By: Bob George/BosSports.net
July 29, 2005

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FOXBOROUGH -- It's always okay as long as you win.

This rule has done the Patriots very well in the last five years. The insulation the three Super Bowl wins have given the Patriots works better than any material a homebuilder can come up with. How can any Patriot player complain about fiscal frugality and management-friendly deals when they have fingers full of bling and memories to last a lifetime?

Players taking below market contracts to stay in Foxborough has been the most visible and most talked about vehicle for sound fiscal management. Players like Tedy Bruschi, Willie McGinest, Troy Brown, and most recently Tom Brady, sacrifice huge paydays elsewhere so that they can keep winning more Vinces. They love winning more than sheer greed. They are literally too good to be true.

But rookie deals may be just that. Too good. And perhaps no longer true.

Richard Seymour is the first Patriot to be totally sick of a six-year rookie deal he signed upon being drafted, and is taking extraordinary steps to renegotiate his contract. But there is a lot beneath the surface, a lot more than an All-Pro holding out for more jack. What Seymour is doing is trying to force the Patriots to change they way they manage the team from a fiscal point of view, and if he is successful, could change the course of the team in the long haul, and possibly for the worse.

At issue is the Patriots' insistence on first round picks signing six-year deals instead of five years. This results in players likely outplaying their rookie deals in due time, with Seymour probably the most extreme example. Seymour is considered by many to be the best defensive end in the NFL, and is making far less than the highest paid defensive end in the league, that being Philadelphia's Jevon Kearse.

There are a few exigent circumstances involving Seymour, which are not centrally related to the six-year rookie deal tradition. One of them involves Seymour's possible indignation towards Bill Belichick, the other involves the impending end of the current collective bargaining agreement.

Seymour, as has been stated previously in this column, may still be upset with Belichick for benching him for the first quarter of a December 14, 2003 game against Jacksonville. Seymour had been absent that week because he was home in South Carolina attending his grandmother's funeral and missed practice. Belichick has a standing rule that forbids a player from starting if he misses practice that week. Seymour was upset over that, and perhaps became even more perturbed when Kevin Faulk was not similarly benched early in 2004 following his mother's death and a substantial time of practice missed.

Logan Mankins, the 2005 top draft pick for the Patriots, raised several eyebrows by signing a five-year deal. The reasoning behind this break in tradition was more given to the proximity to the expiration of the current CBA, and the Patriots are not willing to commit to a long way beyond that cutoff date. A more contrarian deal to this tradition was the five-year deal Daniel Graham signed when he was the top pick in 2002.

The central issue here is the Patriots' insistence on high draft picks, usually first-rounders, signing six-year deals. This insistence met a tough challenge a year ago, when one of the first round picks, Ben Watson, held out of training camp when his agent, Tom Condon, tried to get the Patriots to acquiesce to a five-year deal. The Patriots did not budge, Watson wound up firing Condon, and soon after Watson was in the fold for six years. Patriots, as usual, win.

Signing first rounders to six-year deals is smart. But is it right? How much of a gripe does Seymour have? Does he deserve fan sympathy for being underpaid versus fan contempt for not honoring his contract?

It's not an easy question to answer. Contracts are made to be honored. Nobody held a gun to Seymour's head when he signed his deal in 2001. But often times these rookies reach a point, like Watson did, where they feel that getting out there and learning the system so they can eventually get into games outweighs the need to shave that one year off their contract. But if Watson some day becomes the premier NFL tight end like Seymour is at defensive end, how will he handle the bitter memories of how hard a line his team took to get him signed for six years?

This basically comes down to the cardinal rule for an offensive lineman: Do what you can get away with. If you can do it, do it. Who cares whether it's morally right or wrong as long as it is smart and you are able to? What makes the rookies think they really have any leg to stand on when the team literally imposes their will on them?

Another thing that further insulates the Patriots is the continual stream of veterans who come in more into winning than getting rich. It puts players like Damien Woody, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy and now Seymour in a minority, turning them literally into pariahs for daring to want to cash in on their talents. Compared to baseball, where these kinds of players are the prohibitive norm, it is amazing that the Patriots have their system down so well that so many players come here with winning placed so far ahead of riches.

So while you the fan, along with Seymour, lament that he is grossly underpaid, the Patriots look at him, you and I and literally ignore us. The Patriots have no reason to pay one iota of attention to anyone under contract who moans about being underpaid. They have made occasional exceptions, most notably in the new deal Brady signed (lucrative, yes, but far below market value nonetheless), and there are reports of a possible new deal for Rodney Harrison, who has made some similar, albeit more subtle, overtures of being underpaid like Seymour has.

Now, you say, why will the Patriots redo Harrison and not Seymour? Two reasons.

First of all, we go back to the grandmother funeral again. Will Seymour sign at all? Will Seymour use his likely anger at Belichick to extort a large financial package, one that the team cannot afford to pay? Management may have already decided that Seymour is unsignable, not unlike Nomar Garciaparra before the Red Sox traded him about a year ago.

Second, the Patriots can say that they are okay without him. It just so happens that Jarvis Green was extended on Thursday. The Patriots have shown that they can win with Green at right end instead of Seymour, and are likely preparing to move ahead with Green and not Seymour. If Green is good enough at a far less price, why mess with Seymour?

Whether the Patriots will continue this practice might depend upon the new CBA. For right now, it is the CBA, and not Seymour, which has brought a temporary halt to six-year rookie deals. The way things are right now, management still wants to rule with an iron hand, and Seymour likely won't be a Patriot beyond 2006, if not sooner.

So Seymour forges his Hall Of Fame career elsewhere, and the Patriots keep winning everything in sight. If this is okay with you, then keep quiet when Seymour puts on another uniform someday.


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