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Patriots bolstering secondary

Cornerback Bodden agrees to 1-year deal

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / March 11, 2009
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When Leigh Bodden played cornerback in Cleveland, then-teammate Kellen Winslow nicknamed him "the show-stopper" for his coverage abilities. The Patriots are hoping Bodden also can be a T.O. stopper.

Not content with adding just cornerback Shawn Springs to a secondary that now will have to deal with big-play wide receiver Terrell Owens twice a season as a Bill, the Patriots agreed to terms yesterday on a one-year deal with Bodden, according to an NFL source. Terms of the contract were not available.

The 27-year-old Bodden, who has 13 interceptions in six NFL seasons, was released by the Detroit Lions Feb. 9, after a season in which he had just one interception. It was the only interception by a defensive back for the Lions, who had just four total all season.

Last offseason, Detroit traded massive defensive tackle Shaun Rogers to Cleveland for Bodden (and the Browns' 2009 third-round pick) and then signed him to a four-year, $27 million contract extension. They cut him in February before an $8.6 million roster bonus was due.

Bodden started 15 of 16 games for the Lions and had 73 tackles, 11 passes defended, three forced fumbles, and also recovered two fumbles.

The 6-foot-1-inch, 193-pounder is a good fit for New England because he flourished in Cleveland when former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was the coach, and he has a nose for the ball.

Bodden, who spent the first five seasons of his career with the Browns, had a career-high six interceptions in 2007 with Cleveland. He also recovered three fumbles that season, giving him a total of nine takeaways, which tied for second in the league.

Bodden was critical of the bumbling Lions, the first team in NFL history to go 0-16, last season. But in 2007, Bodden earned the praise of one of Patriots coach Bill Belichick's favorite players, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson.

"He's one of the better cover corners in the NFL," Johnson told Cleveland reporters. "I have to study film on him the way I do Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister, and Dre' Bly."

Familiarity with their system via Crennel was certainly one of the reasons the Patriots pursued Bodden, who was an undrafted rookie free agent out of Duquesne and wasn't even invited to the NFL Scouting Combine.

After being primarily a special teams player his first two seasons in Cleveland, Bodden picked off 11 passes and was credited with 39 passes defended in the three seasons Crennel was his head coach. During that period, Bodden started 36 of the 38 games he played.

The Patriots brought in Bodden for a visit on the first day of free agency (Feb. 27), but he departed Foxborough without a deal. Now he has one.

Unlike the reported three-year, $10.5 million deal - with incentives that can push it to $13 million - that Springs signed, Bodden's deal does not include incentives. However, it does include a clause that prevents the Patriots from placing the franchise tag on him after this season.

Upgrading the cornerback position was apparently a priority for Belichick after a season in which only the Cardinals (36) allowed more touchdown passes than New England (27) and only Jacksonville (17) allowed more completions of 40 yards or more. The Patriots allowed 12, tying them with Detroit and San Francisco.

The Patriots now have three veteran starting-caliber corners in Springs, Bodden, and incumbent Ellis Hobbs to go along with second-year players Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite, and third-year man Mike Richardson.

The Patriots acquired a replacement for longtime long snapper Lonie Paxton, signing Nathan Hodel.

Terms of the deal were not available.

The 31-year-old Hodel spent the last seven seasons with the Cardinals, and starting with the 2002 season, he made every long snap for them, a stretch of 112 games.

Hodel has a connection with new Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien, which was part of the reason he decided to sign, according to his agent, Rob Roche.

"They have a good relationship, and he's looking forward to being a part of the Patriots," said Roche.

Hodel was signed by the Panthers in 2001, when O'Brien was Carolina's special teams coach. He spent six weeks on the Panthers' practice squad before he was released and picked up by the Cardinals, who didn't use him in a game in 2001.

Roche said Hodel is aware of the popularity of Paxton, who departed for Denver via free agency, in these parts.

"Sure, Nathan is aware of it," said Roche. "Lonie is a great player and has friends in New England. But Nathan will do a good job as well, and he has always respected Lonie in terms of what he has done on and off the field."

The signings of Bodden and Springs all but cement the departure of cornerback Lewis Sanders.

Sanders's agent, Kevin Pompey, said yesterday he thought his client was "probably not in their plans."

Sanders, who was credited with 25 tackles and a forced fumble in 10 games last season, is a free agent.

"We reached out to them and haven't heard from them," said Pompey.

The Patriots' lack of interest in the 30-year-old Sanders could be a sign that they plan to use Springs some at safety. The Philadelphia Eagles pursued Springs as a safety, and the Patriots traditionally like to have a bigger corner who also can play safety.

Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at cgasper@globe.com.

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