There hasn’t been any information given by the Patriots on what is going on with veteran Brian Waters in recent days. In the offseason, Bill Belichick said Waters was excused from taking part in OTAs and mini-camp for personal reasons, and at the start of camp the same thing was said.
Since then? No one has said much, and Waters hasn’t shown up to Gilette Stadium. We did get two signs this week that things probably aren’t rosy between the team and Waters when his number 54 was given to rookie Dont’a Hightower, and then his nameplate was removed from over what has been his locker.
Here is what colleague Greg Bedard and I know about this situation:
* We were told months ago that the Patriots were going to re-do Waters’ deal, dropping his base salary from $1.4 million to the veteran minimum, BUT he would receive per-game bonuses for being on the 46-man game-day roster (like they did with Dan Koppen’s deal earlier this year), allowing him to make at least $1.4 million – if not more, and at the time, it did not seem there was an issue with that on Waters’ side;
* The Patriots were under the impression and expecting Waters to show up before the start of the season. They may have hardened their stance now that he has not shown up, and may have dropped the per-game bonus from any proposed restructuring;
* This staredown did not start over money. Waters’ reason for staying away is for personal reasons. He is married with five children, and his family did not come to Massachusetts with him last year, remaining in his native Texas. When he signed with the Pats he and Belichick had an agreement that Waters did not have to come to camp in order to spend as much time at home as possible. He had a hard time last year, and the intensely private vet had trouble leaving his family every year, even when he was in Kansas City. It is understandable that would be difficult;
* First and foremost, Waters would prefer the chance to play closer to home. If that is not possible, he would like to get a pay raise to return to New England for at least one more season, making the emotional stress of being away from home worth it financially;
* New England cannot cut Waters’ base salary without him agreeing to it, and if they did reduce it through renegotiation, it would not be subject to the veterans’ minimum salary benefit clause in the collective bargaining agreement. It would have to expire or be terminated then a new deal signed to get that benefit;
* The Patriots are in a very tough position. They can’t change Waters’ salary unless he agrees to it. However, because Waters has not reported, he has been accumulating $30,000 in fines for each day missed of training camp. That is automatic. If and when he shows up, Waters would have to negotiate with the team for a reeducation or waiver of all fines. That could be the sticking point since he decided not to show up this week.
* If Waters reports, the Patriots have to pay him his $1.4 million (with any fines the team chooses to enforce subtracted). The team will not want to cut him, because he would likely sign with Texans near his home. The Texans have a huge need for a veteran right guard, and there’s no way the Patriots are going to let Waters walk to one of their biggest competitors for the AFC title. The team could trade Waters, but he likely wouldn’t report if it was far from home, so a trade is almost impossible.