NFL

Snyder to blame for Haynesworth mess

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Mark Kriegel

Mark Kriegel is the national columnist for FOXSports.com. He is the author of two New York Times best sellers, Namath: A Biography and Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich, which Sports Illustrated called "the best sports biography of the year."

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Not even the greatest of oddsmakers could’ve predicted a fate so just or entertaining:

Lindsay Lohan getting out of jail before Albert Haynesworth.

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OK, perhaps Haynesworth’s predicament isn’t tantamount to incarceration. But one imagines that the 350-pound (give or take 30) defensive lineman (dare I say nose tackle?) considers himself as martyred as any underweight starlet.

After Haynesworth boycotted the Redskins offseason conditioning program — this because he, quite understandably, didn’t want to play in a 3-4 alignment — coach Mike Shanahan decided to make him qualify for practice with a conditioning test. This would be done by achieving requisite times in two 300-yard shuttle runs. Haynesworth, 29, failed in his first attempt on last Thursday, after interrupting the drill for what the AP described as “an extended bathroom break.” He failed again last Friday. Last Saturday and Sunday, he was held out with a sore knee. He tried again Monday morning, but pulled up after about 150 yards. Tuesday he skipped the test again. Finally, after over a week, he passed the test Saturday morning.

But what do you expect from a guy who just collected a mere $21 million signing bonus?

“Hopefully with treatment it gets better and he gets in football shape,” said Shanahan, he of the famously straight face.

One has to applaud the coach’s attempt to embarrass his underachieving tackle. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that Haynesworth is beyond shame.

Having already received $32 million in his first 13 months with Washington, he is arguably the worst free agent signing in NFL history.

To gain a more informed opinion, I spoke with a man once called “the undisputed free agent champ.”

“At this juncture, yes,” said Ralph Cindrich, who’s only been representing NFL players for 30 years. “But it’s too early to tell.”

Still, that misses the real problem. Worse than selfishness or sloth, or the gratuitous violence Haynesworth has inflicted on teammates and foes alike, is what he now represents. He has done no one a greater disservice than his fellow players. In the coming year, as the NFL owners strategize toward a lockout, Albert Haynesworth and his contract — among those rare subjects about which everyone can agree — will be Exhibit A.

“They’ll try to use him as their poster child,” said Cindrich.

But who’s to blame for Haynesworth’s ill-gotten gains? Haynesworth’s deal is merely the most recent of the absurd contracts Redskins owner Dan Snyder has awarded to the likes of Deion Sanders, Bruce Smith and DeAngelo Hall. Let’s set aside, for the sake of this argument, the issue of underachieving coaches and front office-types. When it comes to profligate deals, Snyder is a serial offender.

It’s worth mentioning that Haynesworth rose to national prominence in 2006 when he was playing for the Tennessee Titans. That’s when he removed Cowboys center Andre Gurode’s helmet and stomped his head, inflicting a wound that required 30 stitches.

“Albert Haynesworth was a bad guy in college, and a bad guy in Tennessee,” said Cindrich. “Good football people predicted this. He was just a bad decision.”

Why, then, should good football people be held accountable?

“Everybody wants to blame the player,” says Peter Schaffer, another prominent agent. “But who forces the owners to make these decisions?”

Good guys, bad guys. It’s all the same. No one forced Snyder to give Haynesworth $32 million for next to nothing. By the same token, no one forced the Rams — those small-market Rams, who’ll be crying poverty months from now — to guarantee Sam Bradford $50 million before he’s ever taken an NFL snap.

And it’s not just football, either. The NBA is looking at a lockout, too. And lost in the LeBron James hype, is the fact that owners have no problem signing off a variety of crazy contracts from Joe Johnson ($119 million) to Drew Gooden ($32 million) to Darko Milicic ($20 million). What does it prove? That owners are owners, which is to say, they all want the glory while being exempt from the risk.

Problem is, all the talk of Haynesworth obscures the real issue — especially in the NFL, where all that’s guaranteed is a bonus, and players understand the next play could be their last. Consider what Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said recently, responding to Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s assertion that owners assume the risk. “That type of thing gets under my skin and pisses us off,” he said. "Who’s taking the real risks and who’s making the real gains? Robert Kraft is bringing in millions of dollars and he’s never had a concussion. He’s never tackled anybody. I doubt he’s ever had any knee replacements.”

Foxworth, who attended a workshop at the Harvard Business School while playing for Denver, was guaranteed $16.5 million on a four-year deal in 2009. But he’s expected to sit out 2010 recuperating from a torn ACL. He might return to be what he was, the defensive Player of the Week for Week 15 of 2009. Or he might be done. Whatever the case, he was a risk that ownership assumed, same as Albert Haynesworth.

Said Schaffer: “It reminds me of a professor I had in law school. He was a strict constructionist. When the subject of pornography came up, he asked, ‘Why do we need obscenity laws when all they do is protect horny people from themselves?'

“It’s kind of the same with owners. Why do we need rules to protect owners from themselves?”

Well put. Good thing Dan Snyder isn’t bidding on Lindsay Lohan.

Tagged: Rams, Redskins, Ravens, Albert Haynesworth, Sam Bradford

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