Patriots add top kickoff returner in Leon Washington

New Patriot Leon Washington shares the NFL record with eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns.
New Patriot Leon Washington shares the NFL record with eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns.
mike groll/associated press

Free agent kick returner/running back Leon Washington, who was in Foxborough Thursday to visit the Patriots, sent out a tweet Thursday evening saying that he’s joined the team and included a photo of himself wearing a Patriots cap.

The Patriots confirmed the signing a short time later. It’s a one-year contract.

A fourth-round draft pick of the Jets in 2006, the 5-foot-8-inch, 203-pound Washington spent the last three seasons with Seattle after a draft day trade in 2010.

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Last season, Washington had 27 kickoff returns for 784 yards (29.0 average) and one touchdown, and had 41 punt returns for 356 yards (8.7 average).

A three-time All-Pro and two-time Pro Bowler, including last season, Washington became expendable in Seattle when the Seahawks traded for Percy Harvin.

Washington and Josh Cribbs are tied for the NFL record with eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

Washington isn’t much of a contributor on offense — he recorded 23 carries for 83 yards and a touchdown last season — but the Patriots have not had a kickoff return threat in several years. Jeff Demps, signed last year for that purpose, has expressed a desire to return to track.

Veterans day?

According to multiple reports, on Friday the Patriots will host a pair of veteran defenders in safety Adrian Wilson and pass-rushing end John Abraham.

Wilson, 33, has played the last 12 seasons with the Cardinals, earning five Pro Bowl selections. He is one of six players in NFL history to collect 25 interceptions and 25 sacks.

The 35-year-old Abraham, a one-time Jet, has played the last seven seasons with the Falcons and is fifth on the NFL’s all-time list with 122 sacks.

Talib market set?

Aqib Talib is still on the market, but other free agent cornerbacks are beginning to find homes.

The first to sign was Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who, after one season with Philadelphia, joined Denver Wednesday, getting a one-year deal worth a reported $5 million. The Chargers signed former Jacksonville corner Derek Cox for a reported four years and $20 million, with $10.25 million guaranteed.

And on Thursday, the Chiefs signed former Dolphin Sean Smith for three years and $18 million, with $11 million guaranteed, according to NFL.com.

So what does this mean for Talib? He shouldn’t expect to break the bank. Smith and Cox were considered the top players available at the position, with Talib close behind.

The market has changed. Last year, cornerback Lardarius Webb received six years and $52.74 million, with $10 million guaranteed, to remain in Baltimore; Tampa Bay plucked Eric Wright from Detroit with a five-year, $37.5 million contract that guaranteed $15.5 million; and Brandon Carr signed with Dallas for five years and $50.1 million, half of it guaranteed.

The market might be playing into the Patriots’ hands if they want to keep Talib.

Chasing Fanene

The Patriots took a major step toward recouping Jonathan Fanene’s $3.85 million signing bonus from last year. The collective bargaining appeals panel has allowed the NFL Management Council to proceed with an attempt to recoup “some or all” of the signing bonus Fanene received last March, according to documents obtained from a league source.

No date has been set for a hearing.

The NFL Players Association, on behalf of Fanene, sought to dismiss the action, but the motion was denied.

Fanene is due the final $1.35 million of his signing bonus on March 31. The Patriots have told Fanene and his agent, Angelo Wright, they won’t pay the final installment.

According to the documents, the Patriots are alleging Fanene “falsely concealed his dependency on prescription drugs in order to play effectively” during his physical. The Patriots will have to prove Fanene was self-medicating for his arthritic left knee without the team’s knowledge.

Tuck it away?

Every year at the NFL spring meetings, the league’s Competition Committee makes rules proposals and bylaw changes. When this year’s meetings start in Phoenix next week, one of the recommendations will be to eliminate perhaps the most famous — or infamous — reversal in Patriots history.

Rams coach Jeff Fisher, a committee member, announced that Playing Rule Proposal No. 3 “basically changes our tuck rule so that it is a fumble if the player loses possession as he attempts to bring the ball back to his body.”

Fisher continued: “Obviously, if the passer loses control of the ball as the arm is moving forward, it will still be an incomplete pass, but we now say if in the passing motion he attempts to bring the ball back to his body — even if he completes the tuck — and loses the ball in an attempt to bring the ball back to his body, it will be a fumble.

“The officials on the field now are ruling that it is a fumble and the plays are going to review. We are going to change this to clean this up and eliminate the tuck rule, so to speak.”

After the Competition Committee announcement, the Raiders official Twitter page posted: “Tuck Rule? It’s been 11 years, 1 month and 23 days . . . but who’s counting?” along with a photo of the play.