Picking Splinters: Your Move, Albert

I have this mental image of Ashburn, Va. like it’s some kind of modern-day Tombstone, Ariz. There in the dusty main street, stands a desperado, a titan of a man, who’s shadow stretches across the dirt before him and seems to weigh as much as the 300-pound gunslinger himself. Some 20 paces down the street, the hawk-like gaze of the well-tanned lawman burrows into the desperado’s face, looking for the smallest sign his foe might back down. Cue the music to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

As the impasse at Redskins camp continues to drag on, the posturing between the two parties – disgruntled DT Albert Haynesworth and obstinate head coach Mike Shanahan – continues unabated. Haynesworth maintains that his injured knee is hampering his performance in the mandatory conditioning test. Meanwhile, Shanahan has been relentless in his mandate that Haynesworth must pass the test before he can practice with the team. Thus the daily showdowns.

But like any good desperado, Haynesworth isn’t portraying himself as purely evil. He’s ingratiating himself to his fellow players, tutoring rookies in technique and even has coaches saying he’s been attentive in defensive meetings. It’s a small list of virtues, but it’s almost big enough to forget how Haynesworth has purposefully made himself the Redskins’ No. 1 distraction this offseason.

Mike Shanahan may be a hard head for standing on his principles and forcing Haynesworth to comply with his fitness demands before taking the field, but he’s right to do so. You see, this isn’t about what’s happening right now in camp, it’s what happened before this.

This is about those times when he stayed home from mini-camp; when he grumbled about the 3-4 defensive scheme to be implemented by Jim Haslett; when he demanded a trade shortly after collecting a $21 million bonus check.

You don’t do all that and then have someone make an exception for you. You don’t consistently act selfishly and then expect a favor. I don’t care if Haynesworth is trying to become a better teammate, I don’t care if he brings peace to the Middle East, he shouldn’t suit up until he completes the conditioning test. Mike Golic, he of the Mike and Mike Morning Show on ESPN Radio, completed the conditioning test in passing time. And he did so despite being almost 50 years old and out of the NFL for 17 years.

And it’s not like Haynesworth’s act is anything new, or even fully related to the 3-4 defense. Even last year he grumbled that he wasn’t being used properly, spouting off at the end of the season. And he hasn’t even helped that much. Last year, after the Redskins spent about $100 million to bring him in, their defensive ranking actually dropped from fourth to 10th. Some return on investment, huh?

Haynesworth is his own worst enemy. Pure and simple. Whether it’s in his nature to act so selfishly or he’s just trying to work the system so the ‘Skins will cut him and yet another team can cut the DT a fat check, Haynesworth is manufacturing all of this drama.

It’s not like the Redskins are absolved of all blame either. After all, they did sign him. They did pay him as though his addition was the one thing keeping a Super Bowl ring off of Dan Snyder’s finger. They didn’t bat an eyelash or raise any questions or think it odd at all that his former team, the Tennessee Titans, was perfectly willing to let him walk away in free agency.

So now what? More of the same if you ask me. If I’m Shanahan I’m going out there every day and setting up the cones for the conditioning test. I’d gather the whole team together and ask Haynesworth if today is the day he’s going to take the test. And if he says no, I’d do the exact same thing the next day.

Haynesworth can buddy up to the young players all he wants, but the veterans know his game. If anything, relenting now may invite their ire towards Shanahan, or at least encourage others to mirror Haynesworth’s petulant child-like behavior.

After the year they had, the Redskins don’t need this drama, but they certainly don’t need more of it should other players believe that they too walk on water. So Shanahan will just sit there and keep staring down the desperado. The next move is Haynesworth’s.