THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

In a rush for some help, Patriots acquire Burgess

By Christopher L. Gasper
Globe Staff / August 7, 2009

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FOXBOROUGH - Around noon yesterday, Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio reiterated the confidence he had in the team’s candidates to replace Mike Vrabel at outside linebacker. Both the team’s confidence and patience expired six hours later when New England traded for Oakland Raiders defensive end Derrick Burgess.

The 6-foot-2-inch Burgess, who is in the final year of his contract and will carry a $2 million base salary, projects as an outside linebacker and situational pass rusher in the Patriots’ 3-4 defense and gives a much needed boost to an outside linebacker corps that looked callow and shallow. An eight-year veteran and two-time Pro Bowler, Burgess has 47 career sacks. He led the NFL and set a Raiders record with 16 sacks in 2005 and followed that up with 11 in 2006.

The Patriots surrendered 2010 third-round and fourth-round picks, with a condition: If the Patriots pick up a fifth-round pick in 2010 (their pick was traded to Tampa Bay for tight end Alex Smith), that pick will go to Oakland instead of the fourth-round pick. The Patriots have three second-round picks in 2010.

The Patriots investigated a deal for Burgess, as far back as the draft, but didn’t pull the trigger because of Oakland’s asking price. They had also pursued veteran pass rushers Jason Taylor, who went back to Miami, and Greg Ellis, who ended up in Oakland.

But a week into training camp, it was obvious the team needed more talent at outside linebacker.

However, what was supposed to be a competition to replace the venerable Vrabel has become a war of attrition. Pierre Woods hasn’t been pushed by the other candidates - at least the ones on the field. Second-year man Shawn Crable has yet to practice and is still on the physically-unable to perform list. Tully Banta-Cain missed his third straight day of practice with an injury. Rob Ninkovich, who was signed Sunday, was being looked at by the Saints as a long snapper before being cut.

Burgess, who turns 31 Wednesday, provides the Patriots with a legitimate pass rush option outside.

“He has all the ability in the world to rush the passer, good quickness, good get-off,’’ said Keith Millard, Burgess’s defensive line coach in Oakland the past four seasons. “He has all the moves.’’

Injuries have slowed Burgess’s production the last two seasons. He had 39 tackles and eight sacks in 2007 but missed two games with a calf injury, and had 3.5 sacks and 24 tackles in 10 games last season, when he sat out six games with a triceps injury.

Burgess has some experience as a 3-4 linebacker playing in Oakland for former Patriots linebackers coach Rob Ryan. According to Millard, the team had a 3-4 package utilizing Burgess as a stand-up linebacker.

“I think he can do it,’’ said Millard. “He’s familiar with it. Many times when we were in 7-on-7, he would go off with the linebackers and work on his drops and pattern reading. I don’t think it’s a big deal.’’

Millard said Burgess is the type of player who comes to the practice field early to work on his technique and never wants to come off the field during games.

However, all the losing in Oakland wore on Burgess, who spent the first four seasons of his career with Philadelphia and played against the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, recording a sack of Tom Brady.

“He’s been frustrated,’’ said Millard. “We’ve had four head coaches in four years and we struggled on defense.’’

Burgess wasn’t happy with the Raiders after they reneged on what he believed was a pledge to redo his contract following Pro Bowl years in 2005 and 2006. He signed a five-year, $17.5 million deal to join the Raiders in 2005.

He skipped Oakland’s organized team activities, reported to minicamp, but sat out because of sickness and boycotted training camp in an attempt to force the team to trade him or release him.

In May, former teammate turned NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp said, “Oakland sucks the life out of you, when you know you have no chance of winning games, you know the plan all week long is flawed. The last two years in Oakland, I’m sure [Burgess] was pulling the plug on himself, hoping to get the heck out of there.’’

To make room on the roster, the Patriots released veteran offensive lineman Al Johnson, who according to a league source received an injury settlement.

Revitalizing the careers of disgruntled Raiders has become a habit for the Patriots. Burgess could be next.

Caserio no doubt meant what he said when he expressed confidence in the players on the roster.

“There is a reason they’re here,’’ Caserio said. “I think Shawn hasn’t been out there yet. Whenever he gets out there, we’ll see what he can do, Tully, [Adalius Thomas], Pierre [Woods], Rob Ninkovich, who we just brought in the other day . . . We’re confident in the players that we have, otherwise they wouldn’t be here.’’

They’re still here, but now so is Burgess.

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