For those who decried the Patriots’ acquisition of Albert Haynesworth last month, repeat after me: No-lose situation.
Sure, the man’s rap sheet is as long as a grocery list, with charges ranging from speeding to sexual assault. Indeed, his on-field transgressions include stomping on the bare head of an opponent. And yes, he definitely would not have been a favorite of the late Myra Kraft, a noted humanitarian who once insisted that the Patriots cut a drafted player because of his checkered past.
Simply put, Haynesworth is not a model human being. That isn’t exactly breaking news.
Considering his current circumstances, however, the 30-year-old defensive tackle has no choice but to drop the antics here in New England.
If he doesn’t, well, he’ll be walking the NFL unemployment line. Because in Haynesworth, the Patriots have very little to lose and quite a bit to gain.
Let’s start with the money. Haynesworth collected $36 million over two disastrous seasons with the Redskins, who in 2009 signed the two-time Pro Bowler to a seven-year, $100 million deal — $41 million of which was guaranteed, then an NFL record.
As part of the restructured two-year contract that facilitated his July 28 trade to the Patriots, who surrendered a 2013 fifth-round draft pick to get him, Haynesworth is due a base salary of $1.5 million in 2011 (he could earn another $4.35 million via incentives). Given that he was scheduled for a base salary of $5.4 million in Washington this season, that’s a bargain for New England.
Perhaps most importantly, the Patriots won’t be burdened with a significant cap hit should Haynesworth act up again and become expendable.
Haynesworth would be owed a base salary of $6.7 million in 2012 – provided he’s still donning a Patriots uniform, that is. His performance in ’11 – both on and off the field – will determine that decision for Bill Belichick & Co.
With the ’12 salary dangling in front of him, Haynesworth has added motivation to be on his best behavior this year. All accounts suggest he’ll be playing in his preferred 4-3 scheme, alongside veterans such as Mark Anderson, Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis, Gerard Warren and Vince Wilfork.
Of the several defensive linemen the Patriots have signed this summer in an effort to revamp their front seven, Haynesworth was the first domino to fall – and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Just three years ago, playing for his next contract, he was unquestionably one of the best defensive players in football. Now he’s essentially the poster boy for New England’s shift to a 4-3, yet not to the point where the Patriots are overly reliant on him. They’ve wisely stocked themselves with options just in case Bad Albert rears his head.
Throughout training camp, mere mention of Haynesworth’s name by reporters has been greeted with terse responses from Belichick and his players. Given Haynesworth’s reputation, it’s clear that Belichick has instructed the team to keep quiet on the subject. In other words, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
Yet New England defensive line coach Pepper Johnson didn’t mind discussing Haynesworth earlier this month, saying he is “a great guy” and “it’s kind of hard to see some of the things that you hear that are negative about him coming from that person.”
Patriots owner Robert Kraft is also on board. It’s unlikely he would have approved the trade if he wasn’t.
“I’ve learned in life and in business that people sometimes have different agendas,” Kraft said recently. “I met with him and I like the guy. He didn’t come here for the money. He came here to be part of a team and win, and I think in some ways, improve his reputation.”
Belichick had an opportunity to defend Haynesworth on Thursday when an NFL Network reporter asked him, “What kind of guy do you think Albert Haynesworth is based on the three weeks you’ve been around him?”
“He’s done what we’ve asked him to do,” Belichick replied.
“So he’s been a good soldier for you to this point?” he was asked.
“He’s done what we’ve asked him to do,” Belichick repeated. “Do you want me to rephrase that? That’s all I can say.”
That exchange tells me Belichick has decided to withhold judgment on Haynesworth. I don’t think he even knows how the marriage will unfold. He’s certainly aware of Haynesworth’s history, and as we’ve witnessed, the coach is somewhat of an expert when it comes to rehabilitating troubled stars (see Dillon, Corey and Moss, Randy).
But make no mistake: Haynesworth presents Belichick’s biggest challenge yet.
Luckily for the Patriots, they hold all the leverage in this arrangement. No matter how it plays out, they can’t lose.