(The second in an occasional series that looks at college players who could be selected by the Patriots in next month’s draft.)

Clay Matthews III has heard it all his life.

Most 5-foot-7, 120-pound high school freshmen aren’t entertaining thoughts of life in the NFL. They’re not even thinking about playing high school football. They’re more concerned with not getting stuffed into a locker. Football? Really? Maybe you want to give something else a try. I hear the chess team is having tryouts tomorrow.

The Patriots will open their 2009 training camp in just over four months. With the understanding this list may need to be tweaked between now and the last week of July because of personnel decisions, here’s our take on who’s going to be drawing extra attention when the heat is on this summer.

Say this for the Patriots so far in free agency: They’ve been active.

In some cases they’ve even been aggressive. And while they haven’t netted any big fish, at least not yet, they’ve certainly lived up to their pledge to maintain a strong middle class on the roster. At the very least, Matt Cassel’s salary cap space is being put to use. It’s not quite a spending spree, but it’s a far cry from inaction. And after a 2008 offseason in which the Patriots spent little and got little, 2009 already looks better.



Jason Taylor could be the next player to attempt a career renaissance under Bill Belichick. Since the coach first took over in New England before the 2000 season, several other players have been rejuvenated with the Patriots. In no particular order, here’s our Top 5:

After making a big move at the end of last month where they traded away Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel, the Patriots could be on the verge of another blockbuster deal.

A report yesterday from Vic Carucci of NFL.com indicated New England and Carolina are discussing a deal that would send Julius Peppers to the Patriots for the 34th overall pick in next month’s draft, a selection New England got from Kansas City in exchange for Cassel and Vrabel. According to Carucci, the deal would be done between the league meetings on March 22-25 and the NFL Draft on April 25.

While in New England, Troy Brown and Mike Vrabel resisted labels: Under Bill Belichick, they were wide receivers or linebackers in names only. In truth, they were football players who could be moved from offense to defense and back again at a moments notice.

Is Connor Barwin the evolution of the species? Some believe the 22-year-old — a defensive end/linebacker/tight end from the University of Cincinnati who will almost certainly be taken on the first day of next month’s NFL Draft — is Mike Vrabel for a new generation.

The spin is in. The Pats couldn’t have done any better in the Cassel trade than they did. Vrabel was all washed up. The Pats had to act as quickly as they did to clear cap room. Belichick has a master plan. In Bill we trust. Etc.  



The lightning bolt that came of the clear blue sky this past weekend — Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel to Kansas City for a second-round draft pick — got us thinking about the biggest deals in Patriots history. In no particular order, here’s our list of the five biggest trades in the history of the franchise, and how they worked out for New England:

The Patriots could have gotten more for Matt Cassel than they wound up with, perhaps even first- and third-round picks instead of the single second-rounder they received from Kansas City.

Patriots fans have a right to be agitated by that.

I’m just not sure where they should direct their agitation.



In the end, it didn’t come down to a favor, two old pals pulling one over on the rest of the league or one guy feeling all sentimental about the other.