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Taking a look at a six-pack of Patriots’ free agent decisions from Thursday

03.16.12 at 12:41 am ET
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The Patriots made some noise in free agency on Thursday, picking up a pair of new players in defensive lineman Marcus Harrison and safety Steve Gregory; re-signing a pair of their own free agents in offensive lineman Dan Connolly and special teamer Matthew Slater; and apparently kicking the tires on safety LaRon Landry and defensive end/outside linebacker Trevor Scott. Here’s a quick look at what it all means for the franchise.

Harrison: A guy who has been in New England before — he was on the roster for a day last October — Harrison is a 6-foot-3, 316-pound defensive tackle who projects as a backup along New England’s defensive front. The 27-year-old was a third-round pick of the Bears in 2008 (90th overall) out of Arkansas, but in 37 career games over three seasons with the Bears, Harrison has done little to distinguish himself: he’s amassed 55 tackles, 3.0 sacks and three passes defensed. (He had previously failed a physical with the Panthers in September because of a knee problem.)

Gregory: This is probably the biggest signing of the day. New England gets itself a safety who some believe was playing out of position with the Chargers — next to Eric Weddle, San Diego had him in more of a strong safety position. (Pro Football Focus had him graded out as a -10.8 for the 2011 season.) With the Patriots, the 29-year-old could find a home at free safety, challenging James Ihedigbo for snaps. In addition, the presence of Gregory on the roster (and the possible acquisition of Landry) could mean Devin McCourty will make a full-time return to corner in 2012. Regardless, the 5-foot-11, 185-pounder does have some positional versatility — he has worked as a safety, and also spent time in the slot and on special teams, bringing the positional flexibility that they crave in Foxboro. According to reports, it’s a three-year deal worth roughly $8 million.

Connolly: No numbers are available, but it’s hard not to like this signing on the surface. Connolly is a versatile presence on the offensive line, having started as a guard and center over his four seasons in the NFL. The 6-foot-4, 313-pound Connolly has played in 42 games with the Patriots, including 13 games last season, most of which were serving as the starting center after Dan Koppen went down. Connolly will never be an All Pro, but he works well with Brady and the rest of the offensive line, is versatile and is an above average presence at both guard and center. (It will be interesting to see how the return of Connolly affects the negotiations with fellow free agent offensive lineman Koppen.)

Slater: Every team needs someone like Slater — a selfless, high-character guy who is willing to do just about anything to hang around the roster, whether it’s working at wide receiver, safety, or as a special teams’ captain. (Slater led the team with 17 special teams tackles in 2011.) He made his first Pro Bowl this past season, a well-deserved honor. The move gets a big thumbs-up here.

Scott: The 6-foot-5, 255-pounder out of Buffalo had 12 sacks his first two seasons, before having a season-ending knee injury 10 games into 2010. He appeared to struggle last season with the Raiders, where he was utilized almost exclusively as a left defensive end. According to Pro Football Focus, he played 251 defensive snaps in 2011 with Oakland (never more than 50 percent of snaps in a game), and had five quarterback pressures but no quarterback sacks or hits. Overall, he was graded out by PFF at a -11.6. If healthy, he could be insurance for the Patriots depending on what happens with free agent pass rushers Mark Anderson and Andre Carter. (He’s scheduled for an upcoming visit, per Shalise Manza-Young of the Boston Globe.)

Landry: The Patriots were able to beef up their safety spot with the addition of Gregory on Thursday, but Landry still remains on their radar, an intriguing possibility for a team that could still use some depth at the spot. Health is likely the biggest concern with Landry, who has played just 17 games the last two seasons. One NFC East scout said that when healthy, Landry is an active presence in the secondary, but he does have his drawbacks. “He has the ability to be a dynamic playmaker,” he wrote in an e-mail to WEEI.com on Thursday. “He plays sideline to sideline, and with great energy. There are some issues in coverage being overaggressive, but he’s at his best when attacking the ball.”

Read More: 2012 NFL Free Agency, Andre Carter, Dan Connolly, Dan Koppen
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