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Burning Questions (cont.)

Posted: Friday April 8, 2005 2:06PM; Updated: Friday April 8, 2005 8:31PM
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2. Is there a Super Bowl team curse this offseason?

OK, so maybe "curse'' is pure, unadulterated hyperbole. But you have to admit, there haven't been a stream of happy headlines for the Patriots and Eagles since they put the finishing touches on Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville. Both of the league's reigning superpowers have been taking small but potentially significant hits for the better part of two months now.

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Already aware that both of their coordinators were leaving for head-coaching jobs elsewhere, the Patriots were staggered just days after the Pro Bowl when star linebacker Tedy Bruschi was hospitalized after suffering a stroke. Bruschi, perhaps the rare indispensable Patriot, is rehabilitating but may wind up sitting out the entire 2005 season. The uncertainty of his status looms large in New England's draft planning and figures to be an issue right up until training camp.

Normally the model franchise on the business front, the Patriots also have hit a few potholes in that area. A month or so ago, a new contract extension with quarterback Tom Brady was said to be "imminent.'' But that was before the club and its premier player disagreed on the payment structure of the $24 million signing bonus that was part of a six-year, $60 million deal. The Pats want part of it to be in the form of a roster or option bonus, which means it's not guaranteed, and Brady is rightfully balking at that idea.

However the two sides resolve the issue, the Patriots simply can't afford to alienate Brady, who is the wildly popular face of their organization and has amassed a gaudy 57-14 record since taking over as the team's starter early in 2001.

And there have been other mini-issues on the laundry list. New England failed to work out a new long-term deal with Pro Bowl kicker Adam Vinatieri, leaving him protected with the team's franchise tag for now. The Patriots cut highly respected receiver/cornerback Troy Brown rather than pay him $5 million this year, an understandable move that nonetheless looked cold in light of Brown's selfless contributions last season. And they did the same with injured cornerback Ty Law, when he did the expected and priced himself out of the club's plans for 2005.

The Eagles have had their share of challenges as well, and they can't even take solace in having won the Super Bowl like New England. The latest gathering storm cloud involves all-world receiver Terrell Owens, who has started to make noise about wanting to renegotiate his contract. This despite having just last spring signed a seven-year, $46 million-plus deal upon being acquired by Philadelphia.

Owens recently fired his longtime agent, David Joseph, and hired the ubiquitous Drew Rosenhaus, who this week traveled to Philadelphia to the throw the first pitch in a game of hardball with Eagles president Joe Banner. The Eagles aren't likely to give in to Owens' demands, and there now appears a good chance that T.O. might respond by sitting out the club's offseason workout program, any and all minicamps and staging a training-camp holdout.

The Eagles had their hands full in terms of unhappy players even before Owens piped up. Franchised defensive tackle Corey Simon this week vetoed a proposed trade to Baltimore because he couldn't agree on a long-term deal with the Ravens, and he still has yet to sign Philly's one-year, $5.13 million franchise tender. Running back Brian Westbrook is equally displeased with the notion of signing his one-year restricted free-agent tender, and wants a long-term deal as well.

Defensive tackle Hollis Thomas has asked to be traded in light of the Eagles rebuffing his attempts to get a new contract, and offensive tackle Tra Thomas, who also is represented by Rosenhaus, apparently is seeking to open renegotiation talks, too. Of lesser importance, Philadelphia is still expected to either release or trade receiver Freddie Mitchell, a former first-round pick who wasn't happy with the size of his role last season.

For the Patriots and Eagles, those heady days of early February already must feel like a long, long time ago.

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