Every year the enthusiasm level of NFL fans goes up around the first of March. For the last decade or so, that’s when the free agency market has gotten started each off-season.
Fans of 32 teams hope their management opens up the franchise’s vault and throws millions of dollars at the biggest and best names on the free agent list. Those clubs that sign the big names get a lot of attention and are thought to be the league’s movers and shakers. Those clubs sitting on the sidelines when those big, early contracts get done are considered slow on the trigger, cheap or football idiots.
Oh, how many times I’ve heard from Chiefs fans unhappy that the cream of the crop among free agents never stepped foot in Kansas City. Lamar Hunt, Carl Peterson, Dick Vermeil, Herm Edwards, Scott Pioli, Todd Haley and Clark Hunt were all suspect.
At various points they allowed Julian Peterson to leave San Francisco and sign with Seattle (2006) on a seven-year, $54 million deal. Or, they didn’t sign Adalius Thomas (2007) when he left Baltimore and got a free agent contract from New England worth $35 million over five years. Plenty thought they should have invested the four-year, $32 million deal that the New York Jets gave Alan Faneca when he left Pittsburgh (2008).
There has always been one caveat with free agency, actually it’s caveat emptor, Latin for buyer beware. The Chiefs have become part of the majority of NFL teams that have learned that big free agency money should go to keeping their own players, rather than importing high priced talent from elsewhere.
But some NFL teams still ignore buyer beware. Just ask Daniel Snyder and his silent ownership partners with the Washington Redskins.
Last season, the No. 1 free agent on the NFL market was defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth (above) of the Tennessee Titans. Within 24 hours of the start of free agency, the Redskins and Haynesworth agreed on a seven-year, $100 million contract with $41 million in guaranteed dollars. Slice away all the contract mumbo jumbo and it really was a four-year deal for $48.2 million and another $15 million available through incentives.
It was the biggest contract ever signed by a defensive player in the history of the NFL.
And the biggest defensive contract in NFL history went to the man who may be one the biggest a**holes in league history. Why Snyder and the people in charge of his football operation at the time (read Vinny Cerrato) were willing to get into a football marriage with Haynesworth will go down as the classic example of the folly of free agency.
This week, Haynesworth decided to issue a statement through his agent saying he would report to Redskins training camp at the end of July. “Despite my current differences with the Redskins, I have always planned to attend training camp and honor my contract,” Haynesworth’s statement read. “As I have previously said, I am continuing to prepare for the season individually and will report on time, in shape and ready to play football. Any issues I have with the club I will discuss privately and therefore do not plan to make any further public comments about this matter.”
Despite the big contract and despite a $21 million bonus he was paid in early April, Haynesworth is unhappy because of the Redskins change in defense from the 4-3 to the 3-4, where they want him to play nose tackle on early downs. He attended just one day of Washington’s off-season strength and conditioning program, and did not take part in any of the OTA practices or the team’s mandatory mini-camp. That cost him $10,000 in fines.
Last year, Haynesworth was part of a team that went 4-12 on the season and got the GM and head coach fired. In that time, he did a lot to alienate some of his teammates.
“We know Albert’s going to do what he wants to do,” Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall said. “Whether it’s going to benefit him, benefit the team, or if it’s a stupid idea or a good idea, he’s going to do what he’s going to do. It’s kind of hard to change his mind.”
It’s not like Haynesworth signed the big money deal and suddenly became a jerk. He was of questionable character when he played for the Titans. Who can forget his stomping on the face of Dallas center Andre Gurode when the latter’s helmet came off during a 2006 game. Not familiar with the moment; That got him an unprecedented five-game suspension from the league.
But right now, this guy has turned his life into a soap opera even beyond his problems with the Redskins. There have been four court filings against him in 2010:
- The change in his divorce decree with ex-wife Stephanie; when they finalized their marital separation, she didn’t get any alimony or a payoff. She’s looking to change that. “He thinks he’s above everything,” his ex-wife said this week.”He feels like he’s entitled. He’s narcissistic. It’s very frustrating to go to someone constantly and ask them repetitively to do the things they’re already supposed to be doing.”
- A Tennessee bank filed suit against Haynesworth for defaulting on a $2.38 million loan. Clayton Bank & Trust said in their filings that he stopped making payments.
- In New York, stripper Silvia Mena filed suit in a Brooklyn court against Haynesworth. She says he impregnated her, promised to take care of her and the child and then reneged on all of his promises.
- Corey Edmonson filed a civil lawsuit against Haynesworth over an auto accident. Edmonson said in his filing that the player was reckless driving his Ferrari and caused a wreck that left him permanently disabled. He wants $7.5 million in compensatory damages and more.
All of this is what the Redskins got when they signed Haynesworth. From this point forward, Snyder needs to have caveat emptor stitched into every piece of clothing that he owns. The rest of the league will go to school on this debacle in Washington. It will reaffirm the current feeling around the league that the big money deals simply aren’t worth the high costs, making them the biggest gambles in player acquisition.
There have been many outstanding free agent signings over the years – DL Reggie White in Green Bay, CB Deion Sanders in San Francisco and Dallas, RB Marcus Allen and RB Priest Holmes with the Chiefs, QB Drew Brees with New Orleans. We already know that Washington signing Albert Haynesworth will not fall in that group; whether it goes down as the greatest free agency disaster in NFL history remains to be seen.
There’s an old saying among general managers in all sports that “sometimes the best trades are the ones you don’t make.” The same can be said for free agent signings – the trade of big money for a football player of questionable character is a lose-lose situation.
Remember that the next time the Chiefs watch as the No. 1 free agent signs with another team for nine figures.
NFL NEWS & PERSONNEL FILE FOR THURSDAY, JUNE 24
- CHARGERS – agreed to terms with 4th-round draft choice S Darrell Stuckey on a 4-year, $2,290,000 contract with a $500,000 signing bonus – the KU product has the chance to compete for playing time after San Diego released veteran Kevin Ellison; signed 7th-round draft choice TE Dedrick Epps to a 4-year, $1,838,000 contract with a $48,000 signing bonus – out of the University of Miami, he’s more of a blocker than a catcher.
- DOLPHINS – signed 4th-round draft choice ILB A.J. Edds to a 4-year, $2,267,000 contract with a $477,000 signing bonus – at Iowa he was an OLB, but Miami’s coaching staff is moving him inside where he’s expected to back up Karlos Dansby.
- PATRIOTS – signed LB Gary Guyton to a 2-year, $2,155,000 contract extension with a $650,000 signing bonus – he had 85 tackles last season, playing in all 16 games; released RB Pat Paschall – an undrafted rookie out of North Dakota State, where he averaged nearly 140 yards per game.
- RAVENS – agreed to terms with CB Walt Harris on a 1-year contract – he’ll be 36 in August and has spent 15 years in the league with five different teams. Harris is insurance behind Baltimore’s young and coming off injury CBs; signed 5th-round draft choice WR David Reed to a 3-year, $1,349,000 contract with a $134,000 signing bonus – out of Utah, he’ll work in the slot and may have time as a returner.