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RB Taylor finds good fit

Decision 'no-brainer'; TE Baker catches on

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / February 28, 2009
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The first day of free agency netted the Patriots a Taylor suited to their liking and a Baker to add to the mix.

The Patriots came to terms with veteran running back Fred Taylor and tight end Chris Baker yesterday. Terms were not disclosed.

Taylor, 33, who was jettisoned by the Jacksonville Jaguars Feb. 16, chose the Patriots over the Buffalo Bills after visiting both teams earlier in the week. He said yesterday in a conference call he was halfway to signing with the Patriots when he got off the plane.

"The visit in Buffalo went real well, but the Patriots just felt like it was the place to be," said Taylor. "After talking to Coach [Bill] Belichick and looking at everything, looking at the type of players they have, it was pretty much a no-brainer. Who wouldn't want to play in New England? They have been the most successful organization in the last decade or so.

"It feels like a good fit with Tom [Brady], Randy [Moss], Wes Welker, Kevin [Faulk], Laurence [Maroney], and all the other guys. And they have a great defense that gets you the ball back. When you weigh all those options, for me it was a no-brainer."

The feeling was mutual. "I have tremendous respect for Fred Taylor, both as a person and as a player whose production is outstanding," Belichick said in a statement. "I look forward to working with Fred as he joins the rest of our running back group."

The Jaguars' all-time leading rusher with 11,271 yards, Taylor ranks 16th on the NFL's all-time rushing list. In 11 seasons, all in Jacksonville, he has authored seven 1,000-yard seasons, the last in 2007 (1,202 yards and an AFC-best 5.4 yards per carry) that earned him his only Pro Bowl berth.

However, Taylor rushed 143 times for 556 yards and one TD last season, his lowest totals since 2001, when he was limited to two games because of a groin injury. His 3.9 yards per carry also matched a career low. Taylor's career average per carry is 4.6.

Taylor was set to make $6 million this season and offered to take a pay cut to stay in Jacksonville, but the Jaguars severed ties with the player who holds the franchise record for touchdowns (70), rushing touchdowns (62), yards from scrimmage (13,632), and 100-yard rushing games (48).

Taylor's signing provides the Patriots with insurance at running back, where Maroney, coming off shoulder surgery, is an enigma entering his fourth season, and Sammy Morris, who led the team with 727 yards, has missed time with an injury each of his two seasons with the club.

Taylor, who shared the workload with Maurice Jones-Drew in Jacksonville, said carries won't be an issue.

"No, there's no set number of carries," said Taylor. "Ever since I got into the league I have been trying to make it go the distance on one carry. You have to have that mind-set to take advantage of each one. So, my job is to come in there and try to help the squad win. Whatever it takes, I'm going to be ready. I can guarantee you that much. I'm going to be ready to play. Each opportunity I get, I'm going to try to make it happen."

The 6-foot-1-inch, 228-pound Taylor, who started 46 straight games from 2002 to 2004, has not played a 16-game season since 2003, when he rushed for a career-high 1,572 yards.

He missed the last three games of last season after he suffered a torn ligament in his left thumb.

However, he played 15 games in 2007 and in 2006 and topped 1,000 yards each year. In 2007, he was a healthy deactivation in the season finale. In 2006, the only game he missed was Dec. 24 against the Patriots because of a hamstring injury.

Taylor would like to duplicate the success Corey Dillon had with the Patriots in 2004, winning a Super Bowl ring, but that opportunity was only part of Taylor's decision.

"Nothing is guaranteed, so that wasn't ultimately a thing that made me make my decision," Taylor said. "You know what they're about and just give them a shot. They are the most consistent team, so if I'm going to go anywhere, they stood out first.

"They didn't sit on their hands like a lot of teams sit back and wait and see. That's why they are successful, because they move quick. That's what happens when you move quick. You get what you want half the time. I'm glad I'm a Patriot now. I'm ready to go to work and see how this season turns out."

The Patriots did not officially announce the signing of Baker.

Released by the Jets Feb. 20, Baker, 29, is the latest player to change sides in the Border War.

The 6-3, 258-pound Baker, who agreed to a three-year, $12.2 million extension with the Jets last September, was also a salary cap casualty; he was due $9 million in guaranteed money the next three seasons. Baker slipped behind rookie Dustin Keller last season and caught just 21 passes for 194 yards and no touchdowns. He set career highs in catches (41) and receiving yards (409) in 2007 and had three touchdowns.

Patriots tight ends Benjamin Watson and David Thomas, both of whom are entering the final year of their contracts, combined for 31 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns in 2008. In seven seasons, Baker has 12 TD receptions.

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