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Baker highlights pro personnel breakdown

Thursday's surprising release of veteran tight end Chris Baker highlights how 2009 was a rough year for the Patriots when it came to pro scouting.

It also reinforces some of the pitfalls of free-agent shopping and why the best moves are often retaining the players already on the roster, as a team has a more complete picture of strengths, weaknesses and how a player responds to adversity.

When the Patriots signed Baker, they thought they had struck gold with a combination tight end who would contribute as a pass catcher and blocker. In training camp, with Baker leading the way, head coach Bill Belichick even went as far as to say he thought the team had its best tight end competition in his 10 years as coach.

Now, in releasing Baker after one year, the team is admitting it made a mistake in its evaluation.

Baker, who was a solid citizen in the locker room but who might have lacked the fire the Patriots desired, joins receiver Joey Galloway, tight end Alex Smith and receiver Greg Lewis as players that the club committed either draft picks or significant money to acquire last season, but whose contributions didn't meet the team's expectations.

That's a lot of swings and misses.

The Patriots did hit on cornerback Leigh Bodden and outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain, two of the best players on defense. So this isn't to say that free agency should be avoided, because a team can still find ways to improve itself.

But it wouldn't be surprising if the Patriots, based on last year, are a bit more conservative when it comes to signing as many free agents or acquiring players from other teams.

Instead, they can focus on their own -- players like Bodden, Banta-Cain, Vince Wilfork, Kevin Faulk, Stephen Neal and Co. -- and complement that core with only a few outsiders.