When teams and players separate, the image that is often drawn up is that of the team closing the door on the player. Thanks for your work here, and good luck wherever you go. But you're not coming back.
Some players should always have a spare key and be able to return later on down the road. Ty Law is one of those players.
It's been six years since Law left New England, an expired contract ending one of the most productive careers in franchise history. It was a tenure full of highlights that will live forever, as well as stinging words and actions that, unfortunately, may die just as hard.
Now Law wants back. He's done playing, and he has the perspective to know how important New England is to his career, and he wants to honor it by having his last contract (a one-day deal) and transaction (retirement) come as a member of the Patriots.
The Patriots should honor that request. Each second they spend thinking it over is a second too much.
Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Co. have reasons for frost to line their relationship with one of the organization's greatest players. Law, after all, pulled no punches during a contract dispute before the 2004 season, calling Belichick an outright "liar".
There was also an incident in late 2000, Belichick's first season in Foxboro, when Law was found at the Canadian border with ecstasy in a bag he was carrying, causing a public relations snafu for a franchise meticulous about how it's publicly perceived.
But if there was bitter feelings, they're one-sided now. According to the Boston Globe's Monique Walker, Law takes an approach Belichick could only hope to see from the men currently on his team.
"That’s one of the reasons I haven’t officially turned my papers in," Law said, "because I would like to at least say the last contract I sign was with New England and that would be an honor if I was able to do that, if Mr. Kraft was to bless me with something like that, that would be the icing on the cake for a 15-year career."
Those words are coming from the man whose interception return for a touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVI planted a seed of confidence in the team that wouldn't go away. Those words come from the player who gave Peyton Manning and the Colts nightmares on the biggest stage as the Patriots established themselves as the dominant team of the decade.
There are some players who, when they ask for a favor, you grant it to them. Law is one of those players.
Law does have the blemish that Bruschi, Brown and Harrison don't have. He left. He was at the top of his game on a team that was at the top of the league, and he chose to leave the family. That was a decision he made, and one that he made willingly and emphatically.
But Law was being true to his own philosophy. To him, the game was never free from being a business. He wanted rings and championships, but he couldn't brush off his status as an employee in a professional world. He's not alone. There are many other athletes who share that viewpoint. He shouldn't be punished for it.
To punish him for it would be to punish him for not being Tedy Bruschi. And if that's the standard the Patriots hold their players to, then their Hall of Fame inductions will be few and far between.
Law was a champion here, and an indispensable part of great teams. So was Mike Vrabel. And Willie McGinest. And Lawyer Milloy. And Richard Seymour. And Adam Vinatieri.
And when one of those players knocks on the door, you let him in. Heck, let them all in. Each and every one of them.
They've earned it. And the Patriots should never forget it.