Often times, it seems, when a situation between a player and his team becomes contentious, the team eventually grants the player his wish and ships him out of town to rid itself of the potential problem in the locker room. But that should not happen in New England, where the Patriots want Law to return, albeit at their price.
Law's agent, Carl Poston, countered the Patriots' four-year, $26 million offer that included a $6.6 million signing bonus and $15.6 million in guaranteed money with a seven-year, $63 million offer that included a $20 million bonus.
The Patriots' initial offer is undoubtedly low for a cornerback of Law's ability, especially given the amazing season he just finished playing, but Poston's counteroffer is ridiculous. That counteroffer for a 30-year-old corner, combined with Law's decision to go public and call the Patriots proposal "a slap in the face," led Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli to end negotiations, a decision that drew Law's ire.
Poston has developed a reputation for seeking above-market deals with absurd signing bonuses. It's led to his clients being handcuffed by the Franchise designation. During a break at the agent meeting in Indianapolis, Kevin Poston compared Law to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, indicating that his client's ability to shut down Manning in the AFC Championship Game should lead to his being paid like Manning.
The Poston brothers represent Orlando Pace, Charles Woodson and Julian Peterson, all of whom have been Franchised because the two sides were so far apart on an agreement. So far, their strategy has worked since Franchise players are well compensated, but playing on a one-year deal, those players risk an injury that could ultimately cost them millions.
The Patriots will not negotiate from that $63 million figure because they would essentially be negotiating against their own offer. But a counteroffer from their original proposal would at least show good faith and might be the better course of action, although given Law's recent comments about not wanting to play for the Patriots any longer, such an effort might be a waste of energy.
The $15.6 million of guaranteed money in the Patriots offer is misleading because the guaranteed money is in the first two years of the deal, years that figure to be guaranteed anyway given the $6.6 million signing bonus. Law is looking for security beyond two seasons and it's hard to blame him.
If he agreed to a deal that guaranteed him two more seasons, he could potentially become a free agent at age 32 and be left searching for signing bonus money as an aging corner. Under his current deal, he would make around $16 million over the next two years assuming the Patriots keep him in 2005 when his cap number approaches $13 million. That $16 million is more than the $15.6 he would be guaranteed during that time under the Patriots proposal.
It would actually make more sense for Law to play 2004 and earn his $7 million of new money and then accept his release next year at age 31. Now, given his harsh comments aimed at the team, and his $10.5 cap number for 2004, the team could hold him through training camp to see if it could survive without him and then cut him late in the summer when all contracts count against the cap beyond the top 51 as is the case at this time of year.
That's an unlikely scenario, but one that has surely crossed Law's mind, especially since he watched his friend Lawyer Milloy get released last September at the end of an unsuccessful contract renegotiation attempt. If released then when most of the salary cap money has dried up, Law would likely be forced to accept a much cheaper deal than he would have secured if he was a free agent this month.
Law will likely be a Patriot in 2004, but he won't be happy about it. He would rather be released and be allowed to play elsewhere, but New England would take a $5.6 cap hit if it cut him or traded him before June 1, and the team holds all the leverage in the negotiation, a fact that has to be eating at Law, who has been well paid for the last five years under a contract that paid him a $14.2 million signing bonus unmatched by a cornerback until this year.
His comment about needing enough money to eat did not help him in the court of public opinion, but Law's problem with the team isn't likely solely about money, but rather his job security beyond 2005. The deal the Patriots offered would allow the team to release him after that 2005 season with a cap hit of only about $5 million - a number the team could absorb if it doesn't have another contract, like Milloy's, still on the books as is the case this year.
But seven years and a $20 million bonus is laughable for a 30-year-old corner and is a contract that would ultimately cripple the Patriots' cap when a mid-30s Law is unable to play at his current level. Law insists he will move to safety and extend his career when he is no longer able to be a shutdown corner, but safeties don't earn that kind of money.
So given the Patriots' leverage and Law's ability, it would make sense for the two sides to sit down and work on a deal. That won't happen, which means the Patriots should indeed keep Law in 2004 and even consider it for 2005. It is highly unlikely, though, that Law will be a Patriot beyond the coming season.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES:
Surprisingly, the Patriots don't seem to have shown interest in any of the free agent running backs, although they may have done so discreetly. So while it wouldn't be shocking to see the Patriots draft a running back in the first round next month even if they sign a veteran, it's looking more and more like that will be their chosen route to address the need for a featured back. That need will lead to constant speculation about trading up for Oregon State's Steven Jackson, who has emerged as the top back on the board despite modest 4.55 speed for his position, but don't expect that to happen unless it involves moving up two or three spots.
The Patriots won't invest top 10 money into a back unless they judge him to be a can't-miss prospect and Jackson, while talented, may not be at that level. It's why the Patriots didn't trade up last year, as many thought they would, to draft defensive tackle Dewayne Robertson, who went fourth to the Jets.
Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli did not regard Robertson as highly as they did Richard Seymour two years earlier, whom they took sixth in 2001. If they evaluated Robertson to be as talented as Seymour, they surely would have made the move. The same holds true for Jackson this year, which is why speculation that New England could make a deal with Detroit to get to the fifth pick is likely misinformation. If the Patriots were to make such a trade, it wouldn't likely be for Jackson.
The free agent running back market is thinning out, although former Patriot Antowain Smith remains available and likely will at least until after the draft when teams re-figure their needs.
Patriots linebacker Mike Vrabel was honored as the Patriots' recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award at a ceremony in Baltimore last week. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel was also honored at the event for being Pro Football Weekly's Assistant Coach of the Year.
Coach Bill Belichick spent time last week in Florida watching quarterback Rohan Davey work out in NFL Europe training camp with the Berlin Thunder. Davey's performance in Europe could go a long way toward determining whether or not he can be a capable backup for Tom Brady this season, something he has yet to prove. Belichick also reportedly spent time at the University of Miami evaluating some of the school's prospects.
QUOTE TO NOTE:
"I'm Coca Cola. I'm Microsoft. You know what you're going to get. Yeah, it's going to have its ups and downs, but I'm steady. I'm the best. I'm just like that good ol' stock that you can depend on." -- Ty Law to the Boston Globe.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Patriots made more ripples in the water last week. After signing punter Josh Miller the club re-upped with special teamers Je'Rod Cherry, 30, and Patrick Pass, 26. Cherry originally signed with the club in 2001 and has consistently been one of its best special teams performers, particularly in punt coverage where he is one of the league's top gunners. Pass was a seventh round pick in 2000 and has managed to find his way onto the roster every season. He has returned 28 career kickoffs for 599 yards for a 21.4-yard average. He also covers kicks and punts and backs up at tailback and fullback.
Overall, the Patriots have done little to address their needs but remain patient as they inch closer to the draft. With nine picks at their disposal, the Patriots seem content to address many of their needs in a deep draft pool rather than on costly free agents.
The longer DL Bobby Hamilton remains on the free agent market, the more likely it is that he will return to the Patriots, which would help address the team's defensive line need, but not it's true desire for a nose tackle.
P - Ken Walter was terrible in 2003 and hurt New England badly in the field position game throughout the season. He was lucky that the offense generally moved the ball enough to keep him out of situations where the team needed a long, high kick. He was solid pinning teams inside their 20 when given the chance. Veteran Chris Gardocki could emerge as the lead candidate for that job.
OL/DL - The Patriots lost Damien Woody and have not re-signed veteran Mike Compton, who reportedly visited the Jaguars last week. Russ Hochstein is back in the fold, but New England is very thin up front and could use a first day pick on a lineman. Boston College guard Chris Snee could be that candidate. With Ted Washington gone and Bobby Hamilton unsigned, New England also needs to rebuild its defensive line since both of those players were starters last year. New England signed defensive tackle Cedric Woodard to an offer sheet that Seattle matched last year and could pursue the unrestricted free agent again.
S - The Patriots would like to move Eugene Wilson back to corner, but Rodney Harrison is the only other proven safety on the roster. When he and Wilson left the Super Bowl with injuries, undrafted rookie Shawn Mayer and veteran special teamer Chris Akins, now a Dolphin, stepped in. Wilson would remain at safety only out of necessity even though he played well there last season. While Harrison is the team's strong safety and plays well near the line of scrimmage, the team would just as readily sign another strong safety as it would more of a true free safety. Before Lawyer Milloy's release last year, Bill Belichick intended to play split safeties where both players assumed the same responsibilities on his own half of the field. When Wilson stepped in, he played free safety to Harrison's strong.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (11):
TE Fred Baxter
FB Larry Centers
DE Bobby Hamilton
S Antwan Harris
QB Damon Huard
LS Brian Kinchen
DT Rick Lyle
DE Anthony Pleasant
RB Antowain Smith
P Ken Walter
WR Dedric Ward
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS:
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (1)
RB Mike Cloud
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (5)
OT Tom Ashworth
OG Wilbert Brown
WR David Givens
S Shawn Mayer
OG Steve Neal
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED (6):
S Je'Rod Cherry
LB Don Davis
RB Kevin Faulk
OG Russ Hochstein
FB Patrick Pass
WR J.J. Stokes
PLAYERS ACQUIRED (2):
DE Rodney Bailey
P Josh Miller
PLAYERS LOST (4):
S Chris Akins
OG Mike Compton
DT Ted Washington
OG Damien Woody
Safety Rodney Harrison expects to be fully recovered from his broken arm to participate in the team's mini-camps in May and June, the latter of which is mandatory. While there is no hitting during mini-camp, the passing game is often a focus of such camps, which means Harrison would still be active. He should be ready for the start of training camp.
Quarterback Tom Brady should be ready to begin workouts when the team reports for the offseason program in two weeks. Brady underwent shoulder surgery in mid-February, a procedure that required about four weeks of recovery time. He should be starting to get his strength back by the end of the month and while he still might be rehabbing when the offseason program starts, he should be ready to throw by the time passing camps begin in May.