Nobody ever said the New England Patriots' perfection extended into the offseason. If it did, Super Bowl rings would never get stuffed into FedEx packages.
But for those who might have delusions of grandeur, it's time to get with the program. Even the do-no-wrong Patriots have to get their hands dirty at times. And with free agency and the salary cap, you handle your NFL affairs the same way The Godfather handled the Corleones – sometimes a relative gets whacked to keep the family together.
Not that it's easy, mind you. For the Patriots, not every player conceded is going to be as loud and dispensable as safety Lawyer Milloy, or as momentary and unattached as defensive tackle Ted Washington. Certainly, this offseason's bloodletting hasn't fallen into either of those categories. Not when the jettisoned fivesome comes straight from the seams of New England's dynasty – guard Joe Andruzzi, cornerback Ty Law, linebacker Roman Phifer and wide receivers Troy Brown and David Patten.
That's five guys who represent 15 Super Bowl rings – a hefty chunk of the family lineage.
Yet as cold as it may sound, those moves are exactly why the Patriots have become the epitome of league success. They know when to cut players who are on the verge of slowing their momentum or capsizing their salary cap. Some might call such budget crunching hypocritical for a franchise that fashions itself on the "team" concept, but it's simply smart business and a sacrifice for the good of those who remain.
"It can't happen both ways," one general manager said this week. "It's not a movie, where the hero can get the girl and the money. (The media) talks about them having all these interchangeable parts', right? What happens if they never change them? Why have it like that if you are afraid to subtract and add? It's just being responsible to their structure. It's the way they work, and everybody on that roster knows it."
For the Patriots, such harsh moves have mellowed with the passing of time. Just like the subtraction of Milloy, Washington, offensive lineman Damien Woody and others, the end result looked better as the calendar turned over. However, all of those moves (not to mention the current ones) might have been a little more palatable if the Patriots had done a little public relations work and offered some reassurance and well wishes for the sake of the fan base.
They haven't, and that has put a little extra hurt into these current releases. Particularly for a guy like Brown, who was sold on everything that was right and unselfish about New England's winning ways. It's never good to parade someone around as Mr. Sacrifice at one moment, then cut him the next because he was due to make $5 million – when you thought he was worth about one-fifth of that amount.
So here's the sting, all wrapped up into one line: Milloy was close to the mark last season when he said the Patriots try to get by on the cheap. "Frugal" might be a better term, but you get the point. They are all about Little House on the Prairie Economics, where an honest effort gets an honest wage and not a penny more.
Law, even at full health, isn't worth $12 million in a single season. Patten is a No. 3 receiver, and not worth the "featured wideout" salary that the Washington Redskinsoffered. Phifer had deteriorated into a role player, and his spot was better suited for someone who could be groomed into a future starter. Brown, as vital as he was in 2004, is beyond his prime and would have played a reduced role last season had it not been for injuries, particularly to the defensive secondary where he played as a nickel back.
Which brings us to Andruzzi. He is still relatively young at 29 and a good player, although not Pro Bowl caliber. But he was definitely a team leader on offense and, as a total package, worth the $9 million over four years that he got from the Cleveland Browns. The Patriots offered a little more than half that amount. That was the Patriots' mistake and proof enough they can't always be perfect.
Settling on 11 months a year will have to suffice.
- For a league as image conscious as the NFL, there was plenty of griping when a study from the University of North Carolina surfaced last week suggesting that 56 percent of players in the league would be considered obese by medical standards. And NFL heads had plenty of reason to be furious, since the study – which made national headlines – used standards that were an absolute joke when applied to the physiques of pro football players.
The study merely measured body mass index (BMI), which is determined by dividing a person's weight by his height in total inches squared. That number is then multiplied by 703. So if you are 6-foot-3 (which is 75 inches) and weighed 242 pounds, the equation would be 242 divided by (75x75) and multiplied by 703.
According to the standards, a person with a BMI of over 30 is considered obese by medical thresholds. The problem? The equation never takes into account whether the poundage on someone is coming from fat or muscle. A hefty portion of NFL players in that 56 percent have absurdly low body fat percentages.
To get an idea of why it's a sham to apply this BMI standard to NFL players, consider some of the guys who would qualify as obese: San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (31.7 BMI), Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis (32.3), Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams (30.6) and even Mr. Adonis, Miami Dolphins linebacker Junior Seau (31.2). If only we could all be so "fat."
- Don't be shocked if USC receiver Mike Williams gets snapped up in the draft by a surprise team. For someone hanging on the fringe of the draft's top 10 prospects, there is an inordinate buzz around the league about Williams – arguably more than anyone in the draft. Minnesota loves him, and would like to select him with the No. 7 pick if the Vikings can't pry Rod Gardner loose from the Redskins.
But Williams may never make it that far down the draft board. After Williams unexpectedly opted out of his workouts at the combine, one scout suggested that a team at the top of the draft might have told Williams they had settled on taking him. Another personnel source in the NFC North said last week that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were focusing on Williams and Auburn running back Carnell Williams with the No. 5 overall pick.
- With their starting cornerbacks decimated through cap cuts and free agency, the Tennessee Titans have settled on taking West Virginia cornerback Adam "Pac Man" Jones with the No. 6 pick in the draft. The draft's other two top-flight corners – Miami's Antrel Rolle and Auburn's Carlos Rogers – have been targeted by the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 21st pick.
- Word around the league is that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress' failure to find a home in free agency has more to do with money than his reputation or penchant for dropping passes. Burress is looking for a deal exceeding the $20-million, five-year deal (plus $7-million signing bonus) given to Derrick Mason by Baltimore.
- There has been massive fallout in the trade market for the Denver Broncos' Reuben Droughns and Buffalo's Travis Henry. While there hasn't been much response in trade value for Droughns since the Broncos put him on the block after the season, Henry's top suitors (Arizona and Miami) appear to have lost interest. The central issue has been the robust running back crop in the draft, where it appears quality prospects will be available into the third round.
- Speaking of quality running backs available in later rounds, Oklahoma State's 5-9, 212-pound Vernand Morency disappointed teams by running his 40-yard dash in the mid-4.6 second range. That's not a good sign for a player who was supposed to run in the high 4.4s and already has a red flag from his age (25).
Once thought to be an early-to-mid second-round pick, the highly productive Morency has likely fallen into Rounds 3 or 4. One scout we spoke to still thinks Morency could end up being a major steal, pointing out that Detroit Lions running back Kevin Jones ran 4.6-second dashes in his personal workouts last year.
- If David Boston doesn't end up back in Miami in the next few weeks, don't expect the wide receiver to draw much interest before training camp. Many teams in the league have soured on Boston, who was released in a cap cut by the Dolphins last week.
There were already plenty of concerns about Boston as a team cancer after his fallout in San Diego two seasons ago. But now he has entered an advanced stage of the NFL's steroid testing program, after being suspended for four games for a positive result last season. Combined with his season-ending knee injury suffered last August, it might take another team losing multiple wideouts in the preseason to earn Boston another shot.
- Quarterback Jeff Garcia still thinks he can be a starter, which is why he's squeezing every last visit he can out of free agency. First in line was Detroit, then it was Denver and next is Seattle. Still, it appears the Broncos will be his final destination, after Garcia confidant Bill Walsh gave a nod to Mike Shanahan's offense.
The buzz around the Lions is that coach Steve Mariucci and president Matt Millen were split on the team's next backup quarterback. Millen was believed to be in support of Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson, while Mariucci prefers Garcia. Now that Garcia appears to be leaning toward the Broncos, Detroit is expected to move quickly on Johnson this week.
- The St. Louis Rams aren't exactly drawing raves in league circles for revamping their linebacking corps with free agents Dexter Coakley (from Dallas) and Chris Claiborne (from Minnesota). League insiders feel Coakley's skills have diminished to the point where he's little more than a quality backup, while Claiborne has never been able to shed his "soft" label since being drafted by the Detroit Lions out of Southern California.
- For all the talk about franchised Indianapolis Colts running back Edgerrin James being traded, tremors around the NFL point to Seattle's Shaun Alexander getting shipped. Of course, the aforementioned crop of running backs in the draft makes it unlikely that any team will be willing to surrender two No. 1 picks for James or Alexander. But unlike the situation in Indianapolis, where seemingly every Colts coach and executive is continuing to sing the praises of James, there isn't much resounding acclaim coming out of Seattle for Alexander.
While his relationship with coach Mike Holmgren has been a roller coaster, the contracts lavished on tackle Walter Jones and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck might be the true fracture point between Alexander and the Seahawks. Even if Alexander does sign his one-year franchise tender, it is believed he will still seek a mega signing bonus from the Seahawks if/when a long-term deal is discussed – something in the neighborhood of $15 million to sign, and another $5 million to $7 million in option bonuses.
- Mike Williams