Sometimes you can see a nasty collision before it actually happens.
An NFL team hires a new head coach with different ideas about how it should operate. He changes the offense or the defense … or both.
La Canfora: Doomed from start
NFL Network insider Jason La Canfora addressed the Albert Haynesworth situation in a Wednesday chat: "The Redskins knew what they were getting into -- or at least their prior regime should have -- so none of this is coming as a huge shock to the rest of the football world." Full chat transcript ...
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The aftermath of that crash wasn't pretty. It still isn't. Many frustrated Broncos fans continue to question the credentials of a first-year coach they believe ruined the good parts of what he inherited from his highly accomplished predecessor, Mike Shanahan. McDaniels can change all of that by rebounding from the 2-8 collapse that followed a 6-0 start, but skepticism lingers.
This spring, a similar situation is taking place with the Washington Redskins. Once again, Shanahan is involved, only this time the cause of the crash stems from alterations he decided to make as part of a highly anticipated return to the sidelines.
Redskins fans certainly aren't regretting the choice of a coach with two Super Bowl rings to replace Jim Zorn, who was clearly in over his head as a head coach. But one can't blame them if they're feeling a little confused, if not conflicted, over an unpleasant ramification of Shanahan's plan to switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense: Albert Haynesworth wants out of Washington.
Some might be very much in favor of the Redskins showing the door to a player who didn't come remotely close to living up to the $100-million contract he received as a free agent last year and who upset teammates by staying away from a recent voluntary minicamp to protest the defensive switch.
Others might be inclined to wonder exactly what the Redskins were thinking when they chose to go with a scheme that was such an obvious bad fit for one of their most prominent players.
That's where I'm leaning on this topic.
I'm a big believer in the 3-4. I see it as a better means of doing what defenses must do to counter the league's pronounced pass-first mentality: Generate consistently strong pressure without too much compromise in coverage. It also makes perfect sense for Shanahan to employ the offensive and defensive systems that he believes give his team the greatest chance for success. After all, that is why Redskins owner Daniel Snyder not only made the enormous investment to hire him, but also empowered him and new general manager Bruce Allen to run the football operation their way. Shanahan has never been known to routinely adjust his thinking for the sake of player preferences, a philosophy shared by his successor in Denver.
However, unless the Redskins had a definite strategy for parting company with Haynesworth this offseason (which they clearly didn't, because he's still on the roster despite a flood of rumors that he would be dealt before last month's draft), you can't help but question the wisdom of making a wholesale strategic change that doesn't appear to suit the skills of a cornerstone member of the defense. Wouldn't a more gradual transition have made more sense, at least until the Redskins figure out the level of Haynesworth's production and/or give him the boot after the season?
Haynesworth made his mark and received an enormous payday from the Redskins based on the strength of his performance as a 4-3 tackle in Tennessee. He established a level of dominance with the Titans that made him one of the top defensive players in the league. He signed with the Redskins because of the money, but also because of the defense they employed> That was no small factor in their decision to acquire him.
All of that changed with the arrival of Shanahan. The 4-3 is out. The 3-4, led by renowned defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, is in.
It would seem natural for the Redskins to want to move Haynesworth to nose tackle. At 6-foot-6 and 350 pounds, he clearly has the proper size to be an effective anchor in the middle of the line. But Haynesworth wants nothing to do with a role that has him doing the grunt work of tying up blockers so that linebackers are free to make plays. Haynesworth wants to be the playmaker, just as he was during the height of his career in Tennessee.
Another option is to move him to end, although in the 3-4, that, too, involves less playmaking than helping others to get to the ball.
True, there is flexibility within all defenses, and the 3-4 is no exception. Haynesworth could very well occupy a variety of roles in a variety of defensive fronts. However, conventional wisdom suggests that Haynesworth doesn't want anything to do with the Redskins unless they decide to fully return to the 4-3, and that simply isn't going to happen. Shanahan is a staunch believer in the 3-4. The 3-4 is what his defensive coordinator knows best.
According to league-wide buzz, Haynesworth remains focused on being traded. Whether the Redskins, who have maintained that he isn't going anywhere, will make that happen is anyone's guess, because the best opportunity seemingly came and went before and during the draft. It's hard to imagine almost any team with a 4-3 defense not being interested in Haynesworth, although the cost (his contract and the Redskins' probable asking price of a high draft pick) could be prohibitive.
The Redskins have a mandatory minicamp in June. If Haynesworth doesn't show up, it will cost him money, because the team can fine him. Barring a trade, he'll likely be there. He will be absolutely miserable, hating every aspect of a defense in which he finds zero comfort.
But he'll be there. Same for training camp. Same for the preseason. Same for the regular season.
Such is the fallout from a nasty philosophical collision on an NFL team brought on by change.