Commentary

Haynesworth might be D.C.'s stimulus

Originally Published: February 27, 2009
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

First, don't get too caught up in the money. It's an easy thing to do when talking about the Washington Redskins' decision to give free-agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth a seven-year, $100 million deal -- a package that includes $41 million in guaranteed cash -- and it also would be the wrong thing to do. After all, this isn't merely about finances. It's about what Haynesworth can do to help a team that just finished last in the NFC East, the NFL's toughest division last season.

For all the debate that will linger over the Haynesworth deal, the fact is that he's not going to be like Dana Stubblefield, Deion Sanders or any other high-priced free-agent disaster the Redskins have signed during the reign of owner Daniel Snyder. For one thing, many considered the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Haynesworth the best free agent on the market. Most of Snyder's high-profile bust acquisitions were old, overrated or both. Haynesworth has played in two Pro Bowls and was a key factor in helping his former team, the Tennessee Titans, make two consecutive playoff appearances. The Titans will have a harder time making the postseason next season now that Haynesworth is gone.

If you think that's a reach, just consider that Tennessee was 22-7 the past two seasons (including postseason games) when Haynesworth was on the field and 1-4 when he wasn't. You also can look at his production during that time -- he amassed 14½ sacks in 27 regular-season games, an impressive number for an interior player -- and see how vital he was to a Titans defense that ranked near the top of the NFL in most statistical categories. Haynesworth's ability to consistently beat double-teams made it nearly impossible to run inside on the Titans. His improved pass-rushing skills made it just as easy for his other teammates to pressure quarterbacks.

This is the player the Redskins decided to break the bank for when the unrestricted free-agency period began at 12:01 Friday morning. The Titans weren't willing to compromise their salary cap to hold on to Haynesworth, but it's not like the Redskins were the only team pursuing him. Published reports claim Haynesworth's phone was "exploding" when he officially hit the open market. If the Redskins hadn't been so aggressive in signing him, another franchise would have rewarded him with a jaw-dropping deal.

2008: Best of Albert Haynesworth

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Albert Haynesworth shows why he is one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL.

Now, this isn't to say Haynesworth doesn't come without risk. The former Tennessee Vol spent the first five seasons of his NFL career operating as an overweight underachiever, and his stomping on the head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode -- an act that resulted in Haynesworth's serving a five-game suspension -- is one of the most heinous sights you'll ever see on a football field. Haynesworth's injury history also is a noteworthy red flag. He hasn't played a full campaign during his seven seasons in the league and that can be an ominous sign for a player who turns 28 in June.

But there is another way to assess those concerns. For one thing, Haynesworth became a changed man after that suspension. He attended counseling and surely realized he was throwing away a promising career. As much as people claim he became a Pro Bowl player when he was entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2007, it's safe to assume Haynesworth's improvement had just as much to do with something else: his ability to grow up in a hurry.

As for the injuries, they should be viewed through a different prism as well. It's fair to assume that Haynesworth's poor conditioning contributed to his inability to stay healthy earlier in his career. But people talk about him as if he has barely been able to stay on the field lately. A midseason hamstring injury limited him to 13 games in 2007 and he missed the last two games of the 2008 regular season after his left knee was rolled over in a pile. And Haynesworth still returned to play in the Titans' playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

If you need more evidence of why the Redskins did the right thing here, think about recent history as well. The New York Jets traded for former Carolina defensive tackle Kris Jenkins last offseason and gave a five-year, $35 million deal to a player who had become as much a headache to his own team as to opponents. The Cleveland Browns also decided to sign defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, a fat, lazy underachiever in Detroit, to a six-year, $42 million deal around the same time. Both players wound up making the Pro Bowl -- and Rogers even played hurt for portions of the season.

The point to be made here is that those players got paid because they can be highly disruptive when properly motivated. Haynesworth, by the way, hasn't struggled with motivation in more than two years. He has been more productive than both Jenkins and Rogers during that time and he certainly has been more focused. That's the kind of player that is worth investing heavily in, especially when you're talking about a position where it's hard to find oversized, athletic players in the first place.

So when you start to evaluate the Redskins' decision to pay Haynesworth mind-boggling money, please be sure to view all the dimensions involved in this deal. This isn't merely another example of Snyder's spending money as if he's a first-year college student armed with his daddy's credit card. The Redskins basically did what they had to do to improve a team that desperately needed defensive line help. And right now the smart money says that Haynesworth is more than ready to give that franchise ample return on its investment.

Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

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