Those who have been frustrated in recent years with Bill Belichick’s penchant for hoarding draft picks can now rejoice. The New England Patriots head coach has taken some of his picks and made them work for him, something critics have chastised him for not doing enough.
But even more interesting are the players those draft picks were able to yield on the trade market. Reports on New England sports pages seemed more like big box store back-to-school advertisements. Brand names at low, low prices.
In Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco the Patriots acquired two immensely talented veterans who can make immediate impacts on their respective units. They also come with baggage.
A lot has been made of Belichick’s supposed ability to tame the otherwise untamable with Corey Dillon and Randy Moss being the two pieces of evidence those drinking the Kool-Aid point to. First, let’s examine this.
Dillon was hardly a bad apple when he came to New England. He was branded as a cancer and a malcontent by the Bengals after he made several statements about his displeasure with the team’s inability or unwillingness to get better. He went so far as to say the Bengals could never win so long as the Brown family owns the team. He wasn’t wrong then. He still isn’t. Speaking out publicly when you are living up to everything you signed on for and the team refuses to do anything to improve itself may make you disgruntled, but it hardly makes you a deviant the way the Bengals portrayed him. And funny that while Dillon was so hard to deal with the organization still required a second-round pick for him.
Moss came in with plenty of history and many fans swore off rooting for the Patriots so long as he was on the team. That mood changed when the Patriots were on their way to a perfect regular season and a Super Bowl appearance. Everyone thought Belichick had cured Moss. However, Moss proved that he was only following his typical pattern. So long as the team kept him happy, he would be a good soldier. As soon as he felt he wasn’t going to get the contract he felt he deserved, out came the good old Randy of old, talking about being disrespected and people hoping he would fail and eventually Belichick jettisoned him. If he was cured, apparently he relapsed badly.
Now that the notion that Belichick is a miracle worker is out, the question that remains prominent in everyone’s mind is how these two troublemakers will fit on the field, in the no-nonsense Patriots locker room and in a community that examines everything under a microscope.
Let’s look at Ochocinco first. While he doesn’t have the speed to burn he once had now that he’s 33, he remains one of the game’s top route runners and on top of that, he’s clearly smart. Belichick proved last season how much he valued both of those qualities by trading for Deion Branch, who supplanted Brandon Tate as the receiver opposite Wes Welker.
Ochocinco opens up options for the Patriots by spreading the field not vertically, but horizontally. Even teams with two Pro Bowl corners could find their hands full with Tom Brady with the likes of Ochocinco, Welker and Branch at wide receiver as well as versatile tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, both of whom enjoyed breakout rookie seasons. Brandon Tate still holds a spot serving as the vertical threat the team may need from time to time while Danny Woodhead and rookie Shane Vereen are both very competent pass catchers out of the backfield.
Questions revolve around Ochocinco’s headline stealing antics and how those will be tolerated by the Patriots’ brass. He’s always been about establishing his brand and at times could be accused of putting the name on the back of the jersey ahead of the one on the front. Clearly, that won’t fly in New England. However, Ochocinco is presented with an opportunity he never really had in Cincinnati – the chance to play for a winner. It’s possible that given his perceived intelligence and his reported admiration of Belichick, he will recognize what his role on the team is. Also, number 85’s antics rarely have been to the detriment of his team. He’s more of a clown or a side show than a locker room bully or a degenerate.
The same cannot be said for the other marquee player brought in by the Patriots for essentially the equivalent of a baloney sandwich. Haynesworth brings with him excessive amounts of risk. Granted, he cost next to nothing to bring in and has no guaranteed money in his contract, so he would be easy to let go if need be. Ideally, he will provide a tremendous inside pass rush, especially in nickel and dime packages when Vince Wilfork is next to him occupying two bodies.
Of course, that will happen only if he is properly motivated, in shape, healthy and out of prison. Haynesworths’ clashes with the Redskins ownership are well-documented and clearly there was a disconnect there that was unrepairable. In that respect, a fresh start could do him good. However, the fact of the matter is Haynesworth’s issues go well beyond disputes with his coaches.
His wrap sheet is long and distinguished with violations including assaulting teammates and waitresses alike, stomping on an opposing player’s head after pulling off his helmet (he missed the first time and went back and tried again) and paralyzing a motorist while driving his Ferrari in excess of 100 miles per hour. To this day he refuses to help pay that man’s bills. I’m no psychiatrist, but I’ve been around people long enough and have logged enough hours watching Law and Order: SVU to recognize a borderline sociopath when I see one.
The odds of Haynesworth working out in New England might be less than 50-50. The odds of Ochocinco working out are much higher. That said, in either case, Belichick believed the upside was far to great to turn his back on them, given the asking price.
Now the great experiment begins. Will Belichick the alchemist be able to turn these ingredients into gold, or will their volatility cause the whole thing to blow up in his face?