Patriots acquire depth

Springs, Lewis added to the mix

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 6, 2009
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The Patriots' search for Asante Samuel's replacement at left cornerback continues and the latest candidate is Washington Redskins salary cap castoff Shawn Springs.

The Patriots reached an agreement with the veteran cornerback yesterday, according to a league source. Springs, who will turn 34 March 11, will be counted on to spruce up a secondary susceptible to the big play for much of last season.

Although the Patriots finished 11th in the NFL in pass defense (201.4 yards per game) in 2008, only the Cardinals (36) allowed more touchdown passes than New England, which surrendered 27. The Patriots were also tied (with Detroit and San Francisco) for second in the NFL in most opponents' completions of 40 yards or more, allowing 12; only the Jaguars (17) allowed more.

Based on reputation, Springs, who made the Pro Bowl in 1998 with the Seattle Seahawks, would be an upgrade over Deltha O'Neal, whom the Patriots signed six days before the 2008 opener and who started 10 of 16 games. O'Neal is a free agent.

Springs will also serve as competition for second-year cornerbacks Jonathan Wilhite, who started the final four games of the season at left corner, and Terrence Wheatley, whose season was ended by a dislocated left wrist.

Springs, a 12-year veteran, was released by the Redskins Feb. 27 in a cost-cutting move. He spent the last five seasons in Washington after playing his first seven for the Seahawks, who drafted Springs with the third overall pick in 1997. In 157 regular-season games, Springs has 32 interceptions.

Last season, Springs played in nine games, starting seven, and finished with one interception. He missed seven games with a calf injury. The season before, Springs started 14 games and finished second on the Redskins with four interceptions. In 2004, Springs became the first defen sive back in NFL history to lead his team in both interceptions (five) and sacks (six).

Springs was deemed expendable when the Redskins re-signed DeAngelo Hall to a six-year, $54 million deal.

Springs also drew interest from the Eagles - he visited them Wednesday. However, the Eagles were interested in Springs as a safety.

The Patriots pulled off a trade for another wide receiver yesterday, acquiring Greg Lewis and a 2010 seventh-round draft pick from the Eagles in exchange for a 2009 fifth-round draft pick, a league source said.

Lewis, whose first career touchdown came in the Patriots' 24-21 victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX, will be expected to compete for the No. 3 wide receiver job, which opened when Jabar Gaffney left for Denver as a free agent.

The 29-year-old Lewis has 127 career receptions for 1,699 yards and seven touchdowns in six seasons. Last season, he caught 19 passes for 247 yards and a touchdown in 16 games and had his first career 100-yard receiving game in the season opener.

Lewis's best season was 2005, when he started 16 games and had 48 receptions for 561 yards and a score.

Lewis was signed by Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent in 2003, when current Patriots director of pro personnel Jason Licht was in his first season as Philadelphia's assistant director of player personnel.

The Patriots lost a free agent when venerable fullback Heath Evans signed a two-year deal with the Saints.

The 30-year-old Evans was signed by the Patriots midway through the 2005 season after being released by the Dolphins and his most memorable game came that season, when he had a career-high 84 yards on 17 carries in a 23-16 win over his former team.

Evans was a valuable and versatile back, as well as a key special teams contributor. In three-plus seasons in New England, he rushed 123 times for 453 yards and three touchdowns and caught 24 passes for 224 yards and a score. Last season, Evans rushed 11 times for 23 yards and caught three passes for 59 yards. He added four special teams tackles.

Evans's departure leaves the Patriots without a true fullback. Evans had visited with the Saints Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Heath is a versatile and fundamentally sound fullback who can help our offense in a variety of roles, whether it be as a lead blocker, as a runner, or receiving option out of the backfield as well as on special teams," Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said in a statement.

"He has played in a few different offensive systems and has adapted quickly and been a contributor to all of them."

The Patriots re-signed punter Chris Hanson. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Hanson, 32, has spent the last two seasons in New England. Last season, he ranked 18th in yards per punt (43.7) and 22d in net average (36.4). Hanson's best work last season came in the windswept season finale against Buffalo. He punted three times for 45 yards, including a 46-yard punt into the wind . . . According to a league source, the Patriots have expressed interest in free agent cornerback Travis Daniels, who is familiar with the Patriots system. He played last season in Cleveland under Romeo Crennel, and played for Bill Belichick's buddy, Nick Saban, at LSU and for two seasons with the Dolphins. Daniels played in seven games, starting one, last season for Cleveland. In four seasons and 51 games he has three interceptions. The Chiefs and Broncos are also interested in Daniels and have scheduled visits . . . According to a report in the Arizona Republic, the Patriots are scheduled to host free agent center Al Johnson today. Johnson, a six-year veteran, played in four games last season for the Dolphins, but started all 14 games he played with Arizona in 2007, after he signed there as a free agent from the Cowboys. In 66 career games, he has 45 starts . . . The Patriots officially announced the signings of safety James Sanders and linebacker Eric Alexander and officially waived linebacker Darrell Robertson . . . Former Patriots receiver C.J. Jones signed with the Chiefs.

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