By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Groggy after being awakened early yesterday morning by a phone call from his agent, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth figured he must have misunderstood what was said. Although Haynesworth expected to receive big contract offers with the opening of free agency, he was not prepared for the Washington Redskins' record $100 million proposal.
"I was like, 'You said what?' " Haynesworth said. "I was just astounded."
Astounded, and eager to leave his home in Knoxville, Tenn., to travel to Redskins Park, where the Redskins introduced their newest player at an evening news conference. Owner Daniel Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, Washington's executive vice president of football operations, again made a big splash in free agency, luring the two-time all-pro from the Tennessee Titans with a seven-year contract that could be worth as much as $115 million based on Haynesworth's performance, NFL sources said.
The package includes $41 million in guarantees -- the highest total in league history -- and Haynesworth is ensured of receiving about $32 million in the first 13 months of the contract, which was finalized shortly after agent Chad Speck phoned Haynesworth at around 3:45 a.m.
Despite getting an early wake-up call and experiencing a whirlwind day that included the signing of his new deal, Haynesworth seemed upbeat throughout the 30-minute session while answering reporters' questions in the complex's auditorium.
He vowed to be the difference-maker the Redskins envisioned when they made him the highest-paid defensive player in the sport, saying he would not be remembered as a "bust." He acknowledged he had problems controlling his temper but said he has learned from those experiences and grown as a person.
Haynesworth quickly embraced his new role as the face of the franchise, and he said he understands what is at stake for him and the team.
"With the contract, it's going to be all on me," he said. "What they want me to come here and do is play football and be disruptive, do what I do, so that's what I've come here to do. When you get on the field, you're not thinking about dollar signs or anything like that, you're just going out there to play. It's a lot of money, but honestly, I put more pressure on myself than what the contract will do.
"I have such high standards for myself that, you know, [Snyder] can pay me half a billion dollars, and it still would have been the pressure I put on myself. I expect myself to play at a high level and to dominate. And if I'm not making plays, then people around me are making plays. As far as the number, I mean, yeah, it's great. It's awesome, don't get me wrong, but as far as the pressure, no."
Haynesworth certainly appeared relaxed on his first day with the Redskins. Dressed casually in jeans, white tennis shoes, a blue sweater, an untucked white dress shirt and wearing large diamonds in each ear, Haynesworth, whose mother accompanied him to Ashburn, went to the podium after being introduced by Coach Jim Zorn.
The versatile seven-year veteran, who also has excelled while occasionally playing defensive end, spoke of wanting to be compared favorably to Hall of Fame defensive lineman Reggie White.
"When I line up in front of somebody, put that helmet on, it's to kick butt," Haynesworth said. "It's to make sure that guy knows that I'm the best player he played against.
"After the game, you can think about the money. But during that game, I'm going to make sure he knows that I'm the best player. Any team that faces me, they're going to have to worry about me."
Apparently, Zorn liked what he heard. "You kind of want to say, 'Amen, brother,' " he said.
Haynesworth addressed the anger management issues he has struggled to overcome since he was a standout at the University of Tennessee. He was suspended for an NFL-record five games in 2006 for an incident in which he stomped on the head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode during a game.
After he knocked off Gurode's helmet, Haynesworth then kicked and stomped on Gurode's face, leading to Gurode receiving 30 stitches to close the gashes opened by Haynesworth's cleats.
Several other incidents involving Haynesworth were not immediately revealed publicly because they occurred during practice.
"Whatever doesn't kill you, it makes you stronger; that's what my mom says," he said. "It didn't kill me. It almost did. I feel like I'm stronger from what happened."
During his sophomore season with the Volunteers, Haynesworth fought with a teammate, left practice and came back carrying a long pole as he sought out tackle Will Ofenheusle. Phillip Fulmer, the Volunteers' coach at the time, stopped Haynesworth.
In training camp with the Titans in 2003, Haynesworth reportedly kicked center Justin Hartwig in the chest during an altercation at practice. Charges from a road rage incident in 2006 were dismissed.
"It really tested my faith as a person in myself. I had to really look into myself and to see if I wanted my career to go down the drain," said Haynesworth, who underwent counseling after the incident that led to his lengthy suspension.
"Did I want all of y'all to remember Albert Haynesworth as the player that kicked somebody in the head? Or [did he want] to be remembered as the player that turned [it] around, took his punishment, did what he did and stepped up and became a great player? It's only two short years past, but I expect to keep taking those steps."
Washington offensive coordinator Sherman Smith previously coached the Titans' running backs for 13 seasons. He was with the organization when Haynesworth was drafted and watched him develop into one the best, if not the best, player at his position.
"I like Albert, and Albert definitely is not" a bad person, Smith said. "Some things happened that were wrong, and Albert knows that, and he's learned and grown from it. When people make mistakes, that's all you can ask. But I know the type of person Albert is, he's got some pride, and he's going to want to come in here and play the way he's capable of playing. I was with Albert when he got drafted in Tennessee, and he was an impact player for us. He had an incident in 2006 where he kicked the center for the Cowboys, and he took that five-game suspension.
"He came back, and he just played ball. When he kicked [Gurode] in the head, you heard comments from players all around the league: 'I wouldn't want that guy on my team. He's this and he's that.' Well, in 2007, those same guys who were saying negative stuff about him voted him to the Pro Bowl. And then in 2008, those same guys voted him to the Pro Bowl again. They saw that he had changed. He came back, and he wasn't the same. He controlled his anger, and he just played good football. This is a great move. He's going to have an instant impact on our team. Dan Snyder wants to win, and he went after the best guy out there."