n Linebacker Adalius Thomas, who played at Southern Miss, earns huge free-agent payday.

BY JESSE HARLAN ALDERMAN

Associated Press Writer

BOSTON - Linebacker Adalius Thomas, one of the most sought-after free agents, signed Saturday with the New England Patriots, giving the three-time Super Bowl winners a player in the mold of the departed Willie McGinest.

The 29-year-old Pro Bowler, one of the keys to the Baltimore's defense last season, can play several positions, including outside linebacker and defensive end as McGinest did until he left last season for Cleveland.

Thomas, at 6-foot-2-inches and 270 pounds, said he even lined up at cornerback in a defensive package designed to handle Pittsburgh's physical receivers, matching wideouts stride-for-stride.

"I'm a football player. I don't play a position. Whatever is needed for me to do here, I'm going to do," he said. "That's why the Patriots have been so successful here because they don't look at it as position. They look at it as football."

The Patriots also announced the signings of two other veterans: tight end Kyle Brady from Jacksonville and back up running back Sammy Morris from division-rival Miami.

"Personally and professionally, we are very impressed with Adalius Thomas," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "His playmaking, toughness, intelligence, versatility and character were all factors in our decision to pursue him."

Many professional scouts had considered Thomas the most talented free agent on the market, coming off an 11-sack and 106-tackle season as one of the anchors on Baltimore's stout defense that gave up an NFL-low average of 12.6 points per game.

The signing period for free agents was fewer than 36 hours old when Thomas signed his deal. He said he did not want to test the market after receiving a phone call from New England - a team he said is primed to compete for its fourth Super Bowl win in seven seasons.

"We don't want to come here and play games," he said. "There's no need to go looking around for the best, when you start with the best. My first offer was here and there was no need to go anywhere else."

Thomas cited a motto that he learned from his father in Alabama - "Be humble or get humble" - when reflecting on his steady rise from a sixth-round draft pick out of Southern Miss in 2000 to a special teams Pro Bowl pick in 2003 to one of the league's top linebackers.

He has five career defensive touchdowns, 38.5 sacks, six interceptions and six fumble recoveries.

He said Belichick has a penchant for molding a system around versatile linebackers, drawing a comparison to Mike Vrabel, another linebacker known for lining up in other positions, notably as a goal-line tight end.

"I think I fit their pedigree of linebackers - guys that can run, big strong guys that play different things from Vrabel to Bruschi to Colvin," he said. "You have all these guys that are here that are great players. Again, I just try to come in and add to what they already have because they have a great linebacking corps here."

The signing of veterans at tight end and running back fill offensive needs for the Patriots after the team released running back Corey Dillon on Friday. Tight end Daniel Graham is an unrestricted free agent expected to leave New England.

Brady, 35, played four seasons with the New York Jets and eight with Jacksonville. He has played in 183 games and caught 334 passes for 3,449 yards and 23 touchdowns.

Morris, 29, is a seven-year veteran who has played for both Buffalo and Miami.

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