The Patriots and Ty Law are talking about a new contract for the Pro Bowl cornerback. But they're not speaking the same language.
Law is entering his 10th season and the penultimate year of the landmark seven-year, estimated $51 million agreement he signed in 1999. He is due to earn more than $6 million in base salary next season and count more than $10 million toward the salary cap. Law, who earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection in 2003, feels he outperformed his contract and deserves a new deal. New England needs cap relief. Law wants to be here. The Patriots want him here. That's about the only thing they agree on at this point.
The team's first proposal to Law was a four-year, $26 million extension that includes $6.6 million up front -- an offer Law considers to be "an insult."
"I felt like it was a slap in the face," Law said yesterday from Miami, where he makes his home in the offseason. "It was an insult. I didn't appreciate it at all. I thought, `Man, we've got a long way to go if that's the starting off point.' I was thinking of putting a `for sale' sign in front of my house."
After two meetings and another conversation with coach Bill Belichick following the Super Bowl, Law expected the team to offer a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $15 million, or roughly what he was due to earn in base salary over the next two years. He also wants a six- or seven-year deal, as he feels he can play at an elite level for three or four more years.
"I thought [the meetings with Belichick] were productive until I saw the offer," Law said. "I thought we were on the same page.
"I couldn't believe it. I was speechless. It was disappointing more than anything. It kind of hurt."
Belichick declined comment last night.
Law said he made it clear to Belichick that he wanted to finish his career as a Patriot. He also said he's willing to help the team's cap situation, but not at his own expense.
"I have the utmost respect for Bill Belichick as the best coach in the league," Law said. "He's getting paid accordingly and I want to get paid accordingly, as well. He got Coach of the Year, I got Defensive Back of the Year. He just redid his deal. I don't know the details, but I guarantee you this: He didn't take a pay cut."
Law is looking for a raise. He will earn more than the "franchise" tender ($6.8 million, the average of the top five salaries for the position, and about the same as Oakland's Charles Woodson, recently designated as the Raiders' "exclusive franchise player") in salary and bonuses next year, nearly $7.2 million. But Law says he wants to be paid as the top cornerback in the league, a distinction he earned last season. According to an industry source, Washington's Champ Bailey, who is about to be traded to Denver along with a second-round pick for running back Clinton Portis, has come to terms with the Broncos on a six-year, $53 million deal that includes an $18 million bonus and an estimated $27 million payout over the first three years of the contract. Law wants that and perhaps more, and may wait to see how Woodson's situation plays out before signing an extension.
"I need to be making that and a little bit more to make me feel better," Law said. "Because they don't have what I have.
"Hands down, I feel like I'm the best cornerback in the league. If other good cornerbacks are getting contracts with that kind of money, I want to be paid accordingly. I consider myself to be the best of the bunch.
"As long as I get the signing bonus and guaranteed money I deserve, I'm all for accommodating the team as far as the cap.
"I'm not trying to kill the team. I'll give them cap room. I just want to be treated fairly and accordingly for what I've done over my career. I want to be here. I want to help the team. I want to win some more. I'm still trying to make up for that Super Bowl loss in New Orleans [in 1997]. They know I'm about winning." Law has helped New England win two Super Bowls in three years while being selected to the past three Pro Bowls. He said he received a lot of attention at this year's Pro Bowl in Honolulu from players, coaches, and general managers -- whom he declined to identify -- expressing their desire to have him on their teams.
"I know a lot of other teams that are willing and able," Law said. "The Pro Bowl is basically a recruiting trip. Everyone knows my situation right now. There was a lot of third-party talking going on. But I would rather stay a Patriot. This is the place where I was born into the league, and this is where I want to stay. It's a shame when you can't get the same respect and appreciation from your own team. I need that same enthusiasm from my own team."
Law was asked how many teams he thought would make a serious run at him if he were available. "I guarantee you at least 15," he said. "So many teams think they're a shutdown cornerback away from a championship.
"Regardless of what uniform I'm wearing, I guarantee you I'll be the best cornerback, All-Pro, in Hawaii, everything that goes with it. But I would much rather continue to be a Patriot, without a doubt. As long as I get respect for what I've done."
But how much more can Law do? He turned 30 Feb. 10. Why should the Patriots pay him in line with Bailey, 25, and Woodson, 27, who are being compensated as much for what they will do as what they have done?
Law cited Oakland's ageless receiver, 41-year-old Jerry Rice, and former teammate Otis Smith, the Lions' 38-year-old cornerback, as examples of players who have outrun Father Time.
"If [Smith] can do it, why can't I?" Law said. "He got on my [training] regimen. I didn't get on his. I take care of my body. I can play as long as I want to play. I know I've got another six, seven years before they even think about moving me to safety, and I can get another three, four years in there. I guarantee you I will play better and longer than a lot of cats about to sign contracts. I'll still be in the league when some of them are gone. I know it's about work ethic. "I'm still getting better. I don't think I've peaked yet, to be honest with you. I can play at that level for the next three to four years. I just turned 30. If we had had this conversation a few weeks ago, I'd be 29. Give credit where credit is due. Don't just talk about a player's age. Talk about what he brings to the table."Law has come to accept that his time as a Patriot could be drawing to a close. Even if he plays this year under the terms of his current contract, it's unlikely the Patriots will keep him in 2005 at a cap charge of more than $12.5 million. He says he wants to finish with New England. He doesn't want to end up like his good friend, Lawyer Milloy, who was released before the opener last season over a contract dispute. But nor does he want to settle for less than he feels he deserves. "I would rather leave and go elsewhere," Law said when asked if he would ever accept the team's initial offer. "Not at that number. No. I'd be selling myself short. I would rather leave. Leave on top as a Patriot, as a champion. That's better than selling myself short to a team I put so much into. They disrespected me with that offer, like everything I've done was for nothing.
"I told Belichick I want to be a Patriot. If you guys won't give me what I deserve, let me go and prove it to you somewhere else. I have no problems with that whatsoever. I made that loud and clear all year. If I've got to go, I've got to go. I want to be here. If you care for me personally the way you say you do, pay me, and if you can't, let me go take advantage of other opportunities out there. Let me go. Let's not have it be an ugly situation like the one with Lawyer."