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MICHAEL HOLLEY

Cornerback again proves to be a money player

The statements sting, no matter how many ways Ty Law says them. You look at the words glaring from the page -- "I no longer want to be a New England Patriot" -- and wonder if Law somehow misspoke.

Then he says it four or five more times. He already holds the Patriots' record with seven interceptions returned for touchdowns. The best cornerback in the NFL just set a record for asking out of town in every way possible.

He said he wants a divorce and he's wanted one for a while.

He said he asked to be put on the 2002 expansion list, presumably minutes after the red-white-and-blue confetti fell on the heads of the Super Bowl XXXVI champions.

He said he's willing to write the Patriots a check for his freedom.

He said he has "outplayed" the $51 million contract he signed in 1999 and that "it's a new cornerback market right now, and I need to be at the top of that, too. You can't sit there and name no other corner in the game that's got the credentials that I got right now, and the championships to go along with it."

After saying all that, Law found the time to compare himself to a stock.

"I'm Coca-Cola," he said. "I'm Microsoft. You know what you're going to get. Yeah, it's going to have its ups and downs, but I'm steady. And I'm the best. I'm just like that good ol' stock that you can depend on. I ain't that type, like Enron, to sit there and blow up, and next thing you know, you're bankrupt."

Listen to Law for a while and you can hear traces of Eddie Murphy in his prime. But no matter how funny, charming, and outspoken he chooses to be in the next few weeks, Law isn't going anywhere. He is trying to claw his fingernails across the Patriots' chalkboard until Bill Belichick cringes. It's not going to work.

This winter of his discontent is going to lead him back to Foxborough in the fall.

If you haven't guessed by now, Law has a problem with his contract. He believes he is a temporary employee and the Patriots will eventually cut him in 2005 the same way they cut his friend Lawyer Milloy in 2003.

Law recently asked his bosses for a seven-year contract and a $20 million signing bonus. Not only did they decline, they declined at a time when players from other teams were tapping pinatas and watching stacks of cash fall from the sky.

No one questions that Law's talent is equal or superior to Champ Bailey's. But he wants his accounts, funds, and stocks to be equal and superior, as well.

Strip away the humor and the incendiary remarks, and you have a theme that's familiar to the modern sports fan: It's about the money. Part of Law's anger can be traced to his powerlessness in negotiations. He knows that all he can do is throw verbal stones at his employers, and he probably knows that they can take the pelting.

If he holds out, he will give away an easy $1 million reporting bonus. If he becomes a slacker next season, he will hurt himself in a contract year; one of the worst things you can do in the NFL is have a bad season when you're 30 years old. If he is released, he knows that there will be several teams -- perhaps the Bills and Jets among them -- willing to give him things that the Patriots won't.

That's why it's no coincidence he's making his pleas now, early in free agency, before the league's version of a Cash Bar closes down.

But he should know better. He won't have to call any movers and he won't be looking for a new condo in New York. When he drives to work this season, he will spend some time on Route 1 before turning into the players' parking lot at Gillette Stadium.

He will remain a Massachusetts resident, barbs and all, because he is now a relative bargain.

His cap number will be in the $10 million range for the 2004 season. For that, the Patriots will get a player who can shut down receivers and catch like them, too. They will get a man who obviously doesn't lack confidence: In one of my first interviews with him in 1995, he compared himself to Michael Jordan. They will get a rare player who excels in man and zone coverage. He's also the best big-game corner of his generation.

In two of the biggest games of the past three seasons, Law has faced MVPs Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner. He has come away with four interceptions and one touchdown. He's facing a financial MVP now in Belichick, and deep down he has to know that this year's silly-money boom is going to pass him by.

Law is a proud man, and making more than anyone who plays his position matters to him. Belichick is an economist to his core, and giving Law a $20 million bonus (including $28 million over the first three years of the deal) is not the way he wants to run his team.

You hear the talking ("I can't even see myself putting on that uniform again, that's how bad I feel about playing here"). You hear a New England star bristling at the ceiling put in place by management. You look at the calendar and it seems that February's championship parade was from another lifetime.

Michael Holley is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is holley@globe.com.

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