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Patriot Way takes a turn with Ochocinco and Haynesworth

Posted by Christopher L. Gasper, Globe Staff  July 29, 2011 10:58 AM

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The Patriot Way? Child please, as Chad Ochocinco would say. The Patriots' mantra is more like "just win, baby."

The Patriots have become the NFL's version of Outward Bound while trying to become Super Bowl-bound again, reforming some of the NFL's more temperamental talents to regain their lofty Lombardi Trophy perch.

Yesterday, they made trades for wanton Washington Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, a man with a massive frame and an equally large list of transgressions, and Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, a man whose self-promotional antics make Shaquille O'Neal look like a shut-in. For vastly different reasons, neither player appears to fit the mold of the team-first, gridiron-gestalt philosophy the Patriots have copyrighted on their way to becoming the NFL's model franchise of the new millennium.

But when you're the Boston pro sports franchise that has the longest championship "drought," haven't won a playoff game during the Obama administration and have lost three of five encounters with the rival New York Jets since Vociferous Rex Ryan arrived, including a shocking 28-21 playoff loss last season, then perhaps you come to view pigskin probity as a luxury. You need to upgrade your talent, and if it comes to Foxborough with a bit of baggage so be it.

As long as we can all be adult and honest about that and not start fitting Ochocinco and Haynesworth for halos along with their Patriots helmets, then I applaud coach Bill Belichick's low-risk, high-reward moves because they're based on winning right now. At minimal cost, he has addressed two of his teams biggest weaknesses at the collective sum of a 2012 fifth-round pick and 2013 fifth and sixth rounders.

Belichick knows that Tom Brady, who turns 34 next month, isn't getting any younger, and the window for the Patriots to win a fourth Super Bowl isn't getting any wider. Ochocinco is a six-time Pro Bowler and two-time All-Pro, and Haynesworth is also a two-time All-Pro selection, whom Patriots defensive end Ty Warren called a "freakish talent."

Haynesworth, one of the biggest free-agent busts in NFL history, is still capable of being just as disruptive a force on the field as he was in the locker room for the Redskins. But more often in Washington, which handed him a seven-year, $100-million deal with a then-record $41 million guaranteed, he was a no-show, complaining about having to pass a conditioning test and being asked to play nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. The Redskins suspended him for the final four games of last season.

In fact, it's almost unfair to group the playful and colorful Ochocinco, an entertaining showman at best and a self-aggrandizing showboat at worst, in with Haynesworth, who has done some heinous things on and off the field.

The 30-year-old Haynesworth has been sued by a bank, a woman who claims he impregnated her and a man who needed a hip replacement after Haynesworth channeled Jeff Gordon and clipped his car. He is also currently accused of sexual assault.

Ocho has never really gotten in trouble with the law and his outbursts in Cincinnati were related to the frustration of being on a perennial loser.

We've been down this road before with bad boys and me-first players with Corey Dillon and Randy Moss. To borrow a phrase from former NFL coach Dennis Green, those guys were exactly who we thought they were. They were on their best behavior for a season or two and then reverted to malcontent form.

But both got the Patriots to a Super Bowl and Dillon won one. The football Faustian bargain was worth it. If Ochocinco and Haynesworth work out as well as Dillon and Moss then it's another masterstroke by the genius.

However, there are questions about both players and their roles here and the possibility that after all of last season was spent rebuilding and repairing the locker room culture following the 2009 uprising that two such strong-willed personalities could undermine it.

It's interesting that Belichick would decide to go diva wide receiver redux after seeing how things ended with Moss. Ochocinco is not the unique deep threat that Moss was. He averaged just 12.4 yards per catch last season. But Belichick and the 33-year-old Ochocinco have a long-standing football bromance.

The two became infatuated with each other at the Pro Bowl following the 2006 season, when Belichick coached the AFC All-Stars. Ever since they've been NFL BFFs.

This is going to be a test of their relationship and Ochocinco's ability to subjugate his ego. He is going to be the No. 3 receiver with the Patriots, behind Wes Welker and Deion Branch. How that suits him remains to be seen considering that since entering the league in 2001 he has had the second-most passes of any receiver thrown his direction (1,340) with only Terrell Owens having the ball thrown his way more often.

Last year, Ochocinco, who had 67 catches for 831 yards and four touchdowns, was targeted 126 times, three more than Welker.

An AFC North scout who saw Ochocinco twice a year said he thought the wideout still had something left and that playing with Welker, Branch and the Patriots young tight ends will help Ochocinco hide his weaknesses. Will he see it that way if he's not getting a lot of opportunities to unsheathe his choreographed touchdown celebrations?

Haynesworth made it clear he did not want to play in a 3-4 in Washington and was an outspoken critic of the defense. His problem there was manning the nose. But even as a defensive end here, he is going to be asked to have some run responsibilities and do some of the dirty work to free up the linebackers.

Can he dig that?

It wasn't that long ago that Patriots fans pointed to the fact their team didn't have high-maintenance, high-profile talents as the reason they were the best team in football. Now, they are reasons to believe they can be again.

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The word

Christopher L. Gasper riffs on the news

Dearth

...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.

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