According to Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston, when the New England Patriots restructured the contracts of both defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, it gave the Patriots the ability to release either player with a very minimal financial loss due to a low amount of bonus money in their new deals.
Dan Pompei of the National Football Post has indicated that an NFL executive that he’s spoken with believes either one or both Haynesworth and Ochocinco could possibly be released before the regular season begins.
Another NFL executive familiar with the Patriots ways told reporters he believes one or both of the big name acquisitions will be cut before the season starts. The front office man thinks head 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 drama, and Belichick has been a fan of the player for a number of years. He also seems to have gone out of his way to buy in to the 'team first' concept that's become the standard in New England while also becoming a target of value for 'Golden Boy' Tom Brady.
I don't see Haynesworth acting up in New England as he did in Washington — Belichick is a far more respected and polarizing 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. I mean, it's what we all expected and we knew it was less of a possibility and more of an inevitability, right?
Wrong. 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 prepense" 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 slowly into oblivion. It's all part of the risk factor.
If I were a betting man, I'd say that both players will make the final roster, but that Ochicinco will make much more of an impact compared to Haynesworth. I could see Chad just lighting it up at a Pro Bowl level in this offense, with Haynesworth being used as more of a rotational player with some nagging injuries and some floppy plays where his motor isn't running at 100%.
Now, as a Steelers fan I'm hoping the Patriots let these guys go, because they're already a tough enough adversary as is without adding two players of such talent to a team that's already amassed such a deep talent pool.
But as a football fan, I wouldn't mind seeing both make the team and help contribute to New England's road to the playoffs while potentially reviving their careers in Foxborough, just as Moss and Dillon did in seasons past.