Haynesworth deal doomed from the start
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The AFC executive could only roll his eyes when he got the call late last month. His cell phone rang, and the voice on the other end delivered some less than shocking news: The Washington Redskins were putting feelers out on defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes). One of the most staggering free agent signings in NFL history was imploding a little more than a year later.
“I wasn’t blown away by it,” the AFC personnel man said. “[Haynesworth] was pretty close to getting that [$21 million option] bonus to kick in, and all of the sudden it’s ‘What do you think of this guy?’ I had to laugh. I’m sitting there thinking, ‘I don’t clean up someone else’s mess.’ ”
The Redskins opened their first voluntary minicamp of the offseason on Friday, and Haynesworth wasn’t there. And much to coach Mike Shanahan’s chagrin, the two-time All-Pro isn’t expected to show up for anything this offseason that isn’t deemed mandatory. This despite collecting $32 million in the first 13 months of his contract – a monumental upfront sum that has NFL front offices and coaching staffs shaking their heads at what they deem one of the most predictable free-agent blunders in recent memory.
So you want to know what other franchises are thinking about the Washington Redskins? Well, it’s not pretty. Yahoo! Sports reached out to six executives who did their diligence on Haynesworth heading into the 2009 free-agent period, and each blasted the Redskins on multiple fronts. From the absurdly front-loaded nature of Haynesworth’s deal, to the scouting reports which suggested he wasn’t a player who could be trusted with such a landscape-changing contract, there is very little sympathy in league circles for Washington’s self-inflicted problems.
The executives dissected the Haynesworth debacle on three fronts. Starting with …
The realities of Redskins owner Dan Snyder
The overriding belief amongst other teams is that Snyder was the driving force behind Haynesworth’s contract. The $41 million in guaranteed money is a sore spot amongst other executives, who are bitter the Redskins took the defensive tackle spot and pushed it into the realm of quarterbacks, left tackles, and elite defensive ends.
And executives blame Snyder’s impetuous nature for that. Many have spent years watching him mastermind moves from afar, whether it was repeatedly butchering his coaching staffs or pushing for nonsensical signings. The aforementioned AFC personnel man likened Snyder to a child who enters a room full of toys and immediately reaches for the biggest, shiniest one he can find, then quickly moves on to the next one that catches his eye.
“I don’t think he can help himself,” the AFC personnel man said. “And that’s his right. He’s the owner. But it swings both ways. Jerry [Jones] can justify his involvement [with the Dallas Cowboys] and most of his decisions, because he’s had his success. Snyder has been around for almost [11 years], and they’ve won [two] playoff games. Jerry took over the Cowboys in 1989 and they were the best team in the NFL for basically the next 10 years. There is good involvement and not-so-good involvement – good decisions and not-so-good decisions.”
The AFC personnel man pointed to Haynesworth’s contract as the most recent example of “not-so-good decisions.”
“The structure of that contract – there is no way that ever happens if an owner isn’t pushing hard for a player,” he said. “You can’t blame anyone else who was in the building for that. But when an owner wants it and has to have it, that’s when you start making some uncomfortable concessions. … To me, personally, if any owner is going to be involved in something like that, where your team is changing the economics of free agency [at defensive tackle], then he should know that he can’t put all the money upfront. That structure [on Haynesworth’s deal] was ridiculous. You gave the player all the money and all the leverage. What does he care about authority when he has basically all his money right upfront? If anything, he’s more empowered than ever.”
The realities of defensive tackles
Whether it’s at the top of the NFL draft or in free agency, arguably no position is more precarious than defensive tackle when it comes to doling out massive sums of money. Some executives believe it’s why so many top-10 defensive tackles languish after receiving massive rookie deals. Johnathan Sullivan(notes), Dewayne Robertson(notes), Ryan Sims(notes), Gerard Warren(notes) – these are all cautionary tales that have left many franchises wary of spending top picks on defensive tackles.
Even the good defensive tackle draft classes – like 2001’s haul of Richard Seymour(notes), Marcus Stroud(notes), Casey Hampton(notes), Kris Jenkins(notes) and Shaun Rogers(notes) – see the top-end players go through dicey periods in their career. Look hard enough, and you will find pockets of franchise discontent with all of those players. It’s simply a difficult spot to gauge motivation.
“More than any position, it’s always been an ongoing discussion [in front offices],” said one NFC general manager.
Another NFC personnel man said he has seen “maybe two” defensive tackles who earned vast sums of money and actually ended up being worth it in the long run: Warren Sapp(notes) and Cortez Kennedy – two likely Hall of Famers.
Said the NFC personnel man: “You can make a blanket statement: Anybody that doesn’t have a high motor, don’t give any underachiever that kind of money. They’re only going to underachieve more.”
The realities of Albert Haynesworth
Ultimately, this boils down to a Haynesworth problem. Executives say that despite his top-shelf play in 2007 and 2008 – by far the two best years in his career – he was simply not the kind of player who could handle getting a massive guaranteed payday. Why? His career production and motivation were too uneven, peaking in the two years when he was up for free agency, which is a sure sign to most teams that money is a player’s first motivation. And the theory in turn is that once that money is gone, so is the player’s interest in pushing himself to the limit.
“[Haynesworth] is the last guy you want to make rich,” the NFC personnel man said. “If you have any chance with a guy like that, there has to be some sort of carrot. Otherwise, forget it. You have no chance.”
Snyder’s spending hasn’t led to much winning.
(Kirby Lee/US Presswire)
And that wasn’t something that is just now being realized. When Haynesworth was headed to free agency last year, the massive market expected for him simply never materialized. And that was because most executives didn’t believe Haynesworth was a good financial risk. There was too much film that showed laziness – particularly in the years before 2007 and 2008. And he had a penchant for opining loudly on moves made by the front office. So much so that head coach Jeff Fisher once sarcastically talked about getting him an office next to the general manager. Add it up and you had a talented player who appeared to be motivated by money and wasn’t afraid to sound off about the message or direction of the team that employed him.
“There’s no question that that was what was on most people’s minds,” said the aforementioned NFC general manager. “ … There were definite spots where you’re watching him and thinking ‘OK, $40 million [guaranteed], he better be disrupting every play, instead of just once in a while blowing something up and going wow, there you go.’ You weren’t in awe when you watched him. You weren’t thinking ‘I’m willing to look at the owner and organization and say, yes, this is the guy.’ ”
Asked if there was a defensive tackle in the league worth $41 million in guaranteed money, the NFC general manager replied, “No, I don’t believe so.”
And maybe that’s the lesson that Snyder and the Redskins are figuring out now. That they created a market for Haynesworth that he never truly deserved, and then removed the financial motivation that many believe led to the best performances of his career. Now they’re saddled with a player that doesn’t fit their new defensive scheme, doesn’t appear inclined to show up when the new regime expects him to, and whose tradability has to be balanced by the steep investment Washington has already made.
For a signing that had the franchise abuzz in optimism a year ago, the backslide couldn’t have come much more quickly. But there isn’t much sympathy from other corners of the NFL. With each new headache, and every day Haynesworth is absent from Washington’s practice facility, the evidence mounts that the skeptics of a year ago were right after all.
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