Normally, I dislike the Boston Herald's Ron Borges to the point of distraction. He's right up there with the Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy. Their both founding members of the "look how smart I am because I'm so negative on the team I'm covering" club. Well, Borges isn't quite as bad as Shaughnessy, the queen of the club, but I think you catch my drift.
Normally, I can't stand Borges but today, he's right. In his story Unlike Patriots, rival Colts willing to pay the price, he correctly sums up many of the "perceived" money issues plaguing this franchise. Example: instead of playing the "oh no, what's a new CBA going to bring" card, Colts owner Jim Irsay shrugs it off as business as usual:
"Quite frankly, Peyton’s deal is not the hard deal that everyone has talked about. We’d like to get something done in the offseason. That’s what we usually have done."
No complaining about the CBA, no big deal, business as usual. Pay the man. Do you honestly want Manning playing on another team, AGAINST you? I think Tom Moore just choked on his gum. I'm not saying Tom Brady's deal will be that big of a deal and that Kraft will be guzzling Pepto for weeks prior, but statements from Foxborough about the uncertainty of the future labor market make it seem like Kraft, Inc. is setting the stage for a battle over money.
Let's take Brady out of the picture for a moment, shall we? Guys like Tom and Fivehead are no brainers. In a salary capped world, it's the rest of the team that becomes an issue. You see, there's only so much pie to go around. Sure, there's ways around that (million dollar bonus for having a clean locker or something), but the hardest part is keeping a team together, especially after they experience success. A player's career can be so short in the grand scheme of things; they want to do right by their family and strike while the fire is hot. Who can blame them. But Irsay doesn't seem too worried about the supporting cast either:
"It’s critically important that we still have the ability to have that great supporting cast because you have to try to keep the (Pierre) Garcons and the (Austin) Collies - they’re going to be coming up - and this next era going into the new decade. But it’ll get done. No question about that. It’s something we’ll focus on in the offseason. Both us and the Patriots will have the franchise tag sort of thing but normally it doesn’t come down to that (for the Colts).
Another reality that Borges delves into with Irsay is the Colts use of the draft. Indy has long been bullish on developing and retaining players through the draft. There's almost no activity from that franchise during the free agency period. Compare that to New England and you'll notice a feeding frenzy of free agent signings in Foxborough. The draft is the key for our rival:
Irsay pointed out the Colts have eschewed big free agent signings that can go bust and cost you millions (Adalius Thomas and Rosevelt Colvin come to mind), preferring to build through the draft and then working the numbers to keep those players. To do it the Colts have been at or near the top of the salary scale for years, paying the price for excellence rather than seeking cheap replacements for key departures.
Paying guys like Vince Wilfork seems like a no brainer, that a guy so critical to the success of your team should be compensated. But Kraft seems to believe, in general, that he can find "value", a diamond in the rough to replace everyone. Why take the risk? You have a known star in Vince. Why quibble over a few million or an extra year? Again, Irsay doesn't seem too bothered by shelling out some cash:
"We’ve been in the top five of payroll and have been No. 1 more than once in this league," Irsay said. "We pay tens and tens of millions of dollars cash over cap to the tune of in excess of $40 million, $50 million cash over cap this last decade. There’s strong belief here that drafting the best players and keeping those players is the best way for us to succeed.
Don't get me wrong. I haven't converted to the dark side and there's no horseshoe on my hat, but it'd be silly not to give a nod to the organization that made it's way to the Super Bowl this year. They have to be doing something right. Sure, it's easy to say "I'm right" when venus aligns with mars and your team ends up at the Big Dance. For how many years did the media write glowingly of "The Patriot Way", of players eschewing mega contracts to keep the core together? Well maybe the sheen has worn off a bit. Maybe "The Patriot Way" of old, that of finding value, will no longer work.
Maybe, just maybe, "The Patriot Way" needs a good, swift, kick in the breeches.