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Pats play coy with Bledsoe

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2002

BOSTON (AP) -- The Super Bowl champion New England Patriots have been too busy trying to prepare for Friday's start of free agency to worry about trading quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

''If the phone rings, we'll answer it and see what's on the other line,'' coach Bill Belichick said Tuesday when asked if he had a plan for his $103 million backup. ''But we're not contemplating taking any specific action.''

In a teleconference three weeks after the team's Super Bowl victory parade, Belichick said he is concentrating for now on the opening of the free agent market. The Patriots would like to sign some players -- among them Ted Johnson and Willie McGinest -- at lower salaries to open up salary cap space for free agents.

The other things, like trading Bledsoe or working out a long-term deal with Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady, will have to wait. Brady is slated to make $389,000 next year, then become a restricted free agent.

''The players that are under contract, they'll get taken care of in due course. There's no active negotiations or anything like that,'' Belichick said. ''The most pressing problems are the ones that have to be handled immediately. The ones that can wait are waiting.''

Even after the first NFL title in franchise history, Belichick is convinced the Patriots can do better next season. Among the things he'd like to improve is the 1-3 record to start the season.

''The most important thing for us is self-evaluation, try to determine how things worked last year and try to improve on them,'' he said. ''I'm not saying this is a rebuilding situation. We evaluated everything we did last year.''

Brady, who came from fourth string to lead the team to a championship, isn't immune from review.

''There are always areas that every player can improve in. Tom fits into that area,'' Belichick said declining to be more specific. ''Tom had a good year, but he's got plenty of things he needs to work on, and he already knows about several of them.''

One decision that has already been made: Belichick and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will work with the quarterbacks again, as they did last year after assistant coach Dick Rehbein died in training camp.

''We thought that it worked out fairly well,'' Belichick said. ''There were some things that we had to work around, but by the end of the year, we had gotten comfortable with it. we are so far down the road in terms of preparing for next year, we felt it would be best to keep it the way it was.''

Belichick didn't have a chance to talk to the team as a unit after the Super Bowl. But he has passed along the message that the best way to repeat is to do something else for a couple of weeks.

''I encouraged all of them to get away, forget about football for a while, not to let one season run into the other, mentally refresh themselves and try not to gain too much weight,'' he said.

The Patriots have already taken care of two big offseason tasks.

Adam Vinatieri, who kicked the game-winning field goal in the Super Bowl, was designated the team's franchise player, meaning he is guaranteed the average salary of the top five players at his position, or $1.24 million. Although the move keeps Vinatieri off the market and thus costs him money, Belichick hopes there are no hard feelings.

''It's really done in a complimentary way because of what we think of him and what he means to this football team,'' he said.

Punter Ken Walter was signed to a five-year, $6 million deal, choosing to stay in New England, in part, because the team let him leave during Super Bowl week to be with his wife and newborn son.

Belichick would not comment on the team's plans for oft-suspended receiver Terry Glenn.

''There's been no change since the end of the season, I guess is the best way to put it.''



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