FOXBORO - Yesterday's locker room reaction to the trading of Richard Seymour was as predictable as the way things ended for him in New England. His suddenly former teammates to a man said it was ``just business.'' Maybe no one who ever played for the Patriots understood what that meant better than the five-time Pro Bowl defensive end. Seymour was the greatest defensive lineman ever to play in New England, a dominating force in a difficult defense that produces far more bruises than statistics for its down linemen. Despite that, Seymour's presence both as a run-stopping force and a powerful pass rusher lifted him to league-wide recognition and a professional respect that went well beyond his statistics.
He was equally impressive in the business end of the sport, standing up for himself without rancorous commentary but with a firmness and tenacity seldom seen among men who play for pay. Twice he withheld his services from the Patriots and beat them down both times, not only because he was willing to fight for himself but because of the manner in which he did it.
He simply went home, making clear he would return when he was fairly compensated and not before. The first time the Patriots buckled, giving him more than a $1 million raise without getting anything in return but his superior play. No extension, nothing but a chance to do the right thing, which reluctantly they did.
The second time he held out he was asked if he would follow in the footsteps of some of his less bold teammates and accept a ``hometown discount.''
``Hometown discount?'' he replied. ``I'm from South Carolina.''
He said no more because he didn't have to. This was a man who understood leverage, both at the line of scrimmage and at the negotiation table. That ended such talk and soon after the Patriots made him one of the highest paid defensive linemen in Football, which was all he ever asked for or expected. Seymour never insisted upon being the highest-paid defensive lineman in Football nor did he care about that. What he cared about was if it's a business and you're one of the best in the business then you be paid like it.
Eventually he was paid, but the stone-hearted, businessman's approach Bill Belichick favors left Seymour cold. He had little feeling for his boss by the time Belichick shipped him yesterday to Oakland for a 2011 first-round draft choice (assuming there is a draft in 2011, which there won't be if there's a lockout and no new CBA between management and the players' union by then), respecting him greatly as a coach, but not much as an employer.
He never understood why fans and too many in the media either didn't understand that or who had two sets of rules - one for management and a far different one for the employees.
``Why is it always a business for them when they kick you out, but we're greedy when we want to be paid what we deserve?'' he asked more than once.
He never understood how owners could talk so often about the ``risk'' they took buying into the most popular sport in America. And fans bought it without an equal acknowledgement of the risk the players take every time they put their bodies and health at risk to do a job that can end in a single moment.
Last spring, Seymour chatted at length about his future as he entered the final year of his contract and made clear he thought something would probably have to give. At the best, he figured he'd play one more year here and push for one final Super Bowl run before moving into free agency next winter. At the worst, he thought it likely he'd be shipped off if the Patriots got their price.
They did by not only getting a first-round pick for a guy in the final year of his contract, but a pick that could come with a reduced price tag if a rookie salary cap wanted by the owners (because they can't seem to restrain themselves on their own) comes to fruition. Long term, the Patriots saw it as good business, so when his phone rang yesterday morning Seymour was hardly shocked.
To him it was what it had always been with the Patriots . It was what Bill Belichick taught him to make it. It was just business.
A player of great passion that he seldom showed in the locker room when talking to the media in his casual, relaxed way, Seymour loved the fight that is pro Football on the line of scrimmage. He loved the physicality of it and the technique required to be successful at such a brutal endeavor. Most of all, he loved to win games and he loved to win the individual battles that made up his professional life.
During his eight seasons as a Patriot he won the majority of them as a player and all of them as a businessman, and now he's gone. The Raiders are a better team today because of it and the Patriots are not. But that's all right. It's just business.
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