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Scott Pioli named assistant GM for Falcons 01.22.14 at 11:00 am ET
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The Falcons announced Wednesday that former Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli was hired as assistant general manager. Pioli will start with the Falcons on Feb. 3, when his contract with NBC Sports Network and SiriusXM Radio ends.

The move reunites Pioli and Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff, as the pair spent six years together with the Patriots in the 2000s.

“€œAdding a seasoned personnel executive with the track record like Scott’€™s is in line with our organizational philosophy of making investments in hiring the best people,”€ Falcons owner and chairman Arthur M. Blank said. “€œThis move was made as a result of Thomas’€™ competitive drive to build the best personnel team in the NFL, and the addition of Scott to his team certainly reflects that.”

Pioli rose from assistant director of player personnel to vice president of player personnel during his stint in New England from 2000-08, while Dimitroff was the team’s national scout in 2002 and then the director of college scouting from 2003-07.

“€œScott is one of the most respected and adept talent evaluators in the NFL and a member of three Super Bowl championship teams,”€ Dimitroff said. “We have worked together well in the past and been friends for more than 20 years. We have had the opportunity to experience a lot of success together, and I am very pleased that he has agreed to join our personnel team so we can work together again. We have made the commitment to improve every aspect of our organization this offseason, and with the addition of Scott to our personnel department, we have taken an important step to enhance our scouting staff.”

Pioli started in the pros with the Browns in 1992 as a scouting assistant. From 1993-95 he was a pro personnel assistant for Cleveland. In 1996, he was named pro personnel coordinator for the team as it moved to Baltimore. From 1997-2000 he served as the director of pro personnel for the Jets.

Read More: Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Scott Pioli
Former Patriot Irving Fryar pleads not guilty to mortgage scam at 9:30 am ET
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Former Patriots wideout Irving Fryar and his mother pleaded not guilty Tuesday in New Jersey to conspiring to steal more than $690,000 through a mortgage scam. The two were each indicted on one count of theft by deception and second-degree conspiracy.

According to state prosecutors, Allene McGhee, Fryar’€™s 80-year-old mother, gave fake information in order to get five loans on her home during a six-day span in December 2009, using her home as collateral. Prosecutors say Fryar, a pastor of a church he founded in New Jersey, accessed more than $200,000 of the money.

During Tuesday’€™s court hearing, Mark Fury, McGhee’€™s lawyer, said both McGhee and Fryar are innocent and victims of a scam. According to Fury, the case came to light because of a fraud plea from William Barksdale in 2011.

“The feds leaned on this person to find a name or two or three or 10,” Fury told a judge.

Fury further claimed that prosecutors were going after Fryar because of his fame.

“You were No. 9 all-time in receptions when you retired?” he asked.

Fryar actually was fifth all-time in career receptions when he retired, finishing with 851 receptions for 12,785 yards and 84 touchdowns. He played from 1984-2000 with the Patriots, Dolphins, Eagles and Redskins.

Fryar was arrested on three weapons charges in 1988 while playing for the Patriots.

Fryar, 51, and McGhee rejected plea agreements of five and three years in prison, respectively. Bail was set at $20,000 for Fryar, while McGhee was allowed to be free on her own recognizance.

Read More: Irving Fryar, New England Patriots,
Top Boston Sports Stories of 2013, No. 7: Patriots stung by injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, other key players 12.26.13 at 9:40 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 13 stories of 2013 in Boston sports. This is No. 7: Patriots stung by injuries to Rob Gronkowski, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo, other key players. To see the previous entries, click here.

In any sport, but especially football, injuries are viewed and accepted as an unfortunate part of the game. While every team has to deal with injuries, the 2013 season has been particularly cruel to the Patriots, who have had to endure the absence of some key contributors.

While the Patriots offense struggled to string together impressive performances for most of the first half of the season due in part to lingering injuries to players such as Rob Gronkowski, as well as the release of Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder, an improved defensive unit, featuring players such as Jerod MayoChandler JonesVince Wilfork and Aqib Talib gave New England hope.

Over the first five games of the year, the new and improved New England defense allowed an average of just 14 points per game. With players such as Gronkowski expected back later in the season, expectations were high for this Patriots squad, as it promised to have better balance than the last few seasons.

However, these expectations were soon dashed, as injuries to key players on the roster quickly began to pile up.

During the Patriots’ 30-23 victory against the Falcons on Sept. 29, New England lost the anchor of its defensive line, as Wilfork went down early in the first quarter after stepping on another player’s foot and was carted off the field. After the game, it was revealed that the All-Pro defensive tackle had torn his Achilles tendon and would miss the rest of the season.

The loss of Wilfork was a big hit to the Patriots defense, as the five-time Pro Bowler has been an integral part of New England’s stout defensive line since his arrival in 2004.

“I just want to thank everyone for your support and encouragement. … I know what signing up to play football means and I know the rewards and the risks,” Wilfork said in a message to his fans. “This is my job and I will switch positions for now and play the role of patient, but that is only temporary. I have so much confidence in my team and I know that they will do great and I will be right besides them maybe not in uniform but in all other ways. Thanks again.”

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Read More: Boston Sports Stories of the Year 2013, Jerod Mayo, New England Patriots, rob gronkowski
Top Boston Sports Stories of 2013, No. 8: Patriots let Wes Welker walk, receiving corps struggles 12.25.13 at 9:31 am ET
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Over the final days of the year, WEEI.com will count down the top 13 stories of 2013 in Boston sports. This is No.8: Patriots let Wes Welker walk, receiving corps struggles. To see the previous entries, click here.

Entering the 2013 offseason, the Patriots seemed to only have one major task: Re-sign wide receiver Wes Welker.

Acquired from the Dolphins before the 2007 season, Welker entered Foxboro as a relatively unknown wideout and quickly became the best slot receiver in the NFL. In six seasons with the Patriots, Welker had 672 receptions (an average of 112 per season) and became the first player in NFL history to post five 100-catch seasons.

After placing the franchise tag on Welker in 2012, the Patriots opted to refrain from tagging the five-time Pro Bowler in 2013, apparently hoping they could lock up Welker to a long-term deal.

“I love Wes Welker. I hope he remains a Patriot for life. Just like Tom Brady,”€ Patriots owner Robert Kraft said on March 11.

However, the team and Welker were unable to come to terms on a new contract, resulting in Welker signing a two-year, $12 million contract with the Broncos.

Welker left an undeniable mark on the Patriots, as he exited Foxboro as the team’s all-time leader in receptions (672) and second in receiving yards (7459), trailing only Stanley Morgan. Yet to many it appeared that New England didn’t make enough of an effort to retain him.

“Everyone in our organization wanted Wes Welker back,” Kraft insisted in a press conference with the media. “Anyone who doubts that, or thinks we weren’t serious, just doesn’t get it. Like I’ve said many times, I really wanted Wes to be with us through the rest of his career, but it takes two sides to do a deal. I really believe in this case, his agents misrepresented what his market value was. When you come right down to the bottom line, he accepted a deal in Denver which is less money than what we offered him.

“If he had called one day earlier, he would have been with us. I’m very sad about it and I wish he would have been with our team.”

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Read More: Aaron Dobson, Boston Sports Stories of the Year 2013, Denver Broncos, Kenbrell Thompkins
Dolphins WR Chad Ochocinco officially Chad Johnson again 07.23.12 at 11:43 am ET
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The Chad Ochocinco experience has come to an end. Not just for the Patriots, who released the 34-year-old receiver in June, but for the player himself.

The former Pro Bowler announced his intention to change his surname back to Johnson earlier in the year, in anticipation of his marriage. Now a member of the Dolphins, Johnson was married on July 4, a few days before he first began the legal process to change his name.

On Monday, Johnson was in the Broward County courthouse to finalize a process that allowed him to legally change his name back to Johnson. The name change cost him a $401 filing fee.

He changed his name to Ochocinco on Aug. 8, 2008, when he was a member of the Bengals.

Read More: Chad Johnson, Chad Ochocinco, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots
The year in Boston sports: Most memorable games of 2011 12.29.11 at 10:03 am ET
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Even though 2011 wasn’€™t the most successful year for all of Boston’€™s teams, it certainly was a memorable one. Playoff rivalries were renewed for the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots, while the Red Sox added another chapter to their legacy of heartbreak.

Picking out the 10 most memorable games of the year was not an easy task. The Bruins easily could have dominated this list, with all of their dramatic playoff victories en route to winning the Stanley Cup. But we’ve attempted to include fair representation from all four of Boston’s major pro sports squads, featuring games that were memorable for the local teams’ success or failure.

10. April 8: Red Sox 9, Yankees 6

The Red Sox’ season started much the way it ended, with a sense of impending doom around the corner. After the Sox started the season 0-6, swept by both Cleveland and Texas, the offense finally clicked when the Yankees paid a visit to Fenway for the home opener. Dustin Pedroia hit his first home run of the season and the Red Sox erupted for 12 hits, giving them — and John Lackey their first win of the season.

9. April 17, Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Game 1: Celtics 87, Knicks 85

Ray Allen‘€™s 3-pointer with 12 seconds left in the game made sure the Knicks’ return to the playoffs (their first appearance in seven years) was a painful one. The Knicks led for almost the entire game, but the Celtics came up big down the stretch (and yes, a questionable call went their way). “Down the stretch we found a way to win,” Paul Pierce said. “And that was because of our experience.” The Celtics went on to win the series in four straight.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, kevin garnett, LeBron James, New England Patriots
How the Cincinnati Bengals could become the New England Patriots 01.04.11 at 2:13 pm ET
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I grew up with the Paul Brown-led Cincinnati Bengals, the greatest teacher the NFL has ever known. The Bengals of the 1970s had players like Ken Anderson, Tommy Casanova, Bill Bergey, Al Beauchamp, Ken Riley and later Anthony Munoz, Tim Krumrie and Boomer Esiason. All of them had the great combination of talent, character and intelligence. The criticism of the 2-14 2002 Bengals (coached by Dick LeBeau) was that they had character and intelligence but not enough talent. They drafted talent but not enough character and football IQ. Now – following a 4-12 season with lots of questions about the future – it’s time to reassess and come up with a comprehensive football operations plan to put the Bengals on the right path.

No matter the criticism of ownership (some of it very legitimate) or how bad it gets, I believe the Cincinnati Bengals will someday compete year-in and year-out for an NFL championship with the right short-term and long-term plan. Do it the right way, and you wind up like the New England Patriots, the premiere organization in the NFL. That’s what they should aspire to. I’ve had the true privilege and benefit of watching the team work at different levels up close – or at least as close as you can without having Robert Kraft sign the paycheck.

If Mike Brown and his daughter, Katie, asked, here’s what I’d do:

1. Hire a true GM and a coach. Don’t laugh but this could be Marvin Lewis. Lewis is a tremendous evaluator of talent, much in the fold of Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore. There’s a reason Lewis is greatly respected around the NFL by people like Bill Belichick (who is for all intents and purposes GM/HC of the Patriots). If you’re Mike Brown, you have to start with the front office and the coaching staff. If you decide that Lewis is a good man and the right coach you’re most comfortable with – which I think is the case and that matters a lot to Brown – then bring him back for another year. Marvin has had to do way too much baby-sitting in the last four years, robbing him of on-field focus.

2. All about operations. If you bring back Lewis (and as I type this, NFL Network’s Steve Wyche reports and the Bengals later confirmed that Mike Brown has done just that) then that means you’ve decided to agree – to some degree – to his conditions of reworking the front office and facilities. While much has been made of the need of a true GM – like Mike Holgrem in Cleveland and Newsome in Baltimore – the Bengals desperately need to invest in their personnel/football ops departments even more. They need more people who can dedicate themselves to football research, including remote college, area and pro scouts who can offer constant input. Jim Lippincott is a terrific football man but he needs help like every other NFL Super Bowl-contending franchise has.

3. Decide Carson Palmer’s future. There is an out clause in his contract – which the Browns smartly wrote in – that allows them to move in a different direction if the wheels fell off. There are obviously those who think that’s what happened this year but upon further review, it is the opinion of this close observer that Palmer was distracted by receivers who made demands on him and he was not allowed to be the true leader of the offense. With Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco gone, Palmer can now work with the future skill stars of the offense in speedy Jerome Simpson, a solid slot receiver in Jordan Shipley (a bigger Wes Welker) and Jermaine Gresham (the best rookie tight end this side of Rob Gronkowski).

4. Bring in Josh McDaniels as your offensive coordinator. This serves a number of purposes. You need a new ‘voice’ and ‘direction’ from Bob Bratkowski for the offense. Josh McDaniels has clearly established himself as one of the best young coaches in the NFL who has worked with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for several successful years. He has the cache to rework Carson Palmer‘s approach, vision, thinking, etc. Palmer’s biggest problem this season – without question – was forcing the ball into small spaces in coverage. His vision seemed to completely disappear or become VERY narrow. Examples… Tampa Bay, at Pittsburgh, at Baltimore, at Indy, etc. McDaniels would point this out and would be the PERFECT fit for the need the Bengals have. Also, Cedric Benson has proved himself a stud running back in the last two years. He’s 28 with lots left in the tank. Keep him and Bernard Scott.

5. Draft to needs, not best player. Get yourself an impact player with the 4th pick. Early consensus is DB Patrick Peterson of LSU. The Bengals have never been a team to move down and with prime position this season, there’s no reason to start now. With a rookie salary cap looming as part of a new CBA, signing a top-5 pick won’t be nearly the detriment to the Brown family as it has in the past. The Bengals are loaded with young talent. This is a great chance to add to it. Get a guy like Florida’s Mike Pouncey (brother of Pittsburgh Maurkice) as center and then steal a QB in fourth or fifth round. I am VERY HIGH on Greg McElroy. Traditional NFL-system pocket passer, very solid front-foot mechanics and has played in winning system at Bama. He is very, very bright and considered a strong character-type. I see him as a Ken Anderson-type only at a huge program.

6. Bridge QB. Get a good back-up to Palmer to bridge the present to the future. If you don’t bring back Palmer, you need someone to step in and win now. They did that with Jon Kitna in 2003 and it worked out very well early on for Palmer, long before the Bengals became a reality show and before Kimo VonOelhoffen hit his knee in Jan. 2005 and his elbow was banged in Dallas in 2008. Whether or not you bring Palmer back, you need a legit starting QB with experience and no disrespect to Carson’s brother Jordan and his runpee.com website won’t cut it. There are several options out there Alex Smith could be one. They had one in Ryan Fitzpatrick. Only one start in the books but Matt Flynn could be one. Actually, Jon Kitna could be brought back again. That wouldn’t be all bad.

7. Need to raise the on-field leadership of the D. They are clearly a very, very talented and deep group. They have a great coordinator in Mike Zimmer under contract who’s not going anywhere. However, they need what Romeo Crennel had with the Patriots in their back-to-back Super Bowl title years of 2003-04. Richard Seymour, Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Rodney Harrison. They were much more than talented players. They were leaders on the field who directed and corrected. That’s what the Bengals could really, really use to reach the next level. That’s exactly what the Steelers have in Troy Palomalu and the Ravens have in Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

8. Draft or sign rookie free agent as an energy player. My personal favorite here is Matt Szczur of Villanova. Full disclosure – I am a Villanova ’88 grad but anyone who has watched Szczur on the Main Line of Philadelphia knows this kid can do it all. He’s the best NFL prospect to come out of Villanova since Brian Westbrook and Nova has produced NFL players like Ray Ventrone who played a key special teams role on the perfect regular season of the Patriots in 2007. His brother Ross (Villanova ’10) is on the Pats’ practice squad. Szczur is quick, tough and a bone marrow donor to a girl within the past year so that answers that character question. He has been drafted by the Cubs in MLB which speaks to his pure athleticism. Hearing he really wants to play in the NFL and he would be a perfect fit for a team like the Bengals. The Patriots have done a phenomenal job with this as they have 21 undrafted players on their roster. They’re 14-2. That worked out pretty good.

9. Get back to being a football team, not a reality show. With T-O and Ocho likely on their way out, this should be a pretty easy task. While it’s great that everyone was talking about the Bengals in the last two seasons because of HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in 2009 and Ocho’s and TO’s reality shows, it eventually became a focus. This was completely out of Lewis’ hands. The team committed WAYYY too many penalties that pointed to a lack of discipline and focus. They were among the league leaders in false starts and illegal formations – completely avoidable mistakes if you’re a focused team.

10. Preparation is everything. Too many times over the past five years – even in division winning seasons – the Bengals have suffered from not being ready for a multitude of game situations. They need more players committed to learning all of these scenarios, two-minute drills, etc. Again, while Lewis takes responsibility for this area, he needs more players who are committed to it.

The Bengals have the foundation of a winning franchise but they need to work on the infrastructure. By following the above general game plan, they have the chance of building a winner for years to come.

Respectfully,
Mike Petraglia
@trags

Read More: Bill Belichick, Carson Palmer, Cincinnati Bengals, Katie Brown
Top stories of 2010, No. 1: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season 12.31.10 at 7:50 am ET
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For the final 10 days of 2010, WEEI.com has counted down the top 10 stories of the year. The countdown ends with No. 1: Tom Brady’s MVP-caliber season.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: Kevin Garnett’s return to form
No. 9: Patriots’ playoff meltdown vs. Ravens
No. 8: Marc Savard-Matt Cooke incident and aftermath
No. 7: Red Sox derailed by injuries
No. 6: Bruins’ playoff collapse vs. Flyers
No. 5: Patriots’ Randy Moss saga
No. 4: Red Sox’ signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford
No. 3: Patriots’ resurgence
No. 2: Celtics’ playoff run

Also, make sure to cast your vote in WEEI.com’s poll for the 2010 Boston Athlete of the Year.

The Patriots exit a frigid Ralph Wilson Stadium, having just defeated the Bills, 34-3, to clinch the AFC East title, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and a first-round bye. Tom Brady, who has just broken former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar‘s record by 11 after attempting his 319th consecutive passes without an interception, enters the bus. He lets the win marinate for a bit, yelling and clapping with his teammates. But after a half-hour of enjoyment, the quarterback takes out his laptop, pops in some film of Miami, and begins studying for the next game.

According to tight end Alge Crumpler, who was on the receiving end of one of three Brady touchdown passes that day, this is probably how the trip         home unfolded for Brady. It’s also why Crumpler, and many other players and football experts, have pegged Brady as the favorite to win the 2010 NFL MVP award.

“Because when we get on this bus, headed out of here, he’ll have his computer on and he’ll be studying Miami,” Crumpler said after the win. “Nobody works harder than Tommy.”

Sure, the stats have been nice. His 34 touchdowns and 109.8 passer rating are the second best of his career, trailing only the absurd, record-setting 50 TDs and 117.2 rating he posted in 2007, when he won his first and only MVP award so far. The four interceptions this season are a career low, and he’s thrown 24 touchdown passes since the last time he recorded a turnover back in Week 6 against Baltimore.

The embarrassing loss to Cleveland clearly stung Brady, as he’s played arguably the best football of his career since. He’s thrown 20 touchdown passes in those seven weeks. His passer rating hasn’t dipped below 107. But most importantly in the quarterback’s eyes, his team has gone undefeated in that span. Four of those wins ‘€” against the Steelers, Colts, Jets and Bears ‘€” came in matchups against teams atop their division at the time. Yes, his play in these games has been nothing short of phenomenal.

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Top stories of 2010, No. 5: Patriots’ Randy Moss saga 12.27.10 at 6:41 am ET
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For the final 10 days of 2010, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year. In what was a memorable 12 months for all four of Boston’s major professional teams, there was a plethora of compelling storylines. The countdown continues with No. 5: The Randy Moss saga.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: Kevin Garnett’s return to form
No. 9: Patriots’ playoff meltdown vs. Ravens
No. 8: Marc Savard-Matt Cooke incident and aftermath
No. 7: Red Sox derailed by injuries
No. 6: Bruins’ playoff collapse vs. Flyers

Also, make sure to cast your vote in WEEI.com’s poll for the 2010 Boston Athlete of the Year.

The Patriots began the 2010 season with what many fans and analysts considered to be the best offense in all of football, topped off with star quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss. The two teamed up to form the best quarterback-receiver duo in 2007, Moss’€™ first year with the Patriots. Brady highlighted the year with a single-season-record 50 touchdown passes, and 23 of them were to Moss. It was an incredible run that set the bar high in the eyes of New England fans for future seasons.

So, at the beginning of the 2010 season, when contract discussions surrounding Moss’€™ future with the team took over training camp and the first few preseason weeks, many began to wonder what the receiver known for his outspoken and attention-seeking ways would do. There were games toward the end of the 2009 season when Moss was accused of taking certain plays off, including ones in which he was targeted by Brady. When the 2010 season began, Brady and starting offensive tackle Logan Mankins were the two players drawing the most concern about contract extensions, leaving Moss to feel left in the dark.

The Patriots opened the season at Gillette Stadium against the Bengals, a game that featured three of the most controversial receivers in the league on the field at the same time in Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and Moss. And after the Patriots handed the Bengals a 38-24 loss, it was, surprisingly, the New England receiver who stole the postgame show.

‘€œIf you got a boss, you would like to feel appreciated,’€ Moss said in a press conference following the Patriots’€™ win. ‘€œThis is the last year of my contract, and there hasn’€™t been anything discussed. There hasn’€™t been anything said; not a letter, not nothing. I’€™m not saying that I want to stay here, but I love playing here. If the future of my job lets me go to another team, then that’€™s what it’€™s going to be.’€

The comments stunned players, coaches and fans alike. Why had Moss chosen to bring his contract situation up now? Thus began the downward spiral of Randy Moss’€™ days as a Patriot.

In Week 2, the Patriots traveled to the new Meadowlands to face the Jets, their division rivals who received league-wide attention in the offseason for their big mouths and even bigger egos, as demonstrated by “Hard Knocks,” the HBO reality show. After jumping out to a nice lead (helped by a touchdown on a fantastic catch by Moss), Brady and the Patriots surrendered to the Jets in the second half, eventually dropping a 28-18 contest. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez could do no wrong in the second half, while Brady struggled to find any receivers, especially Moss, who was thrown to a number of times. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie shut down the veteran receiver, filling in nicely for the injured Darrelle Revis.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, New England Patriots, Randy Moss, Tom Brady
Report: Patriots work out Sam Aiken, two others 12.21.10 at 9:01 pm ET
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According to Mike Reiss of ESPN.com (via twitter), the Patriots worked out three free agents: wide receivers Sam Aiken and Andy Fantuz as well as defensive lineman Landon Cohen. The Pats reportedly have an open roster spot after waiving defense lineman Louis Leonard.

Aiken is the most familiar of those names, having spent the 2008 and 2009 seasons with New England as a special teams player and wide receiver. He set a career high with the Pats in 2009 by making 20 grabs. But he was released at the end of training camp this year and signed for the Browns, for whom he played three games before getting released in mid-October.

Fantuz plays for the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. He led the CFL in receiving yards this year with 1,380, and was named the Most Outstanding Canadian in the CFL.

Cohen, a seventh-round draft pick in 2008 by the Detroit Lions, was a backup for the Lions in 2008 and a starter in 2009 before getting cut by the Lions on the final day of training camp. He signed with the Jaguars and played two games with Jacksonville before getting cut. He is listed at 6-foot-3 and 300 pounds.

Read More: andy fantuz, canadian football league, landon cohen, New England Patriots