Armed with a new contract and a new lease on his career, cornerback Duane Starks, the 10th player selected in the 1998 draft by Baltimore, may be the heir apparent to Ty Law.
Starks, who was obtained from the Arizona Cardinals Thursday for a 2005 third-round pick and a swap of 2005 fifth-round picks, said from his home in Miami he's 100 percent healthy after playing just 25 of 48 games the last three seasons with the Cardinals. He only missed one game last season after missing all of 2003 with an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pounder, who will turn 31 May 23, is just three months younger than Law, and ironically, Law was the only New England player Starks knew well.
Starks met with coach Bill Belichick and members of his defensive staff, namely defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, Tuesday.
"He let me know he followed me in college and wanted a shot at me, but I wasn't around," said Starks. "We got on the same page on a lot of things. I liked the things he said about not being complacent winning Super Bowls."
Belichick believes Starks can fit into the Patriots' system, and the cornerback started by agreeing to rework a contract in which he was due $3.6 million each of the next two seasons.
At the University of Miami, Starks was recommended as a top-10 draft pick by then Ravens scout Terry McDonough, son of late Globe sports columnist Will McDonough. Terry now works in the Jacksonville Jaguars' front office.
Starks has a couple of personal issues that might keep him away from the Patriots' strength and conditioning program. He is finishing up his final semester at Miami, where he'll receive his degree in sociology, a promise he made to his mother. And he has a June wedding planned, so he may not participate fully in the offseason conditioning program. Starks said he expects to be at all of the team's minicamps, and training camp.
Starks played for the Ravens from 1998-2001. He led the team with six interceptions in 2000, and returned a Kerry Collins pass 49 yards for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXV that season (a 34-7 Ravens' victory), but he left for Arizona in 2002, signing a five-year, $23 million deal.
Starks says he can play man to man or zone, and can be a finesse corner or press receivers. "If I don't start, it means I didn't work hard enough," Starks said.
As for returning to be the player he once was, he said, "I don't think I have to prove that to anyone else. I believe in myself. I know that I'm still that type of corner. The only thing that held me back was a few injuries that shortened my season. Other than that, there is no lack of confidence, no lost anything."
Sports Illustrated reported that Starks was in coach Dennis Green's doghouse, but Starks disputed the account, saying, "Dennis didn't talk too much to the players. Nobody really had a good relationship with him except Emmitt Smith."
Starks said he started watching the Patriots closely "the year after we won the Super Bowl, which was when I was in Baltimore. I returned an interception for a touchdown and the next year Ty Law ended up doing the same thing. That really made me start paying attention to what New England had. I have been impressed just watching them the past four years." . . .
David Patten was overwhelmed by the response from Redskins coach Joe Gibbs, who called Patten one minute after free agency began Wednesday morning. "I was a little worried," said Gibbs, "because David is the guy we'd targeted to be our man. There was a little pressure to get a deal done and thankfully we were able to do that."
Patten said, "I'm just honored that Coach Gibbs and the Redskins organization would make me feel so wanted. I guarantee I'll give everything I have to the Washington Redskins on the football field."
Patten received a $3.5 million signing bonus and a five-year deal worth $13 million.