Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Uncertainty surrounding Haynesworth is cause for concern
Albert Haynesworth’s confirmation earlier today that he doesn’t want to play nose tackle in the Redskins new 3-4 front comes as no surprise. His skill set—the one that helped him net what was then the richest free agent contract in history—is better suited for penetrating the backfield and generally wreaking havoc, responsibilities not shouldered by a prototypical nose tackle in a 3-4.
One full year into his Redskins’ tenure, Haynesworth is probably their most polarizing player. On one hand, his prowess on the field when he’s fully engaged in the game proves he’s among the most talented players in the league at any position. On the other, his work ethic, leadership and desire present some uncomfortable questions.
Considering Haynesworth’s comments today about his role in a 3-4 defense and his perspective on Mike Shanahan’s offseason workout program, let’s take a look at his current standing within Shanahan’s rebuilding process.
The irony, of course, is that if Haynesworth had been a free agent this offseason instead of last, he wouldn’t be a Redskin. The 3-4 defense that Shanahan and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett are installing requires an adjustment for Haynesworth that he’d rather not make.
He prefers to be a 3-technique (lining up between the guard and offensive tackle) in a 4-3 base front. Had he known he’d have to make this switch after one season, it’s unlikely he’d have come to Washington in the first place. Tampa Bay, after all, offered him more money. And that’s saying nothing of Shanahan and Bruce Allen’s restrained approach to free agency this offseason.
That’s a moot point, though. The Redskins and Haynesworth are now bound for better or worse. They guaranteed him $41 million—with $21 coming in a bonus check next month—and that’s too much money for only one season of service. And in committing so much money to Haynesworth, the Redskins also gave him all the leverage when it comes to deciding whether to attend offseason workouts.
He’s a special case who’s going to be treated accordingly because of his salary. It’s not like most players who are jockeying for playing time and need to make a good impression on the coaching staff to secure it. Haynesworth’s spot in the lineup is a lock. He’s making too much money to sit in the doghouse.
So how important is it, really, that Haynesworth participates in offseason workouts at Redskins Park? You’ll hear Shanahan say that the Redskins are trying to do everything they can to get better and win more games. So what helps that cause more—having Haynesworth present for the offseason or keeping him happy?
A happy Haynesworth is important for the Redskins—that’s certain. We saw how his standing with the coaching staff degenerated at the end of last season, and it negatively affected the team. Several players chafed at his public criticism of the coaching staff. It helped splinter what many had worked hard for months to keep together.
Ultimately, we’ll just have to wait and see on this one. Haynesworth believes he’ll be more productive if he works out on his own, so maybe the Redskins get the best of both worlds. Once minicamp rolls around, though, we’ll see how meticulously he has been studying his playbook.
As far as the symbolism in Haynesworth working out elsewhere, it’s not telling us anything new.
Haynesworth hasn’t demonstrated the qualities of a leader thus far, and the Redskins knew what they were getting in this regard when they signed him. We already know his mega contract helped him gain some leverage that other players don’t have. Shanahan can’t force him to work out with the team, and he won’t bench him because it’s too expensive to make that point. Players could look at this situation and think there’s a double standard with Haynesworth, but they already know that. It came with the contract.
The ray of hope for Shanahan and the Redskins in this is Haynesworth’s statement that he is “very disappointed in my play” in 2009.
When a player is guaranteed tens of millions of dollars, teams must hope the player is motivated by something else besides money. And with Haynesworth, whose motivation seems open to question at times, it’s a desire to simply improve and dominate on the field. Whether that brings the best out of his offseason preparation on his own, we’ll see. Ostensibly, Shanahan’s offseason program doesn’t fit into that motivation.
So the Redskins’ hands are tied when it comes to getting Haynesworth to attend workouts. But what about playing nose tackle?
Washington has some big-time concerns at the position, despite signing free agent Ma’ake Kemoeatu.
Kemoeatu is by all accounts a prototypical 3-4 nose tackle. I haven’t met him yet, but I’m told he’s a humongous man. And that’s what a team needs to anchor its 3-4 line. The idea is to have one defensive lineman occupy two offensive linemen, thus freeing linebackers from blockers and enabling them to make tackles.
Kemoeatu, however, missed all of 2009 with a torn right Achilles’ tendon, and his recovery hasn’t gone smoothly. He’s still not cleared to play, which at this point makes him an unreliable Plan A.
Haynesworth, meanwhile, is the only Redskins tackle currently on the roster that has proven he can repeatedly withstand double teams and even beat them. Kedric Golston was solid as a 4-3 tackle last season, but he was frequently pushed back when he faced the double teams that were designed for Haynesworth. At 6-4, 300 pounds, Golston is a bit undersized for the role.
The best other candidate is Anthony Montgomery (6-6, 330), but he’s a bit of an unknown quantity after falling out of favor with the organization last season, battling knee problems and playing in only seven games.
The Redskins have to hope Kemoeatu returns to full strength, which would allow them to shift Haynesworth to a more disruptive defensive end end role. That’s quite a wish, though, considering Haynesworth’s public disdain for playing nose tackle. If Kemoeatu’s health doesn’t come around, then what?
How the Redskins use Haynesworth and whether he’s happy in the role will play out over time. For now, though, there’s enough uncertainty and enough at stake for some genuine concern.