|Ex-Patriots don't regret missing chance at unbeaten record|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 11 December 2007 15:05|
Deion Branch doesn't either. A contract dispute prompted the Super Bowl MVP's trade to the Seahawks.
Adam Vinatieri, whose last-minute field goals won two championships with the Patriots? He wouldn't even mention them by name soon after joining the Colts.
New England's bottom line: No matter how much you've contributed to the team's success, you're expendable if you don't fit their tight salary structure.
``I knew if I hit the free agent market, I wasn't going to come back,'' Graham said.
Does he wish he was still with the team that can be the first to go undefeated since the 1972 Miami Dolphins?
``Not at all,'' he said. ``For the most part, everybody sees all the winning and the glamorous part. It's a lot different when you're there and see how it's operated up there. Everything is not glamorous. It's a business up there and they let that be understood. It's a business.''
Graham spent five years as a tight end with the Patriots, winning two Super Bowls, then left as a free agent. The lure of returning to the area where he played at Colorado University was a factor.
Another factor: he may have been too expensive for a team that is among the best at managing the salary cap.
``Anybody can go at any time,'' Graham said. ``It's true anywhere, but they emphasize that a lot.''
Branch preferred to stay but felt underpaid at $1.045 million for 2006. He boycotted training camp, then was traded to Seattle after the first regular-season game.
Tom Brady was devastated to lose his close friend and top receiver. Belichick said both sides tried hard to reach an agreement.
There were no regrets by Branch then, and none now even though he could have been part of this year's 13-0 team with a good chance to finish at 16-0.
``I don't really think about that,'' he said. ``It's a business. Everything is understood. ... I think just overall, I'm feeling good - I'm feeling real good - here.
``I don't think either side has a hard feeling about how it ended.''
Like Graham and Branch, Vinatieri is soft-spoken, polite and non-controversial.
He's not complaining after winning his fourth Super Bowl ring, and first with Indianapolis.
After 10 years with New England, Vinatieri signed with Indianapolis before last season without giving the Patriots a chance to match the Colts offer.
``They had all of last year and some of the offseason and some of free agency, so I didn't feel right giving any team a right of first refusal,'' he said when he went to Indianapolis.
David Givens left for Tennessee as a free agent for a five-year, $24 million deal the Patriots wouldn't match. He had finished 2005 as the Patriots No. 2 receiver behind Branch, but a knee injury ended his 2006 season and he's been sidelined all this season.
Parting with players who made major contributions is nothing new for Belichick's Patriots.
Quarterback Drew Bledsoe was upset he wasn't given an opportunity to regain his job after a serious injury in the second game of the 2001 season gave Brady a chance to play and be named MVP of the Super Bowl.
Safety Lawyer Milloy was waived before the 2003 season when he and the team couldn't work out a contract extension.
Linebacker Willie McGinest left as a free agent for Cleveland before last season after 12 years with the Patriots. He declined a request to talk about them, using an expletive to describe his former club.
Browns coach Romeo Crennel, Belichick's former defensive coordinator, signed McGinest. Crennel left on good terms and is surprised any team could go undefeated.
``It's very difficult,'' he said, ``but when you get to December in the NFL, the season has taken a toll on a lot of guys. A lot of guys are beat up. You've lost some guys and you've had to replace them. That makes it tough trying to keep up a standard.''
No matter how many faces change - only four players remain from the Patriots first championship club in the 2001 season - Belichick keeps winning.
He demands perfection.
``He is a very focused individual,'' Crennel said. ``He wants his guys to do it right. He demands them to do it right. And he tries to get players that will allow him to get it right.''
Branch stays in touch with former teammates, including Brady, Troy Brown, Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and defensive end Ty Warren.
``We're going to always be bonded together,'' he said. ``We won Super Bowls together.''
Said Warren: ``Anytime I talk to him as a friend, we just talk about life in general. We leave the football in the locker room.''
To Graham, it's no mystery why the Patriots have been so good for so long.
``We executed pretty well. The coaches put us in good situations up there. They just find guys that fit their system,'' he said. ``Just to have that record this late in the season, it's good for them.''
Still, he wouldn't trade being in Denver with a 6-7 record for a chance to go undefeated in New England.
``I'm actually happy that I'm out of there,'' Graham said.
Nothing personal; it's just business.
AP sports writers Gregg Bell in Seattle, Pat Graham in Denver, Michael Marot in Indianapolis, Teresa Walker in Nashville and Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this report.