By: Bob George/
June 12, 2005

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FOXBOROUGH -- Mini-camp has come and gone, and you have to wonder if anyone out there cares about on-the-field things.

Well, Bill Belichick does. The coaching staff does. The front office does. Anyone directly charged with the responsibility of beating the Oakland Raiders on opening night cares very deeply about how these three days have gone. The ring ceremony at Bob Kraft's Brookline home Sunday night reinforces the need for everything Patriot to continue to function as normally as possible, like it has since Belichick took over the Patriots five years ago.

But if you sit down and read all the reports emanating from the mini-camp over the last three days, you would think that this is a franchise in trouble, whose comeuppance is finally at hand, whose dam is finally beginning to crack. The good times don't roll forever. Sooner or later, the Patriots would come crashing to earth and resume being the Patsies of the dark ages once again.

All you have heard over the last few days is basically this: Richard Seymour is holding out, Rodney Harrison is unhappy with his contract, and Patriot players are looking at Tedy Bruschi and starting to look at their wallets more often than their playbooks. Suddenly the Patriot Way is being questioned, and the steely resolve that is the Patriot Way may be tested severely over the next few weeks and months.

A simple maxim which has held up very well down and through the years is the famous "If it ain't broke, don't fix it”. James Lavin wrote a stunning compendium on the Patriot Way, Management Secrets of the New England Patriots (Stamford, CT: Pointer Press, 2005) which more than underscores why the Patriot Way ain't broke. Three Super Bowl wins in the last four years, along with the franchise being unilaterally recognized as the newest (and in the minds of some, the best ever) NFL dynasty, offer further proof to back up the maxim. The Patriot Way has become the model for all professional sports teams as to how to build, as well as maintain, a consistent winning team.

And now, we have Seymour, firing what could be an opening salvo on the bow of the Good Ship Patriot Way. Seymour completely blew off the three-day camp. Belichick dismissed it as "Richard is absent…unexcused.” Pressed recently at a charity event by a Herald writer about his contract, Seymour became irritated and shot back with "Ask Belichick!”

The next salvo was fired by Harrison, who, despite coming to camp, did publicly complain about his contract. He did say that, as a man, he will honor his contract, but did say that he should be paid among the highest safeties in the game. He signed a six-year deal in 2003, just like Seymour did as a rookie in 2001.

Bruschi's situation is more like a reaction of anxiety. The defensive captain and emotional leader of the team was felled by a minor stroke in February, and suddenly took the unprecedented move to hire himself an agent (Brad Blank). Players are looking at Bruschi very closely to see how the team handles him, especially if he is unable to answer the bell for the 2005 season. Bruschi has a soft spot in the hearts of the players, not just the fans, and how the Patriots treat the star linebacker will be scrutinized by all.

The Bruschi situation is nothing like what the Celtics had to go through with the deaths of Len Bias and Reggie Lewis between 1986 and 1993. Those two deaths literally ruined the franchise, and they have yet to recover and return to their championship ways. But Bruschi's stroke was an eerie reminder of the priority that must be given to human life, and it had to shake up the players greatly. How much of an impact it had on Seymour and Harrison isn't really clear, if at all.

Seymour's and Harrison's rants are more likely rooted in the new Tom Brady deal which he received a few weeks back. If Brady can get a new deal in advance of the expiration of the old one, why can't Seymour and Harrison get one also? Few will argue Brady's value and importance to the team. But is Seymour and Harrison that much less important that they don't warrant similar treatment?

Harrison isn't that troubling. He will honor his contract, he will play hard, and he will make lots of money. No, it won't be Sean Taylor money. Yes, Harrison could get burned later on and never see all six years of that contract. But Harrison has a clear mind and has no current beefs with the team, and doesn't figure to raise a ruckus like other Patriots have in past years.

Seymour is the one player everyone will be watching. He is grossly underpaid, and everyone knows it. He has definitely outplayed his rookie deal. Most people believe he is the best defensive end in the league. But he is paid some four million dollars less than what is considered the benchmark salary for his position, that being Jevon Kearse of the Eagles. This is not unlike Terrell Owens, except that in this case, Seymour actually does have a beef.

Still, why skip mini-camp? Why is Seymour going to these lengths to get his point across that he wants to renegotiate and right now? He has two years to go on his contract, and even disgruntled Ty Law played in 2004 (before getting injured) despite his celebrated squabbling over his contract. A better barometer of Seymour's resolve would be training camp next month. But why skip this mini-camp?

It is possible that Seymour is still upset with Belichick for benching him for the first quarter of the December 14, 2003 game versus Jacksonville at home. Seymour had attended his grandfather's funeral in Georgia and was late getting back, thereby violating team rules and mandating that he not start on Sunday. Sources close to the team said that Seymour was incredibly upset with not being able to start, that Belichick could not be more understanding because he was attending a family funeral.

This would explain Seymour's gruff response to the Herald reporter ("Ask Belichick!”) a few weeks back. This also might explain what is driving Seymour to act the way he is. It is possible that Seymour has privately decided that he won't play for the Patriots when he signs his next contract, and that this is a way to expedite him out of Foxborough.

As we learned with Law, this way won't work. Seymour also needs to understand that the Patriots went 2-0 in the 2004 postseason without him. While most every Patriot fan sympathizes with Seymour and believe that he is worth a lot more money, holding out will negate that fan endearment greatly.

Seymour was in Brookline Sunday night to receive his ring. Reports say that he shared an embrace with Bob and Myra Kraft, and that he would speak publicly about his situation later. Apparently all is not completely wrong with Seymour and the Patriots. Or, it could be a statement that reinforces the fact that Seymour loves everything Patriot except Belichick, and might cloud any future contract talks that his agents and the Patriots figure to have eventually.

This may turn out to be nothing. Law played in 2004. Seymour has no leverage, just like Law didn't. It does Seymour no good to sit out the season and lose an accrued season with respect to free agency. But his attitude towards the whole thing, given his previous brushes with Belichick and the handling of Brady's contract, bears watching.

Maybe he'll apologize. A Super Bowl ring is definitely good for what ails you.