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Brown, Patriots close

Veteran, team agree on financial terms

Troy Brown tied for third on the Patriots with 43 catches last year, but his 8.9-yard average was the lowest of his career. Troy Brown tied for third on the Patriots with 43 catches last year, but his 8.9-yard average was the lowest of his career. (FILE/BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF)

The only question was health.

Troy Brown wanted to return to the Patriots in 2007. The Patriots wanted Brown back. But ultimately, the decision was going to be based on Brown's surgically repaired knee.

With his recovery having progressed as hoped, Brown and the Patriots agreed to financial terms on a one-year contract yesterday, according to an NFL source. The final step to the deal will be working out language within the contract.

Bucko Kilroy, longtime Patriots executive, dies at 86. Obituary, C8.

Brown returns for his 15th season with the Patriots, the longest tenure of any player on the roster. In the Patriots' 48-year history, Brown ranks second behind only quarterback Steve Grogan, who played 16 seasons from 1975-1990.

Although Brown was technically a free agent, he worked out at Gillette Stadium over the offseason -- rehabilitating from the offseason surgery -- and coach Bill Belichick stated multiple times Brown would have a role with the club in 2007.

Brown, who turned 36 July 2, joins a crowded receiving corps that includes 13 players. The Patriots project to keep five or six receivers on their final 53-man roster, and the competition figures to be one of the intriguing subplots of training camp, which starts July 27.

One of those receivers, Randy Moss, spoke earlier this offseason about his desire to play with Brown.

"I've always considered myself to be the second-best receiver to come out of Marshall," Moss said in April. "Being able to play with a Troy Brown and what he's done for the organization. Like I've always said, he's started the trend of guys going into the league from Marshall."

Quarterback Tom Brady regularly has lauded Brown, one of the recent times in January before the AFC Championship Game against the Colts.

"When you look up the New England Patriots in the dictionary, there's a big picture of Troy Brown's face," Brady said at the time. "He's everything we stand for. I think when guys come in here and they're trying to figure out what it means to fit in, all you have to do is look at Troy and the preparation he puts in each week and the way he lays it on the line."

Brown's underdog story (he was a 1993 eighth-round draft choice), soft-spoken approach, and willingness to play cornerback in emergency situations are among the reasons he is a fan favorite in New England. He's also the all-time franchise leader in receptions (557), having surpassed Stanley Morgan last November.

If he's to break through as a receiver in 2007, Brown must emerge from a depth chart that has been significantly revamped.

The group is headlined by new acquisitions Moss, Wes Welker, Donte' Stallworth, and Kelley Washington. In addition, Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney return, while 2006 second-round draft choice Chad Jackson and longer shots such as Bam Childress, Kelvin Kight, and Jonathan Smith also are in the mix.

Of the pass catchers, the 26-year-old Welker -- acquired in a trade from the Dolphins and then signed to a long-term contract -- projects to play a role similar to that of Brown, mainly working out of the slot and as a punt returner.

Brown is coming off a season in which he totaled 43 receptions for 384 yards (8.9 average), playing in all 16 games with nine starts. The receptions were his most since he had 97 in 2002 -- and tied for third on the team -- but the average per catch was the lowest of his career.