The Kings of Reclamation Projects
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • July 29, 2011 @ 2:01pm
If a middling team acquired batty Chad Ochocinco, perpetually disgruntled Albert Haynesworth, declining Marcus Stroud, brittle Deion Branch and tubby Alge Crumpler over two seasons (not to mention Paleolithic Joey Galloway and Fred Taylor in 2009), an avalanche of scorn would result. Most organizations couldn’t absorb the ensuing public relations nightmare or placate bulging egos.
The secretive yet efficient New England Patriots are the exception. Under the Bill Belichick regime—and regime is an appropriate term—the Pats are the lone team to pursue these talented yet declining veterans en masse. The scary thing for Bills fans is that, instead of high-risk, moderate-reward signings as they’d appear for Buffalo, the Ochocinco and Haynesworth duo mark low-risk, high-reward additions for the Pats. If the vets don’t pan out, New England would survive because they stockpile draft picks and select wisely.
Sure, all these additions are in the twilight of their careers; Ochocinco has morphed into a possession receiver, while Haynesworth is most effective in a rotation. If they fail to fulfill their roles in Belichick’s system, history suggests they’ll be unceremoniously cast off for pennies on the dollar, a la Galloway, Randy Moss, or Stroud, who was quietly dumped yesterday due to a slow-healing shoulder.
New England won’t tolerate distractions, so if Ochocinco, whom the Pats surrendered only two late round picks to acquire, decides to produce a silky blues album or play hooker for an Irish rugby team, Belichick will not hesitate to cut ties. Since these players are essentially an “expendable luxury” for the Pats, they’re more inclined to stay focused on football, as New England is a perennial Super Bowl contender—after all, the late-career mindset is to finish on a winning note, right?
Few of these questionable adds have panned out for New England, but they’ve still been viewed as savvy moves by the media. The emergence of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski relegated Crumpler to a blocking specialist role, while Ben-Jarvis Green-Ellis surpassed Taylor in short yardage situations. Haynesworth, acquired in exchange for a fifth round pick in 2013, has the greatest chance for renewed success in NE since he’s only 30 and hasn’t seen extensive action in 18 months. According to Adam Caplan on Twitter, Haynesworth forfeited his salary guarantee for 2011 by skipping last year’s mini-camps with the Redskins, leaving the Pats with minimal financial commitment.
The Bills continue to lag behind the rest of the AFC East in free agency, and resources are only part of the reason. While New England can bring on (and cast off) bad eggs as they please, Buffalo—particularly after the T.O. debacle—is wary about acquiring big egos or declining former stars. While this stance is smart in many cases—fewer distractions are welcomed by players—Buffalo is still outspent for the marquee free agents (Free, Clabo, Babin, etc) and reluctant to pick from the second tier (the Ochoincos, Haynesworths, etc). Brad Smith and Tyler Thigpen, while valuable in their roles, are nevertheless third tier additions.