WASHINGTON — Simmering all year, the antagonism between Albert Haynesworth and Mike Shanahan finally reached the boiling point Tuesday when the two-time All-Pro defensive lineman was suspended by the Washington Redskins coach without pay for the rest of the season.
Citing a litany of acts that essentially add up to season-long insubordination, the Redskins suspended Haynesworth for “conduct detrimental to the club” and told him he’s not welcome for the team’s final four games — and making it extremely unlikely he will play for the club again.
“Despite the club’s numerous attempts to persuade Albert Haynesworth to abide by the terms of his contract, he has repeatedly refused to cooperate with our coaching staff in a variety of ways over an extended period of time,” Shanahan said in statement released by the team. “Among other things, he has consistently indicated to our defensive coaches that he refuses to play in our base defense or on first-down or second-down nickel situations. He has also refused to follow the instructions of our coaches both during weekly practices and during actual games as well.
“Yesterday, when Albert was at Redskin Park, he told our general manager Bruce Allen that he (Haynesworth) would no longer speak with me. Although suspending any player is not a decision that a head coach enters into lightly, I believe the situation has reached the point where the club clearly has no alternative.”
Allen informed Haynesworth of the suspension, the maximum permitted under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Haynesworth’s agent, Chad Speck, said his client will appeal. Speck chided the Redskins for not giving any prior formal notice that Haynesworth’s behavior was in question.
“The accusations made by coach Shanahan and Bruce Allen are vague and without merit,” Speck said in a written statement. “Since training camp began, today’s notice was the first that Albert received informing him that his conduct was not consistent with the ‘terms of his contract’ as coach Shanahan claims. Bruce confirmed to me today, that there have been no other letters or formal notices of any kind sent to Albert during the regular season suggesting that he was engaging in conduct detrimental to the team.”
George Atallah, spokesman for the NFL players’ union, said on Twitter: “All I can say at this time is that the NFLPA is reviewing the details.”
It wasn’t hard to see this coming. Haynesworth and Shanahan have been going at it almost from the day the hard-nosed coach who won two Super Bowls with the Denver Broncos was hired by the Redskins in January.
Haynesworth skipped offseason workouts because he didn’t want to play nose tackle in the 3-4 defense the new coaches were installing, preferring instead to play in a scheme that would showcase his talent and help achieve his goal of becoming “the best defense tackle to ever play this game.” Shanahan told Haynesworth to go find another team, contingent upon giving up a $21 million contract bonus due on April 1.
Haynesworth didn’t want to give up that much money, so he stayed on the roster and remained disgruntled. He boycotted a mandatory minicamp, drawing a $10,000 fine and searing comments about being “selfish” from defensive captain London Fletcher. He became a league-wide punch line when he needed 10 days to pass a conditioning test at the start of training camp.
He complained about playing with the backups in preseason games. He received sympathetic words and support from Shanahan and the rest of the team when he missed a regular season game following the death of his half brother in a motorcycle accident, but he waited so long to return that the coach made him inactive for the following game as well.
Then, last week, Haynesworth had a lackluster practice on Thursday, was late for a meeting on Friday and was also limited at Friday’s practice because of an unspecified illness. Haynesworth denied a television report that he appeared “hung over” at practice, saying he had gone out the night before and went home early because he “wasn’t feeling good.”
Shanahan made Haynesworth inactive for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, waiting until the morning of the game to announce the decision. Haynesworth likely wouldn’t have made much difference in the 31-7 loss because he had become a marginal role-player, coming into the game mostly on passing downs because of his resistance to playing nose tackle in the 3-4.
Still, Haynesworth’s teammates were getting fed up.
Defensive lineman Phillip Daniels called out Haynesworth on Monday, citing Haynesworth’s lack of willingness to buy into the concept of team and the multiple practices Haynesworth has missed while others kept showing up despite illnesses and injuries.
“Unfortunately, Albert’s behavior has his credibility in question,” defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said. “This is my first year with Albert. Some of these guys are in their second year. For them, there’s certainly a credibility issue. How many times can you cry wolf?”
Haynesworth played in only eight games this season and didn’t start any of them, totaling just 16 tackles and 2½ sacks. Holliday said he thought Haynesworth felt a “tremendous amount of pressure” to live up to the big contract and reach Hall of Fame level. Nevertheless, Holliday felt Haynesworth would eventually warm to defensive coordinator Jim Haslett’s scheme, but it never happened.
“He never really changed his mind,” Holliday said. “He never really bought into coach Has and what he was trying to do with our defense.”
Haynesworth’s agent, however, said his client wants to play more and cited several statistics to argue that the Redskins defense has played better when Haynesworth is in the game.
“Albert has repeatedly asked for a bigger role in the defense,” Speck said. “He simply wants to play and maximize his contribution to the team. It is unfortunate that he has not been utilized more.”
Haynesworth will not be allowed at Redskins Park for practices or meetings for the final four weeks of the season. The suspension will cost him about $847,000 in salary, a mere trifle amid the $41 million guaranteed in the seven-year contract he signed with the Redskins as a free agent last year after seven seasons with the Tennessee Titans.
The player who infamously said “You’re not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust” on the day he signed the deal stands to become the biggest bust in Dan Snyder’s 11 years as Redskins owner, quite an achievement considering the money overspent on underachievers such as Deion Sanders and Adam Archuleta.
By suspending Haynesworth instead of releasing him, the Redskins keep him from getting what he might have coveted — a chance to play for a contender late in the season. However, it seems almost certain that the Redskins will have to try to trade Haynesworth in the offseason, although his trade value will have plummeted because other teams know Shanahan won’t want him back.
“It was a very volatile relationship to begin with,” Holliday said. “Over the last several months, things have been adding up. The coach wants things one way, the player wants things a different way. It can cause a rift. It puts the players in a difficult situation.”