Kicking and screaming
It was a terrible Tuesday for some Patriots fans who wrote into this mailbag, and to another who penned an open letter to the team. The loss of kicker Adam Vinatieri hurt.
Here's a sampling of some of the immediate reaction from Tuesday's news that Vinatieri was joining the Colts. The underlying question seems to be: "What is the Patriots' plan?" In fact, more than 50 percent of respondents to a Boston.com survey say they're beginning to lose faith in the "in Bill we trust" mantra.
Our plans are in the works to answer some other questions in the near future.
Willie McGinest, David Givens, Christian Fauria, Tim Dwight, Matt Chatham and now Adam Vinatieri. No word about contract extensions for Deion Branch or Richard Seymour. How in the world are we the fans to think for one minute that the Pats are serious about trying to win another Super Bowl? Sometimes you gotta pay what a player is worth. Not just the value that is put on him by the team. Can you please tell me what they are up to?
Wayne A. Derby, Bethlehem, NH
A: Bill Belichick often says the offseason consists of three parts: free agency, the draft, and trades. So I wouldn't make a sweeping judgment based on the team's activity in free agency. That said, it's been a very, very disappointing stretch for the team. I don't think the Patriots expected to lose Vinatieri and that is a very difficult blow. Such is the price of poker when a deal isn't reached after two years of talks and the team risks it by not using the franchise tag to ensure his return. I also think the Patriots thought they had cornerback Deshea Townsend locked up, only to see him slip away at the last moment, back to Pittsburgh. I believe the rest of the departures, including Willie McGinest and receiver David Givens, were planned for from the outset. I do agree that sometimes you have to push the envelope to keep players, and believe the Patriots will regret not extending more to keep Vinatieri.
The loss of Vinateri and McGinest adversely impacts the cohesiveness of the Patriots. As a student of military history the coach understands that. The loss of these players among others and the lack of meaningful action in the free agent market is going to be tough for Kraft and the coach to explain. Perhaps a larger underlying issue is involved in all of this?
Mike O'Connell, Hilton Head, SC
A: Of all the moves, I think the one that stunned the Patriots most is Vinatieri. My feeling is that they knew they weren't going to get into big bidding/high bonus territory for Willie McGinest and David Givens when free agency began, but felt they could match whatever Vinatieri would get on the market. When Vinatieri switched agents, everything changed. As for an underlying issue, some have speculated it's to sign Deion Branch and Richard Seymour to extensions, but I don't think the team had to lose Vinatieri to make those extensions happen.
Today is a sad day in Patriots history. They better have a justification that is incredible to justify letting Adam go. I am speechless, angry and sad.
A: My feeling is that they felt the price was too high, and that it didn't fit into the structure of their salary cap. I'd be curious to hear the Patriots' spin on this, and I'm sure fans feel the same way. Based on the information out there, I disagree with the Patriots' decision. I would have put the franchise tag on Vinatieri, then put my arm around him and told him a relentless commitment would be made toward reaching a long-term deal in New England. In the end, though, the final judgment on this decision will be made after seeing who the Patriots sign to fill the vacancy and how that player performs, and then who they sign with the extra cash saved in the exchange.
How could this happen? New England has no kicker, no second receiver, and seemingly no interest in signing its players that greatly contributed to three Super Bowl wins. Now Tim Dwight also appears gone, to the Jets. Why are the Patriots letting all their players walk? Are they making a conscious effort to get younger?
Chris W., Portland, Maine
A: The part that strikes me about the question is the sentence that reads "and seemingly no interest in signing its players that greatly contributed to three Super Bowl wins." It seems like that thought might be shared by some longtime players and it could have led to Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri having a strong desire to join new teams. My sense is that both players didn't feel particularly wanted in New England. As for the Patriots making a conscious effort to get younger, I wouldn't say that. It seems like they're making a conscious effort to keep their salary cap in a certain structure, making sure they don't overpay for what they feel a player's value is.
Did the Sullivans buy the team back when no one was looking? These personnel moves of the last month are giving me flashbacks to my childhood.
Mike Bernard, Boise, Idaho
A: I sense the frustration from a lot of fans, Mike. The underlying issue, in my opinion, isn't necessarily about the bottom-line contract numbers. It's more about what has led lifetime Patriots like Willie McGinest and Adam Vinatieri to leave, and I believe it's that they were seeking more of a personal touch from the organization. In his press conference in Cleveland, McGinest said several times that he already felt appreciated in Cleveland, which I interpreted as him feeling a lack of a personal touch from the Patriots. A sampling of his comments:
I believe the Patriots are ultimately about winning football games, not winning people over. I think it would serve them well to incorporate some of the winning-people-over right about now.
I know we are supposed to wait and judge the Pats on the total number of changes during the full free-agency period, but by losing Adam Vinatieri it is evident this ownership is trying to save money on every single deal. It's never been this bad in years past. While I would not have paid Givens or McGinest what they ended up getting, I would also not just sit by and turn my nose up at any possible players simply because I am trying to low-ball every free agent in hopes that I can sign them for a below-market deal. Whatever the team's financial beliefs, you still have to field a team of 53 players, so for the Pats to just sit by and watch the free agent world revolve around them is disturbing. I really don't see the Pats being able to hit home runs on all of their draft picks this year, so we still need to fill those holes created by the loss of these players.
Pete Condon, Tampa, Fla.
A: I think the Patriots should have opened the vault for Vinatieri and was surprised it ever got to the point where he was allowed to test the market. As for the comment of the team low-balling every free agent, I don't think that's totally accurate. They made a competitive offer to cornerback Deshea Townsend. That said, I think there comes a point where you need a "statement" type of contract that shows you're not afraid to take care of deserving players and the Patriots could have done that with Vinatieri, a 10-year veteran who has made some of the most clutch kicks in team history. I believe they'll regret that in the long run.
What are the Pats doing? Give me some hope here. Why are they not singing any quality players? Which direction are they headed in?
Randy Langevin, Sarasota, Fla.
A: From a strategy standpoint, the free-agent priorities now have to be filling the kicking void and finding a No. 2 receiver. Putting on a general manager's hat, I'd suggest Paul Edinger as the best free-agent replacement at kicker -- Edinger visited Gillette Stadium this week -- and then make a strong pitch in a trade for receiver Eric Moulds. As for not signing players, I just don't think the Patriots were that interested in a lot of the free agents that received big money. They've only visited with a handful of unrestricted free agents to this point, and my feeling is that they felt many of their own players hitting the market weren't core players for the future.
What the heck is up with the Patriots not re-signing Adam Vinatieri? Are you kidding me? How in the world do you replace this guy? And why would you want to? He is the best clutch kicker in the history of the game and he is only 33 years old. They wouldn't have won any of their three Super Bowls without him. Don't tell me they can't afford to pay him $3 million a year. What a joke. What is your take on the Patriots letting one of their all time greats get away?
Brad Tower, Cedar Rapids, Iowa
A: My take is that it's a bad mistake. While I believe it takes two sides to make a deal -- meaning each side has to give a little -- I think the Patriots should have extended more throughout the two-year process. This didn't just happen when free agency started. My view is that the contract issue was lingering with Vinatieri for some time; he was frustrated it ever reached this point.
I don't understand who are they saving the $$ for. Are we rebuilding for the future? This is not good. I thought we were under the cap. A sad fan.
Marc Schneider, Boynton Beach, Fla.
A: The Patriots have $20 million in cap room and vice chairman Jonathan Kraft previously said the team will spend to the cap. One possibility would be that the Patriots extend the contract of Richard Seymour and use their cap excess in 2006 to absorb more of his salary cap hit. The Vikings previously did that with Antoine Winfield in free agency. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but I don't necessarily think the Patriots are rebuilding. When I look at their personnel moves, I see the losses of McGinest, Givens and Vinatieri as the biggies. McGinest is near the end of his career and I can see the team turning that outside linebacker position over to the younger duo of Mike Vrabel and Rosevelt Colvin. Givens played free agency perfectly for someone looking for a big-money contract, and leaves a considerable void at No. 2 receiver. But the Vinatieri departure is a crusher. So I really see two major holes -- No. 2 receiver and kicker. Because of that, I think rebuilding is too strong of an assessment.
Can't hold off any longer. How can the Colts with all their huge contracts afford to offer Vinatieri a large offer and the Pats can't make an acceptable offer? This is ridiculous. So many teams are improving but the Pats seem to be content with becoming a middle of the pack team. Very disappointing.
Jim Curley, Seminole, Fla.
A: The Vinatieri deal isn't like some of the other huge contracts the Colts have paid out. Vinatieri's salary cap hit is going to be around $3 million per year, which is manageable for any team. That's $3 million of a $102 million cap. Because of that, I thought the Patriots would have agreed to a similar-type deal a long time ago because even though you're paying him as the highest paid kicker, it doesn't account for much of the cap. I think it's good value for a team that plays in unpredictable conditions in the Northeast.
Mike what's going on with Patriot Nation? I read an article saying how the Pats have had the worst free agent signings and lost players to free agency. One writer thinks Miami has passed New England and the team's AFC reign will no longer be automatic.
Kevin Pickett, Rochdale
A: As stated before, I'd say the Patriots' free-agent period has been a disappointment right now. No impact signings, getting scooped for cornerback Deshea Townsend at the last moment, and the crushing loss of Vinatieri. I don't think Miami has passed the Patriots, but I see more holes on the New England roster than I would have expected entering the offseason. Clearly, there's more work to be done.