March 11, 2005
Andruzzi’s Exit: The Family’s View
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
Pink Floyd said it best: “Money…so they say…is the root of all evil today!”
Best friendships can be ruined by either becoming roommates or owing them money. Business relationships can be all fun and cordial until you actually begin to talk dollars and cents. Research what is the biggest factor in what breaks up marriages and you might find that money problems are more prevalent than those related to sex, battery or mental abuse.
Which brings us to Joe Andruzzi, owner of a brand new four-year, $9 million contract with the Cleveland Browns. Much has been made over how and why this was allowed to happen, with reasons ranging from wanting to be reunited with former assistant line coach Jeff Davidson to anger over the Patriots insulting him with lowball offers. The bottom line is that Andruzzi is gone, and for the many Patriot fans that grew to love him during his five-season stint in Foxborough, this is a tough pill to swallow.
Last week, one of Joe’s brothers went on the counterattack in trying to explain the real reasons regarding the move to Cleveland. Joe’s brother Bill (who along with brothers Jimmy and Marc are New York City firefighters) went on WEEI on March 3rd to voice his opinions on his brother’s moving to the Browns. He was very vocal in his defense of his brother, saying that Joe was lowballed and would have stayed with the Patriots had the team made him a decent offer.
Bill recently shared his sentiments with PatsFans.com. He wanted, above anything else, for everyone to know that Joe badly wanted to remain a Patriot but took the Cleveland offer when he realized that he was “no longer wanted” in Foxborough.
“He repeatedly told the Patriots before the season, during the season, and after the season that he wanted to stay and received no response. He loved it there and never wanted to leave”, Bill said via e-mail. He went on to say that his brother Joe “never had an offer from the Pats until the day he was leaving to go to Cleveland”, insisting that his brother felt like he could not stay in New England if he didn’t feel wanted.
Bill went on to hammer home some points on what Joe’s intentions were from a financial point of view. “If they wanted to keep him they would have showed some interest. They had plenty of time to sign him and just chose not to. They chose to give others on the offensive line more money than Joe ever made as a Patriot.” The oblique references here are to Matt Light and his six-year, $18 million contract which he signed last fall, and Stephen Neal, who also signed a new deal this past week, relinquishing his RFA status in the process.
It was never about a huge payday, according to Bill. ”He wasn't asking for crazy money, he just wished to be fairly paid.”
Bill took exception to a comparison made in this column to former Patriot guard Damien Woody, who signed a six-year, $20.5 million contract with the Detroit Lions a year ago. “Joe's agent told the Patriots and the media repeatedly that Joe would take less money to stay in New England”, said Bill. “However, to come back with a ‘token’ offer to save face, and offer half of what the Browns offered, was a SLAP in the face. The Pats never once offered Joe anything until he was on his way to the airport to go to Cleveland.” He called the comparison to Woody wrong because his brother so badly wanted to remain in New England, unlike Woody who “was obviously looking to go anywhere that was going to pay him.”
Bill acknowledges the Patriots know their business and know how to sustain their winning ways through deft manipulation of the salary cap and when to let go of veterans when the time is right. But he also feels that this deft manipulation will someday lead to their undoing. “One day it is going to end and the Patriots are going to question the decisions they made in the offseason. For example, look what the Pats did to Troy Brown. Troy bailed them out significantly by playing defense last year.”
The option on Brown’s contract for 2005 was not picked up last week, leaving the veteran receiver a free agent. Speculation is that Brown might return to the Patriots at a lower salary.
“The Pats lost Joe because they didn't feel it was important enough to keep him and could replace him with a less experienced player. It wasn't about taking more money”, Bill exclaimed. “Joe was the glue that kept that line together…(the Patriots) are not going to replace his toughness, dedication, work ethic, and community service. The Pats will learn one day that they can't pay offensive line members the minimum salaries, pay a majority of their money on defense, and have a healthy multimillion dollar quarterback.”
He went on to finish that his brother Joe understands the role the Patriots have played in his life, saying that “Joe appreciates everything the Pats did for him, and if it weren't for the Pats, he doesn't know where he would be today. If they just showed him a tiny bit of respect, he would be a Patriot today and you would have a great left side of the line.”
The main thrust of Bill’s comments to WEEI and PatsFans.com was to make sure that fans did not get the impression Joe left the Patriots only to make a big score. Bill was determined to set the record straight on Joe’s true reasons for leaving the team, insisting that the Patriots could have had him if they really wanted him and that the Patriots never gave Joe the impression that he figured in their plans for the immediate future.
It appears that Bill took the biggest exception to the comparing of his brother to Woody. This is not unlike the baseball free agent defections of Pedro Martinez to the Mets or Edgar Renteria to the Red Sox. In both cases, the players seemed loyal to their old teams and gave the fan bases the impression that they wanted to stay and might do so for a hometown discount, only to see them take the big bucks and head elsewhere. Woody forsook another Super Bowl for big bucks with a perennial loser in Detroit. Bill wanted it clear that Joe did not think along these lines at all, that he preferred staying a Patriot above all things, but the team did not cause that to happen.
The Andruzzi family can offer up their opinions, and their point of view is important. No Patriot fan really wanted to see Joe leave the team and sign elsewhere. Without this explanation from Bill, all that Patriot Nation is left to believe is that Joe took the big bucks and bolted for Cleveland. Unless you have the Andruzzi family’s ear, how can’t you think that Joe scored big on the free agent market and thus became Exhibit No. 568 on how the Patriots deal with veteran players once they reach a certain age and expected price tag?
This happens all the time in pro sports. Athletes are expected to make big scores in free agency when they have the chance. When they do, the fan base they leave behind often times will come away totally disillusioned. The first thing the jilted fan will think is “greedy player”, without any thought as to the exigent circumstances, if any. This is just the way things are. Fans can’t possibly know everything, and as things turn out, they usually know very little, and wind up assuming a great deal.
This is a case of a brother who went out of his way to make sure everyone in Patriot Nation knows that Joe wanted to stay, but the team wanted to go in another direction and Joe merely took a good deal which was impossible to refuse. This naturally will come as small consolation when the Nation watches Joe put on a Browns uniform next year. Thanks in part to the Andruzzi family’s role and connection to September 11th, Joe and his brothers endeared themselves to Patriot fans everywhere, and that while Joe’s leaving the Patriots is hitting his family hard, the fan base feels far worse.
Which brings us to this: The real truth is that Joe needs no defending at all. Joe would have a hard time finding any fan who didn’t love him, didn’t appreciate all he did in New England, or didn’t understand that business is business in pro football. As the situation involving Bruschi and his stroke proved, Patriot Nation is an understanding and caring fan base, with a tremendous amount of empathy. Whether or not Joe wanted to be the next Damien Woody is immaterial to everyone outside of Joe’s family. His place in the hearts of Patriot fans is secure, and he cannot be faulted for merely doing what he had to do, never mind the reasons why.
The Patriots move on, and Joe Andruzzi moves on. Such is life, like it or not.
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