After more than two years of fuss and fireworks, the Washington Redskins unloaded one of the biggest and most expensive problems in franchise history Thursday, trading Albert Haynesworth to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round pick in the 2013 draft.
The disastrous pairing of Haynesworth and the Redskins was a roller-coaster ride that featured just one long free fall. New England Coach Bill Belichick will now try to do something that neither Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan nor his predecessor, Jim Zorn, were able to do in Washington: get Haynesworth to conform to his system.
The deal is not expected to be official until Haynesworth passes a physical in New England, but that could be a formality. Haynesworth arrived in New England on Thursday evening and headed straight to the Patriots’ facility.
The Redskins would not comment on the trade, and in New England, Belichick was his usual tight-lipped self. “We’ll talk about it when it’s done,” he said.
The trade was executed early Thursday morning, just hours before Haynesworth was due at Redskins Park for a physical.
The Redskins were able to open training camp having dealt with both of the lingering problems that tainted the 2010 season. On Wednesday night, the Redskins traded quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Minnesota Vikings for a sixth-round pick in the 2012 draft and a conditional sixth-rounder in 2013.
Washington received very little for two former all-pros, but team officials were pleased to receive anything at all, considering the way last season concluded, with McNabb on the bench and Haynesworth on the suspended list.
The Redskins freed $5.4 million worth of salary cap space — Haynesworth’s base salary this season — and can now focus on building their defense with players who want to be a part of the 3-4 defensive scheme, a prospect that rankled Haynesworth. Washington has already added key pieces to its defensive line, drafting Jarvis Jenkins and agreeing to terms with free agents Barry Cofield and Stephen Bowen.
The Redskins’ marriage with Haynesworth was ill-fated from the start, and both sides were eager to see it end.
“I wish it would’ve worked out here with Albert,” linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. “He is one of the most dominant and gifted athletes I have seen. But based on everything that took place, this is probably best for everyone. I wish Albert the best and [hope] he finishes his career on a positive note.”
After two Pro Bowl seasons with the Tennessee Titans, Haynesworth signed with Washington as a free agent in February 2009, promising fans at the time, “You’re not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust.”
Team owner Daniel Snyder made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. Haynesworth could have earned as much as $115 million in Washington. Instead, he leaves the Redskins having earned nearly $35 million — for very little work. In two years, he started 12 games and appeared in 20. He was credited with 61 / 2 sacks and 42 tackles in that time, unhappy with his role in the defense both years.
Life only became more difficult for Haynesworth after Shanahan, General Manager Bruce Allen and defensive coordinator Jim Haslett replaced Zorn, Vinny Cerrato and Greg Blache following the 2009 season. The new regime was installing a new defensive philosophy and wanted to put Haynesworth at nose tackle in the three-linemen, four-linebacker scheme.
The team issued him a $21 million bonus — believed to be the largest check ever cut in the NFL — last April and felt justified in asking him to adjust.
The first day they met, Shanahan watched film with Haynesworth and told the big defensive lineman that his work habits needed to improve. Haynesworth, in turn, expressed concern that he couldn’t make big, game-changing plays at nose tackle. The relationship only eroded from there.
Shanahan forced Haynesworth to take a conditioning test, withheld a starting job from him and eventually benched Haynesworth. Late in the year, Haynesworth wouldn’t talk with the Redskins’ coach and the team suspended him for the final four games of the season, citing conduct detrimental to the team. Haynesworth still has a pending grievance against the team, trying to recoup the $847,000 he lost while on suspension.
When Haynesworth arrived at Redskins Park for a physical in January, he did not cross paths with Shanahan. The player stayed away from Redskins Park during the lockout, and the Redskins held out hope that some team might be willing to make a deal this week.
The Patriots also run a 3-4 defense, but it’s not likely Belichick will ask Haynesworth to line up over center. New England already has Vince Wilfork, a three-time Pro Bowler, in the middle, which means Haynesworth might have more opportunities to rush the passer as an end.
“I think he’s a great player, a hell of a player,” Wilfork told reporters in New England. “I had a chance to go to the Pro Bowl with him. I feel like he's a great athlete.”
If Haynesworth doesn’t fare better under Belichick than he did with the Redskins, the Patriots could still release him without owing any money and only be out the late-round 2013 pick.
Staff writer Mike Jones contributed to this report.