From what Max Lane sees, the Patriots are doing what it takes to move forward. He just wishes he were a part of it.
On May 4, Lane was released. After 101 games with the team that had drafted him out of Navy in 1994, he was a free agent. At the time of his release, Lane was behind only Drew Bledsoe and Troy Brown in years of service and games played for the Patriots.
Lane, who is still rehabbing a leg injury suffered at Cleveland in Week 11 last season, doesn't agree with the move. No player with an ounce of self-confidence would. However, he holds no animosity towards Head Coach Bill Belichick, and in fact he commended the organization's focus on the future.
"It's been a good ride. For seven years it's been great, especially in this day and age the way free agency goes," Lane said. "There are guys who stay longer with teams, but it's still pretty rare and unlikely.
"The confidence that I have in Coach Belichick is pretty high. Not that I agree with their decision with me, but the people who are making the decisions are making the hard decisions like that to try to move forward. A lot of times teams don't do that because they start mixing personal feelings with business. That's something the Patriots are not doing. So that's probably a positive for them as far as moving forward as an organization."
From the third week of his rookie season until the start of 2000, Lane did not miss a game. He cracked the starting lineup at right tackle in 1995, his second season, and it wasn't until the 12th game of 1998, when Damon Denson took his spot at left guard, that Lane missed a start. Versatility made him valuable to the team for years. Over the course of his career he started 71 games, spending time as right tackle, right guard and left guard.
"First of all, it was a tough situation because Max is a real warrior," Belichick said. "I've known him since he first came into the league, and I watched him at Navy. He has gone through a lot in the last couple of years in terms of rehabbing from injuries, and that has certainly affected the way he has been able to train and perform."
There is also no question the Patriots are overhauling their line. In addition to Lane, longtime Patriots Bruce Armstrong and Todd Rucci and 2000 starting guard Sale Isaia have all departed since midseason. With youngsters Adrian Klemm, Greg Robinson-Randall, Matt Light and Kenyatta Jones mixing with veterans Damien Woody, Mike Compton and Joe Panos among others, there will be several fresh faces along the line.
"We've drafted some young players and have some young players on the team who we feel need an opportunity," Belichick said. "We want to give them that opportunity. I can't say that finances aren't part of the consideration, but it's a combination of all these things. From Max's standpoint, we feel like if we are going to do it, we wanted to do it sooner than later, and we felt like this was the best time to do it."
Lane plans on playing somewhere next season. He is working out four times a week to get his leg back to full strength, and then he will focus on catching on with another team. Regardless of how the rest of his playing days go, he will consider himself a Patriot, and he and his family will live in New England.
"You see guys like Thurman Thomas who go play for another team, then come back and sign on for one day and then retire," Lane said. "I don't know if that will be the case for me because Thurman Thomas and guys who do that are pretty special players, but I will always consider myself a Patriot. When I am done playing I will be back living up here, probably buying Patriots season tickets."
Those are classy comments coming from a player shown the door, but Lane is a realist about his situation. He understands too much about life in the NFL to have been completely blindsided.
"It would have been different if it had happened three or four years ago when everything was still kind of new and I was learning about everything," Lane said. "At this point, you have to roll with the punches and realize it was a business decision and not because they thought I couldn't play any more."
Without question, Lane still would like to be with the Patriots. However, he also knows the shelf life of an offensive lineman is short. Thoughts back to his first days with the team showed how much he accomplished.
"I was just in awe of everything having to do with the NFL," Lane said. "I came from a small town out in Missouri and played at the Naval Academy with not much hope of playing professional football. Towards my junior and senior years at the Academy, I kind of had an idea that maybe I might have a chance.
"When it happened, thinking about coming in here and playing for Bill Parcells, it was kind of a surreal experience, especially for that first weekend of rookie orientation. The thoughts I had back then, I look back and say, 'Man, I was so green and so dumb.' I remember on the ride from the stadium to the airport I was thinking, 'OK, where am I going to live?'
"After that orientation weekend, the only thought I had was, 'How am I going to make this team?' That continued until the very last day of camp and I did make it. The icing on the cake was making the team."