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What lies ahead? (cont.)

Posted: Monday February 4, 2008 6:22PM; Updated: Monday February 4, 2008 9:09PM
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Patriots

Randy Moss
Will New England brass heed Tom Brady's call for re-signing Randy Moss?
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SALARY CAP

The Patriots are roughly $10 million under the $116 million cap, but that's a projection with some flexibility built into it. They could make even more room for themselves without too much trouble, thanks to some rather hefty option bonuses that will force them to make decisions on receivers Donte' Stallworth and Kelley Washington by the end of the month. Stallworth has a $6 million option bonus due by Feb. 29, and if picked up, it'll extend his contract through 2008. He gets another $2 million for being on the roster on March 1, so in essence it's an $8 million decision. Washington has a $4 million option bonus that would extend his deal four years if New England activates it. Odds are Stallworth stays, and Washington's option is declined.

FREE AGENCY

New England's two big issues are No. 1 cornerback Asante Samuel and No. 1 receiver Randy Moss. Samuel was franchise-tagged last year at $7.79 million, but as part of the agreement to get him to report to the team, the Patriots agreed to not franchise him again in 2008. Samuel is expected to be looking for a deal that will exceed the eight-year, $80 million contract ($22 million guaranteed) that San Francisco gave cornerback Nate Clements last year, but he won't find that kind of money coming from New England.

The Patriots would love to retain Samuel, especially since it's widely expected that their division rivals, the Jets, will make a big run at him. But while New England is willing to exceed what it paid Samuel last year, it's hard to see the Patriots paying top dollar. That's not New England's style. Samuel seems to know he has played his last game as a Patriot and struck a "life goes on" tone after the Super Bowl Sunday night.

As for Moss, both sides will be motivated to strike a deal. Moss repeatedly said last week that he wants to retire a Patriot, and even Tom Brady came out and in essence said that he and No. 81 are a package deal. The Patriots are counting on Moss being happy enough and smart enough to keep a good thing going, but New England knows it must take the same approach. It can't insult Moss, who earned $5 million this season while setting an NFL record with 23 receiving touchdowns.

If he accepts the Patriots' winning-team discount, our best guess is that Moss settles for something in the $7 million-a-year range.

As for the Patriots' other free agents, Troy Brown is expected to retire, and there could also be decisions to make on aging inside linebackers Junior Seau and Tedy Bruschi. Both could return at the right price, but you could say the same for the likes of Jabar Gaffney, Eugene Wilson, Randall Gay and special teamers Larry Izzo and Lonie Paxton. If the Patriots lose Samuel, locking up Gay as his replacement could be prioritized.

COACHING STAFF

There was pre-Super Bowl speculation that the Redskins would interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their head coaching job, but perhaps New England's desultory showing on offense against New York will leave Washington less motivated. Either way, McDaniels was not expected to garner serious consideration, but most thought he'd be willing to interview for the experience it would provide.

There's been some buzz that University of Virginia head coach Al Groh might want to hire Patriots defensive line coach Pepper Johnson as his defensive coordinator, but it's not known if the interest is mutual.

DRAFT POSITION

You might have heard about the Patriots having to forfeit their first-round pick for their part in a little controversial video-taping incident in September ... But don't fret, because in addition to that No. 31 pick, New England also owns the draft's seventh overall selection, which was obtained in a draft-weekend deal with San Francisco last April. If the Patriots see Samuel sign elsewhere, filling their need at cornerback makes the most sense with their top 10 pick.

2008 SCHEDULE

The Patriots are definitely going to get their frequent flyer miles in next season. They've got the NFC West for their interconference opponents, and the AFC West for their four-game intraconference slate, and when you add it all up, it means New England will have four cross-country trips in 2008: at Oakland, San Diego, Seattle and San Francisco. And that doesn't even include the Patriots' toughest game of all, at Indianapolis, where they'll get a look at the Colts' new Lucas Oil Stadium.

On the plus side, New England's home schedule is cushy soft. Based on 2007 records, the Patriots will play just one home game next season against a winning team: Pittsburgh. All told, New England has just four games against teams that made the playoffs this season, one of the league's lowest amounts. Dare we say it? Could another run at perfection loom?

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