In need of a little human touch
Editor's note: This mailbag was written and posted before the news of Willie McGinest singining with the Cleveland Browns.
The Patriots' mailbag was busting out at the seams over the last 48 hours, with the team's fans outspoken about the lack of activity in free agency.
Two topics dominate: Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri.
This will be an abbreviated mailbag and the plan is to come back next week -- with a more extensive mailbag on a variety of topics -- when the team's free-agent picture is a little clearer.
Here we go ...
I am actually sick and tired of the statement "NFL is a business" being used constantly nowadays. Players use it to desert their old teams and teams to discard their foot solders unceremoniously. It is true that the NFL is here to make money, but let's not forget that the sport is being operated and played by real people and watched by millions of real fans. Human factor has to be considered while the business aspect of the team is taken care of. In this vein, I think some of the recent moves by Patriots are questionable. Why can't they take sincere steps to re-sign Willie McGinest, Troy Brown and Adam Vinatieri? It seems that every free agent that has left cited the fact that the Pats had never shown the willingness to retain him. I understand it is inevitable to lose some free agents, but people like Willie, Troy and Adam are the heart and soul of the championship teams. It just makes human sense to go outside the established parameters to retain their services. I am afraid the Pats are not attracting or retaining any critical free agents by the cold and rigid business calculation.
Jeff Huang, Houston
A: Make no mistake about it, Jeff, that was a calculated public bomb Willie McGinest launched into the Patriots' laps this week when he told ESPN.com that the team hadn't called to talk to him about contract numbers. He didn't have to say it publicly, but to me, it was a sign that his pride had taken a hit after 12 years with the organization. That was a direct shot to the Bill Belichick/Scott Pioli regime. In the wake of it, no less than 50 people immediately fired off e-mails to this forum, most asking "How could they not even talk contract numbers?" My opinion is that the Patriots have some damage control to take care of right now, to change the perception they don't work with a human touch, specifically with some longtime veterans. I believe they've told McGinest they want him back, but the actions haven't matched the words, according to McGinest. My final thought is that this one isn't over yet, and it wouldn't surprise me if McGinest is ultimately back in New England. That's why it's smart to wait to pass final judgment until all free-agent moves have been made. Yet should McGinest sign with another team, the Patriots are going to have to explain to their fan base how they could let a valuable 12-year veteran take his first free-agent visit without even discussing a contract with him.
Is there any truth to Willie McGinest making the statement that he is willing to redo his contract for a lesser amount in order to remain a Patriot. Someone I know stated they heard it on the news, but I have found nothing to confirm it. Thanks again.
Steve Haldeman, Keene, NH
A: Entering free agency, the only public comments I'm aware of from McGinest came in a Boston Globe article earlier in March. In that article, McGinest said he knew the final year of his contract was a "ghost" year and that "if it came to it, they'd renegotiate, release me, or release me and then do a new contract." I believe they've told McGinest directly that they want him back, and now the question is whether the open market produces a contract for McGinest that is more than the Patriots want to pay.
What are your thoughts on Willie coming back to the team accepting lower pay?
A: McGinest understands business as well as any player I've seen in the Patriots' locker room over the last four years. Coupled with the fact that I believe the Patriots told him they'd like him to return, it wouldn't surprise me at all if McGinest is back with a reduced contract. But it looks like the Patriots are going to let the market dictate what happens. They probably have a price in mind that they'd be willing to pay, but instead of presenting that to McGinest beforehand, they'll let the market dictate. If McGinest comes back to them with a rich deal, they might tell him that's more than they can offer and then part ways.
Hi Mike, what are the cap ramifications of Willie McGinest being released? Also, does this change who the Pats go after in the draft, particularly in the early rounds?
Sandeep, Washington DC
A: The Patriots saved about $7 million on the salary cap with the release of McGinest. One move, like the release of McGinest, doesn't necessarily change whom the Patriots will go after in the draft. It'll depend on a series of moves, starting in free agency, and also accounting for the fact McGinest could still return.
My question is about Adam Vinatieri. Why have they not re-signed him? I understand the Patriots' policy of establishing a value for a player and not overpaying that value (which makes me understand completely their decision to let Willie McGinest go), but not signing Vinatieri for a long-term deal that averages of $2.5 million per year doesn't make sense to me. They won't save much money by signing a good (though not as nearly as good) kicker, and yet they lose out on one of the best in the business. Any ideas why they are doing this?
Marco DiBonaventura, Piscataway, NJ
A: I echo your thoughts. I think the Patriots are making a big mistake with Vinatieri, taking a risk they didn't have to. I would have franchised him for $3 million on a one-year contract -- which I think is a fair deal for both sides -- and then continued to work toward a long-term deal with him. Regardless of the uncertainty surrounding the collective bargaining agreement at the time, I still don't understand why the Patriots gave up that leverage and believe Vinatieri would have been fine with that arrangement. My feeling is that a reliable kicker means more to a team that often plays in more unpredictable weather than most other teams in the league. Look for Green Bay, which is serious in its pursuit and doesn't want to be used as a negotiating tactic to drive up the price, to make an offer that could blow Vinatieri away.
This whole not respecting players thing bothers me. How are they (the Pats) not respecting Adam offering him a 4 year deal ($2.5 mil per) that would keep him the top paid kicker? How are you not respecting Willie when they let him go in time to get the big early FA season offers, when they could have waited. They told him they'd like to have him back. They know if a team like the Browns or Jets knock his socks off he's gonna go. Why exacerbate the situation by offering him something that may seem insulting, when he can check out the market and get back to the Pats after? I think guys like Woody, Patten, Andruzzi, and Washington all got financial security because they played for the Pats, whose coaches made them look good. Think they'd have gotten the big bucks if the played for the Skins? What do you think?
A: I think this probably echoes what Bill Belichick or Scott Pioli might say privately, and I believe there is validity to it. However, seems to me that the issue some fans might have was Willie McGinest's comments that the Patriots hadn't contacted him to talk about any contract numbers. That is a different issue.
As of today, the Pats now stand to be without two of the most clutch players in the last decade. Arguably, without either, they do not win three out of four Super Bowls. New England has withstood the departures of Lawyer Milloy, Ty Law and Damien Woody (albeit barely), but this would be more painful with the history of service from these two great players. So barring a miraculous change of events, would it still be fair to say that no one else will wear the No. 4 (Vinatieri) or No. 55 (McGinest) jerseys for the Pats again?
Mark Hanslin, Ridgewood, NJ
A: Because they already have seven retired numbers, it's quite possible the Patriots can't afford to not issue those numbers. This topic came up in a casual conversation with a team official during the 2005 season about how to deal with such a problem in the future. One possibility is creating a Ring of Honor -- similar to what is seen in other stadiums, like Denver -- without retiring a number. The Patriots' retired numbers are Gino Cappelletti (20), Mike Haynes (40), Steve Nelson (57), John Hannah (73), Bruce Armstrong (78), Jim Lee Hunt (79) and Bob Dee (89). It's possible if some of those numbers go in a possible Ring of Fame, they could be re-issued to current players. If nothing changes with the Patriots' plans on retiring numbers, given those numbers already retired, I'd say No. 4 and No. 55 should join them.
For the first time in a long time, I'm having my doubts about the Patriots' personnel moves. The only reasonable excuse for not trying to retain McGinest would be the upcoming mega-deal for Seymour. Otherwise, rework his contract and keep him for at least two more seasons. There are no linebackers on the Patriots roster who can replace him. And the free-agent market does not have anyone other than maybe LaVar Arrington who have his ability. For a 12-year veteran, that is saying something. Are the Patriots getting too caught up in their own policy? Are they being stubborn for the sake of being stubborn? Great players are rare, and McGinest is one of those. He wants to stay here, and the Patriots need him. The only person happy about this deal is Peyton Manning.
A: McGinest could still be back, but the Patriots have made the calculated decision to let the open market dictate his value. He showed he can still bring it in 2005 and I do believe the team hasn't ruled out bringing him back. Like most everything else, it will depend on the price. The team has Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin at the position, which would somewhat lessen the hit of losing McGinest. On the other hand, I'd feel a lot worse about losing Adam Vinatieri.
What is the real scoop on the Vinatieri situation? Is there bad blood? Do they feel he is really declining? Is he hurt? I can't imagine why they would risk letting him go. I understand not tagging him and paying $3 million but letting him walk -- and I know there are sentimental feelings here -- but this is like watching Orr or Fisk go. Actually, it might be worse.
Dave Hessel, Westminster
A: My guess is that the Patriots have offered around $2.5 million per year over a long-term deal and Vinatieri thinks he can do better. I think if Green Bay comes in with a market-busting offer (closer to $3 million per year), which is entirely possibly from what I hear, Vinatieri is gone. It's easy to play with the house's money, but I think the Patriots are flirting with disaster -- and a growing public perception that they lack a human touch with a select group of longtime veterans -- by even letting it get to this point.
I just read Ron Borges' Boston Globe story on Willie and I have to say I'm not only impressed but humbled by Willie's outlook on the situation. It's nice to see that guys like that still play sports and they're not always in it for themselves. Which is why rooting for a team like the Patriots is so easy to do. I hope they bring him back not only for his play, but for his leadership and attitude. Guys like him truly are what this team what it is. I love rooting for the Patriots not just because they're my team and I have been my entire life, but players like him make it easy.
A: Many fans have echoed these thoughts, Greg. McGinest was visiting with the Browns on Wednesday, March 15 and has interest from other teams as well. I wouldn't be surprised if the Browns make him an offer he can't refuse.
In your opinion, are there any reasons besides money that would cause the Patriots to not re-sign Vinatieri (injuries, age, deteriorating performance)?
Paul Casperson, San Antonio, Texas
A: I can't think of any other reasons why they wouldn't re-sign Vinatieri. They are, after all, offering him a contract that makes him the highest paid kicker in NFL history. There just seems to be a difference of opinion between the two sides on how much higher Vinatieri should be than all the other kickers.
I remember reading someone criticizing the Krafts for being greedy in the CBA, but in light of Jonathan Kraft basically drafting the new current agreement shouldn't we be applauding the Krafts? I mean they really have been among the elite owners in NFL history and their mark on the game will be revered for years to come. Do you think either Bob or Jonathan would make the Hall of Fame if they were eligible today for their contributions?
Chris Clancy, Biddeford, Maine
A: The Krafts have been involved in the NFL since 1994 and have made major contributions to the league, although I don't think they're at the Hall of Fame level just yet. I did think one interesting part of the recent CBA negotiations was that Jonathan Kraft represented the Patriots and, as you mentioned, helped draft a plan that was a catalyst toward the final agreement. It seems to me that Jonathan Kraft has a more active role in ownership than some might realize.