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At media breakfast, Belichick won't bite

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Bill Belichick looked incredulous as an unwitting media member at his breakfast table yesterday asked about the "difficulty" of his decision not to pick up Troy Brown's $2.5 million option on March 1, a move that resulted in the popular Patriot becoming a free agent.

"Well, the option was $5 million," Belichick said, referring to the $2.5 million roster bonus and $2.5 million salary Brown would have been due. "Do you think we were going to do that?"

Belichick pointed out that the final year of that contract was always considered a dummy season, put in for salary cap purposes, and that Brown and his agent knew the option would not be exercised.

Brown and Belichick also may know that a quid pro quo is in place that will see the 13-year veteran return at a more manageable price by July.

"He hasn't signed with anybody," Belichick said. "I don't know [if he'll be back], but he's not with anybody else at this point. So it's not like he's with another team. So, maybe something will work out. Nobody respects Troy Brown more than I do. I love Troy Brown."

Belichick's inquisitor then asked about the public's surprise over seeing such a good soldier released and what effect it might have not only on public perception of the team but in the locker room. Before he even could finish his question, Belichick attempted again to make his point.

"Surprised that we didn't exercise his option?" Belichick said. "Look, team-building is a total process that covers a lot of things. It comes at different stages, different times, and in different forms. I think the time to evaluate teams is when it's comprised (A) at the start of the season and (B) how it performs during the season. We're in the middle of March. We don't have a game next week, and neither does anybody else. We're in a process. Is it final, is it over?

"No. Nobody has more respect for Troy Brown than I do. I love the kid. He's a good football player, a great leader. He's been a team captain every year. He sets a tremendous example. He's an inspiration to all of us. I love Troy Brown. So . . ."

So he then got a question that to him may have been the oddest one during his hourlong media session.

"So there's your emotion?" the questioner asked.

"It's not about that," Belichick replied. "It's fair to say that I want to improve our team and make our team as good as it can possibly be this year. That's what I'm trying to do this year. That's what it will be every year. How that will manifest itself, we'll see. I don't have control of everything."

One thing he didn't have control over was the loss of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to Notre Dame. Because Belichick has not appointed a new coordinator, the assumption is that he will call the plays, as he did in Cleveland.

But Belichick said that is not a given.

"We'll get it covered," he said. "We've got a lot of good coaches on the staff. We know what we have to do. We'll divide it up and we'll get it taken care of. We'll see how it goes. We're not quite there yet. We're not in a game for a little while. We'll get done what we have to get done and hopefully find the most efficient ways to do it."

Belichick was not even willing to concede that he will be more involved in the offense. At least not in March.

"No, I don't think that will be fair [to say]," Belichick said. "I think it will be fair to say that we'll do what we need to do to get the job done, and however that gets distributed, it will get distributed.

"It's different, but that's what it is. I don't want to minimize their loss. They're both great coaches [Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, who left to take over the Cleveland Browns], but at the same time, we've got a good staff. I'm very comfortable and have a lot of respect for the coaches on our staff.

"They've done a good job. I think they'll continue to do a good job. We'll just have to redivide some of the responsibilities a little bit -- but not positionwise, because neither Romeo or Charlie coached a specific position. They just had an overall coordinator title.

"It's just a little different mix of people and just finding the most efficient and fluent way to do it. We'll see how it goes during the year. As we get into preparing for training camp and the regular season, then we'll talk about that and do it however we think is the most efficient way to do it."

As Belichick spoke of the future, there were no massive Super Bowl rings on his fingers as a reminder of the past. There was no sign of his having led the Patriots on a run that has put his team in the same category as some of the most dominant franchises in football history and put his name in the same breath as Vince Lombardi's in any conversation about the game's most successful coaches.

Finally, someone asked if he wears those gaudy symbols of supremacy very often.

"At the ring ceremony last June," he said when asked the last time he'd worn a ring. "I don't wear jewelry. I don't wear a watch. I don't wear a necklace."

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