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Camp gives Watson the boot

Rookie is hobbled by strained Achilles'

Bill Belichick said Friday that Ben Watson missed that morning's minicamp practice because the rookie tight end's leg "tightened up." Not exactly.

Watson was experiencing soreness in his left heel, and an MRI that day revealed a strained Achilles'. The injury is not believed to be serious, according to team and industry sources, but as a precaution, Birmingham, Ala., orthopedist James Andrews was to review the results of the MRI.

Watson, who participated in Thursday's practices, has been wearing a stabilizing boot on his lower left leg similar to the one Ty Law wore for several days last season as treatment for his severely sprained right ankle. That helps to explain why Watson was out of sight the last two days of minicamp. The Patriots are handling their second first-round pick carefully; Watson will wear the boot for several weeks and will be eased into training camp, which begins late next month.

In Watson's absence, New England's first-round pick from two years ago, Daniel Graham, enjoyed a strong minicamp, making several impressive catches and displaying a confidence not seen in his first two seasons.

"The opportunities that he's had to run routes, catch the ball, make adjustments, hot-reads, and audibles, I think he's just handling them a little bit quicker," Belichick said of Graham last week. "I just think he's a little bit more confident. He's done it a little bit more and he's just executing it a little bit better at this point."

Bruschi re-signs
Tedy Bruschi said Friday morning that he and the Patriots were close to agreeing on a contract extension. By the end of the day, the deal was done.

Bruschi, who was entering the final year of a contract signed in January 2002, completed negotiations on a four-year, $8.1 million deal that includes a $3.5 million signing bonus and base salaries of $700,000 this season, $850,000 next year, $1.35 million in 2006, and $1.7 million in 2007. Bruschi's salary this season escalated to $1.75 million based on his participating in 58 percent of the team's defensive plays in 2002 or 2003; he'll now take in $4.2 million this year. In the final two years of the deal, Bruschi, who represents himself, can make another $250,000 if his playing time reaches 50 percent and $250,000 more if it reaches 70 percent.

Bruschi's cap number dropped only slightly -- by $175,000, from $2,422,268 to $2,247,268. As of yesterday (counting only the top 51 salaries, workout bonuses, and likely-to-be-earned incentives), the Patriots were $1,670,168 under their adjusted salary cap of $80,573,255 and needed another $2 million or so to sign their seven draft choices.

Bruschi, who turned 31 June 9, is coming off a career year in which he was selected a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press after amassing 137 tackles (second on the team), 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovery, 16 pass deflections, and 3 interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. There was talk that he would wait until after this season to negotiate a new deal.

Bruschi could not be reached for comment.

O'Donnell inquiry
Excelling in NFL Europe isn't the same as excelling in the NFL. Perhaps that explains why Belichick recently pursued a quarterback who has done the latter -- 37-year-old Neil O'Donnell. A 13-year veteran who led the Steelers to the 1995 AFC title and also played for the Bengals, Jets, and Titans, O'Donnell told the Nashville City Paper for its Wednesday editions that recently the Patriots tried to lure him out of retirement. O'Donnell works for WTVF NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.

"The Patriots asked if I would consider doing it one more time, and I kind of laughed and said, `Call me in December and let's see how you guys are doing, maybe making another run to a Super Bowl ring,' " said O'Donnell, who earlier this offseason turned down the Giants' offer to tutor Eli Manning. "But as of now, I'm more or less finished."

An attempt to reach O'Donnell yesterday was unsuccessful. Tennessee re-signed O'Donnell last December after Steve McNair and Billy Volek went down with injuries, and he completed 18 of 27 passes for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns in a 33-13 victory over Tampa Bay.

O'Donnell left open the possibility of another comeback. "It's that Super Bowl ring that always leaves you on edge about maybe doing it just one last time," O'Donnell told the City Paper. "I would definitely debate it and entertain it, and at least look into it to see what it's all about."

New England has Rohan Davey, NFL Europe's offensive MVP, and Kliff Kingsbury behind Tom Brady. Davey has played in five games and attempted nine passes in two seasons, and Kingsbury spent his rookie season on injured reserve. Apparently the Patriots believe they need an experienced backup to replace the departed Damon Huard, as they've also placed an unsuccessful waiver claim on former Falcons backup Kurt Kittner this offseason.

"I would say quarterback is the same as every other position on the team," Belichick said during minicamp. "If we have a chance to improve the team and we thought it was something that would make us better within the framework of what we could do, then we would consider it at any position." 

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