Insiders: Frugality Has It's Benefits

Many so-called experts in the media enjoy labeling the New England Patriots as "cheap" with their money. Citing recent examples, they work at making a case the Patriots, and their head coach, aren't willing to pay market price for established veterans. While the organization may not enjoy the label of "cheap", they certainly fit the mold of those who would call them frugal.

Insiders: Frugality Has It's Benefits
By Staff

There is a perception that the Patriots are cheap and it's quite obviously created by their seeming unwillingness to open a Brinks truck to dole out signing bonus money that puts them on a salary cap hook with a player for several seasons.

There are, of course, exceptions in the case of a player like quarterback Tom Brady. But generally, the Patriots set their value on a player and move on if the player sets his own value beyond what the Pats deem an acceptable negotiating range.

Four recent examples of that philosophy include Damien Woody, Joe Andruzzi, Ted Washington and Lawyer Milloy, all of whom signed with new clubs as free agents, or in Milloy's case, after being released when he refused a pay cut. The Patriots also prefer to structure deals to spread out bonus payments to avoid such huge lump sum initial cash outlays.

A big part of their philosophy is to build a strong bottom half of the roster and avoid huge chunks of dead money when a player can no longer perform up to his salary level. The depth they've built the past few seasons in operating that way has been critical in the team's three championship seasons, particularly the last two when the team used 42 and 40 different starters in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

While Brady is secured through 2010 with more than $26 million in guaranteed money, he is one of few players locked up long term with a major financial commitment. Only 12 players are signed beyond 2007 and of those, five are on rookie deals. The other seven are Brady, Matt Light, Rosevelt Colvin, Corey Dillon, Rodney Harrison, Kevin Faulk and Josh Miller. Only Miller, Dillon and Harrison are older than 30 from that group, and they tie up about $6 million in total bonus money over the remaining portion of their contracts - hardly debilitating numbers.

Presumably, franchised kicker Adam Vinatieri, 32, will join the group if the team negotiates a new deal for him after July 15 when it could do so without losing its right to the franchise tag for the life of any new contract Vinatieri receives.

Calling the Patriots cheap because they don't make players the highest paid at their position with the highest signing bonus is a bit unfair because they do pay out the money and spend to the cap, they simply don't do it the same way many other teams do.

The fact that they have won three out of four Super Bowls certainly helps them on a public relations front because it eliminates any desperation factor. Head coach and de facto general manager Bill Belichick has supreme job security and doesn't feel like he needs to land any individual player, beyond perhaps Brady, to win now or risk losing his job. Other coaches who are closer to the proverbial hot seat might feel more pressure to land a particular player and therefore, empty the vault to sign him while trying to save their job and provide some hope and instant gratification to the fan base.

The Patriots have 23 players on the current roster who carry cap numbers of more than $1 million for 2005 and those 23 account for about $55 million in cap dollars. That leaves the club with about $28 million to fill out the roster and practice squad. The Patriots have only about $5 million in dead money, more than $3 million of which comes from Ty Law's release, which is proof that they have done a nice job avoiding contracts that eventually come back to weigh the team down. Even Law's deal was signed before Belichick took over in New England.

The Patriots path through free agency this season is typical of how they navigate. Of the 12 veteran free agents signed or traded for, nine are on one-year deals and of those nine, only wideout David Terrell has a cap number that approaches $1 million ($906,000). Linebackers Monty Beisel, 26, and Chad Brown, 34, signed for two years, but both received signing bonuses of less than $500,000 while cornerback Duane Starks, 31, had two years left on his contract when the Pats traded for him. He is still on the books for more than $3 million in bonus money.

The total 2005 cap hit of those 12 newcomers is between $8 million and $9 million, and not all 12 will make the final roster.

So the Patriots have built experienced depth where it was needed by adding veteran defensive backs like Starks, Chad Scott and Antuan Edwards, linebackers Beisel and Brown, receivers Terrell and Tim Dwight and return specialist Chad Morton, and they haven't mortgaged any of their future in doing so. Some call it cheap, the Patriots call it searching for value. Prudent might be the best description.


--The Patriots drafted two offensive linemen - Logan Mankins and Nick Kaczur - and both are working to learn the guard and tackle spot. Both were college tackles that never played guard, but were projected as NFL guards in draft guides much the way Matt Light was by some following his Purdue career. Light has found a home at left tackle for New England and it won't be a shock if either Kaczur or Mankins eventually play tackle for the Patriots. For now, they're just trying to learn as much as possible before training camp.

"I'm definitely more comfortable at tackle," Kaczur said, "but I'm getting a lot of guard work and I'm starting to get comfortable there. It's just about learning the system and learning two spots. It's a little harder in the beginning, but it should make us better in the end. You go from learning a playbook that's one inch thick to one that's about six so that's definitely a mental challenge."

--Running back Cedric Cobbs is still undergoing some mental adjustments in the passing game. Cobbs had very little pass protection responsibility in college at Arkansas, but would have to prove capable of knowing his assignment to play regularly for the Pats even if starter Corey Dillon went down.

"He either carried the ball or they faked it to him (in college)," head coach Bill Belichick said. "It was usually a slide protection where the whole line blocked way from the fake and he maybe had the end man on the line. It was pretty simple. Here, it's anything but. There are 20-25 protections in any given game. Defensively, they give you a lot of different looks. He hadn't been exposed to what we do or what any pro team does."

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Hang gliding. Just kidding (laughter). Then it was motorcycle lessons and skiing." - QB Tom Brady on what he did for fun during an offseason visit to Europe.

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