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Ask PFW: Milloy and more

PFW Editor Bryan Morry answers your questions in the ASK PFW mailbag.

WHAT A BONEHEAD MOVE by the Patriots!!! Why did they let a player like Lawyer Milloy go? What a message to send to the rest of the team!!!!!!! I was a Patriots FAN!!!
Matt Favreau
Brunswick, Maine

C'mon Matt. You WERE a Patriots fan? The Milloy decision make you a Bills fan? The decision, as you've certainly read by now, was financial. Whether you agree with the move or not, it wasn't personal. Bill Belichick treats every player equally whether anyone likes it or not. In addition to the salary cap issue, I believe he felt Milloy was overpaid at $4.5 million when the average of the top five safeties in football is closer to $3 million. When he signed his contract in 2000, he was to make $15 million over the first four years at which time the team would have an option to pick up a bonus for the final three years for another $20 million, including a $2 million bonus. Lawyer was never going to see those final three years and had to know it. They were there to spread out the bonus money against the cap. What he didn't know, obviously, is that he wouldn't see the fourth year. The team must have felt that the time to re-work the contract was when the salary jumped from $525,000 to $4.5 million, which would have easily made him the highest paid safety in football. The Patriots were trying to negotiate a three-year extension with Milloy, but the two sides couldn't come to a financial agreement. It wasn't just simply a pay reduction, although that had a lot to do with it. How it all relates to the cap is that the Patriots were going to be over the salary cap if they didn't reduce some salary. Belichick wasn't going to go cut a couple of other starters who he feels are playing under contracts that provide value or players that he feels are playing for the right amount of money. He also wasn't going to blindside a couple of players of that ilk when the team had been negotiating with Milloy and not those other players. His decision was about managing the team, not coaching it. Bill Belichick the coach knows his team is worse than it was when Milloy still reported to Gillette Stadium for work. But Belichick the coach must now convince his team it can win without Milloy. Belichick the coach must scheme a little harder and prepare even better. Something can always be done to sign a guy, but at what cost? Belichick doesn't like to use his credit card to keep or sign players. He's trying to be good every year, not just play for the present. It's the tough part of being the coach and final decision maker. There is no question this move hurts. Everyone inside and outside of the Patriots locker room respects the way Milloy plays the game and it's a tough loss. But it's done. Time goes on Matt. The timing was terrible. It makes me wonder why the Patriots felt a deal was imminent. They must have felt that way because they made no plans to replace Milloy and Milloy took every preseason snap with the first unit. But hang on Matt. It's a long season. The team still needs you.
Bryan Morry

Why would an owner mess with one of the most important things? Team chemistry is the one element that takes the "I" out of team. Does the owner really think the guys are going to rally around that San Diego safety?
Juan Diaz
Boston, Mass.

Hey Juan, Bill Belichick made this decision not the owner. The owner hired Belichick to make these decisions and he supports them. I'm sure when it comes time for the coach's review with the owner, all the decisions the coach has made are discussed and questioned at that time. But you can't hire a guy to run your team and then not let him run it. Belichick, rightly or wrongly, believed this was the best move for the team. Not every decision he makes is for the here and now, but when the decision to release Lawyer occurred five days before the season, it sent shockwaves everywhere. It's tough to swallow because we are emotional. The coach, generally speaking, has to remove emotion when making business decisions. He has to coach for the here and now while making decisions that impact now and the future. He certainly didn't release one of his best players to tick anyone off or try to make his team worse. That's a ridiculous notion to say the least.
Bryan Morry

Don't you believe the release of Lawyer Milloy will destroy the good will that the team seemed to have? Saving $1.5M? Wouldn't have making the playoffs caused you to make that much? Because you're not making them now.
Tom Connell
Wetsford, Mass.

In terms of your first question, we'll see. It's too early to determine how the team will ultimately be affected by the move. It certainly affected them Sunday in Buffalo, but let's see how the team responds to that. But this wasn't about making or losing money. It wasn't a profit issue. The Patriots had to get under the NFL-mandated salary cap and chose Milloy's $4.5 salary to do it. It's not about deep pockets.
Bryan Morry

Do the Patriots have any interest in signing RB Kenny Watson? This guy looks like a future starter for someone. He averaged 4.6 yards per carry for Washington last year. That is hard for me to overlook.
Rick Paquette
Springfield, Mass.

From what I gather, it doesn't seem so at this time.
Bryan Morry

Shame, Shame, Shame. That is all I can say about the cutting of Lawyer Milloy. The object for this team is to improve itself and get to the Super Bowl. I think this team weakened its chances and blames the salary cap for its woes. I think using that as an excuse is a slap in the face to Patriots fans. There were many other ways to make this work without eliminating one of the most important players on the defensive side of the ball. I would like to know how the writers at PFW view this. Especially considering the timing and what it does to the team's psyche and on the field. Shame, Shame, Shame.
Bob Artemis
Saugus, Mass.

Bob, I wish Lawyer Milloy was still a Patriot. I too think the team weakened itself with the move. But to say that blaming the cap is a slap in the face to fans is, in my opinion, off base. Do you think Belichick wanted to fire his captain? He has to manage the cap as much as the team. He made this decision with that in mind whether any of us agree with it or not. Do you think the coach said, "Gee, how can I make my team worse this week?" Get your sarcastic answer out now ………………………………OK? You done? Think about it. His job is as insecure as the players'. A handful of head coaches get fired every year. The coach wasn't trying to hurt his team and this was by no means an ego thing for Bill. He's not trying to prove that he is so smart that he can win with anybody. In fact any such suggestion is absurd. He went 5-11 three years ago with a crappy roster. No coach can win without good players and Belichick knows that as well as anybody despite what people have written about the 2001 team. I'm not telling anyone to agree with the move. Belichick certainly could have mortgaged a piece of the future to keep Milloy. This year's team probably would have agreed with doing so. But as Belichick is accountable for his decision to release Lawyer, he also is accountable for putting a good team on the field every year, not just this year. He made the decision with that in mind. You can debate the decision, but not why it was made. He wasn't trying to insult Patriots fans. I can assure you of that.
Bryan Morry

When will the Patriots conduct another "Football 101" clinic for female fans looking to heighten their understanding of the game?
Susan Bourgeois
Attleboro, Mass.

Thank you Susan for changing the subject. October 21. Call 508-698-8590 for more information. See you there.
Bryan Morry

What happened to Kliff Kingsbury? Did he attend training camp?
Dallas, Texas

Klifford of Kingsbury (that's what Providence Journal colleague Tom E. Curran calls him) is on injured reserve. He did attend training amp, but hurt his shoulder.
Bryan Morry

With the release of Milloy, can we expect more of the same with future releases of career Patriots like Law, Bruschi, McGinest, Ted Johnson, etc.? I have a bad feeling that Kraft is falling in love with young, cheap players instead of relying on older, usually more expensive veterans. Please, comfort me. I am afraid to buy a Pats jersey for fear that my guy may be gone the next season. I feel bad for anyone who bought a Milloy shirt.
Norwood, Mass.

Phil! I knew it was you. They said it wasn't Phil. I said, 'Dat's Phil!" OK sorry, little Beverly Hills Cop reference there. Every big contract-player deals with the cap at some point. Many deals done today are back loaded and become essentially fake years on a contract. They are added to make agents look good and to spread out signing bonus which is paid up front, but amortized over the life of the contract in terms of its salary cap effect. McGinest and Johnson have re-worked their contracts more than once in the same way the Patriots were trying to re-do Milloy's. Perhaps those players didn't have the market value Milloy did when they were re-done and therefore, they made the decision that they would still make more money in New England than elsewhere even with a pay reduction. Milloy took a calculated risk and hit the lottery. He made a business decision to say no to the Patriots contract extension offer, figuring (or maybe knowing?????????) that he could get more elsewhere. He was right.
Bryan Morry

Presumably I'm the first to want to see the positive and potential future positives with Milloy's decision to leave. I've watched for years as Milloy was two steps behind his man, i.e. not above average in man coverage. I thought Antwan Harris' tackle in the Super Bowl was the most valuable made. Whoever replaces Lawyer will be faster and that is what the Pats have needed. I don't think he would be earning his pay. Period. We have Harrison to replace that type of player and we have Colvin to bring the leadership at twice the speed and effectiveness. There is an arrogance about many multi-millionaire players that annoys me. Law is next. What do you see as the potential positives, including the best safety in next year's draft? All I've heard is the team will fall apart. Let's take a balanced look at prospects.
Wayne Peacock
East Greenwich, R.I.

Wow! Now there's a different take. I will be honest in telling you that I don't yet know enough about the college prospects at this point to tell you who is out there, but I will look into that. The positives to this point would have to be the additional cap space two years from now that can be used to strengthen the team for a player the Patriots feel provides value. On the heel of the Buffalo loss, I think it's hard for people to analyze the possible benefits so you'll have to cut the gloom and doomers some slack. You have to hope the Patriots can get younger and better at that spot. But they will absorb more than $4 million of dead money for Milloy next year, which means his cap hit next year is bigger than this year.
Bryan Morry

Joe Callahan
Waltham, Mass.

WHY DO YOU TYPE IN ALL CAPS? DO YOU WORK IN TV? ARE YOU FRIENDS WITH DAVE QUERZOLI? According to reports and according to Milloy, the Patriots did try to trade him. My guess is that no one wanted his contract. It's much easier for another team to wait for a player with too big a contract to be released and then negotiate its own deal with that player.
Bryan Morry

I was wondering when, and if, any of the Patriots players will be having an autograph session? I was supposed to bring my girls to see Adam Vinatieri at the Warwick Mall Monday night, but couldn't.
Woonsocket, R.I.

Bonjour Veronica. I don't know when or where any autograph sessions will be held. The players usually arrange those types of things on their own. But there will be a Patriots player at the Warwick Mall every Monday night.
Bryan Morry

What was the penalty called against the Patriots on the Bills second possession when they were forced to punt on fourth-and-long? I don't understand the infraction, nor have I ever heard it called before. It ended up really costing the Pats.
Franco Bautista
Boston, Mass.

That's a good question Franco. Fred Baxter was called for holding. But what he was actually called for was holding a player so that another could rush through the gap while he held the player out of the gap. It's a 5-yard penalty and automatic first down. I didn't like the call. I think it's asking the official to judge intent, which is something the league doesn't generally do (SEE TUCK RULE!!!!!!!). It was a game-changing type of call and a questionable one in my opinion. But it was also a call the Patriots were unable to overcome.
Bryan Morry

Does Bill Belichick ever give his opinion on anything! In press conferences, when asked any question requesting his respected opinion, he always responds "you would have to ask him/them" We are asking YOU, Bill, not THEM. I would like to see him start saying what he really thinks, instead of sidestepping anything remotely controversial. What do you guys think
San Jose, Costa Rica

Well Cindy, I think something must have happened to Bill in Cleveland where he offered an opinion on something controversial and got roasted in either the media or somewhere else. Because he doesn't offer much opinion on much of anything unless it has to do with teams he used to coach or players who are out of the league. He doesn't paint himself into ay corners. An example is when he is asked if his team needs to improve at, say, safety (it's a hot position right now in case you haven't heard)? Bill would say something like "we need to improve at every position." Or "We're always trying to improve our team." You get the point. I don't know why he does that, but I suspect there is a reason.
Bryan Morry

The salary cap is talked about so much in the NFL, but what happens if a team is over the salary cap at the beginning of the season?
Trumbull, Conn.

Impossible. The team would be forced to cut players or do whatever is necessary to get in compliance immediately. No team is allowed to be over the cap in during the League Year, which runs from March 1 to Feb. 28/29. No team is ever really over the cap. When you hear that, it means that a team is going to be over the cap when the new League Year starts on March 1 with all of the money currently scheduled to count against the next year's cap. You usually hear that phrase a lot in February. "The 49ers are $34 million over the cap." Well they're not really over. They are scheduled to be over so they must reduce salary to be in compliance when the new League Year starts.

I was just wondering how many times the Patriots beat the Eagles since the beginning of professional football? Dates would be cool but not necessary.
Lakewood, Colo.

If you have this week's PFW, you'd know the answer to that. The Patriots are 2-6 lifetime against Philly and 0-5 in Philly. They have lost five straight to the Eagles and haven't beaten them since 1978. They first met in 1973.
Bryan Morry

Please answer the following three questions honestly:
1. It was great to see Kevin Faulk show up for the Buffalo game. Where were the rest of the Patriot players?
2. Is everyone within the walls of Gillette stadium in denial? This loss was directly affected by the loss of Lawyer Milloy. He was the soul and heart of the team. The loss of Milloy is a direct reflection of the result of the Bills game. Admit it. Letting Lawyer go was a big mistake that management could have prevented. HONOR YOUR CONTRACTS YOU HAVE AGREED TO IN WRITING. It was not a "surprise, we are over the salary cap." They saw it coming.
3. It is time for a reality check. What happened to the "revamped defense?" I don't think any of us expected much out of the offense. We certainly did not see our investments turn out and perform this past Sunday. How much would you say this loss to Buffalo was an intended loss by the players as a message to management and coaching not to treat our players as they have done with Milloy? Why should the players play to a high level knowing they could be traded or dumped at any moment, and don't give me, "this is a business" crap for an answer. Milloy was well worth the $5 million and worth every penny of it. This loss could have been a victory if Lawyer was still with the Patriots.
Phil Cressey
Baldwin, Maine
First off, Phil, I answer every question honestly. So let's get that out of the way. Secondly, Phil, I don't know where the emotion was Sunday and do believe the loss of Milloy affected that part of the game. Third, Phil, no one is in denial. What kind of message would Bill Belichick send to his team if he announced publicly that the loss of Milloy caused his team to lose a game, which I'm not sure is totally true. I believe it contributed, but they played like garbage from start to finish. It wasn't all about Lawyer. Bill needs his team to believe it can win without Milloy, which it can by the way. So he can't go throwing that out there. He can't always say what we want him to say. You think his team tanked on him now. How would it react then? Next, Phil, the NFL has non-guaranteed contracts. Your comment about honoring contracts does not apply because it doesn't happen in the NFL. NFL contracts are all about signing bonus money. That is the only money that is guaranteed and the system was collectively bargained and agreed upon by the Players Association. As I explained earlier, most big money contracts have fake years that will never be played out. Most players understand that and even know when a five-year contract is really a two- or three-year contract. For example, let's say I want to sign 40-year old Jerry Rice and I think he'll play for two more years and be productive. I may sign him to a five-year deal that pays him $5 million up front in the form of a guaranteed signing bonus and then pay him a $465,000 salary in year one and $525,000 in year two. Then in year three, that salary jumps to $7 million, $8 million in year four and $9 million in year five. It's Monopoly money. He gets his $5 million and two years of minimum salaries. The $5 million bonus counts $1 million per year for each of the five years against the salary cap. So his cap number the first year is $1.465 million and the second is $1.525 million. After the second year, Rice gets cut and knew he would as his cap number would have jumped to $8 million. The remaining $3 million of signing bonus that has ALREADY been paid, but has not yet been counted against the cap then accelerates and in the third year, Rice's cap figure would be $3 million even though he's not on the team. That's how it works. Spare me the talk about honoring the contract IN ALL CAPS when the system is designed not to do that. It's the way it works. Players under "contract" get cut all the time. They did see it coming by the way, which is why they were negotiating with Milloy since April. They thought they had a deal all but agreed to. It fell through. Also I don't know why the defense was carved up like a Thanksgiving turkey. It's one week. But are you suggesting they tanked to send a message? NO WAY! Let's wait for a trend before we throw in the towel. Whew!
Also, I'm done with Milloy questions. Everything should be answered by now either in this entry or last week's archived version. All of your opinions are welcomed and valued.
Bryan Morry

Steve Campagna
Claremont, Calif.

No but I'll post this and we'll see who responds.

Will the Patriots be able to spread the field this year? With Branch in his second year and Bethel Johnson having great speed, is that something we may see this year?
Nick Campas
Buffalo, N.Y.

They will certainly try, but both of those guys have to prove they can catch the ball consistently. They drafted Johnson for that purpose.
Bryan Morry

This is not a question, I just want to say this is great being able to ask questions to PFW, and see the answers. I used to sub to PFW, but I didn't this year because I didn't like all the kids' pictures with their Pats uniforms on. I just thought that it was a waste of paper. I'd rather see more letters to the editor about the game and feelings of the fans.
Betty Chiffolo
Albany, N.Y.

Well Betty, Thanks, I think. But you really don't subscribe because we print some pictures of little Pats fans? First off, we do that on about a quarter of page in the whole issue. Secondly, we only run photos when we don't get any letters. We don't always have letters to run. We don't screen them out unless they're obscene. We are not running photos INSTEAD of letters. I can assure you of that. We get a ton of photos sent to us and we run them when our fans don't write in. We're not in the business of wasting paper. Newsprint is expensive. C'mon back.
Bryan Morry

Where did Otis Smith go?
Cary Pesses
New Orleans, La.

Ahh. New Orleans. The memories. He's in Detroit. Good luck to him. He's a class act.
Bryan Morry

Did Terry Glenn ever get a Super Bowl Ring?
South Burlington, Vt.

Bryan Morry

What is the status of Stephen Neal , Did he have surgery ?
Craig Tobin
Bakersfield, Calif.

He did have shoulder surgery. He is on the Physically Unable to Perform list and is eligible to begin practicing after Week Six.
Bryan Morry

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