Patriots still waiting on return of Brian Waters
FOXBOROUGH — Even for an organization as tightlipped as the Patriots, there has been precious little information regarding Brian Waters.
In the offseason, coach Bill Belichick said Waters was excused from taking part in organized team activities and minicamp for personal reasons, and the same was said at the start of training camp.
Since then? No one has said much, and Waters hasn’t shown up at Gillette Stadium. Two clues this week that things probably aren’t rosy between the team and the 35-year-old guard: His number (54) was given to rookie linebacker Dont’a Hightower, then on Friday, Waters’s nameplate was removed from what had been his locker.
Here is what the Globe knows about the situation, culled from several NFL sources:
■ Early in the preseason, the Patriots and Waters agreed to a restructuring of the second and final year of his contract, which would cut his base salary from $1.4 million to $925,000, the minimum for a veteran with 10 or more accrued NFL seasons. But Waters would receive per-game bonuses for being on the 46-man game-day roster, which would allow him to reach $1.4 million, if not more. At the time, Waters was fine with the agreement.
■ The Patriots were under the impression that Waters would show up before the start of the season. They may have hardened their stance now that he has not, and may have dropped the per-game bonus from any proposed restructuring.
■ This staredown did not start over money. Waters’s reason for staying away was personal: He is married with five children, and his family did not come to Massachusetts with him last year, remaining in his native Texas. When Waters signed with the Patriots, he and Belichick had an agreement that Waters did not have to come to camp, so he could spend as much time at home as possible. The intensely private Waters has had trouble leaving his family every year, even when he played closer to them in Kansas City.
■ Waters would prefer to play closer to home. If that is not possible, he would like to get a raise to return to New England for at least one more season.
■ The Patriots cannot cut Waters’s base salary without him agreeing to it, and if they do reduce it through renegotiation, it would not be subject to the veteran’s minimum salary benefit clause in the collective bargaining agreement. It would have to expire or be terminated, then a new deal signed, to get that benefit.
■ The Patriots are in a tough position. They can’t reduce Waters’s salary unless he agrees to it. However, because Waters has not reported, he has been accumulating $30,000 in fines for each day missed. That is automatic. If and when he shows up, Waters would have to negotiate with the team for a reduction or waiving of all fines. That could be the sticking point.
■ If Waters reports, the Patriots have to pay him his $1.4 million (minus any fines). The team will not want to cut him, because he would likely sign with the Texans, near his home. The Texans have a huge need for a veteran right guard, and there’s no way the Patriots are going to let Waters walk to one of their biggest competitors in the AFC. The Patriots could trade Waters, but he likely wouldn’t report if it was to a team far from his home.