In many ways Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is very different from the team's average fan. Three Super Bowl rings, two MVPs, a Hollywood actress girlfriend, visits with the Pope and endless other worldly travels tend to separate him from the average man.
But for most of the off-season, Brady was very much in the same boat as the average fan as he watched veteran teammates such as Willie McGinest, Adam Vinatieri and No. 2 wideout David Givens depart through free agency. Despite his role as a team captain and franchise player, Brady, like those filling Gillette Stadium each Sunday in the fall, was resigned to watching from afar as his team went through a surprisingly extreme off-season makeover.
"We've lost a lot," Brady admitted recently. "There is a lot of value in those guys. So it's obviously tough. You're sitting there at home and it's the off-season, and you see other guys getting signed other places and you're kind of looking and then you see some of your core guys getting kind of taken away."
Brady then pointed out that the new collective bargaining agreement and unexpected extra cap room afforded many NFL teams that otherwise wouldn't have been free-agent bidders played a key role in the overall free-agent frenzy that raided the New England roster.
"I think that is kind of the knee-jerk reaction that you kind of go, 'Man,' and you're getting raided and people are sitting back and saying, 'Why are the Patriots...' I guess we haven't really been too active in that time of the season and I think there was a lot of competition. The competition went from really 10 or 12 teams that were in good positions to make moves in free agency, to all 32. And with that goes great opportunities for the players to change teams and to really go out and find new positions and new jobs. Unfortunately, we took a pretty good hit on that. Hopefully, we're making that up. Hopefully, the guys that we bring in can fill those spots."
Clearly, beyond the passion of the average fan, Brady brings the leadership and understanding of an NFL insider, aware of the business side as well as the fluid nature of team roster-building.
"This 2006 team is going to be different. We understand that and, hopefully, we find other players to come in and take some of the burden off the guys who are still here," Brady said. "The people that we bring in are going to need to find ways to contribute and they may not contribute in the same way that Willie did, or Tom Ashworth did, or Matt Chatham did, or some of the other guys we lost. If they find their own role, and contribute, then it's ultimately about what this team can build. It's going to be different. The Super Bowl team in 2001 was different than the Super Bowl team in 2003 and 2004. Each year it changes and evolves."
The early part of that evolution was the bad, watching the key teammates leave. Then came the good, on draft weekend, particularly for Brady and similarly offensive-minded fans, as the team drafted offensive players with each of its first four selections, including a potential franchise running back and arguably the best wide receiver in the prospect crop. Many graders gave the Patriots positive marks for the class of potential young contributors, and Brady, too, is excited, though he's also cautious to put too much pressure on the newcomers.
"My dad called me and said, 'Can you believe this? We've got all these great (players)?'" Brady offered. "I said 'Dad, Dad, we've got rookies.' These guys have a lot to learn and everything they're going to be doing is going to be new to them. So to expect these guys to come in and expect Chad Jackson to be David Givens, I don't think that's fair to Chad. But hopefully over time, he can find a role."
The one thing that did remain constant with Brady this off-season, through all the goings and few comings, was a never-ending faith in New England's decision-makers. "In Bill We Trust," is a common saying in Patriot Nation thanks to coach Bill Belichick's dynasty-building ways of recent years. It's a motto Brady urges everyone to continue to live by as he does, placing his endless faith in Belichick and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli.
"Hopefully everybody, all of our fans, hopefully (the media) have just as much trust in them as we do," Brady said. "They've proven time and time again that they make great decisions -- just like the players, their track record and the history. I trust those guys. There's probably no two people in this world, outside of my father, that I trust more with any important decisions like that."
That faith manifests itself most in Brady's anticipation of the coming season, even in light of all the roster reworking that's gone one to date.
"I'm looking forward to this year. I think we could have just an awesome season," Brady said.
And that's just one more thing to add to the list of things he and Patriots fans have in common.
Notes: Rookie Minicamp begins on Saturday. The two-day event (May 13, 14) provides the Patriots latest crop of new recruits a chance to learn about the team, go through orientation, get adjusted to the area, and show some of the skills they've brought with them. The team's 10 draft picks will be in attendence along with the 15 undrafted rookie free agents. ... Patriots single game tickets goe on saletoday through ticketmaster. Fans can purchase up to eight tickets online using their VISA card at www.ticketmaster.com. ... The team announced the assignment of numbers to the new memebers of the team. A complete listing of players and their numbers, stats and bios can be found on the team roster page.