Free Agent Utility: Haynesworth is the latest in a string of flops like, at left, Harrison, Stubblefield, and Taylor.
Free Agent Utility: Haynesworth is the latest in a string of flops like, at left, Harrison, Stubblefield, and Taylor. Credit: Illustration by Brooke Hatfield

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Since the NFL instituted free agency as we know it in 1993, Redskins rosters have been littered with names of guys whose play here didn’t live up to billing. The defensive line alone can boast more historical busts than the Louvre.

Albert Haynesworth may well be the biggest bust of all. He left town last week with whatever remains of the $32 million in guaranteed money already paid out from the contract the Redskins offered moments into the 2009 free agent signing period. Before the ink on that record contract was dry, Haynesworth had already exchanged the rising athlete’s “No pain, no gain!” ethos for a motto of “No pain, no pain!” At least according to a statement from Redskins management, practice didn’t make the cut on Haynesworth’s day planner; the only place he allegedly exhibited any stamina was in his nightlife.

But as disastrous as he’s been, Haynesworth is just the latest in a long parade of d-line free agent flops at Redskins Park. How sorry is the team’s history on this? The two best in this decade were Andre Carter and Phillip Daniels—and lately, they’ve made more noise slamming Haynesworth than they ever have as Redskins players. Otherwise, it’s hard to find a single defensive lineman the team acquired through means other than the draft that earned his keep.

The free agent floppage started long before Dan Snyder bought the team. Anybody remember Giants great Leonard Marshall making a tackle as a Redskin? Me neither. How about ex-Viking Al Noga? Didn’t think so. Both Marshall and Noga had fine pre-Redskins careers before being hired to plug Washington’s defensive line. Not much plugging ensued.

A double-dose of d-line busts arrived in the same week in 1998, when General Manager Charley Casserly nearly gave away the store to lure Dana Stubblefield and Dan Wilkinson.

Together, Stubby and Big Daddy were Haynesworth before Haynesworth. As a San Francisco 49er, defensive tackle Stubblefield was an NFL rookie of the year, a three-time Pro Bowler and the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Those accolades got him a six-year deal worth a reported $36 million. Stubblefield knew that the money would change everything. He tried to downplay expectations as soon as he took the $8 million bonus.

“Sometimes I’ll come up and make a big play,” Stubblefield told reporters after signing. “But I expect everyone to keep playing as hard as they have been.’’

Apparently “everyone” meant “everyone but me.” Stubby was run outta town in 2000, but not before being exposed as a serial malingerer; he was once reported on WTEM radio to be sleeping on a FedExField training table just before kickoff of a game with the Dallas Cowboys.

The great Boudreaux, an amazing character whose phone calls full of gridiron philosophy and Norv Turner-bashing dominated local sports-radio a decade ago, once offered up a brilliant imitation of Stubblefield telling his Redskins coaches that because of the size of his contract he could no longer follow their marching orders.

“A rich man don’t play football,” Boudreaux’s Stubblefield said.

(In September of this year, as Redskins coaches were fuming that Haynesworth pooh-poohed their plan to shift him to nose tackle, Haynesworth himself went on sports-talk station WJFK and said about the same thing, albeit with more words and less irony: “Just because somebody pay you money don’t mean they’ll make you do whatever they want or whatever,” Haynesworth said. “Yeah, I signed the contract and got paid a lot of money, but… that don’t mean I’m for sale or a slave or whatever.”)

Days after signing Stubby, the Skins offered up a similarly overstuffed package to Cincinnati Bengal defensive tackle Wilkinson, even as his former team had soured on the former No. 1 draft pick for what Sports Illustrated termed his “lackadaisical attitude” at practice, and for speaking out against the Bengals’ shift from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense. (Sound familiar?) Casserly gave first- and third-round picks to Cincinnati and bestowed Wilkinson with a five-year, $21.4 million contract—real money at the time.

Wilkinson never allegedly fell asleep on game day, and actually had two decent seasons here. But he began flaming out once the Redskins, under new owner Snyder, brought in Bruce Smith to play alongside him. Wilkinson had averaged about 7 sacks a year in his first six NFL seasons. He had just 7.5 sacks total from 2000 to 2002, the years he played among the now-infamous Fantasy Football lineups assembled early into Snyder’s ownership. (Awesome trivia about the 2000 Redskins: the defense featured nine first-round picks who had made 31 Pro Bowl appearances to that point. The team went just 8-8.)

The stream of defensive line washouts kept flowing, of course. From 2000 to 2007, along with Bruce Smith, you can count Nolan Harrison, Jermaine Haley, Regan Upshaw, and Brandon Noble among the free agent flops.

In 2008, the Skins didn’t sign any free-agent linemen, but made an offseason splash typical of the Snyder era by making the biggest bid to Miami to land defensive end Jason Taylor, thereby assuming his $8 million-a-year contract. The Dolphins were shopping the perennial Pro Bowler around because he hadn’t shown up for optional summer workouts.

Taylor didn’t please anybody up here, either. He let it be known that his talents were ill-suited for the Redskins 4-3 defense, and that they would be better fit for a 3-4 defense (really!). Defensive coordinator Greg Blache yanked Taylor from a game in Baltimore for freelancing on the field; he was bounced for good after one season and 3.5 sacks after he refused team demands that he come to Redskins Park for offseason workouts.

In other words, Taylor’s tenure as a Redskin didn’t lack for Haynesworthian overtones.

Of course, just two days before cutting Taylor, the Redskins gave Haynesworth the biggest free-agent contract ever given a defender. At his first press conference here, Haynesworth promised that he would live up to the team’s wish to “be disruptive.” Roger that.

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