The Boston Globe reported on Thursday that shortly after the NFL owners agreed to extend the collective bargaining agreement for six more years, the Patriots cut ties with 12-year veteran Willie McGinest.
Parting ways with the longtime linebacker who has meant so much to the team's success over the years was a difficult move for the Patriots but not an unexpected one. McGinest's cap number for next season was just too high for the Patriots to invest in a player who's now 34-years old.
McGinest has played in 171 games with 146 starts in the 12 seasons since the Patriots chose him with the fourth overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft. He was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1996 and 2003 seasons. McGinest ranks third on the Patriots all-time sacks list with 78 career sacks, trailing only Andre Tippett (100) and Julius Adams (79.5). McGinest's 78 sacks are tied for the most among active NFL linebackers.
Additionally, McGinest is the NFL's all-time leader with 16 career playoff sacks and set the NFL's single-game postseason record with 4.5 sacks in a playoff victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Jan. 7, 2006. He has been a member of eight Patriots playoff teams and has appeared in a team-record 18 postseason games. McGinest finished the 2005 season second on the team with six sacks.
The Patriots are hopeful they will be able to re-sign McGinest for less money but they will have a lot of competition for his services. With a lot of teams gravitating to the 3-4 defense, a player with McGinest's experience and versatility will be in high demand. It's already being reported that the Cowboys, Browns and Dolphins have expressed interest in the veteran.
McGinest's career started off slowly because of injuries but he flourished once Bill Belichick came to New England. Under Belichick, the linebacker was one of the cornerstones of a defense that helped the Patriots win three Super Bowls in a four-year span.
The Patriots aren't one of the teams having difficulties getting under the new salary cap number, which is projected to be $102 million in 2006. However, taking the hit of McGinest's contract at his age just wasn't cost feasible for the team.
Now it's going to be up to McGinest where he wants to finish his career. The Patriots will probably offer him a restructured deal to stay in New England but with organizations like the Browns, who have money to burn, there's a good chance McGinest will receive a higher offer from another team.
Whether McGinest takes less money to stay in New England or leaves for a more lucrative deal, he will always have a special place in the hearts of Patriots fans. Much like Tom Brady, Tedy Bruschi, Adam Vinatieri and many others, McGinest was a key member of the most successful period in franchise history and that's something that will never be forgotten, no matter where he plays in 2006.