New England coach Bill Belichick usually knows which players are likely to be released by other teams. So after two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Deltha O'Neal was cut, the Patriots signed him.
Monday's move came two days after O'Neal was released by the Cincinnati Bengals and cornerback Fernando Bryant, an exhibition-season starter, was released by the Patriots.
"We played him last year in Cincinnati and I did some work on him going into that game," Belichick said of O'Neal. "He is a very athletic corner, good ball skills, pretty big guy that goes up and plays a lot of press coverage."
The Patriots keep tabs on other teams' preseason rosters and usually are ready to pick up a player they like once he gets on the waiver wire.
"I can't think of anybody that was on that wire that we kind of hadn't talked about as a possibility," Belichick said.
The Patriots needed help at cornerback after releasing Bryant before Saturday's 4 p.m. deadline for teams to reduce their rosters to the 53-player regular-season limit. That left them with just four cornerbacks, including rookies Terrence Wheatley and Jonathan Wilhite.
At some point, O'Neal could join Ellis Hobbs as the two starting cornerbacks. For a while, it seemed Bryant would have that role.
"It is a hard decision to release any player really," said Belichick, without referring specifically to Bryant, a nine-year veteran. "There were many more (players) deserving to be kept that could play for us, that could have helped us."
The Patriots also claimed two players off waivers _ tight end Jason Pociask from the New York Jets and offensive tackle Mark LeVoir from the St. Louis Rams. They released tight end Stephen Spach and signed offensive lineman Jacob Bender and tight end Tyson DeVree to the practice squad.
O'Neal spent the past four seasons with Cincinnati after playing his first four with Denver. He had 31 interceptions for three touchdowns in 116 games, including 75 starts. He also scored one touchdown on a kickoff return and two on punt returns.
Two of those interceptions came in Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's fifth career start on Oct. 28, 2001. O'Neal had two of the four interceptions Brady threw in the fourth quarter of Denver's 31-20 win.
"I remember, very well," Brady said. "He made a diving catch that was pretty awesome. You don't want to mess around with him that much."
O'Neal made the Pro Bowl after the 2001 and 2005 seasons.
"I played with him over at the Pro Bowl before and I've been knowing him for a long time," safety Rodney Harrison said. He's a "tremendous player, very athletic guy, can do a lot of things and we're definitely excited about adding a guy like that."
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