First, it was things like “Hey, I love this game! For this moment (winning the Super Bowl), this is why I play this game!”
Then, we got a taste of “Hey, y’all! I ain’t finished yet! I’m planning on doing this (victory rally) next year!”
The next thing out of Troy Brown’s mouth sounded something like “Hey, if I’m gonna be a number one receiver, I want to be paid like one! I hope the Patriots feel the same way and take care of me!”
So, all the while folks like Ted Johnson and Willie McGinest take pay cuts to help the team (as well as their careers), Brown wants to play the “show me the money” card. The contract he signed in 2000 calls for him to make $1.15 million in 2002, $1.75 million in 2003, and $2.25 million in 2004. He signed his contract on the supposition that he would be paid as a number three receiver, a position he held at the time of signing when the Patriots had Terry Glenn and Shawn Jefferson as the primary wideouts.
But if Brown is to be the number one wideout of the future for the Patriots, his salary pales in comparison to other top wideouts league-wide. Antonio Freeman and Tim Brown will both make over $4 million in 2002. Frank Sanders, Terrell Owens, Muhsin Mohammed, Ed McCaffrey, Marvin Harrison and Raghib Ismail will all top $3 million.
However, Pro Bowler Rod Smith will make $650,000. So will Isaac Bruce. Peter Warrick will make $770,000.
The Patriots have carved out an impeccable reputation as terrific salary cap managers. It is well known and documented that the Patriots are the first Super Bowl champ in recent memory to be under the cap coming off their championship year. During the reign of capologist Andy Wasynczuk, the Patriots have been very adept at inducing veterans to take pay cuts to help the team, and in getting veterans to re-do contracts to create more cap room. Other teams do this too, of course. It’s just that the Patriots manage the cap better than most.
But now, with Brown’s declaration that he be paid more in line with his status as a number one wideout, one has to wonder if this is more of a potential “opening up a can of worms” versus giving a deserving player a new contract. While most folks would hardly disagree that Brown has more than deserved a new contract, would such a move create a snowball effect that would induce more Patriot players to stand up and demand redone contracts?
It is clear that Brown no longer operates in anonymity, especially outside the northeastern United States. His exposure during the 2001 postseason and after Super Bowl XXXVI has established Brown as a prime stud wide receiver, one of the very best in the business. He set a Patriot record for receptions in 2001, all the while maintaining his reputation of being able to snare key catches in the clutch, one of the hallmarks of his distinguished Patriot career.
In addition to being one of the best wideouts in the league, he is also one of the best punt returners in the league. He ran back punts for touchdowns twice in the regular season and once in the postseason. Players of this rare versatility are precious commodities, something Brown can take and use as leverage to try and squeeze more money out of the Patriots.
The first question the Patriots have to ask themselves is: Do they have to do this?
The obvious answer is, of course, no. Brown is signed through 2004. These sort of contracts happen all the time in sports. A player signs for what he thinks is good money at the time, and then halfway through he’s suddenly an all-star and wants to be the next Bill Gates.
If this thinking were transferred to the Red Sox, then Nomar Garciaparra is the biggest bargain in all of baseball. And Pedro Martinez (if he fully regains his health and his 1999 form) is the second biggest. Mr. Pedro has intimated on occasion that the Red Sox would do well to offer him a mega-deal that would ensure him finishing his career in Boston. Nomar has never uttered a word about his being underpaid.
And new owner John Henry has plenty of money to pay these superstars a lot more.
And there is no salary cap in baseball.
Brown complaining about not being paid enough is just another example of the hollow meaning of the word “contract” in the sports world. Ricky Williams signed perhaps the dumbest deal in NFL history; you could have held an office pool to try and pinpoint the first day in which he would start railing to change his deal. You hear about athletes all the time bringing up the word “renegotiation”. Some even become holdouts despite being under contract.
But this is Troy Brown we’re talking about.
Brown has become perhaps the most favorite Patriot of them all. There was a reason why Lawyer Milloy grabbed the mike away from Brown at the victory and yelled “MVP! MVP! MVP!” to the delirious crowd at City Hall.
Brown is a leading symbol of “team first”. He is one of the more decent and dedicated professional athletes you will find anywhere. He labored in obscurity and anonymity early in his career after coming out of pre-Randy Moss Marshall. He was cut during his rookie season of 1993, and re-made the team the following year. His rise from rags to riches is a great inspiration to all young athletes.
So, the term “moral obligation” comes into play. Are the Patriots doing Brown a disservice if they ignore this plea for a new deal?
One concern is that, instead of inducing more players to play copycat, not re-doing Brown sends a bad message to the players. The message would be that it won’t matter if you have a breakout year or a spike in career numbers, you won’t get a new deal or any tangible monetary reward. This might cause the players as a whole to play less hard for Bill Belichick, one definite trademark of the great 2001 season.
And if the Patriots do decide to re-work Brown’s contract, then the next problem becomes working it in with a possible new deal for Tom Brady, and deals for the 2002 draft class as well. Who gets the new deal first, Brady or Brown? Or the new draftees?
Chances are that the Patriots can give Brown a new deal and not engender a whole bunch of copycats. The team attitude right now seems to be more into winning another Super Bowl versus becoming as rich as Forrest Gump. Not that the players don’t want to be paid handsomely, mind you, but now that the Patriots have tasted a championship and held a Vince, you just don’t hear a lot of complaining about being underpaid emanating out of Foxborough these days.
In Brown’s case, it really isn’t complaining. It’s about doing right by a player who has done more than enough to earn the right to ask for a little bit more cash.
Posted Under: 2002 Patriots Offseason