Haynesworth at minicamp in May.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Albert Haynesworth(notes) stares out the windows of the French doors at the back of his three-story home, surveying the downward slope of hillside that is his backyard, ending at the Tennessee River.
Haynesworth talks in great detail about all the work he has put into the home, such as the 27 trees he had taken out of the backyard to make way for the pool and pool house. Adjoining the pool is a waterfall Haynesworth had redone three times before the contractor got it right.
"I wanted it a certain way, I even gave the guy a picture of what I wanted and he kept coming back with these other designs," said Haynesworth, a hint of annoyance still evident in his voice.
In the garage behind Haynesworth is a gleaming black Mercedes AMG hard-top convertible, which runs in the area of $300,000 – a rare car that actually appreciates in value. Sitting in the front yard is Haynesworth's "fast boat," a composite-body craft that tops out somewhere around 152 mph, which Haynesworth knows firsthand.
That boat is sitting out front while the dock along the river out back is being remodeled. A new roof and a new staircase are the simple changes. The real work is the addition to ready the dock for his latest and greatest toy to date: A Lazzara LSX 75. It's a breathtaking 77-foot yacht. Haynesworth won't name the price, but this picture of aquatic opulence retails for roughly $4.2 million.
The four-bedroom, four-bath (not including crew quarters) yacht is sublime in its elegance. From the headroom big enough for the 6-foot-6, 344-pound Haynesworth to move comfortably to iPod docking stations and high-definition TVs in every bedroom to the stark-white, ostrich-skin furniture, this yacht is like a floating Ritz-Carlton.
"Albert likes his toys and he's willing to pay for them, but he wants his toys to be right. He wants quality," said Dr. John Verble, a long-time friend who is Haynesworth's financial advisor.
In reality, Haynesworth, 28, is a big, high-quality toy himself. And he's the most expensive of all.
For all of $100 million, including $41 million guaranteed (the most ever for any player at the time he signed and still the most for any veteran), Washington has Haynesworth under contract for the next seven seasons. The former Tennessee Titan is the latest ultimate symbol of how Washington owner Dan Snyder has run his team in the 10 years since he bought the Redskins.
Snyder's tenure has been marked by his willingness to make huge splashes on players and coaches such as Bruce Smith, Deion Sanders and Joe Gibbs, though there hasn't been much success on the field. Since Snyder took over in 1999, the Redskins have made the playoffs three times and won all of two wild-card playoff games, never getting past the divisional round.
"I don't know about any of that because I'm not one of those people from before," Haynesworth said, shrugging his shoulders lightly. "That's not why I'm going there. I'm going there to win. If I don't win, if I'm not the best at what I do, I'm upset."
There is also a deep motivation for Haynesworth, who feels almost cast aside after seven years of playing just down the interstate in Nashville for the Titans.
"I just want to stick it in the Titans' face," Haynesworth admitted. "Not the guys I played with, but the team … It's like I want all the guys to be successful, make the Pro Bowl and stuff, but I want to really stick it to management."
A beast moves east
The sweat pouring off Haynesworth's body has long since changed the gray Redskins T-shirt he's wearing from light to dark during his three-hour workout inside the University of Tennessee field house in early July. Haynesworth goes from one drill to the next under the supervision of trainers Tripp Smith, Dominick Flora and J.D. Cherry, who Haynesworth has hired from Competitive Edge Sports.
At one point about midway through the workout, Smith attaches surgical tubing at Haynesworth's upper arms and knees and has Haynesworth simulate the moves he would make to get off the line after the snap. This is part of Haynesworth's resistance training.
After the tubes are taken off, Haynesworth again works on his break out of a three-point stance. Even at his size, Haynesworth moves like a defensive end who might weigh 100 pounds less. His quickness and athletic ability are startling, which may explain why roughly a dozen college players are staring at him from a distance, stunned as if they had just walked in on a Sports Illustrated swimsuit shoot.
Haynesworth recorded 14½ sacks the past two seasons.
(John Russell/AP Photo)
After a quick break to throw down a couple of bananas and some water, Haynesworth finishes the workout with an hour in the weight room. He flips the metal weight discs around as if they were poker chips and talks about how he was measured at 22-percent body fat by the Redskins recently, an absurdly low number for a man of his size.
"I had the highest amount of lean-muscle mass on the team," Haynesworth said.
Haynesworth is a defensive tackle prototype. Big, strong and fast, he's capable of both getting upfield quickly and clogging the running game. The Titans regularly put him at right defensive end for four to six plays a game, which is almost unheard of for a man his size.
"You can count on one finger the number of guys in the NFL who can do all the things he can do on the defensive line," former Tennessee defensive coordinator and current Detroit head coach Jim Schwartz said.
Haynesworth also has a malevolent streak straight out of the "Mean Joe" Greene days. In 2006, Haynesworth was suspended for kicking off the helmet and stomping on the head of Dallas center Andre Gurode(notes). Haynesworth, who is generally well-spoken and frank, doesn't talk about that situation much anymore. However, in games, his love of contact is obvious.
"I love football," he said. "It's the only thing you can do and not get arrested for f-ing up somebody."
Later on, he adds, "I was made to play this game. Just ask my mom."
He is the ultimate weapon in a division that did plenty of line-dancing this offseason.
Washington led the way by signing Haynesworth in the first few hours of free agency. The Giants, who expressed interest before they were priced out of the market, countered by adding defensive tackles Chris Canty(notes) and Rocky Bernard(notes) (as well as linebacker Michael Boley(notes)). Finally, Philadelphia made two significant moves on the offensive line by trading for tackle Jason Peter and signing free agent guard Stacy Andrews(notes).
"Everybody has made some move in the division to upgrade," Giants general manager Jerry Reese said. "That's the nature of the beast … and those are some pretty big beasts."
While Canty is an inch taller at 6-7, none of them is more imposing than Haynesworth, a man who harkens to the glory day of the NFL's most alpha male position. Great defensive tackles generate fear unlike just about any player at any other position. From Greene to Merlin Olsen, Warren Sapp(notes) and Ted Washington(notes), defensive tackles stand at the top of the NFL food chain.
"When you're facing a great defensive end, it's hard," New England left tackle Matt Light(notes) said. "You have to do things against those guys to account for their speed. But when you face a great defensive tackle, you're talking about a guy who can wreck the middle of the field. It's different. Everybody has to be worried about that."
A prime example of Haynesworth's impact was on display two years ago in the preseason against the Patriots. Haynesworth was at his usual right defensive tackle spot with accomplished pass rusher Kyle Vanden Bosch(notes) next to him at end. The Titans ran a stunt with Haynesworth running toward the guard and tackle and Vanden Bosch looping inside.
"Guys like Haynesworth make you react differently," Light said.
Now in the NFC East, Haynesworth smiles at the notion of knocking heads with the massive offensive linemen from Dallas, Philadelphia and New York.
"I love that because it's not going to be all these smaller offensive linemen that you see from Indianapolis and Jacksonville," he said. "This is going to be man-to-man stuff."
Moreover, he joins what has been the deepest division in the league the past four years. From 2005 to 2008, the four teams in the NFC East combined to qualify for the playoffs 10 times. They also have combined for only two losing records and no team in the division has had a losing record over the past two seasons.
Turning point in Tennessee
It's late on a glorious July night as Haynesworth relaxes on his yacht with Verble nearby. Haynesworth is sitting back on the ostrich-skin couch, talking about how different this all could have been.
On July 15, 2008, Haynesworth was ready to give in to the Titans after nearly a year of haggling over a contract. Haynesworth's original contract had run out and Tennessee had slapped him with the franchise tag, effectively eliminating his chance to hit the free-agent market.
Haynesworth said the Titans had offered him a four-year, $36-million deal, a contract that would have made him one of the top paid defensive tackles in the game. Haynesworth wanted one change. Instead of $26 million in the first three years of the deal, Haynesworth wanted $27 million so that his deal would compare favorably to a contract defensive tackle Tommie Harris(notes) had gotten with Chicago.
The Titans wouldn't budge.
"That told me all I needed to know," Haynesworth said, adding that the Titans have a long history of letting defensive linemen go in free agency after their first contracts expire. That includes Jevon Kearse(notes), Antwan Odom(notes), Carlos Hall(notes), John Thornton(notes) and Travis LaBoy(notes).
Haynesworth with Fisher last season.
(Geoff Burke/US Presswire)
"I lasted longer than any defensive linemen that's ever played for [Tennessee coach] Jeff [Fisher]," Haynesworth said. "They want to pay offensive linemen all this money, but they think they can just get by on the defensive line. That's fine, that's their business. Whatever. … It's like with Jeff. Everybody says he's a defensive coach, but all he really cares about is the offense," Haynesworth said. "Jeff didn't care about the defense if the defense did good. It was like, 'Oh yeah, nice play.' But if the offense did anything it was like, 'Wow, that was great.'"
Haynesworth also said that Fisher, who couldn't be reached for comment, helped make center Kevin Mawae(notes) a team captain in Mawae's first year with the team in 2006, even though that honor is normally voted on by the players.
When the contract talks broke down, Haynesworth signed the one-year franchise tender after the Titans agreed not to franchise him again if he reached one of a series of relatively simple incentives. Throughout the season, Haynesworth said the team never held serious talks with him on a new contract and allowed him to become a free agent. More than two months following Haynesworth's signing with Washington, the NFL opened an investigation into tampering charges.
"If they had wanted me, they would have done something. They didn't. You figure it out," Haynesworth said.
But the whole dance the Titans did with Haynesworth speaks to a larger issue: Why didn't the team trust him after seven years?
Haynesworth's first three seasons in the NFL were inconsistent. He came out of UT as a 20-year-old junior and basically didn't understand the rigors of the NFL. However, the knocks in the past three years have centered around the Gurode incident and Haynesworth's history of minor injuries. He hasn't played a full season since his rookie year in 2002, missing an average of more than three games a season since 2003.
"It's kind of like with one of your kids, when they do something wrong," said Verble, who lives near Haynesworth outside of Knoxville and who also has studied sports psychology. "They can shake it, but every time they do something else a little wrong, you keep bringing up the past … and your child feels like you haven't forgiven them for the big one, and you just can't let it go and so they are damned."
Critics definitely buy that Haynesworth's production the past two seasons is more aberration than a sign of things to come.
"He played to get paid, that's it," one NFL general manager said. "He still takes a lot of plays off. … Yeah, he's a factor and he makes people around him better, but he's never been out there for a full season. You think he's going to now?"
Fact is, Haynesworth will have a tough time living up to the contract even if he plays well. He is coming off a career-high 8½ sacks last season and already senses what fans and the media expect.
"I could tell right from the start what it's going to be like," Haynesworth said of the first media conference he did after signing with Washington. "It was like, 'Hey, if you don't get two sacks per game, are you doing your job?' I told them, that's not necessarily my game. I'm there to take on blockers, create for other people. My game isn't all about sacks. Really, I like playing against the run more than pass rushing.
"Ask me after my contract is up, 'What was it like to earn $100 million.' Not just sign for it. [The contract is] worth just as much paper as it is written on, unless you go out there and do it. That's what I think. [People say] 'Oh, you're the $100 million dollar man.' No, I don't have $100 million … You still have to earn it. I got to go out there and work for it and get it. It's great that I got that capability to make up to $100 million. It's not guaranteed that I'll make it. It's not baseball."
That last quote is a mouthful and will lead to all sorts of discussion down the road. Over the next two years, the league and the union are going to haggle over the collective bargaining agreement. The owners contend that player costs have skyrocketed faster than income. On the flipside, the union contends that the current system has been healthy for both sides, allowing the game to grow.
For now, the onus is on the owners to prove their case because they were the ones to opt out of the agreement. However, high player salaries tend to rankle fans faster than anything else. With that in mind, contracts like the one for Haynesworth could become part of the battle cry for the owners' side if he doesn't live up to the deal. If he does, Haynesworth could be the symbol of how the system works, allowing teams to take great strides quickly toward being a contender.
"There aren't many times when you have a player like that hit free agency, a guy who can change the balance of power," one long-time agent said. "You've had Reggie White and Deion Sanders [with San Francisco and Dallas], just a couple of guys with that kind of talent [who were able] to switch teams. They helped their teams win Super Bowls. That's huge and it helps the case for the players.
"Most of the time, the players who hit free agency aren't truly premier guys. It just doesn't happen. That's why a lot of people look back at free agents and say, 'Oh, that guy was a bust.' He wasn't really a bust, he just wasn't worth all the excitement that was created. It's a real perception thing."
Back in Haynesworth's house, the afternoon sun is shining on his face through the French door window, creating a long, wide shadow on the tile floor. Haynesworth's body blots out nearly every ray of sunshine.
The perception he creates is quite obvious.