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Bruschi may sit out '05 season

KAPALUA, Hawaii -- For the first time since his rookie season, Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi has retained the services of an agent to represent him, and they are discussing the possibility of Bruschi sitting out the 2005 season for health reasons, similar to the way Carolina linebacker Mark Fields sat out 2003 after being diagnosed with cancer.

As of yesterday morning, Boston-based agent Brad Blank was listed as Bruschi's representative on the NFL Players Association website. A source with knowledge of the union's operation said the NFLPA received a signed form from Bruschi Monday designating Blank as his agent. For the past five years, Bruschi served as his own agent in contract negotiations.

With three years remaining on his current contract, the defensive captain would seem to have little need for representation unless he was contemplating retirement, but Blank insisted no such decision had been made.

"I can relate to you only that Tedy is considering not playing next year," Blank said. "Beyond that, I cannot comment on anything."

On Feb. 16, Bruschi was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital after having a mild stroke. He was released a couple of days later, but reports from an Arizona television station had him reentering Mass. General recently to have a hole in his heart repaired.

Asked yesterday about Bruschi's medical condition, Blank said, "I'm not allowed to comment on his medical status. All those comments come from the Bruschis."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who is here for the NFL owners meetings, also declined comment, saying, "Tedy has made all the comments. I leave it at that."

A year ago, Bruschi negotiated an $8.3 million deal that paid him a $3.5 million signing bonus and a $700,000 salary last season. He is scheduled to earn $850,000 in 2005, $1.35 million in 2006, and $1.70 million in the final year.

If Bruschi retires, the deal would be voided, but if he sits out 2005, he could be paid his full salary if the Patriots place him on the physically unable to perform list. If they put him on the non-football-related injury list, they would not be obligated to pay him his salary but still might choose to do so, as the Panthers did with Fields in 2003.

If Bruschi retired before June 1, the Patriots would face a daunting salary cap escalation of more than $2.6 million, the pro-rated portion of the signing bonus, which could not be spread over the four-year length of a nonexistent deal.

Sitting out a year may work in the best interest of all parties, because the immediate salary cap hit would be avoided by the Patriots, while Bruschi would have a year to regain his health and receive his $850,000 salary.

On a team that won its third Super Bowl in four years this past season, Bruschi had 122 tackles, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, and 3 1/2 sacks. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time. It was only three days after playing the Pro Bowl that he was stricken with the stroke symptoms.

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