Terrell Buckley always had good hands for a cornerback, as his 47 career interceptions would attest. So, he figured, why not take what's left of his pro football career in those sure hands of his? Buckley is represented by Carl and Kevin Poston, a relationship that dates to 1992. He was one of Professional Sports Planning's first clients, the company's first first-round draft choice. But for his sixth free agent contract, Buckley decided that, after 12 seasons, he had learned enough about the business of football to negotiate on his own behalf. He found his way to New England for a third time all by himself -- which means the Postons still haven't spoken to the Patriots since the Ty Law discussions fell apart. Buckley said he never consulted the Postons, though he wasn't exactly trying to hammer out the kind of deal he signed as the fifth overall pick.
"I commend [the Postons] for allowing me to do that without any hard feelings," said Buckley, who saved $22,800 in commission fees by negotiating his one-year, $760,000 deal. "They told me, `If you need us, we're here.' I learned a lot. People who say old dogs can't learn new tricks are lying.
"It's something I always wanted to do, and my time is running out, so I had to take a shot at it. It was something that had been on my mind for a couple of years. But I had to build up the nerve to make that first call."
But first, he had to settle things with his last employer, the Miami Dolphins. At the end of last season, Buckley, a Dolphin for half his career, met with team brass about their future together.
"The first thing is how you start the conversation," he said. "After that first meeting, I felt comfortable. Then we got into, `So what's going on?' I told them I wanted a two- or three-year deal. And you know, you have to sell yourself, like the agents do."
Problem was, the Dolphins weren't buying -- so they went out and bought Reggie Howard from Carolina and drafted Southern Cal's Will Poole, who now wears Buckley's No. 27.
So Buckley, well-versed in the collective bargaining agreement and unafraid of doing a little research, took to dialing the numbers of general managers and personnel directors; he phoned a dozen teams in all, he said, among them the Falcons, Giants, Jaguars, and Raiders. And anyone who's met the man they call "T-Buck" knows he doesn't mind conversation.
"It was awesome," he said. "I'd call and they'd call right back. We talked football. What impressed them is I know football."
Buckley played for New England in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, so Scott Pioli knew exactly what the guy on the other end was all about when Buckley called about three weeks ago. Buckley said he enjoyed talking turkey with Pioli and Bill Belichick because, he said, they always let you know where they're coming from.
"They're straightforward," Buckley said. "What I really like about their approach is they're honest. With me, I can't speak for nobody else. They've been up-front about the situation. The only thing I expect out of them is to tell me what's expected out of me."
Buckley, who will turn 33 tomorrow, chose New England and its crowd of cornerbacks over Arizona, which offered more than one year, and Buffalo, where he might have played with friend Troy Vincent, because in New England he can expect to contend for another Super Bowl. After a streak of eight consecutive seasons in the playoffs, he hasn't been to the postseason since he recovered a fumble for the Patriots in the Super Bowl two years ago.
He's where he should be, he said.
"I've realized that if you pray long and hard enough, and the Lord finds favor in you, he won't even let you mess it up," he said. "He'll put you in a situation for you, the one he wants you in."
His Jerry Maguire experience was educational, but Buckley said he isn't interested in joining the 25 or so NFL players, among them Tedy Bruschi, who represent themselves.
"When I'm done playing ball, I really want to spend four or five years trying to make it on the [PGA] Tour," said Buckley, who said he is a 4 or 5 handicap. "Then I'd be a three-sport athlete [he played for the Braves' Single A baseball team in 1994]. I don't know how many three-sport athletes there are nowadays."
Buckley is scheduled to arrive for a physical tomorrow, in time for the Patriots' full-squad, mandatory minicamp Thursday through Saturday. Carl Poston said his other New England client, Law, will be in attendance. If not, Law would be subject to a $1,000 fine. "If he's gone before, he's not going to change anything," Poston said. "He's probably going to only do the mandatory stuff." Poston said he and Law weren't resigned to his playing for the Patriots this year. "That's still a big cap number to carry," Poston said . . . Pioli got the most out of a scouting trip to the University of Arkansas last fall. He was checking out Cedric Cobbs, who would be the Patriots' second fourth-round pick, when he chatted up Justin Crouse, administrative assistant to Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles and one-time Razorbacks running backs coach. Pioli coached Crouse at Murray State. "I was talking about our players and he just asked me, kind of off the record, if I would ever want to get into the NFL," Crouse told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "I said, `Yes,' but I didn't think he took it too serious, but the next thing I know he called Houston [Nutt, Arkansas coach] . . . and asked if it would be OK to interview me for the job." The Patriots spoke to Crouse May 14 about a position as a player personnel assistant/area scout. He accepted the job two weeks ago and should be starting this month. "I interviewed for the player personnel spot, but I ended up getting a better job than I interviewed for," Crouse said. The best part: Crouse doesn't have to move to Foxborough. "I will probably be based out of Memphis," he said. "They said I could stay here in Fayetteville, but the area they gave me is a little more east. I can get anywhere from Memphis."
A simpler plan
In an effort to get more from the league's third-worst offense and have quarterback Drew Bledsoe on the ground less, new Bills coach Mike Mularkey and offensive coordinator Tom Clements have eliminated many of the option routes favored by former coordinator Kevin Gilbride, whose background is in the Run 'n' Shoot. Bledsoe went from throwing to Peerless Price, Larry Centers, and Jay Riemersma in 2002 to Dan Campbell and Bobby Shaw last year. This year the Bills drafted Lee Evans. It's difficult for the quarterback and receivers to be on the same page with option routes if the team's option is to shuffle receivers in and out every year. "Some of the problems we had last year had to do with guys having a little confusion here and there," Bledsoe told the Buffalo News. "I think right now, with a little bit of simplification in what we've done, there seems to be a general understanding of what we're doing. We're not going to ask as many guys to make as many decisions this year. We're also going to try to make things happen a little faster so I'm not holding the ball as long so that guys are coming open more quickly." The Jaguars, who have several receivers, including top pick Reggie Williams, with a year or less experience, are doing the same thing. "With as many young guys as we have around here," Jimmy Smith, 35, told the Jacksonville Times-Union, "it's important that they not have to think on the go." . . . Whether it's Buckley or someone else, New England's third cornerback will see a familiar face in a different place when the Patriots play Miami this year. The Dolphins are experimenting with Chris Chambers in the slot on third down. Chambers has been on the outside, and quite effective there, his first four seasons. . . . Kellen Winslow has amazed Browns coaches with his athleticism during spring workouts. Winslow may do for the tight end position what his father did two decades ago. At 6 feet 4 inches, 251 pounds, and with 4.5 speed, Winslow has wide receiver skills, and the Browns plan to use him like one. Look for him to be split wide, get the ball on reverses, and even throw an occasional pass . . . Matt Chatham has crossed over to the Dark Side. The Patriots linebacker has been balancing a research and reporting internship at Esquire with offseason workouts. An English and criminal justice major at South Dakota, Chatham said he's interested in a career as a columnist (not sports) when he's done playing. One of more than 200 players taking part in the league's Career Internship Program, Chatham has gotten a real feel for the business. "I haven't had to answer phones, so that's been a plus," said Chatham, who appeared on ESPN2's "Cold Pizza" to talk about his time as a media member. "I've been able to learn the industry, like having a backstage pass." Among Chatham's contributions: a suggestion to include instructions on "how to shave your man hair" for the magazine's summer survival guide, and a piece called "What It Feels Like to Hit the Streaker" (based on his takedown of the interloper who lined up with the Panthers for the second-half kickoff at the Super Bowl). That started out at more than 900 words but will go to print at about 280 (we understand your pain, Matt). Chatham also wrote a story about his Esquire experience, which will run later this summer.
Patriots defensive backs coach Eric Mangini and former Patriot Tebucky Jones hosted their third Football Fundamentals Mini-Camp at Bulkeley High School in Hartford yesterday. Some 70 coaches and players from the NFL and local colleges and high schools attended the non-contact camp for approximately 600 boys in grades 8 through 12. Included were New England's Belichick, Pioli, Rosevelt Colvin, Romeo Crennel, Charlie Weis, Dante Scarnecchia, Mike Woicik, and Andre Tippett. Former pros Mark Bavaro and Bryan Cox also attended, as well as ex-Patriots Rick Lyle, Bobby Hamilton, and Antwan Harris. All proceeds benefited the Tebucky Jones Youth Foundation and the Carmine and Frank Mangini Foundation . . . Colvin will be at Fraser Field in Lynn June 26 for the second Heart of Boston Foundation
Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.