Many in New England contended for the past year that if Richard Seymour insisted on being the highest-paid defensive lineman in the NFL, his days with the Patriots were numbered. As of this moment, his days here just increased by another four years and his new pay scale will make him one of the highest-paid defensive players in the game, regardless of position. So much for people's contentions.
Seymour declined to discuss the terms of the four-year extension he agreed to this week, although industry sources familiar with the negotiations said it is worth more than $7 million a season with guaranteed bonus money in the first two years that, in the opinion of one NFL source, ''was really unprecedented for that short a deal."
While other defensive linemen, such as Marcus Stroud and John Henderson of the Jaguars, signed five- and six-year deals, Seymour's extension is for just four, averages more money per season, and is believed to have more of it guaranteed than either of the Jacksonville deals. Henderson's six-year contract was worth $34 million with $13.6 million in guarantees, and Stroud's was a five-year deal worth $31.5 million with $12.5 million guaranteed.
The estimated $30 million contract signed by Seymour remained of less interest to him, however, than the fact that he was ensuring his continued stay as a Patriot for a salary he felt fairly compensated him at a time when he's nearly universally regarded as the best all-around defensive lineman in the game.
''I was never interested in who's the highest-paid player," Seymour said from Florida last night, where he was vacationing with his family before he returns to New England next week to join the team's offseason conditioning program that began without him several weeks ago.
''At the end of the day, I'm not going to spend all this money anyway. A lot of it is just a bunch of zeros. My concern was always just that I be compensated fairly for the things I do on the football field. We came to an agreement on that. There was give and take on both sides. I'm glad we were able to do it and I'm grateful to the Kraft family and the Patriots organization for giving me another opportunity. I feel very blessed."
So should the Patriots, who have now nailed down the services of a player who in five years has gone to four Pro Bowls and helped win three Super Bowls while playing a demanding position that makes him an end in Bill Belichick's 3-4, two-gap front, and a tackle when they shift to a 4-3. More significantly, the demands of that system affect the sack totals Seymour might produce in other defenses, a sacrifice he says he not only gladly makes but uses for motivation.
''This system is tough," Seymour said. ''It keeps me challenged. When a lot of other players might relax, it challenges me sometimes to work harder to produce. I've heard guys around the league say they don't want to play in this system, but I enjoy it. I want to beat the odds. That's always been my personality."
Seymour beat those odds a year ago when he quietly held out and became one of the few Patriots of the Belichick era rewarded for it. Now he has managed to come to an agreement that allows the Patriots to say they didn't make him the highest-paid player at his position when in fact he became one of the highest-paid players at any defensive position. Those are the kind of diplomatic skills that, like his playing skills, set Seymour apart.
So, too, did his immediate response to what he knows will soon become a fact of life.
Before long, perhaps as early as next season, someone will beat his deal. When they do, he said, it won't concern him.
''I understand that's how it works," Seymour said. ''The important thing to me is that I feel I got a fair deal and the team feels it's getting what it's paying for. It's beyond an honor to get another contract in the NFL. It's a blessing.
''It's been tough to see guys like Willie [McGinest] and Adam [Vinatieri] depart from the team this year, but at the end of the day, it's a business on both sides. They have to do what's right for their families. I'm just pleased for myself and my family to be back in a Patriot uniform. Stability is important to me. It's a peaceful feeling in that regard."
But as peaceful as Seymour was last night as he drove to dinner with his wife and children knowing he had achieved financial security and as much football security as one can find in a league with few guarantees, his thoughts quickly moved away from economics and the changing face of his team and on to what matters most to him.
''Every year I play, I only have one goal," Seymour said. ''My goal is to get to Miami at the end of next season."
That would mean returning the Patriots to the Super Bowl, where they've been three of the last five years but failed to reach last season. Keeping Richard Seymour happily in the midst of their defense was one very big step in that direction.