FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Patriots announced the signing of defensive back Artrell Hawkins and the release of veteran linebacker and two-time Pro Bowler Willie McGinest today.
Hawkins, 29, signed with the Patriots as a free agent on Nov. 15, 2005. The seven-year veteran contributed immediately, transitioning from cornerback to safety to help solidify a position that had been decimated by injuries. He started four of the five games he appeared in and posted 16 tackles, including a season-high seven stops and a sack in a start against Tampa Bay (12/17/05). He started both playoff games at safety and accumulated eight tackles.
The 5-foot-10-inch, 190-pound defender was originally drafted in the second round of the 1998 NFL draft by the Cincinnati Bengals and started every game at right cornerback as a rookie. In six seasons with the Bengals, he started 72 of 89 games at corner and was credited with 375 tackles and nine interceptions. One of those interceptions came in 2002 against the Houston Texans, when he picked off a David Carr pass 2 yards deep in the end zone and returned it 102 yards for a touchdown. The return remains tied for the third longest interception return in NFL history. Hawkins was released by the Bengals on March 5, 2004 and signed with the Carolina Panthers five days later. He played one season in Carolina, appearing in 14 games, including four as a starter, and recorded 29 tackles and an interception.
McGinest, 34, has played in 171 games with 146 starts in the 12 seasons since the Patriots selected him with the fourth overall pick in the 1994 NFL Draft. He was selected to the Pro Bowl following the 1996 and 2003 seasons. The 6-foot-5-inch, 270-pound linebacker ranks third on the Patriots' all-time sacks list with 78.0 career sacks, trailing only Andre Tippett (100.0) and Julius Adams (79.5). McGinest's 78.0 career sacks are tied for the most among active NFL linebackers. Additionally, McGinest is the NFL's all-time leader with 16.0 career playoff sacks and set the NFL's single-game playoff record with 4.5 sacks in a Wild Card Round playoff game against Jacksonville on Jan. 7, 2006. He has been a member of eight Patriots playoff teams and has appeared in a team-record 18 playoff games. McGinest's 171 regular-season games rank ninth on the Patriots' all-time games played list.
In his 12 seasons in New England, McGinest led the team in sacks six times. His career-high 11.0 sacks in 1995 mark the only double-digit sack total by a Patriot in the last 18 years. The USC product's regular-season career totals include 700 tackles (524 solo), 78.0 sacks for 511.0 yards, four interceptions, 55 passes defensed, 16 forced fumbles and 15 fumble recoveries. McGinest has scored four career touchdowns: two on interception returns and two via fumble recoveries.