Ego, money and grass-is-greener opportunity all cause great teams to dissolve in this salary-cap era. Coach Jimmy Johnson and owner Jerry Jones couldn't coexist in Dallas. The plug was pulled on the coach--G.M. powerhouse of Mike Holmgren-- Ron Wolf in Green Bay when the Seahawks offered Holmgren total control of their football operations. Free agents exited Tampa for big money after the Bucs won the Super Bowl.
The Patriots are one team that has created what we all thought was an outdated concept--esprit de corps--and proved that top-to-bottom franchise stability sustains team success. One more example of that came on Sunday, when Scott Pioli, the club's 39-year-old vice president of player personnel, said he would stay with the team at least through the end of his contract, which expires after the 2006 draft. NFL rules stipulate that Pioli could have left for a position that gave him control of a team's football operations, and there were indications that Cleveland was interested in giving the former Browns scout just that.
"I entered into an agreement 21/2 years ago that I plan to fulfill," says Pioli. "There's a sense of wanting to finish something we started. I understand this is a business, but if you don't have an emotional attachment to the people you work with, you're in it for the wrong reasons."
Over the past two years at least seven veteran stalwarts--linebacker Tedy Bruschi and tackle Matt Light among them--have taken less money to stay or sign with New England than would have been on the table elsewhere. And last winter, secondary coach Eric Mangini turned down the Raiders' defensive coordinator job (and a huge pay increase) to stay. It's no secret why the Patriots are 50--15, including a pair of Super Bowl wins, since the start of the 2001 season.