Years of business-as-usual is beginning to pollute the intense internal chemistry that helped make the New England Patriots a dynasty. According to sources close to quarterback Tom Brady, he is unhappy with the recent treatment of his favorite receiver, Wes Welker, who is now with the Denver Broncos.
Not only did the Patriots fail to give Welker an acceptable offer, thereby pushing him out the door, sources told The Sports Xchange the team already had an agreement with former St. Louis Rams wide receiver Danny Amedola Tuesday, hours after the free agent season began and more than a day before Welker signed with the Broncos.
After Welker signed with Denver, the Patriots then announced their deal with Amendola, completing a charade that pretended to show the team really cared about and wanted Welker.
And that is what upset Brady and several other Patriots the most — the deception.
Welker is the only player in the NFL to have more than 1,000 yards receiving in each of the last five years, including three 110-catch seasons. When he wanted to cash in on that last year, he was franchised. This year he was offered a deal reportedly worth $5 million a season, an insulting amount compared to the pay of top receivers in the league.
But the key statistic may be 32, as in years of age as of May. So, after being underpaid while outperforming his paycheck on the way up, Welker was unable to cash in at all with the Patriots in an equitable manner. Welker walked away from the Patriots insulting offer and signed a slightly better deal with the Broncos: two years, $12 million.
Then the Patriots announced they signed Amendola, who is 27, to a five-year, $31 million deal, including $10 million guaranteed.
On the surface, Amendola is viewed by most as the new, younger modular replacement for Welker in the Patriots machine. They are both undersized receivers from Texas Tech who are classified as overachievers.
Welker’s departure from the Patriot machinery is hardly an anomaly. Numerous players gave their best years to the Pats then needed to find a financial reward elsewhere through free agency. Boston Herald NFL expert Ron Borges listed them this week — Ty Law, Asante Samuel, Willie McGinest, Ty Warren, David Givens, David Patten, Damien Woody, Adam Vinatieri and BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Brady may not verify his discontent until he writes that autobiography after he retires. In fact, he probably will deny being agitated by Welker’s treatment. But he now probably has more empathy for a growing list of teammates and opponents who feel less than warm and fuzzy about how the Patriots treat, well, everybody.
For the Patriots, the cost of being considered a dynasty includes as much hatred as admiration from opposing teams and players who despise the arrogant manner in which the Pats play the game — including the merciless manner they attack with the first string regardless of score, down-and-distance and field position.
Of course if opponents don’t like it, all they have to do is stop the Patriots. That is much easier said than done, as long as head coach Bill Belichick has Brady as the triggerman on New England’s machine gun.
However, that same arrogant, tunnel-vision perspective of football as a heartless business now seems to be eroding the very core of the dynasty, starting with Brady himself. Team chemistry is a delicate thing. Like the salary cap, if you keep playing tricks to get what you need now, it will catch up to you eventually.
History is littered by dynasties gone awry when they hit the cap on chemistry.
The Chicago Bears of the 1980s unraveled in the locker room when coach Mike Ditka consistently stole the spotlight and income from commercials, at the expense — literally — of his players. The early Dallas Cowboys’ cold, calculating, by-the-numbers treatment of players was so infamous that it was the overriding theme of the 1979 classic football movie, North Dallas Forty, based on the semi-autobiographical novel by Peter Gent, a former wide receiver with the team.
The movie poignantly points out the difficult dichotomy that tears at the soul of professional football. Is this a game, a sport in which loyalty, humanity and performance are all considered? Or is it a business, period.
Gigantic former defensive lineman John Matuszak reflected that quandary in a memorable scene in North Dallas Forty. He played the role of huge, sensitive and emotional O. W. Shaddock, a role which at the time reflected the late Matuszak in real life. In the movie, Shaddock was fed up with how the players were treated.
Shaddock: “Aw (bleep), you never give us anything to bring to the game except your (expletive) facts and tendencies. To you it’s just a business, but to us it’s still a sport.”
After a couple of dismissive responses, Shaddock again: “… Every time I call it a game, you call it a business. And every time I call it a business, you call it a game. You and B. A. and all the rest of you coaches are (expletive, expletive). No feeling for the game at all, man. You’ll win, but it will be just be numbers on a scorecard. Numbers, that’s all you care about. (expletive), man, that’s not enough for me.”
That tirade doesn’t exactly describe Belichick or owner Bob Kraft. Despite displaying an often cold veneer, Belichick has strong, warm, deep emotions for football and is a one-man historian who appreciates the sport back to its very roots. And Kraft is one of the most well-liked and friendly owners in the NFL.
Still, they are both cold and calculating when it comes to the business of football. Of course, that is their right. But it is time that they stop the gushing charade and tell the truth, as Denver Broncos president John Elway did Thursday when he declared the $61.5 million contract with defensive end Elvis Dumerville as “out of whack.”
Instead, Kraft insulted the intelligence of Welker, Patriots players and fans Monday when he said “I love Wes Welker. I hope he remains a Patriot for life. Just like Tom Brady.”
But now it seems even Brady is questioning the business of football with the Patriots, especially after he took a cut in pay to help the team yet still watched his favorite receiver be pushed away for financial reasons.