Dan Shaughnessy

It’s a signal change

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By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / July 30, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH - It’s been busy down here the last couple of days. The lockout is over and you truly can’t tell the players without a scorecard.

As you might have heard, Albert Haynesworth and Chad Ochocinco are now members of the Patriots. Wow.

Strap yourselves in, Patriots fans. Free agent frenzy is just getting started and - given Haynesworth’s rap sheet - the Patriots have sent the message that they’ll take a chance on anyone with talent. This means there might still be room for Pacman Jones, Dave Meggett, and Manny Ramirez. Too bad The Juice is behind bars.

Once a bastion of teamwork, character, and sanctimony (remember “The Patriot Way’’?), Gillette Stadium is the new Oakland Alameda County Coliseum. The franchise that said “No’’ to Christian Peter is now the place you go to restore your tattered reputation. Ochocinco calls it “Heaven.’’

In this spirit, why don’t the Patriots expand their Misfit Haven to the front office? Anthony Weiner would make a nifty team photographer. Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson could work in public relations, and Tiger Woods might be a good fit as director of the cheerleaders. Why not hire Hells Angels for stadium security on Sundays?

Really. Have you looked at Haynesworth’s dossier? On and off the field? It’s longer than the wine list at Mistral. He’s a quitter, a bully, a deadbeat, and his sexual assault trial is scheduled to begin in three weeks.

I drove here yesterday to ask coach Bill Belichick about Haynesworth. Coach Bill has respect for the Redskins’ Mike Shanahan, and Coach Mike had a nightmarish experience with Haynesworth. After a series of hideous infractions, the Redskins suspended Haynesworth for the final four games of 2010 season.

Unfortunately, Belichick wouldn’t talk about either of his new star players because the deals were not officially done.

“We are in the process of working through the trades with Albert and Chad,’’ said the coach. “They still haven’t been officially completed yet so there isn’t really anything I can comment with them. We’re working through the process and when it’s complete, if it’s complete, we can talk about it then.’’

Cool, I figured. Let’s try the abstract route. An existential Q & A.

Me: Without talking about specific players, in general when you look at veteran players that are out there, how much do you consider things that happened in their background?

Bill: As I said yesterday, when you bring a player onto your team, I think you consider your team, what role that player has and how you think that player will fit onto your team and all the things that come with it. Then you decide whether you want to make that addition or not, whether that’s a draft choice, whether it’s a free agency signing, whether it’s a re-signing, whether it’s a trade. Any player that comes onto your team, you think about what the player’s role on the team is, how he fits into the team and whether or not you want to do that. And there are a lot of factors - injuries and contracts and experience and so forth and so on. There’re a million factors that go into that so you put it all together and then you make that decision. It’s the same for every player. We don’t sign anybody without going through that whole process - or draft anybody or trade for anybody.

Me: And there have been guys through the years that you haven’t wanted anything to do with for one reason or another?

Bill: I’d say that you can only have so many players on your team, so you have to pick which ones those are.

Me: Was there ever stuff that kept you from going after certain guys?

Bill: I don’t think I’ve ever said that. I can’t remember ever saying that. You can only have so many players; you have to make choices. It’s not an unlimited number. Just because there are players that aren’t on our team, doesn’t mean those players couldn’t, in other circumstances, be on our team. They just aren’t right now, for whatever the reasons are - one reason being that we can only have so many players.

Me: Do you look at a guy and think when he comes here, he’s going to be one of “our’’ players and we can work with him, regardless of what happened in the past?

Bill: I think I just said that when you bring the player onto your team, you want the player on your team. So whatever it is, whether it’s an injury or a position change or a lack of experience, whatever it is, you feel like you can make that player work in your team or in your system. If you don’t feel that way, then you shouldn’t bring him on your team. That’s not saying we’re right on every player. We’ve made plenty of mistakes with players bringing them onto the team and so forth. Every team in the league does that. That’s part of the process. You try to make as few of those as possible, but it’s an inexact science.

Me: But you wouldn’t want to bring in a guy that wouldn’t fit here under any circumstances?

Bill: Obviously. Why would you do anything with any player or anybody that you didn’t want to do? I don’t really understand that.

Me: Some guys have histories that would be a disincentive to bring them in.

Bill: I think we can look at every player, every person in this room’s past, and find something that was a mistake and is less than ideal - on any team, in any group of people. We’ve all made mistakes.

There you go. Football players are like snowflakes. No two are alike. And they all make mistakes. Just like you and me.

Tom Brady watched Corey Dillon and Randy Moss come and go in Foxborough. For the most part, those bad dudes behaved while they were in New England. Brady is open-minded about all of his new teammates.

“Whatever someone has done in the past - players have come from college or other teams - I think we just treat ’em all the same,’’ said Brady. “Everyone starts with a clean slate and they’re trying to be a good teammate and be a good member of this team. Put the team first and come out here and do your job. I don’t think you go, ‘Oh man,’ because you did this 12 years ago that I could have an opinion of you. You develop relationships with players and they develop relationships with you and you see as you go.’’

Maybe the Patriots should sign Plaxico Burress.

Send lawyers, guns, and money. The spit has hit the fans.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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