March 21, 2006
Patriot Way Being Put To Toughest Test
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
”I don’t give a damn for sentiment or names. What will bring in fans is a winning team, and that’s what I aim to have!” -- newly hired Celtic head coach Red Auerbach in 1950, explaining what his philosophy was and why he didn’t want Holy Cross guard Bob Cousy on his team
Sentiment. It means a lot in your home. It means a lot when someone has a birthday or an anniversary. It means a lot when someone you know is retiring.
But it means absolutely nothing at 60 North Washington Street in Foxborough.
This is not to say that “winning more Super Bowls” means nothing either. In fact, it is quite the opposite.
Winning more Super Bowls means everything to the Patriots. It remains their corporate goal, and the Patriots are still the best organization in all of pro football. As long as their management team is in place, your favorite football team will always contend for the NFL championship.
But sentiment means nothing.
And if you can get past all the free agent departures the Patriots have suffered through this most interesting offseason, you will begin to understand that there is a very good reason why who left the Patriots did. It may not make you feel better right away, but in due time, you will begin to understand.
The Patriot Way is why David Givens will not be paid top receiver money. The Patriot Way is why an aging Willie McGinest will not be paid like a top two outside linebacker. And it is the Patriot Way why the Patriots will not establish the precedent of paying top dollar at a position when that position happens to be a placekicker.
Givens and McGinest are gone, and now so is Adam Vinatieri. To most of Patriot Nation, you feel betrayed, among other negative emotions. It’s like, how could they let Adam go. He is a man for whom they could very well have built a statue, and yet now he is a - gulp - Indianapolis Colt.
Sorry, fans. It’s the master plan at work, plain and simple.
Givens and McGinest, you somewhat understand. But Vinatieri? The thought of him in another uniform, let alone one of a fierce Patriot rival, is sickening. But Vinatieri is gone, and it’s both understandable and cataclysmic.
It is cataclysmic only from a sentimental standpoint. How can you reminisce any more about Super Bowls past and now think of Vinatieri as a Colt? That may be too much to ask of Patriot Nation. You loved Vinatieri, perhaps in the same way you loved Bird, Orr, Yastrzemski, Ortiz.
Now here is why it is understandable.
First of all, this deal is not yet official. Before it was reported that Vinatieri agreed to a deal with Indianapolis, Boston.com reported that Vinatieri had changed agents, dumping Neil Cornrich in favor of Gary Uberstine. According to NFLPA rules, there must be a three-day waiting period before a new agent can negotiate for a client. If Vinatieri signed a new deal with the Colts on Tuesday, that means that he changed agents over the weekend and, amazingly, under the radar screen. Otherwise, Vinatieri either cannot do anything until Friday, or the deal can’t be official until Friday..
But let’s say that the deal is done. Now what?
It was mentioned on FSNE’s Sports Tonight that making Vinatieri the highest paid kicker would have had an adverse impact on the Richard Seymour negotiations, if and when they happen. If the Patriots pay Vinatieri top kicker money, what then does Seymour ask for, assuming he wants top defensive end money? Paying Vinatieri what he wanted might have blown what little chance the Patriots have to retain Seymour beyond next year, assuming Seymour wants to return to the Patriots at all.
Which brings us to our next point. Did Vinatieri want to return to the Patriots at all?
The answer is possibly no. Vinatieri was franchised each of the last two years, even though it still made him a rich man, for a kicker. Franchising a player can engender much the same enmity between a player and management that arbitration hearings can do in baseball. Sources close to Vinatieri say that the kicker was extremely angry with the Patriots for slapping the franchise tag on him in 2001 before giving him a new deal, and likely wasn't happy about it when it happened again in 2004 and 2005. Reports said that there was a gentleman’s agreement with Vinatieri in place so that there would be no franchise tag placed on him in 2006. The tagging alone may have caused Vinatieri to bolt town at the first chance he could get.
You might also want to bring up the possibility of “declining skills”. Vinatieri did miss 5 out of 25 field goal attempts in 2005, and he is still mediocre on kickoffs. But if he indeed is heading to Indianapolis, he will be under a dome (until Indy gets their new stadium), where he is invincible except in Houston. He turns 34 in December, but in kicking terms that is not considered old. Vinatieri was also bothered by a bad back in 2005. The smart thinking might be that Vinatieri is far from being “washed up”, but might not be quite the same kicker he was four or five years ago.
Simply stated, the Patriots will merely add a kicker to their need list, get one, and move on. That new kicker won’t have any honeymoon period, and he will be given an impossible task with literally no chance to succeed. But the financial benefits the team will reap will outweigh the loss of the best kicker in team history, which is far more important than anything sentimental, in the eyes of management.
The biggest test the Patriot Way faces is not how the fans feel, but rather how the players who still remain feel. It also will affect future free agents who are thinking about coming to Foxborough. The Patriots will continue to be the haven for mid-range salaried, hungry veteran players who are both smart and dying to win a championship. But if the frugality of the Patriots turns off even these typical Patriot pickups, while at the same time causing more of the core veterans to not consider staying beyond the expiration of their contracts, it may give management pause to stop and consider the direction and philosophy of their organization.
Nobody feels good about Vinatieri leaving the area, if that indeed be true. But this is about a corporate philosophy, which right now is going through the most rigorous test to date. In the end, it is not about how the fans feel, but rather what management sees as the best way to run the Patriots.
One thing is for certain. The Colts never need to worry about a close game inside of ten seconds to go. For them, it’s now nailed.
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