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The Patriots re-signed ten-year veteran defensive end/outside linebacker Derrick Burgess to a one-year contract on Friday. Bill Belichick pulled the trigger on a deal to bring him over from the Oakland Raiders just before the start of last season in hopes that he would fill the pass-rushing void. He was not the stand-out contributor many hoped for at the time of the trade, but obviously the Pats liked what they saw.
Entering last season, the Patriots had traded away Mike Vrabel to Kansas City, leaving a major hole in the pass-rushing department. When the Pats gave up their third and fifth round picks for Burgess, many expected that he would provide a major boost in this area since Belichick does not readily give up high picks.
Though Burgess was not a force in terms of getting pressure on the quarterback, he ended up quietly putting together a pretty solid season in 2009. He played in all 16 games, with 6 starts, collecting 5 sacks and 35 tackles.
Burgess evolved into more of a role player for the Pats, being on the field for approximately 57 percent of the defensive snaps, and playing in different schemes and positions. Before coming to the Patriots he was used primarily as a defensive end in a 4-3 defense. Since he did not participate in training camp with the Pats, he was initially used as a pure rusher in the nickel defense, but as the season progressed he got more reps at outside linebacker in the 3-4 and his play improved.
Burgess, 31, was an undrafted free agent signed out of Mississippi in 2001 by the Philadelphia Eagles. He recorded 6 sacks as a rookie, but followed that up with uninspiring totals of 0 and 2.5 playing in 13 total games over the next two seasons.
In 2005, he recorded a career-high in sacks with 16 as an Oakland Raider, and had 11 in 2006. He had down years the next two years as a result of injuries and inconsistency. The Raiders decided to trade him away after those two years of futility.
In 2009, it seemed Burgess was playing catch-up most of the year after joining the team shortly before the season started. However, he appeared to be getting more comfortable by the end of the season, recording 3 of his 5 sacks in the final four games of the regular season. This year, Burgess will get a chance to have a full training camp and pre-season with the team.
Burgess brings versatility and a veteran presence to the team. Having a full training camp with the team will be important as most see him fitting into this team in the outside linebacker role. Up until last season he played defensive end almost exclusively and was thrown into the fire at outside linebacker in some senses. Having a full off-season with the team will be important to his development in that role.
Tully Banta-Cain is likely to be one of the starters at outside linebacker, but the other side appears to be likely a platoon situation with the most productive player taking the majority of the playing-time. Others with whom Burgess will compete for time are likely to be: second-round draft choice Jermaine Cunningham, 2008 third-round draft choice Shawn Crable, and five-year veterans Rob Ninkovich and Pierre Woods. Cunningham will likely be worked into the mix slowly as he learns the position, he is also being converted from the defensive end position he played in college. Crable is somewhat of a wild-card as he has yet to play in a regular season game due to injury. Ninkovich and Woods are both better suited to special team and situational roles. Burgess brings veteran leadership to this group.
The playing-time is there for Burgess to grab if he can continue to make strides learning his role in this defense. He may prove to be particularly useful as a versatile rusher Belichick can move around from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker to pure rusher in other schemes. Re-signing your own free agents is not the sexy move to make, but this could prove to be an important signing for the Pats as the season progresses.