Bill Belichick has heard all of the rumors of a trade involving tight end Daniel Graham, and read the reams of copy written about an alleged deal with the Denver Broncos, and has finally grown weary of mounting speculation surrounding the short-term future of the four-year veteran.
So just before the New England Patriots began their final day of minicamp on Thursday, their head coach offered a final word on the trade rumors.
"We have not had a single discussion about trading Daniel Graham," Belichick told ESPN.com Thursday morning. "We will not trade Daniel Graham this year. End of story."
The rumors of a Graham deal surfaced shortly after a broadcast report that the Broncos were working on a three-team trade that would send disgruntled wide receiver Ashley Lelie elsewhere, and bring them a tight end as part of the package. Graham, who grew up in Denver, where his father once played for the Broncos, was never cited in the initial report. Somehow, though, his name became linked to the rumors, which have escalated in recent days.
Denver may well deal away Lelie, who has refused to report for any offseason activities, and who may be rendered superfluous on the Broncos' depth chart with the acquisition of Javon Walker from Green Bay. And the Broncos might trade Lelie in an arrangement that brings them a tight end, certainly an area of need. But that tight end, Belichick insisted, will not be Graham.
Belichick is the second head coach in the past week to insist that he is not trading a tight end to the Broncos. San Francisco coach Mike Nolan last week denied that veteran Eric Johnson, who missed the entire 2005 season with injuries, was part of trade discussions.
One reason for the speculation over Graham might be that the four-year veteran is entering the final year of his contract and eligible for unrestricted free agency next spring, and the Patriots organization is too smart to allow him to walk away without getting something in return for their first-round choice in the 2002 draft. But it makes little sense for the Patriots to deal away a player at a position where they are thin themselves, or to trade him to a franchise in the same conference.
New England hosts Denver on Sept. 24, in the third game of the season. There is also the potential for the two powerhouse teams to meet in postseason, as they did in 2005.
"We just want to move forward," Belichick said, "and Daniel is part of that."
Graham, 27, is coming off a 2005 season in which injuries limited him to a career-low nine appearances, and in which his numbers dropped. After averaging 34 catches and 386.5 yards in 2003-2004, and scoring a combined 11 touchdowns in those seasons, he posted only 16 receptions for 235 yards and three scores last season. But the former University of Colorado star, regarded as an excellent blocker, remains big in the Patriots' plans for 2006, even with the continuing emergence of another former first-round tight end, Benjamin Watson, the Pats' top choice in the 2004 draft.
Watson and Graham are the only two veteran tight ends on the roster and New England is a team whose offense relies heavily on two-tight end sets. The Patriots selected a pair of tight ends in the 2006 draft, Dave Thomas of Texas in the third round and Tulsa's Garrett Mills in the fourth, but both are untested. Mills is expected to play more at fullback or H-back than as a conventional tight end.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.