Commentary

Haynesworth navigating D.C.'s chaos

Redskins' $100M man races powerboats but can't start team's engine

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

ASHBURN, Va. -- Of all the problems plaguing the Washington Redskins these days, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth isn't one of them. He came to town with a $100 million free-agent contract that made him the league's highest-paid defender. He has heard all the speculation about whether that money would stifle his desire and motivation. And what Haynesworth has shown is that he's willing to live up to his end of the deal.

While Washington's disappointing season largely has been defined by three main issues -- a beleaguered coach (Jim Zorn), an embattled quarterback (Jason Campbell) and a brand-new playcaller who was running bingo tournaments less than a month ago (Sherm Lewis) -- Haynesworth has helped a defense that ranks sixth in average points per game allowed (17.6). He has disrupted blocking schemes. He has drawn double-teams that have opened up better pass-rushing opportunities for teammates. Despite dealing with various injuries and double teams, he's third on the team in sacks (3.0).

If the Redskins weren't so bad offensively, it would be easier to recognize these kinds of contributions. In fact, Haynesworth understands that there are critics who already wonder why he hasn't done more to help a team that is 2-5 after a 27-17 loss Oct. 26 to the Philadelphia Eagles. Haynesworth said those skeptics are the same people "who expect me to be Superman and make every tackle." When asked how he handles that kind of scrutiny, he added, "I wonder what all those people are going to say when I make the Pro Bowl this year."

Although Haynesworth does have some habits that will make people shake their heads -- his love of high-speed powerboating in the offseason is one aspect covered in our "E:60" profile of him (debuting Oct. 27, 7 p.m. ET ESPN) -- his commitment to the Redskins can't be questioned. After he was carted off the field with a hip injury in the first half of a loss to the Detroit Lions on Sept. 27, he returned in the second half because his team already was short on defensive linemen.

He also played through a concussion in a loss to the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 11. Few people knew Haynesworth could not see straight for a few minutes in that contest.

Albert's Need For Speed

The people who have been around Albert Haynesworth know he likes to push things to the limit. What they might not know is how he feeds that passion through his offseason hobbies. Whether Haynesworth is rock crawling -- a task that involves climbing over boulders in tricked-out, multipurpose vehicles -- or driving high-priced powerboats that can reach 160 mph, he's all about enjoying life on the edge. And although some people might take issue with these activities, the Redskins haven't complained. Haynesworth doesn't play with his toys during the season, and he has educated himself on how to use them properly. He also has offered to take Redskins owner Daniel Snyder out on his boat. So far, there's been no indication whether that invitation ever will be accepted. -- Jeffri Chadiha

Haynesworth even addressed his teammates in the locker room after a 14-6 loss to the previously winless Kansas City Chiefs on Oct. 18. This was uncharted territory for him because nobody ever put "leader" and "Albert Haynesworth" in the same sentence in his seven seasons with the Tennessee Titans.

"Just losing that game, I felt like we didn't compete," said Haynesworth while refusing to reveal details of his speech. "It was like we didn't care. I hate when somebody gets used to losing. If it doesn't bother them, then you shouldn't play this game."

"Albert has made a difference," Zorn said. "He plays hard when he's in the ballgame, and the money wasn't the issue for him. Proving that he's worthy of being a good teammate, that he's a good defensive lineman -- that's what makes a difference for him."

After the loss to Eagles, Washington's third consecutive setback, Haynesworth questioned his teammates' desire.

"Urgency, heart, 'want-to,' whatever. I don't know. We're lacking a lot of stuff right now," he said. "So once we get to that point -- where we 'want to' do something -- then we'll do something. But if we just keep going our separate ways, then we'll just keep getting slaughtered like we have."

There are people in Tennessee who might wonder who this Albert Haynesworth is. Those folks know all about his younger days, when he too often was out of shape, injured and underwhelming in his first four seasons with the Titans. They also remember how he earned a five-game suspension from the NFL for stomping on the head of Dallas center Andre Gurode during a game in 2006.

It was right after that moment that Haynesworth resurrected a career that had been spiraling out of control.

Although Haynesworth changed his approach to the game on the field -- through better conditioning and pass-rushing tutorials with former NFL player Chuck Smith during his suspension -- he also blossomed in counseling sessions mandated by the league as part of his punishment.

Through five meetings with Dr. Sheila Peters in Nashville, Haynesworth learned how much he'd been bottling up his emotions over the years. Said Haynesworth: "I was never a person who discussed my feelings or talked about how my day at work was or what my problems were. I would always just hold it in and try to figure out myself."

Haynesworth soon learned how heavy a price he was paying for that approach to life. By the time he walked into Peters' office for that first visit, his head was throbbing from all the pressure he had put on himself over the years. His mother, Linda, also remembers the constant glum expression on her son's face as he grew older. Albert actually smiled so infrequently that Linda hardly remembered the times when those moments occurred.

Those counseling sessions eventually helped Haynesworth realize he wasn't alone in the world. He also didn't need to be so distrustful of others.

"It was a whole bunch of things that would ball up and come out at once, so I guess that was [the problem with] the temper," Haynesworth said.

"I had a long fuse, but when it went, it went. But now I don't have to bottle it up. Now you see the temper on the field with me dominating people."

That attempt to find peace of mind helped Haynesworth become a Pro Bowl player in 2007 and 2008. It also has made it easier for him to adjust to his new surroundings. Today, the guy who once was despised by his own offensive linemen in the Tennessee locker room -- primarily because he too often scuffled with them in practice -- routinely is reaching out to fellow Redskins.

Just a few days ago, Haynesworth ended one practice by standing by a hand sanitizer near the locker room and jokingly encouraging teammates to protect themselves against the H1N1 virus.

Said Campbell: "A lot of times, when guys get paid that type of money, people kind of perceive them as being arrogant. But once I met Albert, he was real cool and laid-back and I gave him a chance right away. He was welcoming."

Those are the kinds of positives that get lost in a season as chaotic as the one the Redskins are experiencing. But they do matter when it comes to the legacy Haynesworth is trying to create. As he said, his goal isn't to be known as the player who earned the longest suspension in NFL history for an on-field transgression. Instead, he wants to be known as the greatest defensive tackle ever.

Now, that might be the kind of dream that sounds like simple bluster to Haynesworth's critics. It's also the sort of motivation that puts even greater expectations on his time with the Redskins. After all, Haynesworth knows there are many doubters who suspect a guy like him always will be concerned simply with collecting a check. And what gives him the ultimate satisfaction is this bit of knowledge -- that he remains fully committed to proving those people wrong.

Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.