The NFL offseason is about the comings and goings of players, as teams repair, rebuild, or reload their rosters.
The Patriots did a little reloading yesterday.
Having lost its second player to free agency -- wide receiver David Patten -- earlier in the day, New England made an addition to its roster with a trade for Arizona cornerback Duane Starks.
Once Starks, 30, agreed to rework a contract in which he was due $3.6 million in each of the next two seasons, New England sent a third-round draft pick to the Cardinals and the teams swapped fifth-round picks in the April draft to consummate the deal, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
The Patriots did not announce the trade, and team officials had no comment. Starks's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, said he would not speak about the trade until the teams released statements.
After releasing Ty Law last week in a salary cap move, the Patriots set their sights on a quality veteran corner and found one in Starks.
Starks, who has been in the NFL for six years, played 15 games (starting eight), with the Cardinals last season, after sitting out all of the 2003 campaign with a torn ligament in his left knee. He began his career with Baltimore, and led the Super Bowl-winning Ravens with six interceptions in 2000.
Season-ending injuries suffered by the 31-year-old Law and fellow starting corner Tyrone Poole forced the Patriots to complete much of the regular season and their Super Bowl run with a patchwork secondary. Receiver Troy Brown, 33, who also served as a nickel back, was let go Tuesday, also a salary cap casualty.
Having lost Patten and Brown (who could very well re-sign with the team), the Patriots are likely to continue their retooling with a wide receiver off the NFL free agent list or in a draft that is deep with wideouts. Patten, an eight-year veteran out of Western Carolina, agreed to a five-year, $13 million deal with the Washington Redskins, a day after guard Joe Andruzzi, 29, inked a four-year, $9 million deal with Cleveland Wednesday.
It was generally understood that the 30-year-old Patten would not return next season, after he was dropped from the starting lineup and caught just two passes in the postseason.
Not only was Patten's price tag a bit high, but by midseason he had slipped behind Deion Branch, returning from a knee injury, on the Patriots' depth chart. By season's end, Patten wasn't much of a factor in the New England offense.
Still, he finished the season second on the team with 44 receptions for 800 yards -- a team-best 18.2 yards per reception -- and tied tight end Daniel Graham with a team-leading seven receiving touchdowns.
But he managed only one catch against both Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in the playoffs (for 20 yards total) and was shut out in limited action in the Super Bowl.
That didn't keep the Redskins from seeking his services. Washington coach Joe Gibbs called Patten's agent, Mark Lepselter, at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday morning, one minute after the NFL free agency period began.
"Dave truly appreciated his time in New England, but as is always the case in this league, the time comes when guys have to move on," said Lepselter, whose client claimed a $3.5 million signing bonus. "Dave wanted to see what was out there and he's excited about the next facet of his career. But he had a great time in New England."
Undrafted out of college in 1995, Patten worked odd jobs before giving the Arena Football League a try. He earned a spot on the New York Giants roster in 1997, lasting three years before going to Cleveland for a season.
Patten signed with New England in 2001, and became an immediate contributor, posting career highs in every receiving category. He then had his best season in 2002, with 61 catches for 824 yards while leading the team with five TD receptions.
Patten leaves a mark in the record books, with one of the more memorable performances in franchise history.
In a contest at Indianapolis in 2001, Patten became the first player in team history, and sixth in the NFL since 1960, to throw a touchdown pass, catch a touchdown pass, and run for a touchdown in a game. Walter Payton, 22 years prior, was the last to have accomplished that feat.
One of Patten's scores was a 91-yard reception that remains the longest play from scrimmage in Patriots history.