Belichick: Loss of Vinatieri won’t affect draft plans

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) – For the past six seasons, Bill Belichick didn’t have to worry about drafting a placekicker. Now that Adam Vinatieri has taken his clutch right foot from New England to Indianapolis, his former coach still doesn’t intend to emphasize that position in next week’s NFL draft.

“We’ll draft players at any position that we think can be competitive for a spot on this roster,” Belichick said Wednesday. “That’s across the board. It doesn’t matter what position they’re at.” That’s the standard line of most NFL coaches, who say they draft the best player available no matter how many others they already have at that position. And for Belichick, the likelihood of finding someone who can even come close to Vinatieri’s reliability in the draft is slim.

It won’t even be easy finding a veteran kicker to come close to Vinatieri’s production.

Since Vinatieri left about a month ago, the Patriots signed former Tampa Bay kicker Martin Gramatica, who was out of the NFL last season. They’re expected to bring in at least one other kicker to compete for the job and that could be a rookie or veteran free agent. Since Belichick became coach in 2005, the only kicker he drafted was Owen Pochman of Brigham Young in the seventh round in 2001.

Belichick was noncommittal Wednesday when asked about the talent level of kickers eligible for this year’s draft.

“I think there are good players at every position in this draft, including all of the specialist positions,” he said. “At what point that becomes attractive, who knows?”

Kickers rarely are chosen early, so if the Patriots take one it probably won’t be until the second day of the draft April 30 when rounds three through seven will be held. The Patriots have 11 picks, starting with the 21st in the first round on April 29.

They wouldn’t have needed a kicker at all had they decided to keep Vinatieri. He made $2.5 million last year and would have made $3 million if the Patriots had designated him as their franchise player, guaranteeing he would stay with them.

The Colts signed Vinatieri to a five-year, $12 million contract with a guaranteed $3.5 million signing bonus.

Belichick wouldn’t talk Wednesday about the process that led to the departure of a kicker who had spent all 10 of his seasons with the Patriots and kicked two Super Bowl-winning field goals.

“There is going to be transition on every team. Every team in the league has that. We’ve had players come. We’ve had players go. That’s the way it is,” Belichick said. “In terms of individual negotiations and all of that, no. I think it’s a lot longer story. Is it worth telling? It doesn’t make any difference. He’s not here.

“We’re going to do what we do every year, every spring, is build our team, try to make it as competitive as we can heading into training camp and into the regular season in the fall. The goes for every position, every player across the board.”

The Patriots lost two other key starters, 12-year-veteran linebacker Willie McGinest and starting wide receiver David Givens, to free agency. McGinest signed with Cleveland and Givens went to Tennessee. Three other starters – safety Rodney Harrison, center Dan Koppen and tackle Matt Light – are coming back from serious injuries.

But Belichick said any uncertainty at those positions won’t make him more likely to draft collegians who play the same spots.

“Sometimes players aren’t there at the position you want them, but you can’t manufacture them,” he said. “You just have to take the player that helps your team the most at that point, even if it’s at a position that may not be necessarily the top need.”

AP-ES-04-19-06 1958EDT

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