Continuing the wholesale overhaul of their wide receiver corps, the New England Patriots on Tuesday announced they had signed unrestricted free agent Kelley Washington, who played the first four seasons of his career with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The deal can be for as many as five years, with a maximum value of $22 million, but is also structured so that it could be as short as just one season. Washington will receive a signing bonus of $300,000.
As is the case with the six-year contract agreed to with New England by wide receiver Donte Stallworth on Sunday, the Patriots must pick up an option payment to retain the speedy Washington beyond the 2007 season. It is believed that payment is $4 million.
"I am happy to be a part of such a great franchise, and to have the opportunity to help the Patriots get back and win another Super Bowl," Washington said. "The privilege to play with arguably one of the best quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady, and to be coached by someone like Bill Belichick is a blessing. I am very excited about contributing to the New England Patriots."
Washington also had a contract offer from the Miami Dolphins.
"You can't pass up being coached by coach Belichick and getting
balls thrown to you by Tom Brady," Washington said in a conference
call with reporters on Tuesday, a day after the deal was first
reported. "With a quarterback like Tom, he can go anywhere with
the ball and utilize the most out of your talent."
One of the most active franchises in the early free agent market, the Patriots have been particularly aggressive in rebuilding a wide receiver corps that was a major disappointment in 2006. In addition to signing Stallworth and Washington, the Patriots acquired restricted wide receiver Wes Welker from the Dolphins last week for second- and seventh-round choices in this year's draft.
"When Donte' and Kelley were drafted, we were very interested
in them as receivers who could help our offense and that feeling
still exists," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said in a statement.
The gamble on Washington is a solid one, given that the Patriots appear to have made a fairly modest initial investment for a player who has enormous physical upside if he can stay healthy and play to his potential.
Washington, 27, is a big, speedy wide receiver whose career has been stalled by a series of injuries at both the college and professional levels. The former University of Tennessee wideout played only one full season for the Volunteers before leaving school early for the 2003 draft.
A third-round choice of the Bengals in 2003, he has 72 receptions for 893 yards and nine touchdowns in 44 games, including six starts. His best season was in 2004, when Washington registered 31 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. The Associated Press contributed to this story.