing the free agent waters.

Bailey said he doesn't care where he plays, as long as he plays.

"I'll do whatever I'm called for," he said.

The Patriots want to get younger after winning two Super Bowls in three seasons with a largely veteran team that last season included 22 players 30 or older.

Fish stories

Former Bills running back Sammy Morris, who had visited the Patriots, agreed to a deal with Miami, according to agent Mark Slough. Morris was considered a replacement for Larry Centers, but Miami, which last week signed Patriot Chris Akins, struck quickly on Morris. The Dolphins were frustrated last week in being unable to woo Damien Woody, who elected to sign a record deal in Detroit . . . The Patriots have interest in former Steelers punter Josh Miller, but are in competition with Miami. Miller was scheduled to visit New England yesterday.

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