As most people know there are few things in life I find more boring than stories about NFL training camps. The other day on Washington Post Live, my friends Ivan Carter and Rick Maese were droning on about the Redskins receiving corps when I snapped out of my slumber and said, “enough already, let’s talk about Buck Showalter.” (Good hire by the way, the guy may be an insane micro-manager but he’s good. Tony LaRussa is insane that way too and he’s had some success last I checked).
Carter and Maese were both kind of stunned that I went completely off the TV-format reservation but I couldn’t stand it anymore. Thank goodness I’ll be out of town next week for The PGA Championship.
That said, it is impossible not to sit back and giggle at the whole Albert Haynesworth fiasco. There may be no one who defines the 21st century athlete better than Haynesworth: He is gifted, spoiled, defiant, could care less about his team and if I were a Redskins fan I would have trouble wanting to see him succeed. Of course those who still care about the Redskins have already sold their souls to the worst owner in sports history so Haynesworth is just another brick in the wall.
Haynesworth signed with the Redskins about 15 minutes after the free agency period began in 2009 for $107 million, $41 million of it guaranteed. The fact that the NFL could find no evidence of pre-free agency tampering (the deal was made at 5 a.m. on the morning when you could begin TALKING to free agents) is proof that their security department must be run by Inspector Clouseau.
Haynesworth proceeded to be an even bigger bust last season than the rest of the team, which was quite a feat given the Redskins 4-12 record that led to the firing of both their coach and general manager., not to mention the beat-up starting quarterback. He was never in shape, constantly exhausted and often-injured. At least for one season he was as bad a signing as Jeff George—another brilliant Dan Snyder move—and that is saying a lot.
But then Snyder decided that 11 years of playing Fantasy Football (badly) was enough. Someone finally got in his ear and told him that he had done the impossible: he had turned Washington against the Redskins in large part because people were sick of his ridiculous football moves; his constant gouging of his fans; the awful stadium experience they had to put up with every week and, perhaps most of all, Snyder’s arrogance.
Snyder’s a bad guy and he has surrounded himself with enough enablers that he no doubt blames the media for everything that’s gone wrong with his team. But he’s not a fool and when his security people had to start removing home-made signs from fans entering the stadium because not all of them were shout-outs to soldiers in Iraq, a bell went off in his head somewhere.
He FINALLY fired Vinny Cerrato, who as a general manager did his best work as a lousy talk-show host. He fired Jim Zorn, who was more an innocent bystander in the Snyder-Cerrato fiasco than anything else but clearly never had the authority or the cojones to lay down the law to slackers like Haynesworth—among others.
Then Snyder hired Bruce Allen, who at least had a legitimate resume in personnel and, finally, to no one’s surprise, he hired Mike Shanahan as the coach and to actually be in charge of the football operation. No more watching tape with the owner; no more comments like, “I’ll consult with Mr. Snyder about what to do next.”
There are some who will note that Shanahan only won one playoff game in Denver after John Elway retired. That’s a little bit like saying Joe Torre never won a World Series until he managed the Yankees. The best coaches and managers need players. It isn’t as if the Broncos were awful post-Elway, they just weren’t as good. Check and see how good the Colts are in the five years after Peyton Manning retires.
Shanahan made it clear from the outset that, if nothing else, the Redskins were going to be run like a real football team. He stopped all the silly talk that the offensive line was fine and used the No. 4 pick in the draft to take a left tackle—something Cerrato and Snyder never quite got around to doing even as their quarterback was getting pummeled on a weekly basis. Prior to that, Shanahan somehow got the Philadelphia Eagles to trade Donovan McNabb for a second round draft pick.
McNabb isn’t Manning or Tom Brady but he’s pretty damn good and a major upgrade from what the Redskins have had at QB in the Snyder era. IF the line blocks for him he will make plays.
Shanahan also made it clear he wouldn’t play any silly games with players who didn’t want to show up for mini-camps or OTA’s. You can call them voluntary all you want, if the coach says be there, you need to be there. Even Joe Gibbs played that game with the late Sean Taylor when he no-showed. So, when Haynesworth no-showed, largely because he was sulking about having to play in a 3-4 defense, Shanahan bided his time—knowing HIS turn would come.
And now it is here. Haynesworth has no choice but to be in training camp. The Redskins could void his $21 million bonus—paid this offseason—if he failed to show up. Shanahan has declared that anyone who missed the pre-season camps has to pass a conditioning test to practice. Everyone knows he made this up to humiliate Haynesworth who, even if he is 30 pounds lighter, can’t run across the street without huffing and puffing. So, Haynesworth failed the test twice. Now he says his knee hurts and he can’t take it again until it stops hurting.
And Shanahan just smiles. He knows Haynesworth is the ideal nose-tackle for a 3-4 defense because he’s huge, takes up space and can occupy two blockers per play. Haynesworth doesn’t like that idea because there’s no glory in taking two guys out of a play while someone else gets a sack or makes the tackle. But he’ll be good at it when he finally starts to play.
And he will play. The whole notion that he missed valuable time is hooey. The only thing more overrated than training camp is ESPN’s ‘exclusive,’ reporting on Brett Favre’s retirements and un-retirements. Even with a new system a player needs about a week to ten days to learn what he’s supposed to do on the field. This is NOT rocket science by any stretch of the imagination. Many veteran players hold out just to miss training camp. In his final season with the Giants, Michael Strahan insisted throughout August he was retired. He came back the week before the season began and helped the Giants win The Super Bowl.
There’s no reason Haynesworth won’t be ready on September 12th, which is the only time it matters if he’s ready. Shanahan knows that. Which is why he’s letting him know loud and clear right now who’s in charge of the Redskins. It isn’t Danny Snyder and it sure as hell isn’t Albert Haynesworth. If nothing else, it’s pretty entertaining stuff for the month of August.