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BOB RYAN

Law shouldn't try to make sense of dollars

Ask yourself this: What's the most important position on a professional football team?

Quarterback? Oh, really? Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson have Super Bowl rings. Dan Marino and Peyton Manning do not.

To borrow a phrase from another sport, Nuf Ced.

The answer is that there isn't one. If anything, it might be left tackle.

Ty Law seems to think the answer is cornerback, which is certainly his right. He also thinks he is the unquestioned best cornerback in the NFL, which is also his right. But just because he says he is doesn't make it so. He's real good, and he might even be right. But whether he is or not, it just doesn't matter to the people making the personnel decisions for the New England Patriots.

It is Law's turn to let us all know what he wants out of life. All NFL players of note arrive at this juncture because, alone among the athletes playing our four major team sports, they operate without true guaranteed contracts, and they do so in a league with a hard salary cap. Every one of those players has to know when he signs an X-year, X-million-dollar contract that the day will come when he will be asked to restructure it, usually downward. This is done so the organization can properly assemble a team for the season that lies ahead. Circumstances change continually. It is a simple fact of NFL life. In football, unlike other sports, you don't always go up, up, up. This is why signing bonuses are so critical. It is an utterly ridiculous system. It is, however, the way the NFL does business.

But when the moment of truth comes, most of the players in question think they should be the exception. Someone probably took a salary hit in order to allow their own particular contract to get done, but that no longer matters. What matters is my pride.

And that is what this Ty Law business is all about. P-R-I-D-E. Ty Law is 30 years old, coming off an outstanding season. If you had to rank all the Patriot players in order of their individual seasons, he may very well be No. 1. Now he wishes to be paid as the single best cornerback in football. Is it the money itself? No. He'll tell you that. Unless he develops some Tysonian spending habits, Law is set for the rest of this life, as well as several subsequent ones.

Law simply wants to strut around, knowing that no cornerback in the world will be paid more. It's keeping score; no more, no less.

And Bill Belichick doesn't care.

I hope that didn't come as a news bulletin. Did anyone think winning a second Super Bowl was going to change Belichick? Ah, no. Winning a second Super Bowl was only going to vindicate his policies. In the Belichick/Scott Pioli world view, either a player fits into the overall plan -- and by that I mean on the field and at the pay window -- or he doesn't. This should not come as a shock to either Mr. Law or his agent, Carl Poston. There is no more unambiguous personality in football than Belichick.

If I have the numbers straight, the difference over the next two seasons between what the Patriots are offering Law in an extension and what he would get if the contract remains in effect is $1.3 million ($15.6 million, as opposed to $16.9 million). That $1.3 million would mean a lot to you or me, but to a professional athlete who has already banked millions, it is petty cash. And Law ventures into dubious public relations territory when he refers to the Patriots' proposal as an "insult." It sure doesn't take much for these guys to forget where they came from, does it?

Yes, folks, as illogical as it sounds, that does constitute a salary cut. In no other sport is a 30-year-old player coming off a killer year ever asked to take a salary cut for the good of the team. But that is a way of life in the NFL. Law's beef isn't with the Patriots. It's with the collective bargaining agreement.

The Patriots might think differently if a different system were in place. Perhaps. But I rather suspect that Messrs. Belichick and Pioli would operate pretty much the same way. For them, it really and truly is all about creating a team, not overseeing a collection of independent contractors. So when the contractual crunch time comes, it doesn't matter who you are or what position you play. There is never going to be any sloppy sentimentalizing going on as long as Coach B is in charge.

But there is a reward. In exchange for swallowing a little bit of your pride, you get to play for a very smart coach who has surrounded you with very smart and classy teammates. You get to compete at the highest level. Hey, you get two championship rings. But as well as Ty Law played, and as much as he came up huge in the big games, he did not earn that Super Bowl ring all by himself. He did it in the context of a great team.

Now I'm going to yield the floor to e-mailer Marcus Rodrigues. Here is what he has to say to Ty Law:

"OK, so you feel insulted by the Patriots' offer, just like your good friend Lawyer Milloy. He stuck to his guns, much like you are doing now, and it led to his going somewhere where he felt `wanted.' How was he feeling, oh, say at the end of December or January? Or on Feb. 2, for that matter?"

So tell us, Ty. What exactly do you want out of life, anyway? Or haven't you figured it out yet?

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is ryan@globe.com.

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