The frustrations of last year’s second-half collapse, along with ownership’s insatiable need to win the offseason, resulted in the Washington Redskins‘ signing of free agent defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth on Friday to the richest nonquarterback contract in NFL history.
Despite allowing the fourth-fewest yards and the sixth-fewest points in the league, the Redskins’ defense lacked the kind of difference-maker the organization feels Haynesworth can be for the duration of his seven-year, $100 million deal.
“We realize we’ve got something we haven’t had before,” defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. “This guy is a special player.”
Three fourth-quarter drives in three December defeats last year can serve as the main reason why the Redskins wanted Haynesworth. Twice the Redskins were trailing by a touchdown, and once the score was tied.
Three times, the Redskins’ defense couldn’t get off the field.
Three times, the Redskins lost.
The Redskins trailed Baltimore 17-10 in Week 14, but the Ravens drove 83 yards on 12 plays (11 runs) for a touchdown, burning nearly eight minutes off the clock to take a 10-point lead.
A week later the Redskins trailed Cincinnati 17-10, but the Bengals used 7:13 to run 16 plays and kicked a field goal.
And in the season finale, Washington and San Francisco were tied at 24-24, but the 49ers used eight plays to drive for the game-winning field goal.
Whether it was an inability to stop the run or to generate any kind of pass rush - even knowing what type of play was coming - the Redskins’ defense didn’t get it done.
“I didn’t want to just go to another place and be another guy,” he said. “I want to be the same player and dominant guy, and the place that wanted to use me, that’s where I wanted to go.”
The Redskins want the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Haynesworth to be the guy who beats his defender and brings pressure into the quarterback’s face or engages the center and guard to allow linebacker London Fletcher to post 175 tackles.
Between now and the start of training camp, Blache and his staff will figure out a way to use Haynesworth.
“We always try and build our defenses around our players,” Blache said. “We don’t try and do Wal-Mart suits; we try to tailor-make our suits. When you add a talent of this degree, you adjust things to fit him, so our defense will fit him but [also] the rest of our people. Right now, I have an idea and concept of what it will be, but when the draft is done we’ll have all the pieces in place so we’ll know exactly where we want to go.”
Blache said the adjustment period for Haynesworth should be smooth because the Titans and Redskins both run 4-3 schemes.
“I think it will be relatively seamless,” Blache said. “I don’t see a huge transition because of the quality of the player he is and what we do. There will be some change because we’ve never had a player of this caliber.”
Haynesworth is a right defensive tackle who occasionally slid out to right end on third down. He plays about 60 to 65 percent of the game. In eight regular season and playoff games that were charted by the Web site profootballfocus.com, Haynesworth played 391 of 546 snaps (71.6 percent). No Redskins defensive tackle played more than Griffin’s 54.6 percent last year. Anthony Montgomery was second at 46.3 percent, followed by Kedric Golston (44.6) and Lorenzo Alexander (28.3).
Haynesworth hasn’t played a complete season since his rookie year in 2002, so durability will be a concern.
When Haynesworth is on the field, it will be intriguing to see how much Blache alters the responsibilities of the tackles. Golston led Redskins defensive tackles with 28 tackles last year but that ranked 14th on the team; Haynesworth made 51 tackles in a Titans system that freed him up to be more aggressive in the run game.
“If you look at my game, I’m a player that goes straight forward,” Haynesworth said. “I’m disruptive, I take on the double team and I free up other guys. That’s what I want to play like. I want to attack my gap, make plays and have guys make plays off me.”
Added Redskins defensive line coach John Palermo: “It was a different style, but I would still think he played pretty disciplined. There were times he had the latitude to do certain things where he and the linebacker played off one another in certain situations.”
Regardless of how he’s used, Haynesworth knows the attention will be on him. But if double- and triple-teams limit him to three tackles in a Redskins win, he won’t care.
“With the contract, it’s going to be all on me,” he said. “My job is, if you don’t see me being as productive, I’ll probably be freeing up the other guys to make plays. That’s how you can judge how we’re doing as a team and how we’re performing.”