Commentary

Haynesworth trade is very possible

Switch to 3-4 might ultimately force Redskins to move their former free-agent prize

Originally Published: April 7, 2010
By John Clayton | ESPN.com

Albert HaynesworthScott Cunningham/Getty Images Albert Haynesworth apparently wants no part of conforming to the Redskins' new 3-4 scheme.

Could the Redskins give up on Albert Haynesworth only one year after giving him a seven-year contract that could be worth $100 million?

It is very possible. The Redskins mentioned Haynesworth's name in trade efforts to acquire Donovan McNabb, but the Eagles, who are getting younger, preferred draft choices. Philadelphia received a second-rounder this year and either a third- or fourth-round pick in 2011 for McNabb.

If he's traded, Haynesworth could go down as one of the biggest busts in the history of free agency, even though he's still one of the most dominating defensive players in football. The big issue is the Redskins' switch to the 3-4, a growing trend around the league. As many as 15 teams could line up in the 3-4 during the 2010 season.

The Redskins informed Haynesworth that his name was mentioned in the McNabb talks, but coach Mike Shanahan has to decide how he wants to handle the next step. It's now no secret that the Redskins are willing to shop him to other teams. The Lions, Rams and Titans are just a few of the options, but now Shanahan has to see how aggressive he wants to be in pushing for a trade.

Shanahan knew by the end of March that the Eagles wouldn't take Haynesworth in the McNabb deal, and things have been quiet on the Haynesworth front for about a week. They could heat up or shut down, but the story won't change. Haynesworth's career with the Redskins is at a crossroads after just one year.

Haynesworth and Shanahan are at odds over the defensive tackle's new role in the 3-4 defense. Shanahan wants him to be a nose tackle. But Haynesworth signed with the Redskins last year with the idea that they were going to use a 4-3 scheme and he could be their disruptive defensive tackle. Before the start of the offseason program this year, Haynesworth met with Shanahan and told him that he would train on his own outside the facility but would participate in the mandatory team functions.

When Haynesworth pondered the free-agent market in 2009, he made his intentions clear: He wanted to play only in a 4-3. The Redskins and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the most aggressive in recruiting Haynesworth, who felt confident that both organizations would stay with four-man defensive lines. Haynesworth certainly wanted the money, but he left the security of Jeff Fisher's 4-3 to take his career to a higher level. He wanted to do well enough to be considered the next Reggie White.

Even though injuries limited Haynesworth to 12 games in 2009, his presence was felt. Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo each had 11-sack seasons, taking advantage of the blocking attention given to Haynesworth. The Redskins' miserable 4-12 season wasn't pinned on the defense, which ranked 10th. The Redskins lost because they couldn't score points.

Enter Shanahan. During his year away from football, Shanahan grew fond of the idea of using a 3-4 defense. As an offensive playcaller, he knows the problems of running an offense against the zone-blitz schemes of a 3-4 and the unpredictable nature of where blitzes are coming. The problem for a defensive lineman in a 3-4 is he has to sacrifice individual glory because he isn't asked to shoot gaps and disrupt plays. Most 3-4 defensive linemen are asked to occupy blockers and let the linebackers make the play.

Haynesworth wants no part of that, and to make matters worse for him, Shanahan wants him to play nose tackle. Several top 4-3 defensive tackles such as Shaun Rogers, Kris Jenkins and Ryan Pickett have made successful transitions to the position. Haynesworth doesn't want that transition, but he's also under contract. Thus, a test of wills is going on.

But it's the contract that is the remarkable part of this story. The Redskins wrote a $21 million roster bonus check to Haynesworth on April 1. That means they've already paid Haynesworth $32 million of the $41 million he's owed in guaranteed money.

If the salary cap returns next year, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has no worries. Only $3 million of salary-cap proration remains, so the Redskins will have a clean cap if they want to sign more players. Meanwhile, Haynesworth has the luxury of cashing one of the biggest NFL checks written to a player.

Probably the best solution is a trade. Because Shanahan has won enough games as a coach, he always will win a tug-of-war with a player. Haynesworth is known for being stubborn. He won't change his stance on the 3-4, and clearly Shanahan won't change his stance on the Redskins' need to be a 3-4.

Plus, Snyder won't deny Shanahan anything in his first season as coach. The McNabb trade only gave Shanahan more clout with Snyder. Less than three months into his new job, Shanahan and general manager Bruce Allen gave Snyder the best quarterback he's had since becoming an owner in the league.

It wouldn't be the first time that Snyder let his coach unload a player at great expense to him. Joe Gibbs and wide receiver Laveranues Coles didn't get along in Gibbs' first season working for Snyder. Despite the cost, Snyder let Gibbs trade Coles back to the New York Jets in exchange for Santana Moss, a deal that worked out well for the Redskins.

Now, one of the most expensive defenders in NFL history is available for a bargain. He has six years and $68 million remaining on his deal, but there is a $20 million option that will come due between 2012 and 2013. Minus the option bonus, Haynesworth could be had for the next three seasons for $16.2 million.

Would be it be wise for Detroit Lions coach Jim Schwartz to talk his management into trying to get Haynesworth for a second- or third-round pick and then draft Russell Okung to be Matthew Stafford's left tackle? The plan now is to draft Ndamukong Suh with the second overall pick. The same option could be there for the Buccaneers. And what about Haynesworth going back to the Titans?

The Haynesworth story is one that shows the good and bad in free agency. Snyder received a dominating defender in Haynesworth, and Haynesworth got his money. But systems change with the hiring of new coaches. Haynesworth wants no part of a 3-4 defense, and Shanahan has his defensive plans set.

With no peace in sight, a trade is very possible.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

John Clayton

NFL senior writer

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