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No longer a Ty that binds

Patriots and Law should part ways

Say goodbye to Ty. The Patriots and Ty Law have been together nine years, and while they would love to keep a good thing going, the sad truth is the relationship is nearing its end. Rather than engage in the negotiating song and dance and prolong what appears to be an inevitable breakup, they should do as the old Manhattans song says: kiss (if they prefer, shake hands) and say goodbye. Now.

In a perfect world, Law would deliver a farewell speech at midfield in front of a packed Gillette Stadium during halftime of his final game. But that world doesn't have a salary cap. Money makes the real world of pro football go 'round, and there's only so much of it to go around.

Law's cap number for this coming season is around $10 million. His figure for 2005, the last season of the seven-year contract he signed in 1999, is about $12.5 million. Problem? Uh, yeah. In need of cap relief, New England has offered Law a four-year extension worth $26 million, which includes a signing bonus of $6.6 million and salaries of $4 million, $5 million, $4.2 million, and $6.2 million. Law said last week he was "insulted" by that proposal.

Over the next two years, he is scheduled to earn $16.9 million in salary ($6.15 million, $8.75 million) and reporting bonuses ($1 million each year), and Law wants any new deal to pay him at least that much in signing bonus. While he says he doesn't have to be the highest-paid cornerback in terms of average annual salary, he would like to take in about $27 million in the first three years, or what Champ Bailey will get from Denver.

"I'm not trying to be greedy," Law said. "I'm fine with my current salary. I'm not complaining. I'm not chasing anybody's money. I'm chasing what I deserve, what's fair. I've got every right to be paid among the elite players at my position, if not defenders in the game."

I don't see this ending happily. On one side, you have a cornerback considered by some to be the best in the NFL who feels he should continue to be paid as such. Across the bargaining table you have the most successful organization in the league, one that makes difficult personnel decisions and lives to tell about them.

True, Law and the Patriots are still early in discussions. And true, it's a negotiation; Bill Belichick wasn't going to start at $15 million. But you're talking about a $10 million gap on the up-front bonus. It's difficult to imagine them discovering a middle ground.

Let's be real: The Patriots aren't going to keep Law beyond this year under the terms of his current contract. If they won't give him what he wants, and if he won't give in, then they should give him his freedom.

The Patriots would be losing a key member of their defense, but they'd also be eliminating a potential distraction. He said he wouldn't hold out, but he knows he'll still be a cap casualty even if he caps next season with a fifth Pro Bowl selection.

No one wants another Lawyer Milloy episode, and this divorce doesn't have to be one. The Patriots' popularity is at an all-time high. Belichick can do no wrong in the eyes of most fans, mainly because he's done little wrong in three years.

As great as Law is, New England proved last season it could win without almost anybody. Unless someone blinks, he's gone, anyway. Sooner or later. Now or in a year. Law isn't going to accept a pay cut next offseason. He has two rings. They have 10 draft choices and two young cornerbacks. If the Patriots won't pay, why make Law stay?

Option No. 1: Release him. If the Patriots cut Law before June 1, they'll absorb a $5.4 million hit on the 2004 cap. Steep, but it's half his current number. If New England releases him after June 1, it's better for the team because the cap hit would be divided between this year and next but bad for Law because other teams already will have done most of their shopping and will be working on signing rookies. But remember, Milloy was released five days before the start of last season and landed a big deal in Buffalo.

Option No. 2: Agree to a buyout. Law would pay the Patriots to void the final two years of his contract and become a free agent, and they would get much-needed cap relief. They could use the money to re-sign Ted Washington and/or whomever else they're targeting. There are several solid unrestricted free agent cornerbacks available, including Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Antoine Winfield, and Shawn Springs.

Option No. 3: Trade him. Law claims there are 15 teams prepared to pay him top dollar. If I'm Belichick, I'm having his people call their people to tell them to call my people. In other words, grant Law's agent, Carl Poston, permission to seek a trade. Law has value now. If he's as hot a commodity he says he is, perhaps the Patriots can net a high pick or two in return.

Working out a trade would be difficult -- Law and his new team would have to agree to a contract, and the Patriots have to like what they're getting -- but it might be easier than these negotiations.

This isn't personal. This is business. If Law and the Patriots can't agree on an extension, it's better to part ways now before it becomes personal.

Seymour on deck? A contract issue on a smaller scale is that of Patriots defensive lineman Richard Seymour, who is coming off his second consecutive Pro Bowl season. At 24 and entering his fourth year, Seymour is considered one of the league's best. But he isn't being compensated as such -- and, because he's on his rookie contract, he won't be for another three years, making him one of the league's best bargains. Seymour, the sixth overall pick of the 2001 draft, is scheduled to earn $960,000 in base salary this season, $1.12 million in '05, and $1.12 million in '06. He can earn up to $3.4 million in salary escalators next year and $6.8 million in the final year of the deal based on performance, playing time, playoff appearances, and Pro Bowls. The escalators aren't easy to achieve, even for a player of his caliber. Seymour wants a new contract and has been interviewing agents. Carl and Kevin Poston, who represent Law and Milloy, are among the finalists. The Patriots must be thrilled . . . A lot of folks thought Terrell Owens and Dennis Northcutt would be looking for new agents when it turned out that neither would be eligible for free agency because their agents had missed the deadline for filing the paperwork. As the top free agent receivers, Owens and Northcutt would have commanded large contracts on the open market. Instead, they're stuck (Owens with the 49ers, Northcutt with the Browns) with their teams for another three years each, though they may be traded. They're sticking by their agents, though. Owens blamed the league and the team for not notifying his agent of the earlier deadline. Effective three years ago, the collective bargaining agreement mandates that a player provide the team notification of his intent to opt out of a contract three days prior to the deadline for teams to designate their "franchise" players. Apparently the agents thought they had until Tuesday. Owens's agent, David Joseph, has filed a grievance with the NFL Management Council. Shouldn't something this important have been taken care of weeks ago, anyway? . . . Northcutt is represented by Jerome Stanley, who also negotiates on behalf of Tampa Bay's Keyshawn Johnson, who appears headed to Dallas (and a reunion with Bill Parcells) in exchange for Joey Galloway. Both Galloway and Johnson were once traded for two first-round picks. If Johnson, even with all of his baggage, can be anywhere close to the second coming of Michael Irvin (he already has the personality), it's a great catch for the Cowboys.

Nice reception Speaking of good catches, New England's David Givens played flag football Thursday with 60 Braintree High students, 30 of whom are special needs students. Givens signed autographs another half-hour, and the students presented him with a Braintree High T-shirt and a batch of red, white, and blue cookies. "He got as much out of it as they did," said Givens's agent, Brad Blank . . . It has come to this: Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow, a former agent, told the Sports Business Journal that he was charging $2,500 for prospective agents to interview for the opportunity to represent his son, Miami tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. That violates the NFL Players Association's code of ethics. NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw notified his legion of certified contract advisers via e-mail last week that agents who pay players in this manner would be decertified. According to an industry source, the parents of Miami's Sean Taylor and Pittsburgh's Larry Fitzgerald also were charging prospective agents to interview. Meanwhile, according to another industry source, Upshaw and Cardinals coach Dennis Green, both of whom are represented by IMG, are trying to persuade Fitzgerald to ditch Mason Ashe and sign with IMG.

A Pleasant goodbye Anthony Pleasant will end his career the same way he went about his work for 14 seasons: quietly. There has been no official announcement, but two sources close to the free agent defensive end say he has decided to retire. Pleasant, 36, played his last three years with the Patriots and was a starter on the '01 Super Bowl team. A third-round pick of the Browns in 1990, he spent his first six seasons in Cleveland and moved with the team to Baltimore before making stops in Atlanta, New York (Jets), San Francisco, and, finally, New England. He had 58 sacks, but Pleasant's legacy will be the dignified manner in which he conducted himself on and off the field. He was inactive for nine regular-season games and all three playoff games last year yet maintained his exemplary work ethic. He was a man of few words but had many admirers in the Patriots' locker room; when "A.P." spoke, other players listened . . . As they say, do the math. Center Tim Ruddy, guard Todd Perry, and tackle Mark Dixon are all out in Miami. The Dolphins, having reworked three contracts and cut nine players, slashed $20 million off their payroll and appear to have escaped cap jail. The Patriots, meanwhile, will allow Damien Woody to test free agency. The Dolphins have a little money and need offensive linemen. Woody wants more money than the Patriots were offering and needs a job. Add it up and it means New England will be seeing Woody twice a year . . . Indianapolis released five players and restructured eight contracts, creating $25.8 million in cap space. If the Colts and quarterback Peyton Manning don't agree to a long-term, cap-friendlier contract, he'll tie up $18.4 million of that as the team's "franchise" player . . . The selection of free agent running backs will get better Monday when the Raiders receive a $400,000 buyout check from Charlie Garner. A two-time 1,000-yard rusher, Garner was due to earn more than $3 million in salary and count more than $4 million toward the cap and likely would have been released after June 1. He's 32 but has carried only 1,507 times in his 10-year career. So he has some tread left on his tires. He has versatility. He has a career yards-per-carry average of 4.6. Shouldn't he have a gig waiting for him in New England? . . . Last week this reporter wrote that the Patriots had 13 picks in April's draft. Actually, New England has 10 selections: two each in the first, second, and fourth rounds, and one in the third, fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds.

They'll drink to that The NFL and Gatorade recently reached a sponsorship deal worth close to $500 million over eight years, an unprecedented $45 million annually. As part of the deal, which takes effect in April, the sports drink maker will pay the league $1.2 million to supply its teams with Gatorade, plus $16 million in guaranteed marketing commitments. Such a landmark agreement would not have been possible without a pact among the league's teams that is due to expire March 31 called the NFL Properties Collective Trust. Every team except for the Dolphins and Raiders includes its marks and logos in the trust (Miami and Oakland adhere to the trust's marketing rules but have legal control of their marks and logos). If there is no extension to the trust, which has been in place since the early 1970s, teams will have the right to broker their own marketing deals and keep the revenue, though the owners have agreed to honor existing deals, such as those with Reebok and Pepsi. This is serious business we're talking here. The Gatorade deal doesn't get done if the league can't commit every team's logo and sideline. Remember, the NFL is a revenue-sharing league. Collective marketing leads to increased revenue, which leads to increases in the salary cap, like the one last week that saw the cap go from a projected $78.7 million to $80.5 million. (The spending limit on players equals 64 percent of average revenue.) The trust was a major topic at the owners' meeting earlier this month in Orlando and will be high on the agenda at the upcoming league meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. . . . Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will be recognized as Pro Football Weekly's Assistant Coach of the Year at the 26th Ed Block Courage Awards, to be presented March 16 in Baltimore.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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