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Are Haynesworth and Ochocinco not long for the Pats?

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

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In this week's "Sunday Blitz" column over at the National Football Post, Dan Pompei relayed word he's heard that one or both of the big-name acquisitions the New England Patriots made in the abbreviated offseason — receiver Chad Ochocinco and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth --  could be cut from the team sooner than later. From the article:

One day before this story came out by my guy Mike Reiss, one NFL executive familiar with the Patriots ways told me he believes one or both of the big name acquisitions will be cut before the season starts. The front office man thinks coach Bill Belichick will use the controversial players to help control and send a message to his locker room.

Reiss, who's as strong on the Patriots' beat as anyone, referred to the restructured contracts signed by the two players as evidence that there would be little financial impact in releasing either of them. Haynesworth, who got a $21 million bonus for just showing up (and doing little else) in 2010 as part of his felonious $100 million contract, is set to earn a base salary of $1.5 million before any incentives kick in. Given the new $120 million salary cap, and the fact that no future cap charges would fold into a Haynesworth release, the risk is minimal. Actually, since contracts aren't guaranteed until the first week of the season, the Pats would be in better shape if they cut Haynesworth sooner than later. Haynesworth, who did pass his conditioning test last week, hasn't done much with his new team to date.

As for Ochocinco, he has a base salary of $1 million and he also earned a $4.5 million signing bonus when he accepted the post-trade restructure. Of the two players, Ochocinco seems the far less likely cut — he's just the kind of dynamic downfield receiver the Patriots needed in 2010 with their new tight end-heavy offense, he still works very hard despite all the ancillary drama, and Belichick has been a fan of the player for a number of years. He seems to have gone out of his way to fit in and become a target of value for Tom Brady.

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I don't see Haynesworth acting up in New England as he did in Washington — Belichick is a far more respected and authoritative figure than Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, with whom Haynesworth had so many issues last season. And though the talk of the Pats moving full-time to Haynesworth's preferred 4-3 defense is an overbaked and most likely inaccurate story (why would Belichick limit himself when he practically invented the hybrid front with Lawrence Taylor as his primary chess piece 30 years ago?), there are few coaches better able to tailor his schemes to the best attributes of his players.

But there's also the fact that Haynesworth is on the wrong side of his best days, and his contract does have less of a pull to it. It's also not out of the realm of possibility that a coach would bring a player in just to release him and send a message to everyone else. When Pete Carroll took over the Seattle Seahawks in 2010, the thought was that there would be an enormous pipeline of USC players  to the Pacific Northwest, because Carroll had coached the Trojans for so long.

Wrong-o. Carroll traded former first-round pick Lawrence Jackson, brought eventual comeback story Mike Williams in on the very definition of a low-risk deal, and signed LenDale White, only to cut him shortly thereafter. The White move was the one that got people wondering if the player acquisition was done just to prove a point. The rest were just part of the Rosterpalooza Carroll and GM John Schneider put together as part of nearly 300 moves in the league year.

Personally, I don't see the same sort of "malice aforethought" in Belichick's case — he took flyers on two players with some talent and an equal amount of baggage, just as he had done with Corey Dillon, Randy Moss and Adalius Thomas. The first two moves worked like gangbusters for a while, and Thomas slid into oblivion. It's all part of the risk factor.

If you were to ask for odds, I'd say that both players will make the final roster, but that Ochicinco will make much more of an impact than Haynesworth. I could see Chad just blowing it up at a Pro Bowl level in this offense, with Haynesworth as more of a rotational player with some floppy plays and nagging injuries.

Judging from the contracts, the Patriots seem to be thinking the same thing.

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