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As Albert Haynesworth saga continues, Redskins need to make a decision

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 8, 2010; 12:26 AM

Redskins coaches would prefer that Albert Haynesworth be as receptive to new ideas as Lorenzo Alexander is, or perpetually optimistic like Andre Carter. And Haynesworth could have made life easier for everyone at Redskins Park these past few months had he been willing to bend a little from the start.

That's just not Haynesworth.

He has done things his way for a long time and apparently is unwilling to totally embrace change, which the Redskins may have to accept if they want to move on with the talented defensive lineman. Otherwise, their only alternative may be to absorb their losses on Haynesworth's record-setting contract and excise him from their roster.

The Redskins reportedly have resumed trade talks with the Tennessee Titans, who helped Haynesworth, a two-time all-pro, develop into one of the NFL's top defensive players during his first seven seasons in the league. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan is frustrated about the ongoing Haynesworth drama, according to people familiar with the situation, and may be ready to make a deal.

Trading Haynesworth, however, would be a major shakeup for the Redskins, who are preparing to kick off the regular season Sunday night against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field. To hear quarterback Donovan McNabb tell it, the Redskins "can't win without" Haynesworth. "He plays a major part in our defense and everybody knows that," McNabb said Tuesday afternoon during his weekly radio show on ESPN 980.

The reported trade talk could have been spurred by Haynesworth's poor showing in last week's preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals. People who reviewed film of the game described Haynesworth's play as "awful," saying he showed little effort and did not follow the principles of Washington's 3-4 defensive alignment.

Haynesworth also angered coaches when he did not attend a halftime meeting to discuss defensive adjustments and review photos of the Arizona Cardinals' blocking schemes. In fairness to Haynesworth, one of his teammates said, he is especially intense during games and has never attended halftime meetings, preferring to remain focused on his duties. The teammate added that while Haynesworth did not appear especially sharp on film, his performance, in large part, could be attributed to the fact that Haynesworth is a nine-year veteran who participated in 49 of 55 plays during the fourth, and largely meaningless, preseason game.

If Haynesworth is still in the Redskins' plans this season, or even just for the Dallas game on Sunday, the team is going about things unconventionally. Why has Haynesworth participated in so few plays during the first two days of practice this week? That's highly unusual if the Redskins want him prepared to face the Cowboys. And the Redskins this week began using another player at nose tackle for the first time, one team source said. Previously, starter Maake Kemoeatu and Haynesworth, the second-string nose tackle, worked primarily at the position during practice.

Haynesworth is a playmaker. During the 2007-08 seasons, he was as dominant as any defensive player in the league. His performance during those seasons prompted owner Daniel Snyder to offer Haynesworth - the top player in the 2009 free agent class - a then-record $41 million in guaranteed money.

The Redskins are preparing for a big-stage opener against an NFC East rival, which was what Snyder envisioned when he turned to Shanahan to restore his once-successful team. The Redskins need Haynesworth on the field against the Cowboys. Or they need to shut down the circus. It's really that simple.

Haynesworth's ongoing tiff with Shanahan was the talk of the offseason, training camp and the preseason. But now the games count. Now the Redskins know they must focus on playing the people who give them the best chance to succeed in the NFC East. Or any chance to win a division game, for that matter.

One of the reasons Snyder gave Shanahan everything he wanted (a $35 million contract and player-personnel control, according to two league sources) is because the Redskins last season went winless in their six division games. Since the AFL-NFL merger, the Redskins were shut out in the division only one other time, in 1994.

Even Snyder's harshest critics in the league and in the media, however, concede he wants the Redskins to succeed at the level they reached during Joe Gibbs's first stint with the organization. For the Redskins to have failed to win a game against the rival Cowboys, New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles in the 2009 season pained him greatly, the sources said. There's no doubt that if Haynesworth is motivated, he could help the team.

After the Redskins declined his trade request in June, Haynesworth reported to Ashburn early, much leaner than he was last season, and went to work. For the most part, he has done what the Redskins have asked of him. He hasn't always done it with a smile, or welcomed coaching tips, but apparently hasn't done anything that would prompt the team to attempt disciplinary action against him.

The truth is, Haynesworth and the Redskins were a bad fit from the beginning. Haynesworth was miserable playing for former defensive coordinator Greg Blache, who did not want to sign Haynesworth, during last season's 4-12 debacle. And Shanahan's arrival coincided with the change to the 3-4 scheme, which, as Redskins fans know well by now, is not Haynesworth's favorite style of play.

Haynesworth is a three-technique defensive tackle who's still trying to make the adjustment to defensive end in a 3-4, which is similar to what he did previously - but not exactly the same. It has been a difficult transition for him at times, and even some of his detractors in the organization acknowledge that Haynesworth has worked harder than they expected he would.

Shanahan wasn't involved in signing Haynesworth, who probably wouldn't have joined the team if Shanahan had been with the franchise in 2009. But now it's all about winning. The Redskins have to decide whether to let him play or send him elsewhere.

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