[This article is one of eight in B/R contributor Jack Harver's "State of the DTs" series, introduced here.]
In sports, big paychecks come with big expectations.
(The same should—but can't—be said about all industries.)
Coming into a front-loaded seven year, $100 million deal to join the Washington Redskins, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is confronting both sides of that truism.
The Redskins expect Haynesworth to turn the weakest position on the NFL's fourth-ranked defense into a position of strength. They expect him to get sacks and tackles, but they'll also expect him to take on multiple blockers, giving rookie pass rusher Brian Orakpo good looks.
The Pro Bowl? That's practically a given on Washington's to-do list for their big-ticket acquisition.
He's expected to be the best player on a defense featuring such standouts as London Fletcher and Laron Landry. Considering what they've invested, the Redskins arguably have a right to such great expectations.
But Haynesworth, thrust into a very bright spotlight by his All-Pro performance the past two years and the sheer size of his contract, is also dealing with a different set of expectations.
Between pessimistic fans, the ever-skeptical sports media, and even his tight-fisted former owners in Tennessee, a sizable chunk of public opinion expects Haynesworth to fail.
"With the contract, it's going to be all on me," he acknowledged in a press conference following his signing. "My goal is to be the best player on the field and to eventually get to that Hall of Fame status and be mentioned with Reggie White and Bruce Smith and all the greats.
"You're not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust."
To truly avoid the "bust" tag, Haynesworth will need to provide an attitude adjustment for Washington's "bend, don't break" defense.
The Redskins gave up under 300 total yards per game. But they struggled to make the game-changing plays that define elite defenses, managing only 13 turnovers and 24 sacks—among the league's worst in both categories.
In signing Haynesworth, owner Daniel Snyder made a statement that he wants his defense to do less bending and more breaking their opponents.
At tackle for the Titans the past two seasons, Haynesworth jackknifed into opposing backfields for 14.5 sacks in 27 games while keying one of the league's top-five run defenses.
To earn his considerable keep, Haynesworth has to help Washington's defense transform into a unit that terrorizes and imposes itself on opponents instead of reacting to them. He'll need to turn them into an eleven-man emulation of his own playing style.
Part of the challenge will be keeping himself healthy: Haynesworth has yet to start all 16 games in any season since entering the league in 2002. He made 14 starts in 2008, missing Weeks 16 and 17 with a knee sprain, which was his best showing since starting 14 games in 2005.
That's the yin and yang to Haynesworth, of course: if the Redskins are expecting him to repeat his past performance, they should be prepared to go a few games without him.
But when he's on the field, Haynesworth has to add his aggression, his attitude, and even a bit of his recklessness to Washington's smart, efficient defense.
If that happens, he'll have been worth every penny.
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