Family guy: Brady's absence no laughing matter for Pats fans

Tom Brady has climbed every NFL mountain worth climbing.

He has given the New England Patriots and their fans everything they could possibly want from a quarterback -- and more.

So why is the fact he's not fully participating in the Patriots' offseason workouts such a big deal? Why has it been a topic of debate on talk radio and any other place in New England where fans and media voice their opinions?

Because what Brady means to the Pats' ability to return to the mountaintop doesn't end with his on-field performance during the regular season. He sets the standard for the entire team -- how it plays, how it practices, how much it cares about being the best.

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When Brady doesn't take part in workouts -- even those that don't involve contact and aren't mandatory -- it can send the wrong message about his commitment to doing all that he can to get the Patriots back to the Super Bowl. He would be the first to acknowledge that it is those many small steps, such as throwing passes to his receivers and reestablishing a comfort level with everyone else on offense in May, that lead to that big prize in February.

The Tom Bradys and Peyton Mannings aren't great because of talent alone. They have to work at it … constantly. And their effort doesn't merely allow them to hone their skills and perfect their timing on pass routes. It shows their teammates how it's done. It is perhaps the most effective part of the leadership that is supposed to come with their position and larger-than-life stature. Moments after learning the Patriots had made him the 42nd overall pick of last month's draft, 21-year-old tight end Rob Gronkowski wore the excited expression of a 12-year-old kid who witnessed Brady emerge from practically nowhere to become MVP of the Super Bowl.

"I'm actually going to be catching passes from Tom Brady," the former Arizona star said more than once.

But when Brady makes it public that he'll be spending less time in Foxborough, Mass., this offseason so that he can spend more time with his family on the West Coast, well, it's going to raise some questions. Is that how a leader conducts himself? Doesn't he understand that, after their crushing first-round playoff loss to Baltimore last January, the Patriots need their quarterback around more than ever?

After all, it was Brady who recently mentioned that the players needed to start listening more to Bill Belichick and do a better job of accepting his teaching and coaching.

On the other hand, there is the argument that, by devoting a larger chunk of his offseason to his wife and children, Brady might be offering an even better example to the rest of the team. That was the point that one of Brady's former teammates, Rodney Harrison, made when he told The Boston Herald, "I would be highly disappointed if (Brady) chose football before his family. We make a lot of sacrifices playing football, being away from our families, our kids and our loved ones. But at the same time, you have to understand what's important to you while still being fair to the team."

It's a difficult balance, and not just for players. Coaches, who work crazier hours than anyone connected with the game, are quite familiar with the football vs. family dilemma. Yet, somehow the sacrifices are made. The time and energy are invested, even if the results don't always make them seem worthwhile.

Has Brady lost his edge? Fair question. Harrison told the Herald that he hasn't, citing the fact that Brady entered the league as a sixth-round draft pick from Michigan and enters each season with that massive chip on his shoulder.

I'm not so sure about that. Granted, Brady didn't have a family earlier in his career, when he was clearly more driven to prove that he should have been drafted much higher. He also didn't have three Super Bowl rings.

Staying away from offseason workouts just might be a little bit easier than it was before Brady took his place among the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

More trouble for Texans?

You begin to wonder if the Houston Texans are simply a star-crossed team.

They had every right to feel encouraged this offseason by last year's 9-7 finish, the first winning record in franchise history. They just missed out on a wild-card playoff spot, but seemingly set the table for further progress in 2010.

Maybe that will be the case, although this offseason has to make one wonder if it's possible. The Texans are going to be without arguably their best defensive player, linebacker Brian Cushing, for the first four games while he serves a suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Cushing's absence for a quarter of the season is long enough to put the Texans into an early hole, the same thing that helped contribute to their missing the playoffs last season.

Now comes another potential problem. Wide receiver Andre Johnson, the Texans' best offensive player, is staying away from the team's voluntary offseason workouts because he isn't happy with his contract.

No one would argue that Johnson is one of the league's very best players at his position. He has backed that up by leading the NFL in receiving yards the past two seasons. In his seven seasons with the Texans, he has caught 587 passes for 7,948 yards and 42 touchdowns.

Johnson clearly has an argument that his talent is every bit as good as that of Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Miami's Brandon Marshall, yet they are making more money. The problem is that Johnson has five years remaining on a $60-million deal that the Texans re-did three years ago.

Rick Smith, the Texans' general manager, has tried to be as diplomatic as possible in addressing Johnson's displeasure with his salary. He told reporters he is willing to talk with Johnson, although the five seasons remaining on the current contract present a clear hurdle.

Ravens' WR corps among the best

Hard as it might seem to believe, the Baltimore Ravens have one of the best groups of wide receivers in the NFL.

On paper, at least.

When it comes to strong receiver depth, there is a fairly short list of teams that can be legitimately mentioned. Among them are the Indianapolis Colts, Arizona Cardinals, and New Orleans Saints.

The Ravens belong, too, because of two game-breaking offseason acquisitions (Anquan Boldin, via trade from Arizona, and Donte' Stallworth, via free agency) to go along with standout incumbent Derrick Mason. With Joe Flacco likely to make additional strides in his third NFL season, the Ravens have the potential to have one of the more potent passing attacks in the league.

And that doesn't even take into account the fact their receiver position also includes several promising returning players, including Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, and fifth-round draft pick David Reed, from Utah.

Another smart move by the Raiders

In this offseason of seemingly wise decisions by the Oakland Raiders, here's one more: Rookie Bruce Campbell, their fourth-round draft pick, is working at offensive guard.

Campbell played tackle at Maryland. However, Raiders coach Tom Cable, who made his name in the league as an offensive line coach, decided that moving him inside would give Campbell a better chance to make an immediate impact.

The logic is easy to see. Guard is generally an easier position for a rookie to handle. The 6-foot-6, 314-pound Campbell also is an extremely good athlete with the footwork necessary to do the blocking on the move that guard requires.

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