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Patriots are in a good position with personnel

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Other than the obvious voids that must be filled in the coaching staff, the outlook for the 2005 Patriots is quite good in terms of retaining top players and still being able to add talent to a very talented team.

While the Patriots likely will retain unrestricted free agents Adam Vinatieri and Joe Andruzzi, and likely have decisions to make on David Patten and Patrick Pass, what happens to three talented restricted free agents could be most interesting.

Who wouldn't want a big, tough receiver like David Givens, an athletic starting guard like Stephen Neal, or a pass-rushing defensive end like Jarvis Green? And how about Brandon Gorin, who stepped in so well for the injured Tom Ashworth? They are young players on the rise who after three years already have experienced two Super Bowl championships.

They will require some of the toughest decisions for the Patriots between now and March 1, when the team must decide on qualifying offers. There are four levels of qualifying offers, and the higher they go, the less likely it is that another team will make an offer. The highest level, which has yet to be determined but could be as high as $1.8 million, would require an interested team to give up a first- and a third-round pick to sign the player. The Patriots, too, can match offers.

Another salary level (it was $1.3 million last season) would require just a first-round pick as compensation, while another would require a pick from the round in which the signed player was drafted. The lowest tender requires no compensation if an offer sheet is not matched by the Patriots.

With Nick Saban in Miami and now Romeo Crennel in Cleveland, don't think they aren't licking their chops to make one of these players an offer the Patriots might not be able to match. Green played for Saban at Louisiana State and has shown he could start for most teams in the league. Crennel also is fond of him. Neal is another guy Crennel has seen grow, and given the Dolphins' offensive line woes, he also would be attractive to Saban. Givens would fit nicely in the Browns' offense.

Restricted free agency hasn't been a big problem for the Patriots since the Jets structured an offer sheet to Curtis Martin in 1998 that was virtually impossible to match. The Jets were glad to give up a first and a third for Martin.

The Patriots may not think Givens is in Martin's league as a player, but someone out there might be willing to pay the price for the former seventh-round pick. Teams always are looking for young, experienced, and accomplished defensive linemen, which seems to fit Green's profile.

With last season's restricted free agent signee, Rodney Bailey, returning to the Patriots after missing the year with an Achilles' tendon problem, the Patriots have the option of letting Green go and taking the compensation.

That would be disappointing to Green and his agent, Albert Elias, who has four former LSU players on the Patriots, including second-round pick Marquise Hill, quarterback Rohan Davey, and linebacker Eric Alexander.

"Jarvis loves playing for the Patriots and he'd love to stay there for the rest of his career," Elias said.

Other issues for the Patriots:

* Restructuring Richard Seymour and Tom Brady. Brady's agent, Donald Yee, was at the Super Bowl, but it's unclear whether he met with the Krafts or Scott Pioli. Robert Kraft did say he would understand if Brady asked to be the game's highest-paid player, but that would not be the best thing for the Patriots' salary cap. Yet Kraft may have to raise Brady's average salary from $6 million to something closer to Peyton Manning's $14 million. The Patriots also might be interested in reducing Brady's $10 million cap hit next season. Seymour, who has made the Pro Bowl the past three years, is playing for slightly more than $1 million. He clearly has outplayed his rookie contract and wants an extension to reflect that.

* Tough cuts. Ty Law comes to mind. His $12.5 million cap number is unlikely to be kept on the books, even with the cap going up about $5 million to $85 million next season. Law is willing to renegotiate if the actual dollars aren't reduced. He is scheduled to earn about $10 million between salary and bonuses. "We're all ears," said Law's agent, Carl Poston. "Ty's preference is to stay with New England."

A similar decision could be made on Tyrone Poole, who has a $2.4 million cap number and $2 million in compensation for next season.

Another one to watch is Troy Brown, who is due to earn $2.5 million but has a whopping $5.75 million cap hit. Brown is a fan favorite and a personal favorite of Kraft's. Given Brown's reduced role on offense and what will likely be a reduced role on defense after the Patriots shore up their secondary in the offseason, where does that leave him?

Look for reworks on the deals of Corey Dillon ($6.7 million cap) and Rosevelt Colvin ($2.6 million salary and a cap hit near $4 million), and a possible bump for Rodney Harrison, who is scheduled to earn $1.55 million.

Keith Traylor said after the game that he'd like to return for another year. He earns an affordable veteran minimum of $765,000. Roman Phifer likely will go home and think about his future.

* Franchise player? Vinatieri could qualify for this tag. The parameters of his deal have evolved, and the sides don't appear that far apart. The Patriots could slap on the tag (of $1.75 million) temporarily (by Feb. 22) while they hash out a deal. Vinatieri is not a player the Patriots want to alienate. Another issue is Vinatieri's agent, Neil Cornrich, who has been suspended by the Players Association but is appealing. He still can represent players while he appeals, but that window might be closing. 

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