Morris re-signing the highlight of a quiet day for the Patriots

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / July 28, 2011

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Even before the NFL lockout ended and teams got the green light to talk to free agents, those who follow the Patriots were making a wish list.

Linebackers Matt Roth, Takeo Spikes, and Manny Lawson, and receivers Braylon Edwards, Sidney Rice, and Donte Stallworth were at or near the top of many lists, as players who could make an impact despite not having the benefit of an offseason to learn the New England playbook.

But at 10 a.m. today, free agency will have been open for 48 hours, and the Patriots have been relatively quiet. They made some moves yesterday, but none to add any of the above players, the type of names that would get fans even more excited about the season.

As the day wore on, some of those names became unavailable - Spikes signed with San Diego, and Rice and Stallworth found homes with Seattle and Washington, respectively.

The Patriots’ biggest move was bringing back 34-year-old running back Sammy Morris, one of New England’s 10 unrestricted free agents from last season.

Morris’s agent, Mark Slough, announced the one-year deal on Twitter, saying he was “excited to say’’ that Morris would be returning to the team.

The 12th-year veteran played in all 16 games last season for the first time since joining the Patriots in 2007. But because of the emergence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead, Morris’s role diminished, as he had just 20 carries for 56 yards and seven receptions for 77 yards. His 12 special teams tackles were third on the team.

With Kevin Faulk’s status up in the air - he was not signed as of last night - Morris’s value may be as a mentor. Green-Ellis, in particular, spoke highly of Morris’s influence last year, and with rookies Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen coming in, as well as Eric Kettani joining the team after fulfilling his commitment with the Navy, Morris can be a respected presence as they learn the ropes.

The Patriots also signed fifth-round pick Lee Smith and sixth-round pick Markell Carter, as well as 12 undrafted free agents.

Smith, a 6-foot-6-inch tight end out of Marshall, is already a married father of two. He is more of a blocking tight end than a pass catcher, and one AFC personnel executive told the Globe this month that the Tennessee native is “one of the most overpowering run-blockers I have seen as a tight end.’’

Smith also has some experience as a long snapper.

Carter, who played at Central Arkansas, has the measurables to play outside linebacker or rush end: He came in at 6-4, 252 pounds at his Pro Day, where his 40-yard dash time, three-cone drill time, vertical leap, and broad jump all would have placed him in the top 12 in his group at the combine had he been invited.

He had 11 tackles for loss and six sacks in his final season at Central Arkansas, where he played defensive end. After drafting him, however, Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Carter projects as an outside linebacker.

While at first Carter looked to be more of a project, with the Patriots releasing Tully Banta-Cain and not having agreed to a contract with a free agent outside linebacker, he could have to step in sooner than initially thought. New England currently has Eric Moore, Rob Ninkovich, and Jermaine Cunningham at the position.

Or perhaps there’s pass-rush help among the dozen undrafted rookies brought aboard yesterday. They were: offensive linemen Mike Berry (Auburn), Corey Woods (Akron), and Kyle Hix (Texas), linebacker/long snapper Ryan Coulson (Nevada), linebackers Anthony Leonard (West Virginia) and Jeff Tarpinian (Iowa), defensive ends Clay Nurse (Illinois), Alex Silvestro (Rutgers), and Aaron Lavarias (Idaho), receiver Jeremy Ross (California), tight end Will Yeatman (Maryland), and former UMass kicker Chris Koepplin.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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