Commentary

The day the Patriots went big

Surprise! Haynesworth and Ochocinco coming to town; will they bring their baggage?

Updated: July 29, 2011, 1:45 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Now in his 12th season as New England Patriots coach, Bill Belichick has made plenty of surprising, bold personnel moves. But two in one day, like what he pulled off Thursday?

Unprecedented.

It was a stunning day for the Patriots, who acquired defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and receiver Chad Ochocinco in trades with the Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals, respectively, for late-round draft picks, with both players agreeing to rework their contracts.

It was like lighting a firecracker in the middle of the locker room and deciding that one wasn't good enough. So Belichick sparked up another, and in a span of 12 hours, the makeup of the Patriots was altered considerably with two older-but-still-talented players who lately have made as many headlines off the field as on it.

Depending on the viewpoint, the moves are either brilliant or disasters in waiting.

In some ways, this is a reminder of 2007, when Belichick loaded up at receiver with Randy Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth in the offseason. That was Belichick saying, "Let's go for it."

The difference, however, is that the combination of Haynesworth and Ochocinco comes with more questions, Haynesworth arriving with some real baggage while Ochocinco's is more Louis Vuitton style as a playful self-promoter.

[+] EnlargeBill Belichick, Chad Ochocinco
AP Photo/Winslow TownsonIt's no secret that Bill Belichick has long been a fan of Chad Ochocinco.

Can they fit into the "Patriots Way," where the team comes first and everyone falls into line? In 2009, we saw what happened when those plans don't come to life, a splintered locker room hurting the team before it even took the field. The 2010 season was the opposite, a group of players coming together behind the scenes and overachieving on Sundays.

This is part of the gamble the Patriots are taking with Haynesworth and Ochocinco, but they surely do so with the thought that it's limited. The late-round draft picks traded away probably would have had trouble making the team, while new contracts likely will give the club a quick out should things head in the wrong direction.

That's the way the Patriots generally do their business (see Moss in 2007), favoring low-risk, high-reward scenarios.

One additional line of thinking is that with veteran players such as Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork & Co., it's easier to take on players such as Haynesworth and Ochocinco. But then again, when the topic of locker room leadership was presented to Belichick in a general sense Thursday, he dismissed it quickly. "I have no idea what we have right now. This team is a new team; it's a new year," Belichick said. "It's totally a blank slate."

Which makes the moves all the more intriguing, and that doesn't even factor in what soon could be unfolding with the New York Jets, who are in pursuit of free-agent cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, widely considered the prize of this year's free-agent crop. An Asomugha/Darrelle Revis corner combination would pose a tremendous challenge to the Patriots.

Here's guessing Ochocinco, who is friends with Revis and called him "Master Lock" two years ago, would have some fun that week. It's the type of fun Belichick has said he appreciates from Ochocinco after the two hit it off at the Pro Bowl years ago.

"I like Chad. I like him as a player, I like him as a person. I like his enthusiasm and the fun he has in football and how he competes on the football field," Belichick said in 2010, adding that the two are an "odd couple who have a lot of things in common."

In turn, Ochocinco said in '09 that his connection with Belichick went beyond "football player and coach" and that he considered him a friend.

[+] EnlargeAlbert Haynesworth
Cliff Welch/Icon SMIWhich Albert Haynesworth will the Patriots get? The one who dominated in Tennessee or the malcontent from Washington?

"He's one that I look up to tremendously, one who I've never played for, but who I share the same respect for as if he was my own head coach," he said.

There is no such connection between Haynesworth and Belichick, although it probably helped Belichick to have senior football adviser Floyd Reese as a sounding board before making the deal. Reese, now in his third year with the Patriots, was Tennessee Titans general manager when Haynesworth was the team's first-round draft choice in 2002.

Meanwhile, Haynesworth's new teammates were looking forward to playing alongside him, with veteran defensive lineman Wilfork recalling being at the Pro Bowl with Haynesworth and calling him a "great player" and "great athlete."

Adding him to the Patriots' defense represents a big splash.

"It's huge. I mean, he's got some freakish ability," veteran defensive lineman Ty Warren said. "I've seen him on film, and he's the real deal."

And as for the baggage that comes with Haynesworth, who wore out his welcome with the Redskins and was charged in two separate incidents off the field this offseason?

"I think a lot of the stuff that you see on TV, sometimes it's only half the truth. I think there's two sides to each story and I don't think that Albert is a bad guy," Warren said.

"Corey Dillon wasn't a bad guy. Rodney [Harrison] wasn't a bad guy. A lot of guys right on down the line weren't bad guys when they came in here. I think sometimes guys get a bad rap and I think that's the structure that's in place of guys that are in the locker room, making an easy transition for them when they come in."

They're here now, having arrived at Gillette Stadium shortly after each other late Thursday, first Haynesworth, then Ochocinco.

The possibilities are intriguing. They're also explosive.

That's what makes it all so compelling.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPNBoston.com.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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