Cornerback Shawn Springs, who was entering the second year of a three-year, $10.5 million deal, said he's not sure why the Patriots released him today to make room for rookie Ted Larsen, but he harbors no hard feeling towards Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
The 13-year veteran said the two parted ways in amicable fashion with a handshake and that he wouldn't rule out a return to Foxborough. He also revealed he had off-season knee surgery.
The closest the 35-year-old Springs, who ranks 10th among active players in interceptions with 33, right behind Asante Samuel, could come to explaining his release by the team today was saying that during his discussion with Belichick he got the sense that the coach wanted to give his cadre of callow cornerbacks a chance to prove themselves. Leigh Bodden has the right cornerback spot locked down, but after that the team has first-round pick Devin McCourty, second-year man Darius Butler, and third-year players Jonathan Wilhite and Terrence Wheatley, as well as special teamer Kyle Arrington vying for time.
"It didn't go bad at all," said Springs of his release meeting with Belichick. "I could see myself working for Bill. I have a lot of respect for Bill. It wasn't bad at all. It's almost like he cut me, and he wants to see what he's got without distractions. He wants to give them a shot. It's hard to give them a shot when you have the presence of a guy like me around. He's going to give you all the chances not to mess it up. It helps your psyche. You don't have to compete. Just do your job.
"Now, you don't have to worry about the pressure of guys competing with me and messing up your confidence as a young guy, feeling like, 'How am I going to compete with this guy?' "
Springs said that he had arthroscopic knee surgery in the third week of January, not long after the Patriots' 33-14 playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens. However, he said the knee didn't really affect him much during the season and that it was not why he was released. He said that the knee had been swelling up recently as it healed, but that he would have been able to participate in the team's passing camp next week that runs from May 24-May 27.
"It's not a knee issue," said Springs of his release, citing that it was the same surgery that Ty Warren had last offseason.
It was a puzzling end to a puzzling Patriots' career for Springs. He started four of the first five games of the season at left cornerback. Then was a reserve for three games, before inexplicably being a healthy scratch for four straight games against Indianapolis, the Jets, New Orleans and Miami, a span during which the Patriots allowed all four of their 100-yard receiving games of 2009 and had Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Chad Henne all throw for 300-plus yards.
Springs said he still never got an explanation for why he was put on hiatus for a quarter of the season.
"I guess it was what it was," said Springs. "We never talked about it really. I just figured I was redshirted."
After losing three of those four games, Springs was reinstated as a starter at left corner for the final four games of the season and the playoff loss to Baltimore. He picked off his only pass of the season in the penultimate regular season game against Jacksonville.
Springs, who was used all over the field during his previous five years in Washington, spent most of the last season with the Patriots practicing at safety, not cornerback. It wasn't until the final four games of the year that he saw significant practice time at corner.
"You have no idea how hard it was for me last year," said Springs.
Springs, who is very close with Bodden, Butler and safety Brandon Meriweather, dismissed the perception that he was part of the team's locker room discord last season. A perception created in part when he and former linebacker Adalius Thomas traded saccharine and seemingly derisive "sorrys" after Thomas was sent home for being late to a team meeting during a December snowstorm.
Springs said he was just joking with Thomas, not trying to undermine Belichick.
"One of the best things about me is my character," said Springs. "I don't think that ever came across as me being a bad influence. That wasn't me being a bad guy. That was me being a jokester."
Despite potential television broadcasting opportunities, Springs said he plans to play in the NFL this year and wouldn't rule out a return to the Patriots -- or Redskins.
Springs also said he wouldn't be surprised to hear from the Patriots AFC East rivals the Jets and Dolphins, and he remains close with his defensive coordinator in Washington, Gregg Williams, who is now the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Saints.
"I'll have teams calling me, and they won't be [bad] teams," said Springs. "I'm cool.
"I would come back to New England. I wish them the best. I'm going to miss those guys."