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Dollars but no change

Brady earns spoils, doesn't get spoiled

(Correction: Because of a reporting error, the NFL salary cap rule concerning franchise players was incorrectly described in a column about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in Sunday's Sports section. When a team designates an individual as its franchise player it must pay him the average of the top five players at his position or 120 percent of his previous season's salary, whichever is greater.)

The money can change everything if you are not careful. It heightens expectations that have already reached Herculean proportions. It engenders envy, jealousy, and resentment. If nothing else, it guarantees you will pick up every single check, if you haven't done that already, for the rest of your playing days.

Tom Brady was already famous, and successful beyond his dreams. Now he has the money to go with it. The six-year, $60 million contract he signed last month rightfully puts him among the highest-paid players in sports, and while NFL contracts aren't guaranteed, the $14.5 million signing bonus (and the $12 million one next spring) is money in the bank.

This deal was a no-brainer. Brady is the one player the Patriots cannot do without. He's a once-in-a-lifetime franchise quarterback with the poise and polish and resume to command a ''sign-at-all-costs" approach.

Of course, clearing the necessary cash for Brady has its downside. It doesn't quite leave enough to go around for everyone else looking for a lucrative payday. Is that why, in the end, New England couldn't -- or wouldn't -- go the extra step with offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi? Not necessarily. The team placed a value on Andruzzi and determined it would not venture beyond that. But is that value influenced by the spreadsheet of the entire team, and the need to make sure it is enough to lock up its star quarterback? Probably.

It's not as simple as giving Brady less to pay Andruzzi more, but you can be sure somebody will cite that theory the first time Brady throws a couple of picks or gets flattened at the line of scrimmage.

Brady learned after the fact that Andruzzi had signed with Cleveland. They've talked numerous times since, and the quarterback still feels the sting of losing the veteran lineman.

''I was listening to Joe's brother on the radio," Brady said. ''It was tough to hear him talk about how much Joe loved the Patriots and how much he really wanted to be here. That's hard, especially since I had a relationship with Joe, his brothers, his wife, his mother, and father. I hope and expect we'll be friends for a long time."

The disappointment is clear in Brady's voice, yet his measured comments lack the raw emotion that spilled over when his close friend, Lawyer Milloy, was released days before the season opener in 2003. Back then, Brady struck a tone of defiance that was appreciated by his teammates but frowned upon by the front office.

''In some ways, as I'm growing, and seeing it more often, I've become more accustomed to those things," Brady explained. ''It happens. You watch something as crazy as Jerry Rice. I think it's great for Jerry Rice that Denver signed him. You say, 'What about your legacy, Jerry?' and he says, 'I never played for that. I played for fun.' He played all those years in San Francisco, then he went to the Raiders, and his time was up there, and then he went to Seattle, and his time was up there, and now it's Denver.

''I don't know. I think it's special to play for one team."

Even though Brady remains in a Patriots uniform, he knows he will not be playing for the same team in 2005. He laments the departure of defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and his offensive guru, Charlie Weis. He understands there will be a huge void both on the field and in the locker room if linebacker Tedy Bruschi cannot play this season. Andruzzi is gone. Ty Law is gone. Roman Phifer is gone. Each contributed greatly to the fabric of the team.

''This will be our most challenging year," Brady predicted. ''It's up to us to see this team develop into however it morphs into.

''You want it to be at a championship level. My job as the quarterback is to make sure not that we're better than last year, but that we are the best we can be this year."

Without Weis pushing him, challenging him, and, in some cases, berating him, Brady will assume an even larger chunk of the offensive responsibility.

''It was different without Charlie at the passing camp," Brady conceded. ''Charlie was such a big personality. He ran the show. The other guys are very capable, but it's just a matter of how fast we'll all progress together.

''I learned so much from Charlie. I carry that with me. His approach to the game, to the meeting room, practice, how he prepared the day of the game, I've learned so much from that. I'm going to lose some but hopefully not all of that."

Last week's passing camp enabled Brady to spend some time with newly signed backup Doug Flutie, the local legend who always seems to find his way onto the field.

''We talked about the fact when he was graduating high school, I was 4 years old," Brady said. ''He's a great guy. I really enjoyed him. He's 42 years old, but he acts like he's 10."

Flutie has not been guaranteed a spot on the roster, but after watching him in action, Brady said there's no doubt he'll be around.

''He's going to make this team," said Brady. ''He's a very smart player in a lot of ways. He came in and picked up our offense very quickly, and our offense is not easy. It's one of the most complicated in the league.

''The thing about Doug is everyone is always looking at his size. But he's learned to overcome that. He was telling me the other day, 'Tom, if they blitz from the right, I don't like to throw right.' Most guys like to throw through the blitz. But Doug was saying, 'I can't throw through that. I've got to turn away, or the ball is going to get knocked down.' "

If Flutie does play, it will mean two things: either the team is winning (or losing) big, or Brady is hurt. The latter scenario is a taboo subject, like talking about a no-hitter while it's in progress. Brady has been remarkably injury-free. He is the heartbeat of this team, the only player who was able to take the big money and stay. That was not an option for Andruzzi, Law, Milloy, Damien Woody, and others.

The money is tricky. Consider Adam Vinatieri, who was slapped with a franchise tag by the team, meaning the Patriots only have to pay him the average of the top five kickers in the league. Vinatieri should be the highest-paid kicker. He deserves better, and may still ink a new deal, but in the meantime, the Patriots are using the system to their advantage. Let's be frank: Kickers simply don't carry the same weight as quarterbacks.

''Adam has been two lockers down from me since I got here," Brady said. ''We're friends. It's a very hard part to watch [his situation]. I was good friends with Lawyer, and good friends with Ty, and good friends with Ted Johnson when he went through this.

''Every year we deal with it. You try to get the best deal you can, but you also know it's going to affect your teammates. Adam is the best in the league. If he continues to do what he's been doing, I've got to believe he'll be here for a long time."

Brady vows to be a Patriot lifer. His contract is structured accordingly. Asked what he's done with his newfound riches, the quarterback answered, ''I haven't bought a thing. I made more my first year than I ever thought possible in my wildest dreams.

''When you are a kid, everyone wants to grow up and play sports. You want to succeed. But there are still times when I sit around with my mom and dad and say, 'Can you believe this?' "

Three Super Bowl wins later, we absolutely can.

Jackie MacMullan is a Globe columnist. Her e-mail address is macmullan@globe.com.


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