What if Curtis Martin remained a Patriot?

In the days leading up to the Pro Football Hall of Fame election, Curtis Martin mostly has been recalled as one of the greatest ever to wear a New York Jets uniform.

New England Patriots fans consider the rugged running back differently.

ESPNBoston.com reporter Mike Reiss takes a look at Martin's all-too-brief stay with the Patriots before Bill Parcells emigrated with him to the Jets in 1998.

Reiss called Martin "The Greatest Patriot to Get Away."

The Patriots drafted Martin in the third round in 1995 and lost him three years later as a restricted free agent. The Jets drew up a clever offer sheet the Patriots couldn't match.

"I'm a very loyal person," Martin said Tuesday on a conference call. "I was totally open to staying in New England. I wanted to stay in New England.

"It's funny, because of all the teams that I may have had the opportunity to go to, the Jets were one in particular that I didn't want to go to."

Martin's loyalty changed when Parcells left for the Jets and the Patriots didn't actively try to re-sign their star running back.

The Patriots were awarded first- and third-round picks as compensation for not matching the offer sheet. Those players turned out to be running back Robert Edwards and fullback Chris Floyd.

Edwards rushed for 1,115 yards and nine touchdowns as a rookie but blew out his knee in an ill-conceived beach football game during Pro Bowl weekend and never played another down for New England. Floyd lasted three NFL seasons.

Reiss wrote of the Patriots losing Martin:

It was one of the key decisions that doomed the "triangle of power" regime of [head coach Pete] Carroll, vice president of player personnel Bobby Grier and salary-cap man Andy Wasynczuk.

Martin played eight seasons for the Jets and amassed 10,302 more yards and 58 more touchdowns before he retired.

Some, including Parcells, are promoting Martin as a first-ballot Hall of Famer when votes are cast Saturday.

Martin said he received a phone call from Patriots owner Robert Kraft this week, wishing him luck on the Hall of Fame.

"I've always respected the Kraft family and I always respected the Patriots organization," Martin said. "The Patriots organization was the best foundation that I could have had as an NFL player.

"Looking back on it, there is no other team I would have rather spent those first three years with."

What if the Patriots had done the right thing and kept Martin?

It's a fun question to consider because the repercussions likely would have been dramatic.

The Patriots would have been a better team, of course, and the Jets might not have been as competitive. That could have been enough of a swing for Carroll to keep his job. That means the Patriots might never have hired Bill Belichick.

What do you think would have happened?