With all due respect to the good folks at Forbes.com, I think they missed the boat in their annual "Most Disliked People in Sports" poll. The Eagles' Michael Vick recently defended his crown, but given recent developments, I think Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth is starting to separate himself from the pack.
For years, Terrell Owens proudly served as the league's most polarizing (hated) player. But now T.O. and his personal trainer/roommate Buddy Primm can't find an NFL home. Donovan McNabb reportedly offered T.O. a lifeline earlier this offseason, but perhaps Mike Shanahan, normally a fan of fading NFL stars, thought teaming the controversial wide receiver with the Nashville-based Haynesworth would be too much to bear.
But the truth of the matter is that Shanahan made his decision to cut ties with Haynesworth back in March. That's about the time Haynesworth explained to the Redskins coach that he preferred to work out with his own trainer in Nashville, a community that has more Hardee's locations than Ashburn, Va. As I joined Shanahan for breakfast at the spring owners meeting in Orlando (we were rudely interrupted by other reporters), you could tell that he'd already had enough of Haynesworth. He said he "strongly disagreed" with the player's decision to bypass the club's offseason conditioning program.
Let's do away with all the pretense, though. Clearly there's no love lost between Shanahan and Haynesworth, and there's no scenario in which the two men will be able to coexist for a season. Haynesworth released a statement Wednesday saying that he planned to attend the Redskins' training camp, which opens July 29 in Ashburn. What Haynesworth actually meant to say was, "I'm not going to take any chance of the Skins going after all those checks I've cashed."
You have to hand it to the guy. He's become so vilified for his unhappiness over a scheme change that he's made most folks forget that he was once known for purposefully spiking an opposing player in the face with his cleat. Haynesworth has been able to change the dialogue on his career a couple of times since that incident. Now, he's become the poster child for spoiled athletes.
In this economic climate, it's becoming tougher to sympathize with Americans who turn their nose up at $41 million in guaranteed money because they were promised a 4-3 scheme. I've racked my brain for how to defend Haynesworth, but fortunately another ESPN.com contributor was up to the task.
I love all the handwringing over in Washington over this fiasco. Dan Snyder and Vinny Cerrato spent more than a decade chasing after free-agent glory, so why are we surprised that this particular move blew up in their faces? You'll be happy to know that Cerrato joined the chorus of jeers at Haynesworth recently.
"When he signed, he said he wanted to prove everybody wrong," Cerrato said at a Redskins alumni function last week. "He said he wanted to show everybody that it's not about the money. He said he wanted to be the best that ever played. He said he wanted to be like Reggie White. He said Reggie White was his hero, so live up to what you said. Don't have it change just because a coach changed."
How in the world could a player widely regarded as selfish not change his ways after becoming the highest-paid defensive player in the history of the league? I mean, how ungrateful can one man be?
Actually, I'm thinking Cerrato's words ring pretty hollow to Redskins fans. Haynesworth is a painful reminder of how the Snyder regime did business for many years. It was wrong to think that the arrival of respected men such as Bruce Allen and Shanahan would automatically fix the problems at Redskins Park. They certainly appear to be on the right track, but Haynesworth is the enormous cloud that hangs over the organization.
So far, Snyder has made good on his promise to remain in the background and let Shanahan and Allen run the show. But Haynesworth happened on his watch and he needs to do whatever it takes to make him go away. Other teams are wisely waiting to see how far Haynesworth's stock will fall before making a deal. Could the Redskins simply have to release Haynesworth and eat all that bonus money? It could definitely come to that.
There's no room for compromise between Shanahan and Haynesworth. He has alienated himself to a fan base, his teammates and the new coaching staff. He would already be gone if the Eagles had shown any interest in him. There's only a handful of coaches around the league who believe they can handle such a divisive (and immensely talented) player. Jim Schwartz in Detroit is one of those guys, but it's not like he wants to set the market for Haynesworth.
The bottom line is that Haynesworth and Shanahan won't be able to function together in Washington. The coach can't afford for any of his new players to have the perception that Haynesworth won this standoff. And that's why Haynesworth's announcement that he intended to show up for training camp meant nothing.
If the Redskins haven't traded or released Haynesworth by that time, I think they'll ask him to stay home. The time for healing or compromise has passed. In reality, Haynesworth hasn't been on this team since March.
Soon, it will become official.