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A compromise needs to be reached in the Albert Haynesworth saga

The Albert Haynesworth saga is a lingering vestige of the Redskins' old way of doing business.
The Albert Haynesworth saga is a lingering vestige of the Redskins' old way of doing business. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Sally Jenkins
Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Redskins were crazy to hire Albert Haynesworth at an exorbitant price and wrong to give him the impression that he could dictate the defense he played in. But they did, and now they have to deal with it. They are probably going to eat a large part of his contract, and it's going to taste like dog food.

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Whoever thought Haynesworth was a great locker room guy? And why shouldn't he be "selfish" when the people who signed him acted out of self-interest? Everyone is piling on Haynesworth, but they're vilifying him simply for mirroring the culture in which he was hired.

Please don't tell me that Haynesworth is obliged to live up to his contract with the Redskins. People breach their contracts all the time in labor disagreements. It's called a work stoppage. Haynesworth wants to be traded to a team that won't use him as a human snowplow in a 3-4 defense, and if he gets to keep the millions the Redskins lavished on him while they were laying off employees in the name of "belt-tightening" and suing their own ticket buyers, there's a term for that, too. It's called karma.

This week the former personnel wizard Vinny Cerrato gave us a glimpse into the organizational logic that brought Haynesworth to the Redskins last year: "When he signed, he said he wanted to show everybody it's not about the money," Cerrato said.

Let's think about that for a moment: Cerrato and owner Dan Snyder awarded Haynesworth, a player with a rep for mercenary detachment, the richest defensive contract in NFL history because he said he didn't care about the money, and now they're shocked that he cares about the money? Obviously, they ignored the danger signs, blinded by a big-name star and his potential for jersey sales.

Let's say you have your choice of job offers. You accept the one that promises you the most money and the most freedom, right? That's what Haynesworth did. But let's say your boss changes your job description into something you don't want to do, and never would have agreed to. You might sulk, then balk, and try to find another job. That's what Haynesworth is doing.

Is he out for himself? Sure. And the front office isn't?

The Redskins have made real progress and are finally on professional footing under Coach Mike Shanahan and General Manager Bruce Allen, but they aren't yet free of the team's previous managerial mistakes. Haynesworth is a lingering vestige of the old way of doing business, of free-agent binges, giving favored players direct lines to the owner and circumventing chain of command. Much as they would like to start fresh, they can't do it completely yet, at least not without a mop.

The irony here is that, for once, this is a situation in which Snyder should get involved. It was wrong to bring in Haynesworth and front-load him with cash. But it's wrong now to let the situation fester and let team officials and teammates unload on him in the media, if indeed he was given personal assurances about how he would be used.

Snyder should mediate the conflict between Haynesworth and the new coach and GM, because each feels he was given assurances that are in conflict with each other.

Ideally, Snyder might say to Shanahan, "Coach, I know you want a 3-4 defense, and I promised I wouldn't tell you what to run, that I would defer to Bruce Allen on personnel issues. But before you got here, Albert was told that he would be used in a certain way. That's not your fault, but I need your help. Albert turned down a lot of other good opportunities to come here. You of all people can understand that; you spent a year looking for the 'perfect' job while you collected $20 million in severance from the Denver Broncos. So what can we do to make Albert more comfortable? Is there a compromise in how to use him?"

Next, Snyder should find a way to get this message to Haynesworth: "Albert, everyone in this building wants to see you succeed, but nobody wants to go 4-12 again, and another season like that won't help your career either. What are your apprehensions about the 3-4? Is it risk of injury? Do you fear it will cut your career short? Are you worried it's the wrong defense for the team? Is it that you've never played in it and will have trouble adjusting? Are you concerned that your stats will decrease and damage your free agent value?

"Before I call you selfish, I'd like to hear your side of it. If you still are adamant about leaving, you may have to wait a year so we can get good value for you. In the meantime, it's in your best interest to find a way to contribute to Shanahan on the field."

But instead of talking, Haynesworth and the Redskins are playing a game of chicken. It's upsetting for fans, because of the size of Haynesworth's talent and apparent ingratitude. But it's not an uncommon standoff in the NFL. In 1983, remember, John Elway used a similar ploy when he was drafted by the Baltimore Colts, a team he refused to play for because he didn't trust them to use him right. He threatened to sit out and play baseball, and his bluff forced a trade to the Broncos. You could call that selfish, or you could call it savvy and self-protective.

Haynesworth's endgame is this: He's seeking a team that will let him chase the quarterback instead of engage blockers. If there is no interest in him, at some point Haynesworth will have to appear at Redskins Park or not get paid. He will wait until he's on the verge of suspension before he finally shows up.

On the other hand, a team out there may have interest. If so, it will bide its time until the Redskins are desperate to resolve the situation before making a deal. Haynesworth can afford to wait, because the fines for missing minicamp aren't making a dent in his financial situation.

At some point there will be a negotiation and a trade, and somebody else will get Haynesworth while the Redskins still pay heavily. He'll get a check, and the role he wants elsewhere. All he will have lost is some fan goodwill and reputation as a team player, an exchange he is obviously willing to accept.

The Redskins are making huffy statements about trying to recoup some of the $21 million bonus they paid him in April, but Haynesworth has it on good advice from the NFLPA that his money is safe. He's not the first player to have stung the Redskins for their star-struck profligacy. The Redskins have to eat that dog food -- and the worst part is that it's their own recipe.


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