By: Bob George/BosSports.net
July 28, 2011

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Lockout over. There will actually be a 2011 season in the NFL.

Rejoicing is taking place all over the USA. The nation's most popular sport is finally back. The only real casualty of the lockout is the useless and unnecessary Hall Of Fame Game. Otherwise, it's time once again for Hank Jr. to scream out "Are you ready for some football?"

It's going to happen, folks. 29 training camps and one halfway house will open this week and preparation for the 2011 NFL season will actually begin.

The one halfway house? Where else but on the Boston Post Road, the place where manchildren go to become real men, real football players and most important of all, winners. With Corey Dillon and Randy Moss as the prime star pupils, the Patriots and Bill Belichick seem to have this routine down, taking established star players in other cities who become immature malcontents and blossom into the tremendous talents they should have been in their cities of origin.

On Thursday morning, the pro football world was rocked when the Patriots acquired defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth from Washington for the bargain price of only a fifth round draft pick in 2013. According to Boston.com, Haynesworth is owed $48 million over four years in what is a heavily backloaded deal. Haynesworth, 30, becomes another veteran superstar wannabe who needs to prove his worth in order to collect the $29 million he is owed in 2013.

Haynesworth, who drafted in the first round by the Titans out of Tennessee in 2002, has never developed into the colossal stud everyone thought he would be. Haynesworth lasted seven seasons in Nashville before moving on to the Redskins as a free agent. Early in his career, he played against the Patriots in the frigid 2003 AFC Divisional Game at Gillette Stadium, a 17-10 Patriot win. Haynesworth is a self-proclaimed 4-3 guy who has shown an extreme non-proclivity to play in base 3-4 packages. This will be one of the first things the Patriot coaching staff will have to reckon with.

It is a good thing that the Patriots did dabble a bit; albeit out of necessity due to injuries, the Patriots did run several 4-3 sets in 2010. Haynesworth likes to rush the quarterback and is great at stopping the run. The Patriots have not been a defense in past seasons which features intense pressure on the quarterback, so it will be interesting to see if the Patriots retool their defense to suit the talents of Haynesworth, like they did with their offense and Moss in 2007.

If that is their rationale for retooling the defense, Belichick has to approach this situation with caution. The Moss experiment worked for one season, as he and Tom Brady had record-breaking seasons and the team came within a few seconds of going 19-0 for the season. But thereafter, Moss greatly declined, stopped playing hard, and started in with rambling press conferences which amounted to him literally shooting his way out of town. Belichick went out and re-acquired Deion Branch in 2010, which was an oblique admission that the Moss experiment, for all intents and purposes, did not work out to its fullest.

Assuming the Patriots can indeed fit Haynesworth in, there are two other issues that have to be overcome. First of all, Haynesworth is not a given that he will play hard game in and game out. Haynesworth has to be motivated somehow, and he isn't one of those players that can motivate himself. The other problem is the laundry list of transgressions and run-ins with the law. Not to turn this situation morbid, but one has to wonder if Haynesworth might not be a Patriot had Myra Kraft been alive to advise Robert to block the deal because he isn't the "Kraft ideal" kind of player that should be with this team. This Patriot team doesn't have the solid entrenchment of veterans in the locker room to keep Haynesworth on the straight and narrow and prevent altercations with his teammates and the law.

The deal on Haynesworth is not yet complete, as he must still pass a physical.

Later on Thursday, the Patriots made another big splash by acquiring wide receiver Chad Ochocinco (formerly Chad Johnson) from Cincinnati for two late round draft picks, one in 2012 and one in 2013. Ochocinco had openly wooed the Patriots for the last several months. Belichick has also praised Ochocinco in press conferences, which could have been construed as borderline tampering but nothing has been done officially to reprimand the Patriots in any such way.

Ochocinco, 33, had been a Bengal all his career. He has been noted for his outrageous behaviour over the years, including his penchant for tweeting and telling you exactly what he thinks. Of late, he has been denouncing the Bengal organization and expressing his dislike for head coach Marvin Lewis. Ochocinco has been a tremendous talent for many years, and while he is no longer the explosive downfield threat he has been in past years, he has a bit more upside than Haynesworth has, if he will follow Dillon's lead and behave himself.

Ochocinco agreed to have his contract restructured to fit into under the salary cap, which is a good sign right from the start. If money is not a major issue and winning is, chances are that Ochocinco will do what he is told and play hard within the system if Belichick is open to looking the other way on innocuous tweets. But Ochocinco has to be careful; given what happened to Wes Welker in last January's AFC Divisional Game after making an indirect reference to Rex Ryan's supposed foot fetish, Belichick benched Welker for one series. Ochocinco could run afoul with this sort of thing if his tweets cross the line Belichick sets for acceptability.

For the Patriots, Ochocinco would have to work in with Welker and Branch, and his presence could add a great deal of depth to the wideout position. If winning a title is his prime source of motivation (like Dillon), the Patriots will have scored a coup assuming Ochocinco has enough gas left in the tank.

Now, all the talk about acquiring manchildren comes up again. Belichick has been known recently has a good halfway house facilitator, and if anyone can primp up guys like Haynesworth and Ochocinco, Belichick can. Ochocinco seems like the easier job versus the sometimes moody and problematic Haynesworth. These men, both north of 30, can bring lots of good things to the table if they play to their talents and do what Belichick tells them to do.

And as always, they come with low risk and high reward. The price to acquire both men was nominal. Haynesworth will have to play well to get all the money coming later on in his contract. If they don't work out, Belichick merely boots them out the door. It's not that big a deal if they can't deal with Belichick. It is a big deal if they understand that if they do their jobs, they will help the Patriots greatly and possibly get them over the January hump and win a playoff game for the first time since 2007.

If people stop referring to Foxborough as a halfway house and more like a training camp, then things will be going well with these two new stars.


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