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Chris Long vows to find 'the next gear' with Patriots

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After failing to reach the postseason in eight years with the Rams, veteran defensive end Chris Long picked the right spot to spend the twilight years of his NFL career.

Long turned down more money elsewhere to sign a $2.375 million contract with the perennial AFC East champion New England Patriots.

"The last eight years have been difficult," Long said this week, via the Patriots' official website. "I'm certainly motivated to be the best me I can be and try to help.

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"When I entered free agency, I said whatever team I end up on, I'm going to work. I've worked as hard as humanly possible over the last eight years but I'm going to find the next gear, whatever it is. I'm very energized by just being a part of this thing."

The Pats got Long at a tremendous discount because knee and ankle injuries have limited him to just four sacks in 18 games over the past two seasons.

"The last two years I've made no excuses about it," Long continued. "I feel very good right now and that's all I can say."

Joining a deep defensive line that features Jabaal Sheard, Rob Ninkovich, Terrance Knighton and recent first-round draft picks Dominique Easley and Malcom Brown, Long is one of our favorite under-the-radar signings of the offseason.

If he can recapture pre-injury form at age 31, Long will be New England's most disruptive pass rusher this season. He averaged 75 combined quarterback sacks, hits and hurries from 2010 to 2013, per Pro Football Focus, second only to Cameron Wake's 76 average over that span.

As referenced on NFL Now last week, the Belichick-era Patriots have a knack for squeezing production out of aging defensive stars given up for dead by their former teams.

Rodney Harrison turned in an Indian summer All-Pro season at age 31 after the Chargers released him. In his age-33 season, Roman Phifer was the second-leading tackler on the 2001 squad that upset his former team -- the Rams -- in Super Bowl XXXVI. Hall of Famer Junior Seau gave the Patriots valuable snaps in his late thirties when conventional wisdom suggested he washed up.

For age, track record and expected role, Andre Carter's 2011 season is an apt comparison. Misused in his final year with the Redskins, Carter thrived as a 32-year-old edge rusher in New England, posting double-digit sacks -- including a single-game franchise-record 4.5 in a November win over the Jets -- before a quadriceps tear ended his season in mid-December of 2011.

It will be interesting to track Long's 2016 production versus that of Chandler Jones, the Pro Bowl defensive end he's replacing in Belichick's front seven.

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