The Patriots' all-time leading receiver is considering catching on with the team's most despised rival.
Free agent wide receiver Troy Brown visited with the Jets yesterday and worked out for them, according to a source with knowledge of the situation. The Patriots told Brown recently that they were not planning to offer him a contract for 2008 at this time and that he was free to seek other offers if he wanted to play a 16th season.
It was initially thought the 36-year-old Brown, who has not stated whether he plans to return or retire, would not entertain teams that would play the Patriots this season. However, visiting the Jets signaled that he plans to explore all his options before making a decision. Brown also might not have a choice, as the Browns and Lions, teams initially thought to be interested in Brown, have cooled their pursuit, according to the source.
Brown's agent, Gary Uberstine, did not return a call and two e-mails requesting comment.
It's unclear how genuine the interest is from the Jets and their coach, former Patriots assistant Eric Mangini. This could just be the latest salvo in an increasingly bitter feud between the Patriots and Jets, which escalated during their season-opener last September, when the Jets tipped off the NFL that the Patriots were illegally filming their defensive signals.
The Patriots still are dealing with the fallout from the "Spygate" saga. Watching Brown, one of the most beloved players in Patriots history, suit up for the hated Jets would be a tough blow for Patriots fans and a way for Mangini to yet again tweak his former team and mentor, Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
The Jets do have some questions at wide receiver and New York wideout Laveranues Coles has threatened to boycott the offseason conditioning program because he wants a new long-term deal. He has two years and $11 million left on his current contract. But Coles is the Jets' No. 1 receiver and at this stage in his career, Brown is a complementary pass catcher.
Since Mangini joined the Jets in 2006, the team has been almost magnetically drawn to Patriots players.
When Mangini took over as Jets coach, he imported linebacker Matt Chatham and wide receiver Tim Dwight directly from New England and picked up cornerback Hank Poteat during the 2006 season after the Patriots let him go of him. Dwight is no longer with the Jets, but last season the Jets picked up Patriots draftees defensive lineman Kareem Brown and offensive lineman Clint Oldenburg after they were released.
Last offseason, New York hosted former Patriots cornerback Randall Gay. And last month, the Jets signed safety Artrell Hawkins. Hawkins was out of football last season after being released by the Patriots in August.
But all of those moves would pale in comparison to seeing the beloved Brown switch sides. Brown's selflessness, diligence, and toughness have become synonymous with the Patriots, and quarterback Tom Brady has said Brown is "everything that we stand for."
Only quarterback Steve Grogan (16 seasons) has had a longer Patriots career than Brown, who tied defensive lineman Julius Adams for the second-longest tenure with the franchise last season.
The team's all-time leader in receptions with 557, Brown didn't catch a pass last season and played in just one game after offseason knee surgery had him on the physically-unable-to-perform list for the first 11 games of the season.
Brown was activated from PUP Nov. 27 and returned six punts for 55 yards in a 28-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins Dec. 23. The team's all-time leader in punt returns (252) and punt return yardage (2,625), Brown had a punt bounce off his facemask for a fumble vs. Miami.
In 2006, Brown, who held the franchise record for catches in a season (101 in 2001) until Wes Welker recorded 112 last season, caught 43 balls for 384 yards and four touchdowns, tying him for the team lead in TD receptions.
Brown nearly left the Patriots following the 2004 season when the New Orleans Saints offered him more money, but after consulting with his family and being swayed by his son Sir'mon, he decided to stay in New England, passing up a higher offer to sign a one-year veteran minimum deal.
If Brown couldn't leave the Patriots for the Saints, it's hard to imagine him departing New England for the Jets, but he might not have any other options.
Keglar on radarThe Patriots are scheduled to send multiple representatives to Purdue today to work out linebacker Stanford Keglar.
Keglar (6 feet 2 inches, 239 pounds) has generated momentum since the NFL combine in February, when he tested well among pure linebackers - with the most bench-press repetitions (29), top broad jump (10 feet, 6 inches), top three-cone drill (6.70), and the fourth-best 40-yard dash (4.58). At his Pro Day March 7, Keglar had a 39-inch vertical leap, according to NFL.com.
In the Patriots' 3-4 alignment, Keglar likely would project as an inside linebacker. At Purdue, he most often was utilized in a spy-like role, usually dropping into coverage. Teams that have private workouts with players usually are still trying to gather more information before deciding where to rank them.
Cornering marketThe Patriots are continuing to take a look at some of the draft's top cornerbacks. The team will have representatives in Blacksburg, Va., to watch Virginia Tech's Brandon Flowers work out Thursday. The 5-9 3/4, 189-pound Flowers was a two-time All-America selection but ran a disappointing 4.58 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine in February and will look to improve on that. The Patriots held a private on-campus workout with Arizona's Antoine Cason Sunday. Flowers and Cason are projected to go in the latter half of the first round. The Patriots have the No. 7 overall selection.
Mike Reiss of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.