PHOTO: New England Patriots' Rodney Harrison returns an interception 87 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter of the AFC Championship game against the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday, Jan. 23, 2005, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
Patriots Insider Report: Rodney
Veteran safety Rodney Harrison has been on the other side of the chopping block and he didn't like it. He was motivated by what happened to him yet he surely knows he will be there again before all is said and done in his playing career. Harrison is 32 and has four years left on a reasonable contract that carries workable salary cap numbers throughout the life of the deal, reaching a high of $3.5 million in 2008 when Harrison will be 35 years old.
But he plays one of the game's most physically demanding positions. It's one that requires smaller defenders to play like linebackers against the run and defensive backs against the pass. Bill Parcells always said that strong safeties and tight ends can lose it quickly, almost overnight. So what are the chances that Harrison, who has already logged 11 NFL seasons, sees the end of the deal?
He fell victim to the business realities of the NFL when the Chargers, who misevaluated him as they shoved him out the door two years ago, unceremoniously cut him. He has quite arguably been the MVP of the Patriots defense the last two seasons, especially given that the unit lost Lawyer Milloy five days before Harrison played his first game with the team and then played more than half of 2004 without Ty Law.
In that respect, Harrison could be griping about money and looking to tear up and re-do his contract. To his credit, he's not as he plays for the contract he signed that averages $2.5 million per year over its life and will pay him $1.8 million in base salary this coming season. He had other options and was in Oakland ready to sign with the Raiders when the Patriots pried him away. In the long run, though, the reasonable contract may extend his playing days and pay him more money because he is less likely to fall victim to the salary cap, but rather the proverbial lost step when the time comes.
Still he was disappointed to see Law get whacked from the Patriots payroll because he knows how it feels.
"If you play long enough and make enough money, it's going to happen to you," Harrison said. "It's inevitable. It happened to me. It's a tremendous blow to our team. He's a warrior. I'm definitely going to miss him because he was one of the reasons I signed here."
With Law gone, veteran Roman Phifer gone and Tedy Bruschi's future in question, head coach Bill Belichick may rely on Harrison's mental toughness, intelligence and experience even more than he has the last two seasons, if that's possible.
Harrison was a vocal leader when Milloy was cut before the 2003 season opener and helped the Patriots get over that blow and move forward. Last year, he was the glue the held an injury-depleted and inexperienced secondary together. Those were two mentally challenging seasons that ended in championship glory, but Harrison will have to ratchet it up again in 2005 even knowing that as an over-30 player he is like a senior citizen and could find himself cast aside at any moment.
"In this day and age of the salary cap, things like that happen," Harrison admitted. "You never know."
--There has been no update on the status of linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who has yet to address the media regarding his condition after suffering a mild stroke in mid-February. Bruschi has been at the Patriots Gillette Stadium facility regularly, but apparently doesn't yet know what his prognosis might be.
His teammates have him firmly entrenched in their thoughts. "We're always thinking about Tedy," safety Rodney Harrison said. "I talked to him and he seemed like he was doing a lot better and he was in good spirits. He was giving me a hard time like he usually does. He's in good spirits and that's what's important, and he's healthy."
--The Patriots are in the hunt for a wide receiver to replace the departed Brown and Patten and had Derrick Mason in for a visit before he signed with Baltimore. Mason never had a physical in New England as was reported, but chose Baltimore over the Patriots. Look for New England to stay active in the hunt for a veteran receiver.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When I got home (from the Super Bowl), I had the opportunity to sit down and think about what was going on. I was talking to my wife and saying how crazy everything was with so many good things going on right now in my life. I'm just fortunate enough to be here and have the opportunity to be on this team. It's a great experience. The pinnacle of professional football and I'm just enjoying it." - Linebacker Rosevelt Colvin
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
1. Inside linebacker. Thirty-six-year-old Roman Phifer was let go. Ted Johnson, 32, and Tedy Bruschi, 31, aren't getting younger. The Patriots need to groom or find a younger replacement to anchor the 3-4 defense and remain strong up the middle. If Bruschi's health status or any looming problems from the mild stroke he suffered affects his playing status, this becomes priority No. 1 in the team's 3-4 front.
2. Wide receiver. David Patten signed with Washington. Troy Brown is gone, although he could be back if he and the team can agree on what is a fair deal for the 12-year veteran who sacrificed offensive production to play defense last season. Bethel Johnson hasn't developed as a receiver and P.K. Sam ended the season on the reserve/suspended list and must claw out of the doghouse. David Givens is a restricted free agent who received a first-round tender that should keep him in Foxborough for one more season. The Patriots need to address this situation, one that could change if Givens, Patten and perhaps Brown are all back in the fold, something that seems unlikely. Durability has been an issue for New England's wideouts and depth is imperative.
3. Offensive line. Starting LG Joe Andruzzi left in free agency and OT Tom Ashworth has to prove he can overcome back problems to reclaim his starting right tackle job. But the Pats are thin across the front with Matt Light, Ashworth and Brandon Gorin the only experienced tackles while Stephen Neal, and to an extent, Russ Hochstein the only experienced guards. There isn't much individual talent in the group although Gene Mruczkowski may be ready to take the step that Ashworth, Neal and Gorin took in their development and vie for playing time as Andruzzi's replacement. Look for the Pats to sigh a veteran and use a second day draft pick on a lineman. A young corner may also still be on the radar screen.
FRANCHISE PLAYER: PK Adam Vinatieri.
TRANSITION PLAYER: None.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: OT Tom Ashworth; WR David Givens; DL Jarvis Green; OG Stephen Neal.
PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: OT Brandon Gorin, FB Patrick Pass
PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Duane Starks.
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