Haynesworth isn’t going anywhere, yet

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 11:  Albert Haynesworth #92 of Washington Redskins watches a drop of sweat as he waits on the bench against the Carolina Panthers at Bank of America Stadium on October 11, 2009 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

This post is about Albert Haynesworth, but it’s really isn’t about Haynesworth.  I still think — and hope — that Albert can be an important cog on our defensive line this season, but to do that, he’d have to be willing to take a percentage of his snaps at nose tackle and do so with a controlled dominance.  I think he’ll line up there and execute his assignment if asked, but the first rule of being a dominant player is that you really have to buy into the idea of your own dominance.  No one except Albert can prevent him from taking his disgust out to the field with him, and if he does, it’s hard to see him dominanting.

Keep in mind that Albert’s now 29 years old and has been a dominant defensive tackle for three consecutive seasons.  One of the reasons I like the idea of him playing nose so much is that he’s bound to decline dramaticly as an individual player by virtue of where he is at this point.  At nose tackle, he would line up against significantly smaller players and draw double teams (which, contrary to belief, he doesn’t draw many of as a 3-technique).  His decline would be less meaningful there.  What was originally the biggest danger about signing Haynesworth — that you were getting a dominant but eventually declining player with an inflated sense of self — now seems like a small problem compared to the malcontent he currently is over much less tangible reasons.

The Albert Haynesworth story runs deeper (or perhaps shallower) than the media is reporting, per a source.  Haynesworth’s main beef, I’m told, is not with the Redskins, their scheme, or his teammates or coaches.  The issues that are truly causing the divide are two fold: pride, and authority.  Mike Shanahan came in to a really ugly situation, and established his authority immediately by flexing his muscle as head coach.  This meant that at Redskins Park, it’s Mike’s way, or the highway.  He told Albert as much in their February meeting, the last time the two have seen each other.  Haynesworth doesn’t seem to be against the idea of playing for Mike Shanahan, but both men have great senses of entitlement.  Haynesworth is aware that, if it had been his decision, Shanahan would never have signed him.  Haynesworth says he wouldn’t have signed with the Redskins if he had known they have gone through these changes after one season.  Both sides have very understandable positions.

Where this situation gets a little bit ugly, and very, very stupid and petty is when the coach and the pro athlete start playing their games with each other.  Haynesworth informs Shanahan that he’s going to work out on his own away from the team.  Reasonable.  Shanahan is disappointed, but “respects the decision.” Again, reasonable.  Knowing he has no play, Shanahan schedules Albert’s physical with the team at the first mandatory minicamp for 6:30 AM.  A bit petty, in my opinion.  The big one: Haynesworth is bumped down to second string on the depth chart — a slap across the face, though not an uncommon coaching technique.  Haynesworth opts to pay the fine — missing the minicamp — rather than Shanahan’s little game, and his agent formally requests a trade.  Incredibly petty.

What’s happened here is that the coach and the player are locked in a small power struggle that is obscuring the facts of a) the player getting a $21 million dollar bonus to play for the coach this year, and b) the coach needs the beef on the d-line, since you know, the coach has a reputation of being unable to field quality defenses.  Romeo and Juliet these two are not.

Media reports would have yout think this situation is going to get uglier before it gets better, but I really don’t see how it’s going to.  Haynesworth is going to report to training camp as a second string defensive lineman, and that much should take care of the rift he’s created with his teammates.  He’ll have to mend fences to get on the field, back into the starting lineup.  At the conclusion of the 2010 season, both the player and the team have buyout options on the contract, so if the drama continues, the player won’t be here in 2011.

Of course, he will play here in 2010.  The fact that he’s still on the team is rock solid evidence of at much.

Haynesworth has pocketed more than 70% of the guaranteed money in his deal already, leaving just the remaining $9 million for any team that trades for him to pay.  That’s a crazy expensive 16 games, you know.  For a team to acquire what would be a practical 3 years of Albert Haynesworth for just $16 million total plus three seperate “option” years in 2013-2015 — that contract is the greatest asset in professional sports.  You see, the Redskins HAVE that asset.  The percieved value of that asset, according to 2009 market value, is $32 million minus his playing salary for 2009, which we can estimate as the franchise tender for a DT, or about $8 million dollars.  The contract itself might be worth close to $25 million dollars.

I’ll say: if I’m going to sell off that contract prior to this year, I’m trying to get at least a first round pick out of it.  If the Redskins were actually willing to take a fourth round pick for that contract, it wouldn’t have taken 2+ weeks to find a suitor.  It would have taken, at most, 10 minutes.  The Redskins are not interested in dealing their best contractual asset for a mid round pick, apparently.

At the current moment, I would be willing to take a second round pick for Albert Haynesworth: give up some value to be rid of the headache.  But it’s possible he’s not on the trading block at all.  Which brings me to the real meat of the post: without Haynesworth, the Redskins defensive line is in some trouble.

It’s important to understand the role of defensive lineman in the 3-4.  The 3-4 works best when it’s best players are the linebackers.  Between Carter, Orakpo, and Fletcher, and even Lorenzo Alexander, the Redskins certainly qualify.  This means that the defensive line is accepted, if not encouraged, to play second fiddle.

But sacks for 3-4 defensive ends are creeping up into league leader territory as more teams adapt this defense.  I don’t really know whether they should be characterized as “edge rushers” (probably not), but each good 3-4 defense seems to have one do-it-all end who can defend the run and rush the passer.  Perhaps Phillip Daniels, Adam Carriker, or Vonnie Holliday can perform in this role (Holliday did last year, at least), but when the league leaders in 2009 from the DE position are Randy Starks, Calais Campbell, Trevor Pryce (yes, Trevor Pryce), Shaun Ellis, and Justin Smith, Daniels does seem a bit out of place there.  Haynesworth, on the other hand, seems like the trendsetter if added to that group.  He would certainly have more sack opportunties than last year, and I think even he knows that.

Now, more Haynesworth pass rushing opportunties from the 3-4 end would mean that Orakpo and Carter would have to play more coverage, and McIntosh/Fletcher do more interior rushing, which might not be the best use of the linebackers, but when you have a player like Albert, you can make an exception.  Especially if he draws the tight end in pass protection.

Without Haynesworth, the headliners on the defensive line are Ma’ake Kemoeatu and Adam Carriker, and the role players are Kedric Golston, Phillip Daniels, Vonnie Holliday, and then either Howard Green or Anthony Bryant at backup nose, with appearances by Darrion Scott.  Six of those eight players weren’t on the Redskins last year.  Three weren’t on an active roster.  Daniels, of course, who is one of the two that played for the Redskins, missed all of 2008 with a knee injury.  Kemoeatu and Carriker both missed 2009 with injuries.  If, at some point, the starting defensive line against the Eagles is DE Golston/DT Green/DE Holliday, because the team couldn’t sort out it’s differences with Haynesworth, my scorn will not be nearly enough to properly deal with management.

Leadership is an important quality on a football team.  It is something the Redskins have plenty of, and Haynesworth has none of.  But Haynesworth does have something that the Redskins absolutely lack, and that’s durability on the interior.  While I honestly think Haynesworth would be best utilized as a nose tackle, the Redskins need that quality end even more (because, ulitmately, if Greg Blache knew anything about anything, it’s that Kedric Golston was a nose tackle in a defensive ends body).  With Golston and Kemo competiting at nose, that’s not where Haynesworth is going to play.  A Carriker-Haynesworth-Daniels-Holliday DE rotation is particulary ideal, and would keep all bodies healthy for much longer.

The reason this post is about Haynesworth but not really about him is because the Redskins have to do something about their D-Line while they play their games with him, and Albert responds by being a giant pain in the ass.  What the team really needs up front is a dominant player like Haynesworth, however, the team appears too prideful to admit this.  And for all of Haynesworth’s dominance and percieved value, if he tries to stay in the 4-3 to finsih his career, he’s going to find himself more injury prone and less dominant year after year.  Because the 3-4 changes his role, it changes how success is measured, and makes it more obtainable as he ages.

Albert doesn’t want change because he still fancies himself a premier player.  And he is.  Until he wakes up one November morning and just doesn’t have the same dominant abilities he used to.  If he’s playing in a team-oriented 3-4, he can adjust by tuning down the freelansing a bit and helping to free up his younger, more athletic teammates.  And he can make that adjustment without telling anyone anything.  In the 4-3, if he starts getting beaten off the ball by smaller, younger, more eager opponents, he’s hurting both his own ego, and himself.  There’s no freeing up opponents for a three-technique: it’s you against the man across from you.  You need to win that battle.

Teamwork is what might very well extend the career of Albert Haynesworth, but all the teamwork in the world can’t turn a Haynesworth-less Redskins DL into a plus on the field.  That’s a group that badly needs a talent/durability injection.

You might say that this post is less about Haynesworth that it is about two abstract concepts.  Two puzzle pieces that need to be placed together to make a sensible picture, but find themselves in two very different boxes three months before the season.  This is not an issue limited to the Redskins alone, as all the 32 teams have some sort of puzzle with their offseason additions and subtractions.  The Redskins’ problem is being played out in front of a national audience, which makes it seem more dramatic.  At it’s core, there’s hardly any drama in a giant misunderstanding.  Tragedy? Perhaps.  It would be a tragedy if the player and the team don’t find the obvious, amicable solution.

It’s out there in front of our faces, as solutions to great problems tend to be.

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