Noted former Pro Bowl defensive tackle (and more recent on-field and off-field malcontent) Albert Haynesworth is just about as happy as he can be to be playing for the New England Patriots. After two tumultuous years in Washington, D.C., the man who once dominated as the defensive centerpiece of the Tennessee Titans is overjoyed to be playing for Bill Belichick at his stage of his career.
"I think he's a brilliant coach," said Haynesworth after New England's 18-17 Week 4 preseason win over the New York Giants. "I always thought, from the time I got into the NFL and definitely playing against him, he was an awesome coach (and I) always wanted to play for him. Ten years later, here I am."
Haynesworth signed a seven-year, $100 million contract with the Redskins in February of 2009 that paid him very handsomely over the resulting two seasons — especially when he picked up a $21 million roster bonus before the 2010 season. But he was never truly effective in the nation's capitol, amassing just 6.5 sacks in two seasons after putting up 8.5 in 2008, his last year with the Titans. He feuded with players and coaches, deemed himself unsuitable for new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's 3-4 defense in 2010, and laid down on enough plays to bring his overall effort into serious question. When the Patriots traded a fifth-round pick for Haynesworth in late July, it was seen as a near-push for the Redskins, despite Bill Belichick's well-earned reputation for repairing damaged goods and Haynesworth's still estimable raw talent.
The former elite tackle now sounds as if he's ready to prove everybody wrong. In truth, he says, New England is the place he should have been all along. Belichick doesn't run strictly 4-3 fronts, but there's going to be enough opportunities for Haynesworth to make a difference if he toes the line and avoids driving everybody nuts.
So far, the only people driven nuts by his alleged professional rebirth may be his former team, especially after statements like this:
"For me, it's a career-saving place for me to come. I had no idea it would be like this. It's unbelievable. I wish I kinda took two years ago and came here.
A note from the Boston media that he earned more than enough to make that two-year tour tolerable brought his response: "You know what, when all is said and done, hell, I'd give that money back and I'd come here."
Redskins owner Dan Snyder would no doubt be very interested in that prospect. Haynesworth was the worst free agent signing in a decade-plus history of personnel bungles in the Snyder era. Haynesworth was the perfect imperfect example of the pitfalls evident in the "get-rich-quick" school of thought that rarely works in professional football. Snyder and then-GM Vinny Cerrato ignored Haynesworth's actual positional value, his personal red flags, and his penchant for doing things his own way — in the worst way possible.
But in New England, things appear to be different. Haynesworth willingly restructured his contract and is now on the books for just $1.5 million this year. He debuted for his new team in the Giants game and caused several quarterback pressures, forcing the opposing offensive line to commit double teams to him on most plays. If he can continue that trend, he and another former Redskins defensive lineman — end Andre Carter — could solve the mystery of the missing pass rush the Patriots have endured over the last half-decade.
"Everybody is here for you," Haynesworth said about his new circumstances. "I really enjoy that. I know my head coach is for me. I know my owner is for me. I know my players are for me. I feel relaxed, I'm having fun again. I'm having fun playing football again.
"If, God forbid, I get cut from this team, I know I can go out there and play for another team, but I feel like this is going to my last place I'm going to play. If it doesn't work out here, I'm not going to play anywhere else."
There are undoubtedly people all over D.C. who would like nothing better than to never see Haynesworth play professional football again. But if he follows the recent example of reclamation projects like Corey Dillon and Randy Moss, opposing offensive lines — and running backs and quarterbacks — are in for trouble they may have forgotten.
Against most odds, Albert Haynesworth might just be back.