The NFL first saw a defenseman sign a $100 million contract in free agency in 2009. But neither Albert Haynesworth nor his then team Washington were happy with it. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong.
NFL Free Agency is not an exact science. A lot of things can go wrong, and even when players first become a free agent in four or five years – or more – it doesn’t mean you know everything about them. Especially when it comes to coming into a new environment, with new coaches, new players or a new system. In addition, many NFL decision-makers have always suffered from the so-called “recency bias”, which means something like: What someone did in the recent past is much more important than what was done a long time ago.
The Washington franchise saw what all of this can lead to in 2009, when it felt like free agency was the big winner and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth became the highest-paid defenseman in NFL history – becoming the first $100 million -Defender at all.
Before we go into detail here, it should be said that his difficult post-career period should not be ignored. It has little impact on his time in the NFL, though his health issues, most notably the need for a kidney transplant in 2021, are believed to have stemmed from his NFL days and years of taking the drug Toradol. His public statements following the end of his NFL tenure were influential in the Players’ Union advising players to stop using Toradol, which was an overall positive outcome of this story.
This is supposed to be about Haynesworth’s free agency in 2009 because it was a momentous decision for Washington and for the rest of the NFL because it broke a barrier hitherto reserved only for quarterbacks – the $100 million Border.
Haynesworth: Tennessee Titans first-round pick
Haynesworth was the Tennessee Titans’ 15th pick in the 2002 draft. And after it took a few years to reach his full potential, towards the end of his rookie contract – which was still negotiable at the time and his lasted six years – he was promoted to the top defensive tackles in the league. In 2008 he played under the franchise tag due to failure to find a long-term solution.
Then, in 2009, the Titans drew him after back-to-back All-Pro seasons. And Hayynesworth wasted no time, essentially signing his record-breaking deal in Washington with the start of the new league year.
As he later revealed, the Titans only offered him $28 million and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers even offered $135 million.
Haynesworth: Stats all around his 2009 free agency
But he chose Washington because he wanted to play in a bigger market and get more exposure – his goal was the Hall of Fame and he felt Nashville’s small market cost him a shot at a Defensive Player of the Year award – in the In the AP election, he finished second and fourth in his two best years. Anyway: Sports News voted him DPOY 2008.
We’re talking about a player who didn’t really become dominant until he was in his sixth year in the NFL. And who had previously caused a stir with a few gaffes. In 2003 he kicked his teammate center Justin Hartwig in the upper body in training, in 2006 he even stomped on the head of Cowboys center Andre Gurode in a game after ripping off his helmet. Gurode required 30 stitches and Haynesworth was subsequently suspended for five games.
Haynesworth: How ‘The Stomp’ came about
He later revealed to The Athleticon how the incident happened: “He brought me down with a chop block from the blind side. If I had weight on my leg, it would have destroyed my knee. I asked him, ‘Can’t you block me from the front ?’ And he said, ‘No, I’m trying to take you out of the game.’ I couldn’t believe he said that. I don’t remember anything after that. I blacked out. If I had a gun I would have shot him. It was beyond football. That’s why I’m in this state I can say it now, but back then I didn’t want any excuses.”
After that, Haynesworth did anger management training and improved – he also apologized publicly and personally to Gurode. But this act stuck with him for a long time.
Not long enough, however, considering Washington ultimately didn’t care when they signed him. The previous two years were too good and they also wanted to attack in the NFL.
In order to convince Haynesworth, there were also talks with head coach Jim Zorn and the defensive staff. They promised the player that they wanted to use him basically the same way the Titans had done before. So not as a pure run stopper, but as an inside pass rusher. Haynesworth was at his best when he could go one-on-one over an opponent and create gaps. He was never a gap filler, nor was he someone who should record blocks.
But to everyone’s surprise, that’s exactly what he was supposed to do. Accordingly, his performance deteriorated rapidly. The team finished the season 4-12, which led to Zorn’s dismissal. His successor was Mike Shanahan, who was considered narrow-minded and strict. He had won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and John Elway in the late 1990s, but then only played a minor role in the league.