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Secondary repercussions

Milloy gambit will hurt at the bargaining table

The ramifications of the Patriots' gamble on Lawyer Milloy have only begun in New England.

Bill Belichick chose to play hardball with the four-time Pro Bowl safety, hoping to force him to take a $1.4 million pay cut only five days before Opening Day. The Patriots believed that if Milloy refused, he would find himself on the open market with few bidders willing to go much above the minimum salary, a situation that would send a stern message to the next player they put in such a situation. Unfortunately for them, Milloy ended up with eight teams bidding for his services and his asking price went up every hour until he finally accepted the Buffalo Bills' four-year, $15 million deal that will pay him $7 million this season.

"What a country," said an AFC general manager whose team was in the bidding but didn't land Milloy. "A guy gets fired and the next day he gets a $2.6 million raise. We were in it for a while and every time we talked to the Postons [Milloy's agents], the price was higher. It was an unusual situation that the Patriots completely miscalculated.

"Normally, a veteran in that situation is in a tough spot but this was a rare opportunity to get a player of that caliber. What was obvious is a lot of people consider him a very good football player and a tremendous leader. Normally you don't get a chance at a player like that after the June 1 cutdown."

The problem for the Patriots is not only that they lost a very good player to a division rival but also that they badly miscalculated his value on the open market. Because of that, some NFL executives believe, it will be more difficult for them the next time they ask another player to accept a pay reduction.

"When the market turns out to be so much more than the team expected, it hurts you badly when you ask the next guy to take a pay cut," said another NFL front office source. "It's difficult to sell that when you just asked a guy to take a $1.4 million cut and the next day he gets a $2.6 million raise. It creates problems for you managing your cap. Eventually it wears off after a couple of guys try it and get hurt, but in the short term they've created a problem for themselves by miscalculating the market so badly.

"The Jets are in the same situation because of what happened with Laveranues Coles. They offered him an $8 million bonus. He asked for $10 million. They said no and he ends up getting $13 million."

Belichick and personnel director Scott Pioli also failed to realize that Milloy's agent, Carl Poston, had a vested interest in his client not working out a deal in New England. Because Milloy's contract had been negotiated by Ray Anderson -- who later became an executive with the Atlanta Falcons -- the Postons received no money for representing Milloy as long as it remained in effect.

Milloy himself was not of a mind to take a pay cut anyway, and the Postons had no reason to go in that direction either. The Patriots hoped Milloy would come to believe that even if he took the $1.4 million cut, his $3 million salary would still be better than anything he could get on the open market. They were wrong by a wide margin.

As one young Patriot whose contract will soon be up said last week, "The last thing Lawyer told me before he left was, `Make sure you get yours when you can.' There's no loyalty in the NFL. The only loyalty you have is to your family. What happened to Lawyer was great. They tried to screw him and he got $10 million over two."

Cornering the market

The next player likely to be a salary cap victim in New England is cornerback Ty Law, and he knows it. Law has made it clear he will not take a pay cut, and after seeing what happened to Milloy, he is eager to get on the open market. One NFL official was asked what a player like Law might be worth if Milloy could land $9.75 million over two years. "After what happened with Milloy, obviously he'd get paid, too," the official said. "He'd get paid because of his ability and because of the position he plays. Third-tier guys like Dre Bly are getting paid. Who knows what Law would get?" . . . The Cardinals' efforts to rebuild have again hit on bad luck with the losses of cornerback Duane Starks and defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, their best pass rusher, for the season. A year ago, it was wide receiver David Boston, their best offensive threat, who went down. It seems there has been no end to this ever since Dave McGinnis's arrival as coach, yet he remains upbeat. "I haven't gotten one sympathy card from the other 31 head coaches in the league since those injuries," said McGinnis. "You've just got to go on. I'm open and honest with our guys. I'm not in the business of trying to comfort guys." Today McGinnis will go with a running game led by future Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith, the former Dallas Cowboy. Smith will run behind a line that averages about 350 pounds -- including tackle Leonard Davis, who goes a solid four bills -- and a 270-pound fullback. Think McGinnis wants to run the ball? Along with Smith will be former University of Massachusetts running back Marcel Shipp, who had a breakout season last year. Shipp had every reason to believe the running back position was his until Smith arrived, but McGinnis says he has had no problem convincing Shipp that playing behind Smith is no insult. "Emmitt Smith is good for this whole franchise," McGinnis said. "You don't disrespect greatness. What I told both of them is when Emmitt gets tired we'll feed it to Shipp and when Shipp gets tired we'll feed it to Emmitt." Whomever he feeds it to today will be running behind a line that had not been on the field together until last Monday. "Time enough," the ever-upbeat McGinnis said. "They're a veteran group of guys. They know how to play football." And McGinnis knows how to coach it. All he needs is a break from the god of injury to prove it. "Damnedest thing about those two injuries is they both blew out ACLs on grass," McGinnis said. "Duane's was a non-contact injury, too. It was just the torque on his leg. Amazing, really."

Want to bet on it?

McGinnis is the 3-1 favorite on the sports book website to be the first NFL coach to be replaced or resign, with Chicago's Dick Jauron next at 5-1, followed surprisingly by St. Louis's Mike Martz at 8-1, Houston's Dom Capers at 10-1, and Kansas City's Dick Vermeil at 12-1 . . . also released its final preseason odds to win the Super Bowl, with the Patriots' chances having improved from 35-1 to 17-1. That put them behind 14 teams, including two of their three AFC East rivals. Miami was posted as 8-1 and the Jets were 12-1, the same odds they opened at. Tampa was a 5-1 favorite to repeat, with the Eagles next at 13-2 followed by the Rams and Dolphins at 8-1. Buffalo was a 25-1 long shot. If you're a Bill Parcells fanatic, you can get the Cowboys at 40-1, and if you believe in Marvin Lewis's Bengals, you can get them at 250-1. The only team whose odds did not improve from the start of preseason to the end was the Houston Texans, who fell from 250-1 to 300-1 . . . When the Chiefs play the Chargers today, bet the over. Kansas City's offense averaged 29.1 points a year ago and the Chiefs are playing a team with two safeties who have never played the position before, a corner starting his first game, and a nickel back who was playing Division 2 football last season . . . Seattle Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs has to be wondering whom he offended. For the third straight season, he has been laid low by injury, and this time it came in his contract year. Springs had been primed for a big year but he will miss at least half the season with a fractured shoulder . . . The Redskins benefited greatly Thursday night from the four players they imported from the Jets in the offseason, but that $13 million bonus they paid Coles is still going to haunt them. Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey told a friend in the NFL that Coles's contract "set the floor for my negotiations." Worse, paying that money to Coles, who had a huge first half against the Jets, is the reason they had no money to retain defensive tackles Daryl Gardener and Dan Wilkinson. The Redskins survived against the Jets but are going to have some long days trying to stop the run . . . Patriots center Damien Woody was none too pleased about what the Bills' Takeo Spikes had to say about Buffalo's linebacking corps. Spikes said the crew of himself, Jeff Posey, and London Fletcher is "the best linebacking corps in the league. Print it, fax it, write it, photocopy it. When the dust settles at the end of the season going into the playoffs, then everybody will see." When Woody heard that, he replied, "They say they have the best linebackers in the league, so we'll have to go see about that." Then he smiled demonically and added, "Yeah, we'll have to see about that."

His Saints are goners

Wonder why Mike Ditka is not still coaching the New Orleans Saints? None of the 16 players he drafted is still on the team, and only two players from the roster he left are still there (center Jerry Fontenot and defensive lineman Willie Whitehead) . . . Some people seemed to be surprised that so few veterans who were released on cutdown day were immediately signed. The answer is once again economics. Teams tend to wait a week because under the collective bargaining agreement, a vested veteran on a roster on opening day is guaranteed his pay for the season. If he signs after the season begins, he is paid for only the number of weeks he remains on the roster. Expect some familiar names to resurface over the next few weeks . . . One of those may be safety Victor Green. Green has been talking to several teams but could end up back in New England if the Patriots struggle . . . With Brian Griese out for six weeks with a bad toe, the Dolphins are so thin at backup quarterback that they have pressed linebacker Corey Jenkins into service as today's emergency quarterback if anything happens to Jay Fiedler and Sage Rosenfels against the Texans. Jenkins began taking snaps on Thursday but didn't spend much time trying to find Chris Chambers on the skinny post pattern. Jenkins played quarterback for a time at South Carolina . . . If you're in one of those fantasy football leagues, make sure you have the Colts' Marvin Harrison active today against the Browns. Harrison had nine catches for 172 yards and two scores against Cleveland last year. Eight of those catches came at the expense of Anthony Henry, who will be looking to stay away from Harrison.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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