- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 28, 2009

Albert Haynesworth’s goal was to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL history, but when the bidding opened at 12:01 a.m. Friday, he didn’t want to hear about the dollars until a proposal was finalized.

The call came at about 3:45 a.m. from agent Chad Speck with information Haynesworth would later describe as “astounding.”

The Washington Redskins‘ offer: seven years for $100 million, $41 million guaranteed, including $32 million in the next 13 months.

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“I was like to myself, ‘He said what?’ ” Haynesworth said. “But it kind of all worked out.”

Worked out for the 27-year-old defensive tackle, who got his record-setting contract, and worked out for the Redskins, who believe they have acquired a difference-maker on the defensive front who will prevent slumps like the 2-6 skid that ended last year.

An agreement was reached at 4:30 a.m., and Haynesworth arrived at Redskin Park at midafternoon and signed his contract after meeting with the front office and coaching staff for the first time.

Haynesworth vowed during a packed news conference that he will not join the long line of free agent mistakes who have cost the franchise millions but have produced no championships.

“You’re not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust,” he said. “You’re going to remember me as a great player, and that’s what I live for. When I put that helmet on, it’s to kick butt and make sure that [opponent] knows I’m the best player he’s played against. Any team that faces me will have to worry about me.”

Even when they put together the huge contract offer, the Redskins were concerned it wouldn’t be enough. Six teams seriously pursued Haynesworth, and the Redskins crafted a deal that featured only a $7 million salary cap hit this year.

“When we first started, [salary cap specialist] Eric [Schaffer] came in at one point and said, ‘No way we’re in this,’ ” Redskins vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato said. “That’s why it goes on for four hours. Eric did a great job doing the numbers, and Chad Speck and him kept working and didn’t let it stop and kept pushing until we came to the conclusion.”

One of Haynesworth’s goals is to be linked with another former University of Tennessee defensive lineman who changed teams in the prime of his career: Reggie White.

White went from Philadelphia to Green Bay and helped return the Packers to prominence while becoming a Hall of Fame performer.

Haynesworth comes to the last-place Redskins from a contender in Tennessee.

“He’ll give us that inch of difference in the pass rush, the difference between a pressure and a sack,” defensive coordinator Greg Blache said. “Everybody made the same noise about Reggie White, but he proved the naysayers wrong and continued to be the great player he was. They can both dominate the game in the same way.”

Said Haynesworth: “I want Albert Haynesworth in the same sentence as Reggie White. That would be amazing. I want to be the best player on the field and to eventually get to that Hall of Fame status and be mentioned with Reggie White and Bruce Smith and all the greats. That’s where I want my name. This is only the first step.”

The Redskins quickly identified Haynesworth as a priority even though their defense ranked fourth in 2008. But a leaky run defense couldn’t get off the field in losses at Baltimore and Cincinnati, and the team decided it needed a player of Haynesworth’s size (6-foot-6, 320) and production (91 tackles and 14.5 sacks the last two years).

“I thought it would be a long shot because I knew he would be the top guy on everybody’s board and was the most dominant player available,” Blache said. “I didn’t know what we would be able to do capwise. I was pleasantly surprised it got done.”

The last two years made Haynesworth a must-have for several teams, a rapid rise from the day he stomped on the head of a helmetless Andre Gurode in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. He was suspended for five games.

“I feel I’m stronger because of it,” Haynesworth said. “It really tested my faith as a person. I had to really look at myself and see if I wanted my career to go down the drain and you would remember me as Albert Haynesworth, the player who kicked somebody in the head, or as a player that turned around and took it upon himself and stepped up and became a great player. It was only two years [ago], but I expect to keep taking steps and kicking dirt over it.”

With his new team, Haynesworth said he won’t let the contract affect his focus.

“What they want me to do is play football, be disruptive and do what I do,” Haynesworth said. “When you’re on the field, you’re not thinking about dollar signs. … What you can expect out of me is what you saw what I did in Tennessee the last two years.”

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