By: Bob George/
March 08, 2004

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To the lifeboats. Everyone's leaving the Patriots.

Yikes. We get the new stadium, thinking that it will attract free agents, not repel them. We win two Super Bowls in three years, and guys still want big bucks more than a few extra rings. The Patriots are the class organization of the NFL, yet two of the high profile players think life is better in Oakland or Detroit.

Crime rates and ghettos notwithstanding, you would have to be insane to want to live in either Detroit or Oakland versus Foxborough, Wrentham, Medfield, Millis, or any other Boston burb near where I-495 meets the Boston Post Road. Instead of Currier and Ives, you have Woodward Avenue and the debauchery of John R Street. You get Mount Davis instead of Mount Greylock. You go from the best owner in the league to either a skinflint who hires a guy who is better at punching out Patrick Sullivan than judging NFL talent, or a chronic malcontent who loves to brandish lawsuits and can't make up his mind which end of California suits him best.

At least one free agent had the decency to head for a nice city. The team was 5-11, but hey, it's sunny Florida, and it's not the ravages of inner city Miami.

The Patriots bade goodbye to Ted Washington, Damien Woody, and now Mike Compton since free agency began. When this is all over, Bobby Hamilton may also be flying the Foxborough coop. Break up them Patriots. Looks like that's exactly what's happening.

So, are you panicked? Sure you are, if this were certain members of the Red Sox we were talking about, namely a shortstop, a catcher, and a few righthanded starting pitchers. But these are the Patriots. Your reaction is probably somewhere along the lines of "Thanks for everything, enjoy your money, don't ever plan on winning another Vince ever again!"

You know, maybe those impending Red Sox free agents don't bother you, either. Bully for you if you feel that way. Despite the addition of two primo pitchers and a statgeek manager who had better not acquire the nickname "Daddy Terry" any time soon, you just know that the Sox will find some new way to screw the season up. Fear not, for Patriot training camp is just four months away.

But for those of you who need just a little bit of calming down and are beginning to morph into Chicken Little (no relation to Grady, unless it actually is Grady), let's examine a little closer the genius of Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli at work. Losing these guys is rough, yes, until you scratch beneath the surface and look at what really is happening here.

Ted Washington is perhaps the best run stopper in the league. There can be no denying that he brought a new dynamic to the Patriot defense this year. Lacking a pure nose tackle with the departure (several years hence) of Chad Eaton (hey, this guy is now a free agent), and having to draft Ty Warren instead of Dewayne Robertson, the trade with Chicago that brought Washington to New England was hailed as a steal, one that torqued off Chicagoland worse than Steve Bartman did last October.

So what happened? Washington got injured in Week 3 against the Jets. He missed the next six games. The Patriots merely substituted for him with a 4-3 defense, and went 5-1 without the big guy. Included in this run were games against such running backs as Eddie George, Tiki Barber, Ricky Williams and Clinton Portis. Only Portis cracked the 100-yard mark, and was not at all a factor in a 30-26 Patriot win at Denver. Granted, the Patriots were undefeated when he came back, but the fact is that they got along fine without him.

Now he heads to Oakland, picking up the pieces from a 4-12 season. Washington is 35 right now, and will be 38 at the end of his new deal. It's a good bet that Big Ted won't see every cent of that contract. Peter King of Sports Illustrated said that it's hard to justify paying Washington the money he got after a season where he participated in only 30 percent of the team's defensive snaps.

Big Ted has one other problem. He can't throw or catch the ball. Those in Oakland who do are all older than Big Ted.

Damien Woody scored a record (for an offensive lineman) contract to play with the woebegone Lions in Detroit. Sure, they have a nice new crib and a decent fan base. Sure, Woody can avoid the slums of inner Detroit and live somewhere in Oakland County with all the automaker execs.

But Woody moves to a franchise which has seen next to no success since last winning an NFL title in 1957. Matt Millen is still team president, which is nothing short of astounding. Steve Mariucci's NFL coaching legacy is really only about riding out the last residue of the Bill Walsh/George Seifert glory days, and is perhaps better suited as a college coach. The Lions, 5-11 in 2003, are such a bad franchise that Barry Sanders opted to retire from football than to come back and play for this team despite being within reach of Walter Payton's all-time NFL rushing record.

Detroit is retooling, but to suggest that they are on the verge of NFL greatness is foolhardy unless they actually do something. Wayne Fontes was excoriated as a head coach because he had a poor postseason record, but he at least got the Lions to the playoffs. Bobby Ross got two playoff berths for the Lions, but eventually gave up because life as a Lion was too hard to bear. The immortal Darryl Rogers (18-42 as head coach) was unable to bring what little magic he had in East Lansing to Motown, but Marty Mornhinweg made this guy look like George Wilson.

Woody leaves behind the team of his college neighborhood. He came into the league as a center, and wound up switching to guard (does Detroit know that this guy cannot shotgun snap?). He moved permanently to guard when Mike Compton went down, which paved the way for Dan Koppen to become the permanent center. And then Woody went down in the postseason contest versus Tennessee. Russ Hochstein filled in, and the Patriots went 3-0 in the postseason with zero sacks of Tom Brady and a Super Bowl win. All of that came wiithout Woody.

Mike Compton missed 14 games after getting hurt at Philadelphia. The Patriots went 13-1 without him. It is possible that the 34-year-old (he will be in September) Compton no longer fit into Belichick's plans. Enjoy Jacksonville, Mike, it's too bad that it had to come to this. Compton gave the Patriots two decent years and helped greatly towards the first Super win.

The Patriot players need to look closely at Kevin Faulk and do what he did. He didn't seek the big bucks. He got a great deal with a huge signing bonus and a salary above the league average for his position (terms of his new deal, as well as his new cap figures, are not available at press time). Faulk will stay put, and is thrilled to death.

Woody and Washington merely followed the big bucks. They got what they wanted. Big bucks. No more Vinces, but they perhaps don't care as long as they laugh all the way to the bank.

It's too bad that neither player gave Lawyer Milloy a call to see if he is enjoying his big bucks.