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Thomas has a solid backer

Kraft admires player's approach to business

Before the Patriots put the finishing touches on Adalius Thomas's blockbuster contract last weekend, team chairman and CEO Robert Kraft figured it would be a good idea to meet the player in whom he was investing such riches.

What he didn't expect was a second business proposition.

"He knew we were in the paper and packaging business and told us he owns quite a bit of land in Alabama, where we do a fair amount of business," said Kraft. "He wanted to know if we wanted to work the land and buy wood from him. My first thought was, 'This guy is on the ball.' "

In reality, it was a soft sell, because Thomas wasn't looking to close a second pact after agreeing to a five-year, $35 million contract with $20 million in bonuses. But the delivery, which can be as important as anything in a business deal, made an impression on Kraft, who also liked Thomas's take on football.

"Some players, you get the feeling that money is the most important thing -- and I'm not saying that's not important to all players -- but then there are other players who want to get paid properly but they also care about winning and understand what has to happen to win," Kraft said. "I felt that type of energy from him. He had a nice humble way about him. He doesn't seem to be into glitz."

Kraft has now paid about $40 million in bonuses and guarantees since last October, when center Dan Koppen signed a contract extension through 2011. The seemingly free-spending ways have generated a buzz among the team's fan base, but Kraft doesn't necessarily see it as being out of the norm.

"We're always going to spend the money we have to spend to make the team better," he said. "Maybe the media has created a perception we haven't spent, but as someone responsible for the cash and bottom line of this business, I can say we've spent if it puts us in a better position to win.

"I think it's hard for a lot of fans to fully understand the way the [salary] cap works, and signing bonuses. We are always trying to keep ourselves in a position to have the ability to take care of our own players, which is always our priority, but at the same time being able to do whatever we have to do to put the team in position to win."

Signing Thomas to the richest deal the Patriots have ever given a player in unrestricted free agency falls into that latter category.

"This is a business where you have to be flexible, and you also have to be ready to take advantage of any inefficiencies that spring up in the marketplace," Kraft said. "Sometimes, in the commodity/paper business, it's not dissimilar in trying to recognize inefficiencies in the market. Sometimes you go in early, sometimes you wait and try to see where you can get the best value for the company. It changes all the time.

"This situation here, a player came up who was available who I think a lot of people I respect in this league would have franchised him if they could have. To get a player like that, not only would you have to have a big contract, but you'd also have to give up a couple first-round picks. Because of the cap situation on [the Ravens], they decided that he would become a free agent, and we felt it was a great opportunity for us to make a move to make our team better."

From a business perspective, Kraft felt it was important that the Patriots adjusted their approach to put themselves in position to acquire Thomas.

"The market doesn't operate in this business on a straight line; there are a lot of nuances, a lot of ups and downs, so you want a flexible decision-making process," he said. "It's how you estimate value, to be able to strike in the market in a way that's best for your team.

"What's right for us isn't necessarily right for every other team, but what we're trying to do every year is decide what can we do to make our team better. We felt there were some unique opportunities in free agency and we were really excited to take advantage of it."

Worldly view of Patriots

Patriots owner Bob Kraft was in Israel last week with former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The annual trip, which the Kraft family leads for those who have never been to Israel, coincided with the announcement of a new Israeli tackle football league.

The league is scheduled to kick off in the fall, with teams in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, and Kfar Saba. Currently, the American Football in Israel organization oversees four flag football leagues, which include 90 teams and more than 1,000 players, as well as a women's league, and games are played at The Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem.

"I'm trying to combine a couple of my passions -- this country and the city of Jerusalem, and the sport of football," said Kraft, who provides much of the financial backing for the league. "We've done as much as we can to encourage playing of the game and understanding of the game."

Kraft is also eagerly anticipating the China Bowl in August; he believes American football has great potential to grow internationally.

"With the use of the Internet and international telecasts, more people have a chance to see our games throughout the world," Kraft said. "We're excited to be the first team to ever go to China to play in a game.

"Throughout the world and Israel, the Patriots are a pretty popular team. We hope our trip to China extends that brand, and that with technology developing the way it is, more and more people become fans of the NFL."

Farewell to a friend and family man

To most of the older football sportswriters in New England, he was a close friend, while for the younger crowd, he was a mentor and someone to admire. Alan Greenberg had a special way about him, a genuineness that made it so easy to like him, regardless of any generational gap.

In recent years, he had covered the Patriots for the Hartford Courant, and while he wrote with flair and took pride in the job, there was no doubt what was most important to him. It was his family, his wife, Anne-Marie, and children Alex, Allison, and Abigail.

One unforgettable memory was watching him pound the keyboard before frantically scurrying out of the press box the night of Dec. 24 -- when the Patriots were playing the Jaguars in Jacksonville -- so he could catch a late flight to be home in time for Christmas.

His peers might have joked with him about his enormous appetite and wrinkled, hole-filled polo shirts, but that was secondary to the admiration they showed for the way he didn't just talk about balancing family life and professional life, but the way he actually did it. While he was quick to share a story about his own family, it was a regular occurrence for him to sincerely ask about yours.

Greenberg died of a heart attack Tuesday at the age of 55. They needed four school buses to shuttle the hundreds of family and friends at the funeral, which said a lot about not only a great sportswriter, but more importantly, a great man.

Restocking the Fish
The Dolphins were an aging team at the end of the season, but things are looking up for them under first-year coach Cam Cameron and general manager Randy Mueller. There is only one surefire way to get younger -- through the draft -- and the Dolphins will have at least nine selections in April. Even more important, four come within the first three rounds. That's a big change from recent years. In 2002 and 2003, the Dolphins didn't have first-round picks because of the Ricky Williams trade. More recently, they gave up a 2005 second-round pick for quarterback A.J. Feeley, who didn't work out, and a 2005 third-rounder for running back Lamar Gordon, who never emerged. And last year, they shipped a second-rounder to the Vikings for quarterback Daunte Culpepper, who was ineffective coming off a knee injury.

Cardinal stays in the nest
When the Cardinals hired Ken Whisenhunt as coach this offseason, it appeared that running back Marcel Shipp's six-year run with the team might be over. Shipp, the former University of Massachusetts star, was scheduled for unrestricted free agency, and it isn't uncommon for a new coach to go in a new direction. But in a deal that was consummated quickly last week -- and showed how much the Cardinals value him as both a backup to Edgerrin James and a front-line special teams player -- Shipp signed a three-year, $5.8 million contract that includes a $500,000 roster bonus. Not bad for a player who entered the league in 2001 as a rookie free agent and has either outplayed or outlasted backs such as Thomas Jones, Michael Pittman, and former second-round pick J.J. Arrington with the Cardinals.

He's part of the Jet set now
The Jets appeared to pull off a coup when they acquired Jones from the Bears last week, and all it took was an exchange of second-round picks, the Jets sending the 37th overall pick to the Bears and getting their 63d overall selection. The Jets then signed Jones to a four-year, $20 million contract, with general manager Mike Tannenbaum noting that the team wasn't overly concerned with Jones's age (he'll be 29 in August) because Jones had less than 40 percent playing time in each of his first four seasons in the league.

Kicking in a little extra
Little-known fact about new Patriots receiver Wes Welker: Growing up in Oklahoma City, he was an all-state soccer player in addition to a football star. Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach was convinced the soccer background made Welker a better football player. "It's sort of cool for football coaches to bash soccer, but it helped him in the sense he has such good coordination on both sides of his body," said Leach. "You see it in the way he comes out of his cuts and in his vision." Welker's soccer background also came in handy in 2004, when the Dolphins called on him in an emergency and he hit both a 29-yard field goal and an extra point.

Klecko not sure where he'll line up
Former Patriots defensive lineman Dan Klecko, who has been a member of three Super Bowl championship teams in his first four NFL seasons, is considering his options in free agency. Returning to the Colts is a possibility, though his agent, Paul Sheehy, has had preliminary conversations with the Texans, Chiefs, Buccaneers, Seahawks, Raiders, and Bills. At 5 feet 11 inches, 275 pounds, Klecko fits best in a setup that has its linemen get up the field in a one-gap scheme. He played in a reserve role last season with the Colts, with whom he signed after he was cut by the Patriots following training camp.

Timing was right for Graham
The fates of defensive end Patrick Kerney and former Patriots tight end Daniel Graham were intertwined. Turns out both free agents were targets of the Broncos and Seahawks, with both apparently ready to open the vault. So when Kerney reached agreement with the Seahawks on a six-year, $37.5 million contract late last Monday, things started heating up with Graham. Having lost out on Kerney, the Broncos were determined not to lose Graham as well, giving him a whopping five-year, $30 million contract that included $15 million in guarantees.

Quarterback scramble
Quarterback Trent Green has put up big numbers since joining the Chiefs in 2001, but his time with the club could be coming to an end. The Chiefs' long-term plan is to turn the reins over to Brodie Coyle, a third-round pick out of Alabama last year, and the thinking is that if Green can yield some valuable chips in a trade, the team would be willing to pull the trigger. Green turns 37 in July, and while he was a near-perfect fit in Dick Vermeil's offense, he's not considered a great match for what Herm Edwards wants to do. If Green is traded, former Patriots backup Damon Huard could land the job until Coyle is ready.

Extra points
By the end of the week, 51 unrestricted free agents had signed with new teams since free agency began March 2, while 41 re-signed with their old teams . . . Patriots coach Bill Belichick spoke to the Florida men's basketball team prior to the SEC Tournament. Belichick and Florida coach Billy Donovan are close friends . . . The NFL will award compensatory draft selections later this month, and vice president of player personnel Scott Pioli told WEEI that he expects the Patriots to gain an additional four choices . . . Belichick and Pioli are expected to be at Red Sox spring training camp today.

Mike Reiss's e-mail address is; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.