New England Patriots  

 

Haynesworth, not Belichick, holds keys to reclamation project

Stew Milne / US Presswire
With less than two weeks until the opener, Albert Haynesworth has done little practicing with his new team.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- This much we know: When the New England Patriots go to Maryland in December to face the Washington Redskins, presuming he's healthy, Albert Haynesworth will be ready.

The rest isn't nearly as clear.

With the NFL season just two weeks away, there are few storylines as uncertain and interesting as the one brewing here between one of football's most enigmatic stars, Haynesworth, and a coach, Bill Belichick, who's made the salvage job an art form over the past decade.

Ask 10 folks who've worked with Haynesworth over his nine professional seasons about how this particular reclamation attempt will work out, and you'll get 10 different answers. And they're all guesses. Fact is, even Belichick is in the dark on what he'll be getting out of this deal in November or December.

That could be why, when repeatedly given the chance to defend the player on Wednesday, Belichick refused to back himself into the corner of vouching for Haynesworth's character or touting his on-field value.

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"He's done what we've asked him to do," is how Belichick left it.

Haynesworth missed 20 days of practice before returning Tuesday, the day after the big defensive tackle plead down a sexual assault charge to simple assault and agreed to undergo alcohol-abuse and psychological assessments, perform 160 hours of community service, and stay away from the victim for 18 months. Belichick wouldn't clarify whether or not it was a coincidence that one event happened right after the other -- "I don't know," is how he answered the question, as if anyone is to believe that.

The better question is what he'll be getting from Haynesworth from this point on.

There's the Haynesworth from 2008, motivated and in a contract drive, playing as well as any defensive player in the league. And then, there's the Haynesworth from 2010, at odds with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan to the point where he was deactivated for one game and suspended for four others. In the end, he made $36 million in two seasons in Washington, and played in 20 games.

He also collected a $21 million roster bonus in the spring of 2010, then promptly skipped the club's offseason workout program, a mandatory minicamp, and went through the famed conditioning test affair with Shanahan at the start of training camp.

As one source there put it, "He was as selfish a teammate as I've been around. ... Something was wrong every practice or meeting, and when games came, he didn't care. He'd been trying to get cut since the day (the current regime) came in the door, so he could take his money and go wherever he wanted."

Last December, in fact, a slew of teammates went on the record to call Haynesworth out for his lack of professionalism in dealing with superiors. Conversely, defensive end Andre Carter, a teammate of Haynesworth in 2009 and '10 in Washington who was signed with the Patriots shortly after the deal, sung a different tune, citing the defensive tackle buying the whole team barbecue following a game against Tennessee last year and saying, "If I'm backed in a corner, I know he'll have my back."

"Last year was last year, all the things that happened, it was tough," Carter said. "I know people talk about him not being professional, what can I say? He may have not liked the scheme, but he came in and worked, he was placed in the pass-rush situations. ... As a man, he was upfront and honest about the scheme, that this was not what he signed up for. That's him being a man, being upfront and blunt."

While it is obvious that part of the problem was the non-existent relationship between Shanahan and Haynesworth -- and obviously, the player's story is different from the club's -- the two-time Pro Bowler's issues weren't limited to Washington. Even in Tennessee, where he had a position coach, in Jim Washburn, he got on famously with, and playing in a city he loved, there were problems.

"He's a bad guy," said one source there. "He's actually intelligent, which makes it worse, because he knows what he's doing. ... He could care less about (motivational tactics). Belichick will not reach him. He's motivated by money, and sometimes revenge. He is a (expletive) when it comes to women. I think he'll be motivated when they play Washington. That's it."

When asked if the "bad guy" assessment was accurate, another source said, "That's a really tough one. Yeah, I can't sugarcoat it -- he's not a good guy. Put it that way. He can be tolerable, and he's really smart. He had a radio show in Nashville, and he could be very likable with the fans, very fan-friendly at times. But when the head-stomping incident (involving Cowboys center Andre Gurode) happened, everything went south.

"He became a hermit. Everything changed. He wasn't awful before, and then he became this spiteful jerk. He always had a temper problem, but before, in normal situations, he was fine. ... He'd never been a great guy, but things got worse."

And then, you have what two coaches who worked with Haynesworth in Tennessee -- Jim Schwartz and Gunther Cunningham, both now with the Lions -- told Detroit reporters the other day. Cunningham was there for Haynesworth's first two years in the league (before the Gurode incident), and said "I love him as a player and a person." Schwartz, the Titans' defensive coordinator for Haynesworth's entire run there and who broke into the NFL under Belichick in Cleveland, added that trade hardly surprised him.

Beyond all this, there is also the string of legal issues, the latest being the aforementioned assault case. Prior to that Haynesworth was involved in a road-rage incident early this year, was sued for $10 million by a stripper who claimed he impregnated her, and was also cited for a car accident in 2006 that left a man paralyzed.

Believe it or not, Haynesworth has never actually been arrested, though the above is certainly troubling, at the very least from the standpoint of a player putting himself in tough spots.

So look at all that, and digest it. Now see why it would be foolish to wager on how this one turns out.

What we do know now is that he has missed 20 days of work with the team. Word is, the difference in attitude has been "night and day" between Washington and New England, and it's worth noting that, going back years, Haynesworth is said to have admired how New England played. But he hasn't exactly had to fight through much so far with the Patriots, so there's certainly room for this to fall apart.

And, again, motivation will be a huge part of the equation. Belichick is fond of using the phrase, "football is important to him" in explaining players he likes, and that description hardly fits Haynesworth, according to those who have known him over the last nine years.

The idea of the Patriots being driven by clean character guys now is as old as the methodology that once held that Tom Brady was a system quarterback. This kind of project isn't new in Foxboro. But Bill Belichick's Boystown has never had one like Haynesworth. He's different than Corey Dillon. He's different than Randy Moss. He's different than others that didn't work out as well.

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Haynesworth is, simply, a different dude.

"I don't buy that he's over the hill -- if he wants to go, he can go," said the second Titans source. "The difference is that these guys in New England will have no control over Albert. He'll be as good or bad as he wants to be. This is not a Bill Belichick reclamation story. This is all up to Albert. I believe that strongly.

"I know what he's capable of. I wouldn't be shocked, but I'd be a little surprised if I turned around and had to say, 'Oh, he decided to turn it on.' It's not about his capability. It's that I don't know how passionate he is about football. He always had to be motivated. Even at his best."

This time, he'll have to earn his money. The Patriots chopped his base salary from $5.4 million to $1.5 million. He'll make $1 million if he plays 20 percent of the team's defensive snaps, and an additional $590,000 at the 45, 50, 55, 60 and 65 percent markers. He gets another $400,000 if he makes the Pro Bowl. If he hits all those, he makes $5.85 million, which is more than the original number.

The bottom line is the Patriots aren't asking the guy to be a saint, which he clearly isn't. Or the face of anything to do with the franchise. The club has a guy wearing No. 12 to do that.

They are asking Haynesworth to help them win football games.

And whether he'll do that or not remains anyone's guess.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @albertbreer.

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