Patriots wide receiver Jabar Gaffney.
When Jabar Gaffney hit the free agent market this spring following two relatively productive seasons in New England he knew he wanted more. But unlike most free agents, Gaffney wasn't looking for more money or even more of an opportunity to shine in a new home.
No, Gaffney was looking for more winning, more time to work with Tom Brady and with Donte' Stallworth now gone, more chances to contribute to the Patriots high-powered passing attack. As it turns out the grass - or in this case the FieldTurf - isn't always greener elsewhere.
After working unsuccessfully to reach a long-term deal in New England, Gaffney re-signed with a one-year pact on March 5.
"I wanted to stick around," Gaffney said of his decision, speaking recently at Gillette Stadium after a workout in the Patriots offseason program. "I knew I wanted to stay here, especially how last season ended. I wanted to come back and give it another run."
Gaffney finished his second season in New England with 36 receptions for 449 yards and a career-high five touchdowns in 16 games with seven starts. Down the stretch he became one of Brady's favored playmakers in key moments, including a game-winning touchdown against the Ravens during a stretch when he had four touchdowns in five games. He added another four receptions and a touchdown in the postseason.
But it was actually Gaffney's experiences before joining the Patriots as a street free agent in October 2006 that most influenced his desire to remain in New England. After four losing seasons in Houston, Gaffney signed with the Eagles after the 2005 season, but Philly cut the former second-round pick prior to the 2006 campaign.
"Having been at those places and being in Houston, we never had a winning record," Gaffney said of the days before his career rebirth in New England. "Here I know we are going to be competitive and have a chance at the end."
That chance at the end - i.e. a chance to play in the postseason and win a Super Bowl - combined with the upside of playing with Brady can mean much more to players than money ever could.
"It's matters a lot. You want a chance to win. When you are really competitive and just really love the game of football, that's what it comes down to," Gaffney opined honestly. "All the money stuff, all the other stuff, that's all fine and dandy. But a real competitor wants to win."
Ironically Gaffney's decision to remain in the place with the greatest chance to win came just weeks after he was a member of a Patriots team that fell victim to one of the greatest upset losses in sports history. With the pain from Super Bowl XLII still present, Gaffney and the rest of the Patriots working out these days in Foxborough have turned the page.
"It's still tough," Gaffney admitted. "It was a tough loss. But coming in [to workout] it's already a new season."
It marks the second straight year Gaffney and his teammates will use a devastating season-ending defeat as motivation to yet again push toward the ultimate goal. The team that ran out of gas two years ago in an AFC title loss in Indy used that pain to put together the NFL's first 16-0 regular season.
"It's pretty much the same," Gaffney said of the similarities between this offseason and last. "We were there and left a little empty handed. We want to get back there and be on the other side of it. A lot of people this offseason have tried to be like, 'You all were 18-0. You were the first team to go 16-0 and all.' That's all fine but we didn't finish what we set out to do."
While the team goal - coming away with another Lombardi Trophy - is pretty simple for 2008, the carrot for a New England offense that set endless NFL records last season isn't quite as easy to pinpoint. But Gaffney, for one, believes there is room for a unit that scored an historic 589 points to get even better.
"We have pretty much everybody on the offense back, so we should," Gaffney said with his usual quiet confidence. "And with everybody back, guys that were new last year they are going to be more comfortable in the offense. So we should only get better. It's just going to take more work."
The former Florida Gators star hopes he can be an active force in that offensive growth. While he made big plays down the stretch in each of his last two seasons with the Patriots, Gaffney could get the chance to do even more this fall behind Randy Moss and Wes Welker on Brady's list of options.
"Hopefully my role can expand more and catch even more passes and help the team be more successful," Gaffney said, focusing on the versatility he brings to the position. "I can go out and play every position. That helps a lot. I can play on the outside and on the inside, I know all the spots. That helps. I can pretty much do it all."
Beyond his versatility, Gaffney is also counting on his productive rapport with Brady to help propel his continued development in the offense.
"We spend a lot of time looking at film and he kind of shows and tells me what he expects me to do or what he's looking for me to do in certain situations," Gaffney said of his relationship with the NFL MVP. "We work hard in practice and talk off the field. That helps going into games."
And it's why Gaffney openly spurned free agency and so badly wanted to return to New England for more of what is life as a Patriot.