Albert Haynesworth’s refusal to adjust to the Redskins’ new 3-4 scheme has attracted criticism from all directions. The coaches, the media, former Redskin greats, and the fans are fed up with the disgruntled tackle’s attitude. His teammates have been especially harsh. But for all his criticism for both his on and off-field antics, his level of play in 2009 was statistically consistent with previous years.
Haynesworth’s reputation in Washington began to erode before his first regular season snap. Last August, Rams center Jason Brown, who had plenty of experience facing off against Haynesworth when with Baltimore, made this comment on a St. Louis radio show:
“...when he gets fatigued, he taps out. He just falls down to the ground, and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, is he hurt? Is something wrong with him?' No, he's just giving the guy on the sidelines enough time to mosey on out there so he can get up, go to the sidelines, catch a breather, get something to drink and then he comes right back out.”
And sure enough, that was exactly Haynesworth’s routine all last season. Sam Huff, Hall of Famer and current Redskins radio analyst, savaged him on-air all season long for his act. But despite all his antics, he still had a strong 2009.
Haynesworth ranked 5th of all NFL tackles in +EPA per game. He ranked 4th in +WPA/G. (+EPA and +WPA measure the ‘play-making’ performance of a player. Read this for a detailed explanation.)
His Tackle Factor was a robust 0.98, which was 12th in the league for a DT. He had 29 tackles, 4 sacks, 28 sack yards, 5 passes defended, 13 QB hits, and 5 tackles for a loss, all of which led Washington’s defensive tackle corps.
Although he didn’t match his league-leading 9 sacks from 2008, the broader measures of his performance are consistent with his ’08 and ’07 seasons, and they exceed those of his earlier seasons.
The major problem with Haynesworth now is his refusal to adjust his position. He is being asked to play nose tackle in a 3-4 rather than his traditional position of the ‘three-technique’ tackle in a 4-3. The 3T is positioned on the outside shoulder of the offensive guard. It’s his job to control and penetrate a single gap between the guard and tackle. With the offensive tackle usually concerned with a pass-rushing defensive end, it often allows the 3T to enjoy single-team blocking. Fast and athletic 3Ts are play makers, known for their sacks and backfield tackles.
In comparison, the NT is responsible for the 2 gaps on either side of the center, and is often double-teamed. His job isn’t to penetrate as much as it is to shield the inside linebackers so they can make plays. Haynesworth obviously isn’t happy in this role. Haynesworth wants to be traded to a team that will let him return to his 3T home.
The difficulty for the Redskins is that Haynesworth has already cashed a $21 million check from the Redskins as a roster bonus this year. He has collected a total of $32 million after just one year of play. If the Redskins trade him (or release him), that would equate to $1.1 million per tackle.
Seemingly, it would be insane to cut loose someone and kiss a $32 million good-bye—but that’s exactly the wrong way to look at. As difficult as it may be for Dan Snyder, Mike Shanahan and company to accept, they need to forget about those $32 million. That’s a sunk cost. No matter what happens, that money is never coming back. All that counts now is whether Haynesworth’s future performance is worth his future costs. Going forward, his contract sits at three remaining years at $16 million, a hefty but more reasonable sum than the overall contract.
Unfortunately, with guys like Haynesworth the costs are always more than the contract price tag. It remains to be seen what effect his presence in the locker room will have. That is, if he's still a Redskin.