FOXBORO, Mass. (June 9, 2005) -- There's a problem on the NFL's most harmonious team.
Richard Seymour, one of the few major stars on a New England Patriots team built to excel without them, was missing on the first day of the Super Bowl champions' mandatory minicamp.
"Unexcused," coach Bill Belichick said tersely when asked to classify Seymour's absence. "This is our only mandatory minicamp, and so all of the players that are under contract are required to be here."
Seymour's agent, Roosevelt Barnes, did not return a call seeking comment. But the All-Pro defensive lineman has complained that he is underpaid under the six-year deal he signed in 2001, as a rookie. There are still two years remaining on that deal.
Belichick wouldn't say whether Seymour would be fined.
"I wouldn't comment on any player discipline or player contract situations. You know that," the coach said. "I would love to, but I just want to stay consistent with the policy."
Although holdouts are not uncommon in the NFL, the Patriots like to think of themselves as above such squabbling. Several players have signed below-market deals to remain with the team; quarterback Tom Brady did so even after owner Robert Kraft conceded at the Super Bowl that his quarterback could demand to be the highest-paid player in the league.
Brady, a two-time Super Bowl MVP, signed for six years and $60 million -- a mammoth sum but less up front than either Peyton or Eli Manning.
"Everybody makes their own decision," Brady said when asked about Seymour's absence. "Richard's a great friend of mine."
Other Patriots players have taken their contract gripes public, but usually -- as with defensive backs Lawyer Milloy and Ty Law -- as the first step out of town. Tight end Ben Watson held out of training camp last year for 18 days, but he was an unsigned rookie.
Belichick could not recall the last signed Patriots player who tried to get a new contract by holding out.
"We've had them. I don't have a great recall on that," he said, cracking a smile. "My memory is fading."
Also missing from practice was linebacker Tedy Bruschi, who had a stroke last winter after New England won its third NFL title in four years. But linebacker Monty Beisel said Bruschi has been active behind the scenes.
"He's been a part of all of our meetings and he's definitely been there as part of the core," Beisel said. "He's one of the guys. He's there to help people out if they have a question."
Bruschi has not said whether he will try to play this year. Belichick would not elaborate.
"I don't think it's my place or anybody else's place to comment or speak for him, so I wouldn't attempt to do that," the coach said. "When he has something to add, if he has something to add, then I'm sure he'll do it."