Rebuilding the Vikings: Should Albert Haynesworth Get a Look?

Defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has been cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a move that will save the Bucs $7.2 million against the cap. The saga of Haynesworth has been well-documented: He became a Pro Bowl tackle with Tennessee but fell off the map after signing a huge contract with Washington. Bill Belichick picked him up before the 2011 season in hopes of resurrecting his career but the experiment failed and Haynesworth was moved on to Tampa. Now a man once considered among the top defensive linemen in the league is on the scrap heap waiting for someone to give him a chance.

Haynesworth will almost certainly get that chance. He will be 31 in July, not spectacularly old for a defensive tackle (Pat Williams was still very good well into his 30s). The issues with Haynesworth are of course related to conditioning and attitude. He let himself get woefully out of shape in Washington, a situation that did not endear him to Mike Shanahan. On the character side, he’s always been perceived as a headache. Production-wise there isn’t much to crow about either. After posting a career-high 8.5 sacks in his contract year of 2008, Haynesworth slipped to 4 sacks in ’09, then 2.5 in ’10, then zero last year. And he never has been durable. Since entering the league in 2002 Haynesworth has played in all 16 games only once, that in his rookie season.

No doubt there are many reasons for teams to shy away from Haynesworth. But salary is no longer one of them. The high price may have caused the Vikings to back off from Haynesworth last off-season when he was up-for-grabs. The question is, now that Haynesworth can be gotten for a song, might the Vikings revisit the possibility of bringing him in?

On the surface, Haynesworth and the Vikings would seem like a bad fit. The Vikes are committed to getting younger this year, and signing a veteran like Haynesworth would not help that. Production-wise Haynesworth is clearly going downhill, putting him in the same category as guys like Bernard Berrian, Bryant McKinnie, Steve Hutchinson and Cedric Griffin. The first two on that list were cut last year by the Vikes and the second two are probably going to be cut in the next couple weeks. In other words, the Rick Spielman/Leslie Frazier MO so far has been to dump aging guys with declining production, not bring them in.

However, there’s one difference between this off-season and last: the Vikings are no longer up against the cap. Or, they won’t be once they jettison some of their high-priced vets. The Vikings did at least look at Haynesworth last year, and may have brought him in had they been able to afford the price tag. With Haynesworth now offering his services at bargain basement prices, the Vikes could afford him.

System-wise, the Vikes would appear to suit Haynesworth. He struggled in Bill Belichick’s defense in New England but seemed somewhat more comfortable in Tampa Bay’s Cover-2 scheme. In Minnesota Haynesworth could play the nose at times and slide over to relieve Kevin Williams (who at his age will need more rest) at three-technique. Playing with good players in a familiar system with a respected defensive line coach like Brendan Daly would seem an ideal situation for Haynesworth. The character issues Haynesworth has been known for would be less of a factor on a team with the kind of veteran leadership the Vikings boast.

So does it make sense? As a low-risk shot-in-the-dark sort of move, I say yes. Haynesworth is past his prime but if motivated would be an upgrade over Remi Ayodele and/or Fred Evans. And, like I said, you wouldn’t have to pay him much. Once you take all things into consideration – price, system compatibility, the fact that the Vikings did show interest in him in the past – I think there’s a fair chance the Vikings will at least explore bringing him on board. He’ll never be what he was in Tennessee but he could still be a solid role player for a couple of years.

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Tags: Albert Haynesworth Leslie Frazier Minnesota Vikings Rick Spielman

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