FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (March 9, 2006) -- The New England Patriots released linebacker Willie McGinest in a salary-cap move, ending a 12-year relationship with the NFL's all-time postseason sack leader.
The release of the two-time Pro Bowler was announced March 9, the day after the NFL owners voted 30-2 at their meeting in Grapevine, Texas, to extend the collective bargaining agreement with the players for six more years, resulting in a new salary cap figure of $102 million.
The 34-year-old McGinest carried a salary cap figure of more than $7 million for next season. The veteran linebacker is now a free agent and can sign with any team, including New England.
McGinest, who has been with New England his entire career, was the fourth pick of the 1994 draft out of Southern California. He played in four Super Bowls, including three Patriots victories. His 16 postseason sacks rank ahead of Bruce Smith (14 1/2) and Reggie White (12).
A two-time Pro Bowler, McGinest ranks third on the Patriots' all-time sack list with 78, just 1.5 behind Julius Adams. Andre Tippett tops the list with 100 sacks.
McGinest has played in 171 games, ninth on the Patriots' all-time list.
Besides McGinest, kicker Adam Vinatieri, wide receivers David Givens and Troy Brown, tackle Tom Ashworth, receiver and punt returner Tim Dwight, tight end Christian Fauria, linebackers Don Davis and Matt Chatham and running back Heath Evans are free agents.
The Patriots also announced the signing of defensive back Artrell Hawkins.
Hawkins signed with the Patriots as a free agent on Nov. 15, 2005. The seven-year veteran, who moved from cornerback to safety, started four of the five games he appeared in and made 16 tackles.
The 5-foot-10, 190-pound defender was originally drafted in the second round of the 1998 draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, who he played for six seasons.