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Patriots add Fanene to the defensive line

By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / March 15, 2012
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The Patriots made defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene the newest member of their team Wednesday, signing the veteran to a three-year deal.

The pact includes a $3.85 million signing bonus, though the rest of the financial details were not known.

New England shifted its focus to the 6-foot-4-inch, 292-pound Fanene quickly after Red Bryant opted to re-sign with the Seahawks Tuesday. Fanene offers similar versatility, having played all along the defensive line for the Bengals in his seven years in Cincinnati.

A seventh-round pick of the Bengals, Fanene was a reserve last year, playing in all 16 games, but starting just two. Despite playing in just half of the team’s defensive snaps, he was credited with a career-high 6 1/2 sacks.

“He was happy the Patriots had interest. He talked to Bill Belichick . . . he’s excited,’’ said Angelo Wright, Fanene’s agent. “I think what they liked about him is he’s a tough, no-finesse player.’’

Fanene, who turns 30 Monday, was signed without making a visit to Foxborough - he’s in his native Samoa.

An inside pass-rusher who is also strong against the run, Fanene has never played in a 3-4 defense, but a league source indicated that he could be a good fit on a three-man line playing the three technique.

Fanene could be slotted at left defensive end, the role the Patriots thought Shaun Ellis would fill last year. He could also help spell nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who played a much higher than usual number of snaps last season.

As for the man who was at right defensive end for New England much of last season, Andre Carter, it is believed that he will return to the Patriots when he’s fully healed from the torn quadriceps he suffered in December.

Also Wednesday, the Patriots finalized deals with two core special teams players: Matthew Slater and Tracy White.

Slater, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2008 who was named to his first Pro Bowl last season and served as a team captain for the first time, is Exhibit 1A (with Julian Edelman being 1B) of the do-it-all Patriot. He led New England with 17 special teams tackles but also saw snaps on offense and started three games at safety late in the year.

White, 30, came to New England at the start of the 2010 season via trade from Philadelphia; he had 18 special teams tackles in his first year with the Patriots and 14 last season. On defense, he had 25 tackles in 2011.

Also, safety Steve Gregory, who spent the last six years with the Chargers, was expected to arrive late Wednesday night for a visit. Gregory, an undrafted player out of Syracuse, played in 15 games (13 starts) for San Diego last year, with 67 tackles, three pass breakups, and an interception against Buffalo that he returned for a touchdown.

Gregory was suspended four games in 2010 for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.

New England has also inquired about hard-hitting safety LaRon Landry. Landry played in just 17 games over the last two seasons for the Redskins, making him just the sort of low-risk, potentially high-reward veteran the Patriots bring in. But there will likely be competition for Landry - the Jets, Eagles, and Lions are reportedly also interested in the former 2007 first-round pick.

As for receiver Brandon Lloyd, who is supposed to be visiting the 49ers, a league source said the Patriots are still working to get him into the fold. Giants receiver Mario Manningham is also scheduled to visit San Francisco.

As for the Patriots’ free agents, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis will visit the Bengals. Though there were rumors that the Chiefs were also interested in Green-Ellis, they signed Peyton Hillis Wednesday night, making it unlikely that Green-Ellis will end up in Kansas City.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung. Greg A. Bedard of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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