FOXBOROUGH - Like a car with a raspy motor, LaMont Jordan needed a tuneup after seven NFL seasons. He received it in 2008 with the Patriots.
"I never lost my love for football," Jordan said, "but being here kind of gave me that extra boost to want to get better, and be at my best."
Now the question is whether the running back will find a permanent parking spot in New England.
While quarterback Matt Cassel represents the Patriots' highest-profile free agent-to-be, Jordan is one of the other notable players scheduled to have contracts expire, a group that includes safeties James Sanders and Rodney Harrison, receiver Jabar Gaffney, defensive lineman Mike Wright, and fullback Heath Evans.
Jordan's bulldozing style played an integral part in the Patriots' final three victories of the season, as he carried 62 times for 239 yards and four touchdowns. It was a nice finishing surge after he was stuck in the NFL's breakdown lane, missing eight games with a nagging calf injury.
After spending the first four seasons of his career with the Jets, then three with the Raiders, Jordan detailed how his New England experience has altered his outlook.
"I've never been on a team that, as a player, I felt that the coaching staff prepared us as well as this," he said. "I've had coaching staffs prepare us for games, but not to the extent, and the detail, and the adjustments that this coaching staff has. It was a great feeling.
"I had some days where I walked out on the practice field and during stretching I looked at the guys and looked at the helmets and I said, 'I'm a New England Patriot.'
"It means a lot to me, regardless of what happens, to be able to say I played for, in my opinion, one of the best coaches of all time in Coach [Bill] Belichick. Where I am in my career, coming from Oakland, a lot of people counted me out. But to be able to come and play for this organization was a blessing."
The 30-year-old Jordan plans to tap into the experience in 2009, whether he's in New England or elsewhere.
"I'm more willing and want to step into more of a leadership role, because the leadership we have on this team is part of why this program and this organization is successful," he said. "So regardless of what happens, I think I'm going to be in a better place mentally."
Jordan, who in his free agent search intends to target teams with a commitment to winning, also plans to take a different approach to his offseason conditioning.
"I don't think I've ever really fully committed myself to a program, and I'm not just talking about from a working out standpoint, but just taking care of my body from a physical standpoint," he said. "I truly believe that I can still be a starting running back in this league.
"I realistically think that if I do the things I need to do, I really think I could play another four or five years at a very high level. I sincerely believe that, but a lot of that has to do with how dedicated, how focused, and how persistent I can be with those things.
"I'm a believer that up to this point of my career, I've been the one that has been holding me back. Wearing this uniform, being in this organization, I know that if I'm going to be here or anywhere else, and I want to maximize my potential, I'm ultimately the person who has to get that done."
Mike Reiss can be reached at email@example.com.