Haynesworth can revive career with Patriots

In just two seasons in Oakland, Randy Moss(notes) went from the most dangerous receiver in the NFL to a worthless, lifeless malcontent. He caught just 11 touchdowns in 29 games. He feuded with management. He quit on routes and teammates alike. He was so radioactive that many thought his NFL career was over.

In 2007 Bill Belichick traded a fourth-round pick for Moss. The wide receiver promptly caught an NFL single-season record 23 touchdown passes for the 18-1 New England Patriots.

So that’s the blueprint for Albert Haynesworth(notes), who on Thursday became the latest one-time star turned attitude-afflicted wash-up scooped up by Belichick.

Albert Haynesworth was suspended for the Washington Redskins' final four games last season.
(US Presswire)

This time, according to reports, it will cost New England just a fifth-round pick to the Washington Redskins in 2013. This for a player who only two years ago was putting together his second consecutive All-Pro season, was being hailed as the most devastating defender in the game and commanding a massive seven-year, $100 million deal.

As bad as Oakland was for Moss, Washington was worse for Haynesworth.

The big pile of money didn’t just appear to sap his motivation, it looked like it literally slowed him. He recorded just 6½ sacks over 20 games, was routinely out of shape and kept finding himself two steps behind the play.

The beast went bust.

His feud with coach Mike Shanahan last season went from intense to ridiculous, with Haynesworth at one point being suspended from team activities until he could pass a physical fitness test. The actual test was then discovered by the media, which led to the circus of 6 o’clock news anchors filming segments to prove they could do what Big Albert couldn’t.

Haynesworth was, no doubt, the core problem here. He has myriad anger issues on and off the field, most famously stomping the head of Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode(notes). The public humiliation of the fitness test did little to motivate him. Like Moss, he all but quit until the team had to sit him.

His time in Washington will go down as an all-time free-agent disaster.

[Related: Free-agent tracker]

Enter Belichick, who has rebuilt the Patriots locker room into a near-exact replica of the no-nonsense, high-respect, leave-your-baggage-at-the-door home that revitalized Moss – not to mention Corey Dillon and others before him.

There is never a doubt who is in charge in New England. It’s BB. He’ll cut anyone. He’ll sit anyone. When Moss finally went rouge last September, he was shipped out even though the Patriots were suddenly without a deep threat for Tom Brady(notes). They went 14-2 anyway and Moss spent the rest of the season expressing his remorse at getting bounced. When favored receiver Wes Welker(notes) broke a no trash-talk command prior to a playoff game against the New York Jets, he was benched to start the game.

Combine that iron-fisted rule with a roster of respectful veterans and Belichick’s obvious football acumen, and this kind of experiment has worked before.

Randy Moss helped Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots reach Super Bowl XLII.
(US Presswire)

If history is any indication, Haynesworth will immediately know he is getting a clean slate – not special treatment – by both teammates and coaches. He’ll be treated as a pro. At least he will until he proves otherwise. Belichick isn’t interested in playing mind games; he just wants to win games.

Whether Haynesworth can do it is anyone’s guess. Can he regain his speed? Does he want to be great? His conditioning work remains a problem – he’s 6-foot-6 and who knows how heavy right now.

And he’s never fully shown that he loves playing football, which is usually a litmus test for Belichick.

Still, New England was somewhat desperate, or at least as desperate as a 14-2 team can be. The Patriots were dreadful defensively on third downs last season and equally as bad against the pass.

At his best, Haynesworth offers not just another run stuffer in the middle – to go with big Vince Wilfork(notes) – but someone who can get up field and pressure the quarterback as well. How New England’s traditional 3-4 scheme, which Haynesworth openly grumbled about in Washington, is altered is something to watch.

Belichick obviously has a plan. He needs one, since the rival Jets appear to only be getting stronger. A fifth-round pick isn’t much for a 30-year-old with great possibilities.

Mostly, this is a bet that a change in environment will produce a change in attitude that will produce a change in career direction.

Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett recently did a radio interview with ESPN 101 radio in St. Louis and described Haynesworth as such:

“He can do almost anything he wants,” Haslett said. “He doesn’t want to do anything. To me that’s the issue. He’s one of those guys you walk into a meeting and you tell him, ‘Put down the phone.’ The next day you have to tell him to put down the phone. The next day, you tell him to put down the phone … it’s an everyday thing.”

No longer a big free-agent signee and now just some guy picked up for a bad draft pick in New England, Albert Haynesworth is going to put down the phone the first time or it’ll be the last time.

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Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jul 28, 2011