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Jones franchised

INDIANAPOLIS -- After failing to reach a contract agreement with free safety Tebucky Jones, the Patriots have designated their starting free safety and special teams maven as their "franchise" player.

The designation means that Jones is due the average salary of the top five players at his position, which for safeties, is $3.043 million guaranteed for one season with no signing bonus.

Jones told CBS Sportsline last week that he would not be happy with being tagged as the Patriots "franchise" player and would not participate in any offseason workouts if that move was made, leading one to believe that he may not be willing to play under the "franchise" designation if it came to that. His agent, Gary Wichard, could not be reached upon confirmation of this news.

If Jones ends up playing on the one-year designation, the Patriots would have two of the highest paid safeties in the league with Lawyer Milloy set to earn around $4.4 million in 2003. Milloy's cap figure is closer to $6 million, meaning the two starting safeties would account for nearly 10 percent of what is expected to be about a $75 million salary cap in 2003.

The Patriots could remove the designation at any time and allow Jones to become an unrestricted free agent. But tagging him basically extends the negotiation period and provides the Patriots with more leverage in that process. Jones is not required to sign the deal, but would have to sit out if no agreement is reached and he refused to sign the one-year offer.

Last season, the Patriots tagged kicker Adam Vinatieri as their "franchise" player only to remove the designation upon agreement on a three-year contract.

The goal with Jones is likely the same. The Patriots are obviously trying to extend negotiations without the risk of losing the five-year veteran and Connecticut native.

But it would still be a surprise if Jones was the "franchise" player come September. A longer-term deal would likely include cap-friendly numbers in the early years of the contract. The Patriots aren't likely to commit almost $10 million of the salary cap to the safety position, although they could approach Milloy about a restructured deal that would include guaranteeing more money to spread out his cap hit.

Such credit card contracts are ones that Bill Belichick looks to avoid when agreeing to deals with his players.

NOTE: Belichick will fly to Indianapolis on Thursday for the Scouting Combine which began Tuesday. Scott Pioli and the scouting staff have been in Indianapolis all week.

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