When the Patriots stunned everyone by reportedly trading for Albert Haynesworth on Thursday morning and then again caught everyone off guard by trading for Chad Ochocinco a mere 12 hours later, the two moves, naturally, were grouped together.
Immediately, pundits and talk show hosts began comparing the acquisitions to Corey Dillon and Randy Moss, two players with "troubled" NFL histories that Bill Belichick was able to teach "the New England way." While it was easy to group Ochocinco and Haynesworth together on Thursday, it's important a day later to look at both players with very different expectations.
Start with Ochocinco. Those unfamiliar with his football game are all too familiar with his persona, which is that of a loudmouth, look-at-me, diva wide receiver. In some respects, that impression is fair, as Ochocinco brings much of that on himself (he did change his last name from Johnson to Ochocinco, so there's not much of an argument against that). However, it's important to look beyond the sideshow that can be Ochocinco the celebrity tweeter and find Ochocinco the football player.
What you'll find is a pretty good player. He's 33, which isn't exactly youthful, but it's far from old or washed up at the wide receiver position. He should have at least a couple of strong seasons left in those legs. He also plays the brand of football that the Patriots asked out of their receivers back when they were winning Super Bowls every year or so (David Givens, wherefore art thou?). He's strong, smart, and fearless, and he's not afraid to get hit (cue the Ray Lewis hit).
On top of that, he's been in a very public love affair with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for years. Ochocinco, for all his fame-seeking tweets and TV shows and races with horses and expeditions into professional soccer, genuinely wants to impress Belichick and Brady. He truly wants to experience winning — something that wasn't exactly a focal point back in Cincinnati. To expect anything less than Ochocinco's best effort would be foolish.
If we're to play the prediction game, let's go with this: 70 receptions, 950 yards, six touchdowns.
Now, the story with Albert Haynesworth is a very, very different tale.
The 6-foot-6, 335-pounder is an absolute monster in more ways than one. Yes, he's a large man and yes, he has the potential to dominate, but that ability has been almost completely absent for two full years. Fans who are excited at the prospect of Haynesworth lining up and terrorizing opposing offensive lines are thinking back to the Tennessee days, but you simply can't forget about the Washington years. In a Redskins uniform (well, on the weeks he actually suited up to play), Haynesworth was anything but an impact player. Put it this way: He finished tied for 138th in the NFL in sacks last season and tied for 82nd in the league the year before. That's not what the Redskins were looking for when they forked over $41 million in guaranteed money.
On top of that, he's simply not a trustworthy character. You'd be able to forgive him for his 2006 stomping if he had acted appropriately afterward, but since then he's been involved in traffic accidents, public disputes with coaches, sexual assault accusations, failed conditioning tests and public declarations that he's "not a slave or whatever." The list is long, and hardly any of it's good.
Optimists in New England point to Dillon and Moss, but those two were both unique cases. Dillon was in a bad situation in Cincinnati, as was Moss in Oakland. The Patriots rescued them from said bad situations. Haynesworth, on the other hand, was in a rather cushy situation in Washington, but any negatives in Washington were brought on by him and him alone. He failed a conditioning test that a 61-year-old journalist was able to pass and a 47-year-old Mike Golic passed as well.
He also used a nationally televised game against Michael Vick and the Eagles as an opportunity to take a nap on the field. That's not good. Nor is being the team player you can see in this video:
The other misconception with the Haynesworth acquisition is that the Patriots' locker room is full of established, champion veterans on defense who won't take any nonsense from Haynesworth. "That won't fly in that locker room," they say. That thought may have been true when the likes of Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Mike Vrabel, Junior Seau, Willie McGinest and Co. were around, but that was a long time ago. There's Vince Wilfork and there's Jerod Mayo, a fourth-year guy who might fill that mold sooner rather than later but is still under Haynesworth on the totem pole. Simply put, it's a young defense, and if Haynesworth wants to act up, he's going to act up.
Now, everyone is deserving of a fresh start, even those with laundry lists of problems like Haynesworth. But Haynesworth, 30, needs a whole lot more than that.
Optimists in the area might be hoping that with Wilfork alongside him, Haynesworth can recapture those Tennessee days, when he averaged .5 sack per game from 2007-08. A realist might look at the whole picture, see two Pro Bowl-caliber campaigns out of nine seasons, and expect a whole lot less. Let's predict 3.5 sacks.
Still, those hypothetical 3.5 sacks would've been tied for the third-most on the team last year, and his big body next to Wilfork's 325-pound frame will obviously cause nightmares for opposing O-lines and create opportunities for the linebackers to make plays. He'll likely help the team's defense, and he was worth the fifth-round pick, but the odds of him not working out have to be higher than his Patriots tenure being remembered as a success.
Regardless of the outcome, you have to appreciate the Patriots' effort. They finished 14-2 last season but decided to go out and add what they considered to be the best talent available. They're clearly gunning for a championship, and they're putting a decent amount of chips on Ochocinco and Haynesworth. At this point, though, the safer bet by far is Ochocinco.
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