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Patriots have at least four choices

BOSTON -- Tedy Bruschi has made his decision. Now the New England Patriots have to make theirs.

There are at least four options for the team now that Bruschi has decided to sit out the 2005 season to recover from a stroke. The most likely is that he will be put on the physically unable to perform list, a designation that would allow him to collect his salary and even come back after Week 6 if he changes his mind.

Owner Robert Kraft has expressed a willingness to pay Bruschi,
one of the team's captains, the $850,000 he is due in salary
regardless of what happens. But under the NFL's collective
bargaining agreement, it's not as simple as that.

If the Patriots put Bruschi on the non-football injury or
illness list, his contract stops running. They can't pay him -- even
if they want to -- until he returns.

Same with the reserve-retired list, though it has the advantage
of allowing him to return merely by getting permission from the
league. On reserve-retired, though, Bruschi couldn't practice or
train with the team.

Bruschi would be paid if he goes on injured reserve, but he
would have to sit out the entire season with no option to return if
his condition improves. He could attend meetings and train under
the club's supervision.

"He can do everything the team is doing, he just can't come
back and play this year," said Carl Francis, a spokesman for the
NFL Players Association. "Once you go on I.R., you can't come
back."

For Bruschi to go on the physically unable to perform list, the
move has to be made before the season. Players who go on P.U.P
during the season have to have a football-related injury.

Bruschi's stroke is thought to have been caused by a small hole
in his heart that has reportedly been surgically repaired. He
checked into the hospital on Feb. 16, 10 days after New England
beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in the Super Bowl and three days
after he played in the Pro Bowl.

A defensive lineman at Arizona, Bruschi was converted to
linebacker by the Patriots and he developed a knack for making big
plays. He was second on the team in tackles with 122 last season.
In his career, he has 753 tackles, 25 sacks, 11 interceptions and
17 forced fumbles in 136 games.

Since the stroke, he been largely silent about his status and
had not indicated whether he would return. But with training camp
approaching, he was forced to make a decision.

"Football to me, it's something I love and it's something I'll
always want to do," the Patriots linebacker said during a party to
hand out the Super Bowl rings at Kraft's house last month. "But
I've got to think about my wife and my sons and just make sure
things are right."

The Patriots prepared for Bruschi's absence by signing several linebackers in the offseason, including Monty Beisel and Chad Brown. New England has 17 linebackers on its 85-player roster heading into training camp, which starts July 28.