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pakowitz 03-25-2003 01:44 AM

Jones and the Patriots have things to work out

By Michael Smith, Globe Staff, 3/24/2003

Will Patriots safety Tebucky Jones report to Gillette Stadium today for the team's voluntary offseason workouts? He wouldn't give a definitive answer last night. He did, however, say why he shouldn't.

''People think I'm being a bad person [for threatening to skip offseason activities if he were `franchised'], but what if something happens to me?'' said Jones, at the FleetCenter yesterday to watch his alma mater, Syracuse, play Oklahoma State in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

Jones pointed out that he won't receive any of the $3.043 million salary the ''franchise'' designation guarantees him for this season until September, and that his one-year contract does not entitle him to workout or reporting bonuses. He also fears suffering an injury that would cost him in negotiations over a long-term contract.

''What if I get hurt?'' he said. ''That's on me. I'm just looking out for my well-being.''

Jones, who has been working out on his own since about mid-February (he playfully pointed to a biceps when asked if he were in shape), has heard speculation that the arrival of two-time Pro Bowl strong safety Rodney Harrison means he (or Lawyer Milloy) will be traded, perhaps to safety-starved New Orleans, perhaps by the end of this week's NFL meetings in Phoenix. Jones refused to comment last night on any trade possibilities discussed among himself, agent Gary Wichard, and the Patriots.

Jones, who lives in Farmington, Conn., said that now more than ever he pays little attention to media reports involving his negotiations.

''I read somewhere that I'm asking for $5 [million], $6 million a year,'' he said as he signed autographs for Syracuse fans. ''Where are they getting numbers from? That's like a corner[back's salary]. I'm not a corner. I don't know where they're getting their information from, but it's all false.''

Jones said he was offered ''way less'' than the reported $14.5 million-$15 million over the six years the Patriots gave Harrison, but he and his agent ''never even got to the point of giving [New England] a number.''

He harbors no ill will toward the Patriots for ''tagging'' him; he understands it was a business decision.

''I never hold grudges,'' he said. ''They did what they feel was good for them. I didn't like it. But they did what they felt they had to do.''

Jones believes he, Harrison, and Milloy can coexist, though he acknowledged it will be difficult to keep three starters who are due a total of $8 million this season. And apparently, the Patriots still have interest in bringing back free agent Victor Green.

''We've been [rotating safeties] for two years,'' Jones said. ''It's different this time because of the cap situation. But that's up to the team to work out.''

The recent signing of special teamer Chris Akins does not have Jones convinced that his wish to concentrate exclusively on defense will be granted. ''They do that [sign a special teamer] every year and I'm back out there,'' he said.

But first things first. Does he think he'll be back in New England?

''I can't say. Right now I am [a Patriot].

''I've had some good times here. The biggest thing for me is I love playing football. But I've also got to support my family. Whatever happens is going to happen. I moved for college, so I have no problem with moving. But I enjoy being here, too.''

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