Patriots

Curran's mailbag: Players take their lumps

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Curran's mailbag: Players take their lumps

By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com

The players-owners mudwrestle continues. And the longer it goes, the more stupid each side gets. It took just four days for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson to take a commanding lead in the most asininedamaging comment category when he said playing in the NFL is like "modern day slavery."These are Adrian's slave quarters.My leaning? I get the owners' point - player costs have risen sharply during an economic downturn, and the 2006 extension was a "let's see how this works" proposition - but their insistence on shaving the players' pay without more transparency, their dirty dealing in their TV deals when they secured payments for themselves in the event of a lockout, and their insistence that they were ready to negotiate all along when they barely showed up at negotiations has turned me off. But judging from the e-mails that have been hitting my inbox, the players are not coming off well in this mess.

Tom

To me the union are money grubbers . . . they have it better than they ever have . . . they are employees of a business and are holding the business owners and us the fans hostage . . . maybe they should start paying their own airfair, their own food expenses, their own health care, etc., etc.

I dont have a problem with them getting paid well or negotiating, but now they are suing because they arent going to get what they want and DONT DESERVE . . . they act like there is an entitlement now or that THEY are the business owners . . . I have experience with unions . . . and what do they actually do for you . . . Well, they take your money and are supposed to advocate your cause with management . . . thats a joke . . .I dont feel for them at all . . . and I am a working-class man.JamesSorry, James. The owners are the ones who want to change the model. Since it's a "partnership" (owners' words), the owners need to show why. And as for the airfare, etc., that's what the owners are trying to wring from the players in the form of the next 1 billion in credits. The players already kick money back to the owners for many expenses.
Mr. Curran,

If the players are feeling so put upon, why dont they just form a new league and pay themselves everything? I am just tired of hearing how bad they are being treated when even those making the league minimum of 300,000 per year over an average career of four years pocket 1.2 million. That is the equivalent of someone with a four-year degree getting a job at 50,000 working for 24 years. Additionally, if the players are on the ball they can develop a network of contacts so that when their careers are done they can move into a job that pays what the rest of us make.

Bottom line for me is that they make a ton on money because they happen to have the talent and size to play a game for a living. I think they have lost sight of the fact that they are getting paid to do something that most adult males would do for free.

I hope there is no settlement and the players form their own league and the NFL signs new players and those of us who pay the bill can choose which to support. I will support the Patriots and the new group of overpaid guys.

Jeff

I went round-and-round with former Patriot Heath Evans on this last week. For players to protest they aren't "millionaires" and bristle at the "millionaires-vs.-billionaires" portrayal is weak. The average NFL salary is 1.9 million. If the average player's NFL career ends and he doesn't have 1 million in cash andor assets, he messed up. Still, I don't begrudge them making that money. They have a unique skill, the market bears it, imagine how much the guy that pays them all is making, blah, blah, blah. And I don't think you'd like a league with the next 1,800 best players in the world in it.

One question I wished you had asked Pete Kendall. He claims that the non-starter for the players was the owners wanting a fixed projection on the players' salary cap and that if revenue exceeded these numbers the owners would keep the difference during the life of the contract. The question I wanted you to ask is:

What is the incentive is there for the owners to continue to market and grow the game - take risk - if they do not get the majority of those profits? From reading Kendall's comments, the players were adamant that real dollar contributions to them had to stay around or above 52 percemt. Why would an owner agree to that, knowing there was never going to be a way to reduce labor expenses?

Kent

Always great to hear from you Kent and really good question. I think you're referring to the piece in which the owners wanted to "peg" the salary cap number at a fixed amount and not have it be a year-to-year amount based on the previous year'srevenue, even if league revenue projections were exceeded. To revisit,if the cap was pegged at 145 million per team and the projected revenue was 10 billion league-wide, the owners wanted to pocket all the money when the revenue was higher than they projected. Players were okay with the first 1.5 percent going to them and then splitting the overrun 50-50. For a league that ultimately wants to be a 25 billion-per-year financial leviathan with new TV contracts looming in 2014, they lowballed the projections so they could screw the players on the backside. I don't know if that answers your question.

Tom E,I would like to point out two points in the labor story I believe cry out for more journalistic exploration.1) Are the owners united in this lockout? My point is this . . . no one could paint the economic realities of the 31 owners with anything close to the same brush. Some seem to really need more money. Some don't seem to need more money at all. Some treat their team as the ultimate toy. Some as a business . . . will owners be able to stay united?2) I have not read a really good explanation of why the owners won't allow the books to be opened. What is inside that is so secret? I am very curious. Is there more money in the game than we were led to believe? Less money? Secret payouts to sons and daughters? What's the hidden scandal? it's hard for me to believe the owners' refusal is purely based on principle.Sam in Peabody

Thanks for checking in, Sam. You're right, there's a wide-range of motivational factors. But they all share the belief that player payroll is cutting too deeply into their profits. Whether that's because they're having a hard time competing for free agents and making ends meet with ease, or because they want more money to buy another plane, is moot. They all want those salaries down.

As for "2," you haven't read a good explanation because they haven't given one. Robert Kraft's explanation at the Super Bowl was that he didn't want somebody telling him he wasn't paying some marketing executive enough money. There is more money in the game than we know about. And the players know about. And the fellow owners know about. The owners are probably just as worried about their brethren seeing their books as they are the players.

Tom E. You guys at CSNNE are missing Business 101 and the American way in all of your NFL arguments against the owners. Let me break it down to basics and you can take this to the billion dollar level I hope.Lets say you saved 50,000 and you decide to open a corner store. You hire your 20-year-old daughter and pay her 25,000 a year to run the store. But you need say five other "people" to run your store as well. Let's call these other people - players.They play their part in YOUR business and you pay them as little as possible to do the job, but enough to make them show up for work. Because, guess what, their pay cuts into how much you make when the day is done. If your business is really good you might make, say, 100,000 a year. You are entitled to make as much as you can because YOU invested 50,000 to buy the business. You have taken a financial risk with your hard-earned money. The players that you hired to run the cash register and stock shelves did not invest a dime. If your business goes down the toilet, they just walk away and get another job. But you lose your 50,000 investment. These people you hire have ABSOLUTELY NO LEGAL RIGHT TO SEE YOUR BOOKS. They are not legal partners. They have made no investment in your business and have taken no risk.It is the same with the NFL, man. The players have invested no money in the ownership and risks of running these teams. The owners have. The players have no right to know how much the owners make. If the person running the register wants a pay raise, does that person have any right to see your books? No.Frank from Natick, a small business owner for 30 years.

Appreciate the passion, Frank. Here's where your analogy breaks down. Those shelf-stockers aren't in a collectively bargained agreement in which the store owner agrees to pay the group of them a percentage of the revenue each year. NFL players are. The players and owners agreed that the players will receive 59.5 of total revenues. And that the players will - before those revenues are divided - allow the owners to take 1 billion to spend on things like stadium building and upkeep, digital media, etc. If the owners want to change that agreement and give the players less than that 59.5 percent, the players are entitled to know why, They aren't merely the workers, but also the product. By trying to simplify it, you make it more complicated.

Hi Tom,I really wanted to vent to you. I have been a season-ticket hold for 18 years. I have four seats in the lower level and my bill is nearly 7,000 a year. The Patriots are the FIRST team to send out their season-ticket bills, and I think with the uncertainty they should extend the deadline.My colleague is actually a Jets season ticket holder and he doesn't get his bill until May. I don't want to hear they need the lead time to get them printed, etc., because they don't give them to you until late summer anyway.The Krafts ALWAYS want the float on your money. I am incensed by this. I am jammed up here. If I don't pay up by the 31st, there are people waiting to take my place. It's just wrong and I think its abusing the fans.Thanks for letting me vent. I really hope you will do a short piece interviewing the team and some fans to get the different perspectives. It really is a hot topic within the season-ticket-holder circle.Chris

I spoke Tuesday night to a 10-year club seat holder - four seats - who expressed the same level of dismay. It's rampant right now.

Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran

Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

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Patriots' team personality changed by offseason moves, and not for better

Bill Belichick has long been a proponent of altering his team's DNA from season to season. It cuts down on complacency, and also allows the head coach to be correct when he says last year doesn't matter to this year's Patriots. It can't, after all. What can players like Stephon Gilmore, Brandin Cooks or Lawrence Guy, who were on other rosters in other cities and -- in some cases -- other divisions or other conferences, know about last year's Pats? The answer is nothing, or next to nothing. Just the way Belichick prefers.

But last offseason's turnover may have done more harm than good, at least to this point in the year. Yes, the Pats have shown a toughness and an ability to overcome adversity -- see the start versus the Jets and the comeback against the Texans -- but there are clear indicators this group isn't gelling like Belichick believed it would. 

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Much of that points to the unusual approach taken by the coach and the front office in free agency. Whether it was the quick-strike signing of Gilmore to an expensive contract, to the surrendering of another first-rounder -- this time by choice -- in the trade for Cooks, or even the decision to walk away from fan favorite LeGarrette Blount in favor of younger, less proven backs Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead, much of what Belichick was trying to do has yet to bear the necesssary fruit. And it's not just on the field where the Pats have shown deficiencies; it's in the locker room and meeting rooms as well.

Start with the bold move to get an in-his-prime Gilmore. Signing a player considered in some circles to be a No. 1 corner makes all the sense in the world. But what perplexed many was the decision to pay an outsider over Malcolm Butler, a proven player not only in this system, but in the biggest of games. Gilmore doesn't have that pedigree because his former team, the Bills, never made the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl. 

Butler's anger at the decision and the way the rest of his offseason played out has been well-documented in this space {http://www.nbcsports.com/boston/new-england-patriots/new-england-patriots-mike-giardi-malcom-butler-wanted-new-orleans-he-wanted-them-badly}. But what hasn't in many other spaces is the acknowledgement that it still wears on Butler to this day. 

His play is back on the uptick after a reduction of snaps in Week 2, but Butler has always been a player to whom the team has devoted extra attention to get ready week to week. That may have factored in the Pats' decision to only go so far in contract talks. Why then would Belichick assume Butler would be the perfect professional when Gilmore gets what Butler believes is his money? The thought seems to run counter with the argument against keeping Butler longterm in the first place. 

Butler says his relationship with Gilmore is good, that he's glad to have him as a teammate. Perhaps the 28-year-old has come to that now. Perhaps. 

As for Gilmore, he's soft-spoken. That has occasionally come off as though he's a player lacking confidence. His performance against Tampa Bay was a step in the right direction, but it was immediately followed by a day-before-the-game scratch against the Jets because of a concussion that was either suffered late in the week or was unreported until Saturday. His sudden absence put the Patriots in a bind. The fact that Gilmore spoke up was the right thing to do, but if it could have been communicated earlier it should have been, for the good of both player and team. Now he must reassert himself, whenever that opportunity comes.

"[You] grow together as team based on those experiences; some good, some bad, but learning from all of them," Belichick said when I asked him about a team's personality evolving over the course of the year. "I mean, we've only had one roster change since the start of the season but that's certainly on the low side. I would anticipate that there would be roster changes during the course of the year like there always are for every team and so that affects the makeup of the team, the interactions of the team. Maybe that's the personality you're talking about."

Belichick has a tendency to not only remember your last game, but -- if warranted -- hold it against you. Blount would be a prime example. He rushed for nearly 1,200 yards and 18 touchdowns last year but his play in the Super Bowl was poor. So despite his production on the field and his popularity off, the Pats had no inclination to offer LGB a raise. In fact, they were fine with him walking away, and that's exactly what he did. Gillislee and Burkhead were tabbed as replacement parts, and on paper it looked great. It still may end that way. But neither player has provided a) a level of play equivalent to Blount's and b) the energy that Blount brought. And that latter part of the equation is incredibly important. Just ask the Eagles, who get a jolt from Blount every time he lowers his shoulder and runs over a defender. 

The same could hold true for others who fled, were allowed to leave, or never got the chance to come back: 

-- Martellus Bennett could be a pain in the ass but there was never a dull moment around him, and no one can deny the loquacious tight end was an energy player both on and off the field. 

-- Logan Ryan had been through so much with the Pats, both good and bad. He had no problem talking, not just to his teammates but to the other side as well. He had earned his teammates' trust. 

-- Chris Long had an excellent relationship with so many guys on the team, and while he wouldn't be considered a "personality" in the same mold as Blount, he was incredibly well-respected for his professionalism and for his sacrifice, many times playing out of position. 

Then throw in the retirement of old standby Rob Ninkovich and, of course, the season-ending injury to Julian Edelman. If you didn't understand before, you should know now just how much each player is missed. 

It's now up to the newcomers, and some of the holdovers, to elevate their level and find their voice, both on the field and in that room. And that may also be a part of the early issue. These "new" players -- Cooks, Gilmore, Gillislee, Burkhead, Guy -- are, for the moment, quiet. Perhaps they're concerned about stepping on toes, but at some point that may be needed.

"Look, everybody's a shareholder on the team," Belichick said. "It's not one person's team. It belongs to all of us and we try to make it as functional, as effective and as competitive as we possibly can. So, that's what the goal is, to win every game that we play and to have a good season and to make the most out of every day and every opportunity that we have. 

"I don't know if that answers the question or not, but I'm trying."

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'Twinkle Toes' Gronkowski? In Belichick's eyes, anyway

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'Twinkle Toes' Gronkowski? In Belichick's eyes, anyway

FOXBORO -- Rob Gronkowski has plenty of nicknames. There's the obvious abbreviation of his last name. There's what Tom Brady calls him, borrowing from Marshawn Lynch: "Beast Mode."

Bill Belichick has also gotten in on the nickname game for his massive tight end, apparently. What it lacks in intimidation it makes up for with . . . sparkle?

Gronkowski was told on Wednesday afternoon that when Belichick broke down his 33-yard touchdown against the Jets, he made a point to highlight Gronkowski's high-stepping into the end zone.

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"Oh, he liked that? It didn’t seem like he liked it," Gronkowski said with a smile. "He says I've got twinkle toes, so I’ll take Twinkle Toes. I like when I have twinkle toes -- that means I’m feeling good. I’m feeling it."

Gronkowski finished the game with 6 catches for 83 yards and two scores, and if he stays healthy he's on pace for 78 catches for 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Those numbers would put him in contention for a first-team All-Pro nod, which would earn him the max $10.75 million for 2017 that's been written into his incentive-laden contract for this season.

Even if he isn't an All-Pro, 1,200 receiving yards would also trigger the max value of the deal. Seventy catches, 1,000 receiving yards or 12 touchdowns would trigger the second tier of Gronkowski's incentives, paying him $8.75 million. Sixty catches, 800 yards or 10 touchdowns would pay him $6.75 million -- up from the minimum of $5.25 million he's  guaranteed for this season.

Numbers aside, part of what has made Gronkowski's season so impressive is that he's been an impactful run-blocker and pass-protector when asked. On Dion Lewis' first carry of the game against the Jets, Gronkowski sealed a defensive lineman and allowed Lewis to bounce outside for nine yards. On a goal-line run in the second quarter, Lewis ran right behind Gronkowski to get into the end zone. 

During training camp, as Gronkowski returned to the field after season-ending back surgery, the physical aspect of the game didn't necessarily look like one of his strong suits. He was on the ground more than reporters are used to seeing, and there were questions as to whether or not at this stage of his career he would be able to be the well-rounded tight end that has made him such a dynamic weapon in years past. 

After five games, it's clear he has his feet under him. 

"It's definitely part of the game, a big part of the game," he said. "You want to be able to block. It helps in the play-action passes big time to get open. It just helps overall. It helps with the running game to be able to block and you want a run game. You don't just want a pass game. 

"It takes time. When you get to training camp you've got to build your foundation. You’ve got to build that base and taking all of those hits in training camp and it progresses throughout the season. Just building the base throughout training camp and you just want to be the best blocker that you can be to help out the team."

A hard-nosed blocker who occasionally flashes twinkle toes? Though he may poke fun, Belichick's no doubt pleased he has himself a tight end who can do both.

"Yeah, he said I had twinkle toes," Gronkowski said. "I took it as a compliment . . . I like twinkle toes."

You can watch Belichick's breakdown of Gronkowski's celebration -- he also looked at his team's execution against a two-man Jets rush, its hustle on kickoffs, and a 58-yard net punt by Ryan Allen -- on Patriots.com.

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