It was a free agent frenzy in Foxborough, as the Patriots blasted out of the chute and yesterday finalized a blockbuster deal with linebacker Adalius Thomas, one of the top players on the market.
Contracts for veteran tight end Kyle Brady (two years) and running back Sammy Morris (four years) also were consummated, and the team plans to sign receiver Wes Welker -- a restricted free agent with the Miami Dolphins -- to an offer sheet, possibly as early as next week.
In all, it was a blazing start to free agency (which began Friday morning), with the Patriots identifying their targets early and opening their checkbook.
While some might view the approach as out of the norm, coach Bill Belichick suggested otherwise, noting that the Patriots have paid handsomely in the past, such as deals for quarterback Tom Brady and defensive lineman Richard Seymour.
What made this situation unusual -- specifically in regards to Thomas -- is that few franchise-type players hit the open market.
"I don't think this is any change in philosophy; it's the same thing we've always done, trying to improve the football team," Belichick said. "Whether we give a player on the team a large contract, or it goes to another player, it's investing in talent. That's all we're doing."
Not many free agents were considered more talented than Thomas, the 6-foot-2-inch, 270-pound linebacker who played the first seven years of his career with the Ravens but escaped the franchise tag this offseason as Baltimore was too tight to the salary cap. Thomas arrived at Gillette Stadium yesterday in the late morning and passed his physical, one of the final steps in finalizing a contract that could include as much as $18 million in bonuses and guarantees.
Adam Schefter of NFL Network reported the deal as a five-year, $37 million package with $24 million to be paid within the first three years.
Although money was part of his decision to sign with the Patriots -- the only team he visited -- Thomas said it was not the only factor.
"We knew what we were looking for -- a chance to win, a great organization -- and I think New England called and gave us all the things we were looking for," Thomas said on a conference call. "I came up here, did a visit, and everything fit. There was no need trying to look for something else."
Thomas, who turns 30 Aug. 18, is coming off an 11-sack season in which he earned a Pro Bowl berth. He is considered a good fit for the Patriots' base 3-4 defense, in which he projects to line up at outside linebacker, but he likely won't be limited to one role. That's the way he prefers it.
"I don't look at it as a position, just football, 11 guys trying to accomplish the same goal," he said.
Thomas joins a linebacker corps headlined by Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel, and Rosevelt Colvin, although it's unclear how his presence will affect Vrabel and Colvin, who are both natural outside linebackers. Belichick noted that the Patriots play multiple defensive schemes, so having versatile players is important.
"Personally and professionally, we are very impressed with Adalius Thomas," Belichick said. "His playmaking, toughness, intelligence, versatility, and character were all factors in our decision to pursue him. Adalius has contributed in many ways to some excellent defensive units and we look forward to getting to work with him."
Belichick also touched on the addition of the 35-year-old Brady, who figures to fill part of the void left by the departure of Daniel Graham. Brady's two-year deal is worth $5.3 million and includes a $2 million signing bonus, according to the Florida Times-Union.
"He is a tough, smart, and dependable player. His familiarity with our system and his consistency make him a good fit for our offense," Belichick said.
Meanwhile, Belichick called Morris "a good all-around running back," noting that "from his years in the division, we have firsthand knowledge of all his skills; running, receiving, blocking, and several roles on special teams." According to a league source, the four-year package can be worth as much as $7 million to Morris, who turns 30 March 23.
As for the 25-year-old Welker, he is considered a high-energy player and is coming off a career-high 67-catch season that included a nine-catch effort against the Patriots in a 20-10 loss Oct. 8. At 5-9, 185 pounds, he also is a significant contributor in the field-position game as a punt returner and kickoff returner. If the Patriots sign Welker to an offer sheet and the Dolphins do not match, the team would have to surrender a second-round draft choice to Miami.
The Patriots have been one of the league's most active teams over the last two days, but overall, the approach traces back to October when they re-signed center Dan Koppen, who would have been an unrestricted free agent. As for where things head from here, Belichick said he expects the team "to sign some other free agents before it's over.
"It's a fluid market, like it always is, and you can be sitting here today and have nothing going, and five minutes later, something can tee up," he said. "Or you can be working on two to three things, and five minutes later, they disappear somewhere else.
"We try to stay on top of things, keep a good line of communication with the players we're in touch with, and follow things as they shift, and decide whether we'll move or let it go."
Mike Reiss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.