FOX Sports Exclusive
Pats always ready to take calculated risk
Bill Belichick is truly a football genius or too smart for his own good.
We’ll know soon enough.
Trading for players whose antics have now overshadowed their on-field efforts will ultimately prove boom-or-bust moves for the New England Patriots.
The me-first attitude that wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth displayed with their previous teams isn’t the main concern that Patriots fans should have. The Patriots didn’t give up the farm for either player. Both will change their ways and fit into New England’s locker-room fabric or be gone if the distractions they cause are egregious enough.
Randy Moss learned that the hard way during the 2010 season.
The bigger question is whether Haynesworth and Ochocinco can start to become known once again for their football skills and help New England make another Super Bowl appearance.
As great a game as Ochocinco talks on Twitter, Haynesworth has the potential to make a greater impact. The Patriots need another difference-maker in their front seven and Haynesworth could fit that bill – provided he is motivated and in shape.
When enjoying his greatest season with the Tennessee Titans in 2008, Haynesworth was at times unstoppable. Not only was he a terrorizing interior penetrator at defensive tackle, the 6-foot-6, 335-pound Haynesworth was nimble enough to effectively rush the passer at times from the right end position.
That was the player the Washington Redskins thought they would be getting when signing Haynesworth to a seven-year, $100 million contract in the 2009 offseason. Instead, Haynesworth brought 100 million headaches.
Mind you, the Redskins didn’t effectively use his skill set. This was especially true in 2010 when initially miscasting him as a nose tackle in a new 3-4 scheme. Haynesworth felt the team lied to him and didn’t fulfill promises that were made during his whirlwind free-agent courtship.
Haynesworth, though, didn’t live up to his end of the bargain either. His conditioning was poor-to-spotty. His attitude drew criticism from both Redskins coaches and teammates. And he was involved in several off-field incidents that may get Haynesworth a call from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell under the personal conduct policy.
Ochocinco and Goodell already chat frequently — although sometimes it’s because of the fines levied for uniform violations and excessive end-zone celebrations by the league office. Being traded to New England will probably save Ochocinco some cash because Belichick won’t tolerate such behavior. The same goes for any controversial Twitter posts or headline-making comments that Ochocinco is known to make.
So at this point in his NFL career, Ochocinco’s actions will speak louder than any words.
Although a physical fitness freak, Ochocinco’s play has steadily declined since a 93-catch, 1,440-yard receiving campaign in 2007. Some of that drop can be attributed to double-teams and an inconsistent offense. But the 33-year-old Ochocinco stopped striking fear into the hearts of opposing defensive coordinators a while ago.
Ochocinco must adjust to life as a role player. He can still be a very solid one. Few players in the league run comeback routes so effectively. Like with Haynesworth, Belichick and his staff also will be smart enough not to put Ochocinco into positions that don’t play to his strengths.
In other words, don’t expect to see Ochocinco and his alligator arms on crossing routes a la Wes Welker.
Although the trades were stunning simply because of the players involved, Belichick is no stranger to high-profile reclamation projects. Moss and ex-Cincinnati running back Corey Dillon were two of his most successful. Defensive tackle Johnathan Sullivan, the No. 6 overall pick in the 2003 draft, was a flop after being acquired from New Orleans.
That is a reminder not everything Belichick touches turns to gold.
Let’s remember that Belichick hasn’t won an NFL championship in six seasons despite having arguably the greatest quarterback of his generation. While it rarely happens, the Patriots were outplayed and out-coached by the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII on the cusp of the NFL’s first 19-0 season. A 14-2 campaign last season went for naught when the same happened again in a home playoff loss to the New York Jets — a team New England had demolished, 45-3, less than two months earlier.
What is perceived as New England’s biggest deficiency — outside pass rush — still hasn’t gotten addressed through either the draft or a post-lockout personnel move. That’s because either Belichick is either: a) waiting for the right player to become available; b) expecting a difference-maker to emerge from his own roster; or c) a misguided sign of Xs and Os coaching hubris.
There is no proven home-run threat at running back to take some of the heat off Brady. And although the Patriots used a 2011 first-round pick on the University of Colorado’s Nate Solder, left tackle will be at least a short-term question mark if Matt Light isn’t re-signed.
Oddsmakers had already installed New England and Green Bay as the preseason favorites for Super Bowl XLVI before Thursday’s trades. But in the big picture, there’s far more to New England’s 2011 title aspirations than Haynesworth and Ochocinco. They are simply colorful pieces that Belichick hopes will help him successfully reassemble the puzzle that led to three Lombardi Trophies in a four-season span.
More Stories From Alex Marvez