Posted by: mdegeorge | July 28, 2011

Belichick’s Patriots up to old tricks in NFL feeding frenzy

Like him or hate him (and for most of us, it’s certainly the latter), Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots are always on the move. They don’t always have the most salary cap available or the most visible needs to fill. But the Patriots in the Belichick era are always willing to push the envelope, masters at recouping value from late-round picks by smartly shuffling to get their man, acquiring over-performers on the cheap and the other types of front office sleight-of-hand that separate them from teams like, well, the Buffalo Bills.

The kind of decisions made by the club Thursday are the type of devious low-risk, high-reward moves that help sustain the success they have enjoyed over the last decade. They’re essentially scrap-heap acquisitions. You know, like the one where a fourth-round pick flipped to Oakland turned into two All-Pro selections in three-plus years of Randy Moss. Or getting rid of an overpaid, underperforming starter like Laurence Maroney to have waiver-wire pick-up Danny Woodhead step in and attain cult-hero status. Or managing to tease a combined three Pro Bowl selections as part of two Super Bowl winning teams from veterans like Corey Dillon and Rodney Harrison, guys deemed problems past their primes.

Albert Haynesworth may find the Patriots a much-needed and welcoming new home. (Photo via Flckr user Keith Allison)

Thursday’s moves were of that ilk. For three draft picks – a fifth-rounder for sure and a pair of “late-rounders” according to ESPN – the Pats have picked up two pieces of All-Pro talent that it hopes to resuscitate and separate from off-field travails in Chad Ochocino and Albert Haynesworth.

It’s not just the low price they paid to acquire both undeniable talents. They also managed to get both to agree to restructure their hefty deals for the greater good. Ochocinco is due $6.35 million this season but has already agreed to restructure the deal. Haynesworth, who is entering the third season of a seven-year, $100 million pact, agreed to the deal with the condition that he would be open to renegotiating his contract, of which the 2011 base salary is $5 million.

The financial terms work, but it’s also the human element that the Patriots are so good at managing. Belichick is the man in the locker room; any player wishing to wage the player-vs.-coach war already knows the outcome, and it’s not to their liking. The second-biggest weight being thrown around in any conflict belongs to Tom Brady, so don’t expect any “him or me” spats like the one Ochocinco and Carson Palmer were embroiled in in Cincinnati.

Ochocino knows he won’t be the star in New England thanks to the presence of Wes Welker, Deion Branch and a plethora of other options for a balanced offense. Plus, it helps that he regards Belichick as “a friend”, a relationship the grizzled coach dubbed “an odd couple”.

The weight of the defense won’t be on the shoulders of Haynesworth either, a role it appears he’s not mentally well-equipped to handle. A lot will be asked of him, yes, but he has another hulking man in the middle in Vince Wilfork to defect the blame and share the credit with.

It’s a mentality that bodes well for career resurgences for both men. And for something each has lacked in their pro careers: A legitimate chance at success.

Photo via Flckr user Keith Allison

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