Haynesworth Causing Headaches

If not for the Brett Favre drama, no player in the NFL would have gotten as much attention this offseason as Washington Redskins defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth.

He cashed Washington owner Daniel Snyder's $21 million roster bonus check in the spring, and then held out, seeking a trade. He reportedly didn't like being told that he would have to play nose tackle in the Redskins' new 3-4 defense, and clearly didn't like it when new head coach Mike Shanahan intimated that for the kind of money Haynesworth has made in his year in Washington — including salary and bonuses, he has banked more than $40 million since leaving the Tennessee Titans a year ago — Haynesworth would be expected to play wherever he is asked to play, whether it's nose tackle, defensive end or free safety.

Of course, Shanahan is right.

Based on the money he has made, Haynesworth also should park his coach's car or pick up the owner's dry cleaning, if asked. But that's not his style. He is arguably the biggest diva in a league that includes an army of self-absorbed stars, although traditionally they play wide receiver, not in the trenches. He missed a majority of his team's practices during training camp, mostly because he couldn't pass Shanahan's mandated conditioning test (he had spent the offseason workout on his own, rather than with his team, and had claimed to be in great shape). Teammates chided him for putting himself above the team, and then were forced to backpedal and sing his praises and say how glad they are to have him back.

But the fact is that Shanahan and Haynesworth's Washington teammates aren't the only ones who are affected by his "it's all about me" attitude. So are the Dallas Cowboys. Call Haynesworth whatever you want: diva, egomaniac, lazy, mercenary — you'd be right in each case — but the fact is that if he can somehow discover a shred of motivation, he is still one of the most talented defensive players in the league. His massive size can make him an immovable force, but for a man so large (he is listed at 6-foot-6 and 335 pounds), he also is absurdly quick. Igor Olshansky is an inch shorter and 20 pounds lighter, and Haynesworth is significantly quicker, which is part of the reason he envisions himself as a defensive end and pouted over the idea of moving inside to nose tackle.

Despite recent rumors that the Redskins are in discussions to trade Haynesworth back to the team from which he came — the Tennessee Titans — Shanahan said this week that Haynesworth will be with the team Sunday night when the Cowboys come calling. Whether he plays nose tackle, defensive end, both positions or not at all remains to be seen, but the fact is that he could have an impact on the Redskins' defense is matched by the fact that he impacts the Cowboys' offense, as well.

The Dallas offensive line is facing enough challenges this week, as starting right tackle Marc Colombo and left guard Kyle Kosier are out of the lineup while recovering from injuries suffered during training camp. Alex Barron and Montrae Holland should start in place of Colombo and Kosier, respectively.

Preparations for Washington are more in-depth than in the past. Yes, Dallas players and coaches are familiar with the Redskins' personnel, but for the first time ever, the Redskins will operate out of a 3-4 base alignment. Most of the players are the same, but many will have different roles. Former defensive end Andre Carter now is an outside linebacker. Assuming he gets on the field, Haynesworth will play defensive end and nose tackle. Former 4-3 defensive tackle Kedric Golston is expected to start at right defensive end while Lorenzo Alexander, a jack-of-all-trades who has played defensive tackle and even offensive line, is now a backup a linebacker.

The fact that the Redskins have moved some players around in their new scheme is not unusual — it happens to some teams every year. But whether the Cowboys discuss it publicly or not, the fact that Haynesworth is going to move around on the defensive line merits considerable attention. He has to be considered in the Cowboys' gameplan. Yes, he's a malcontent, yes he is self-absorbed and yes, he seems interested in nobody other than himself. But he also is an extremely talented player who, when motivated, can be a thoroughly disruptive force on the field.

How Haynesworth's power struggle with Shanahan will end is anyone's guess. Many are speculating that his relationship with the team is so fractured that the team simply has to admit its mistake in signing him last year, accept the enormous financial loss Haynesworth represents and get rid of him, trading him for whatever it can get. But from the Cowboys' perspective, he still represents a major concern for Sunday night. If Haynesworth shows up for the opener pouting and trying to make his point to the Redskins' brass, he could be a complete non-factor, because Shanahan could decline to play him. But if he shows up intent on proving his worth to the team — and potentially to other teams — he remains the Redskins' most talented defensive player, and should be the Dallas offensive line's top priority all night.

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