The $36 million mistake

As free agency opens in the NFL, the poster child for everything that is wrong with NFL free agency has been traded. Old friend Albert Haynesworth – a punching bag for fans, the media, and even teammates for his lackluster work habits since he received his golden ticket two years ago – has been moved from the Washington Redskins to the New England Patriots for a fifth-round draft choice, as per Adam Schefter of ESPN.

Dangers in free agency

Albert HaynesworthICONHaynesworth appeared in just 20 games with the Redskins.

As I often say, free agency in football is different than other sports. Football – unlike a sport such as baseball -- is about schemes: 4-3, 3-4, cover two, etc., making it difficult for players to fit seamlessly into new teams. Another added problem is that when there are coaching changes, systems change but the players – Haynesworth – may not fit. And in my experience, I always worried when the incumbent team does not try too hard to keep the player; the Titans appeared only too happy to let Haynesworth go.

Unfortunately for the Redskins, whose present regime inherited Haynesworth, there are no mulligans in NFL free agency. And they lost all leverage on April 1, 2010, when they wrote him a check for $21 million after desperately trying to trade that obligation. Now, a year after making him sit in a very public corner for an extended time out, they have moved him and his contract.

Shrewd move by Patriots

I had thought that if a team could acquire Albert Haynesworth this year, it would be a low-risk move. The Patriots – a team known for these kinds of deals – has done just that.

Here is what you need to know about the bloated Haynesworth contract: the bulk of it is paid off, courtesy of the Redskins. They have paid Haynesworth $35.6 million for two unproductive years in Washington.

The Patriots owe Haynesworth $5.4 million for this year and $6.7 million next year (along with a $500,000 offseason workout bonus). And none of it is guaranteed!

While we question Haynesworth’s motivation, we know that he is a first-rate talent. For a $5.4 million investment, approximately 1/7th of the investment the Redskins made, the Patriots have made a relatively low-risk move.

Redskins prepared

Not known for their savvy cash and Cap management, the Redskins did do a clever thing with Haynesworth’s contract last year to prepare for this day.

They inserted a player voidable clause, allowing Haynesworth to end his contract early. Due to Cap rules, the signing bonus following the voidable clause will not prorate through the remainder of the contract.

Haynesworth’s $21 million bonus last April that was restructured in the manner described above to have the entire amount count in 2010 with no accounting in future years. Thus, for Cap accounting, there is no remaining Cap hit on that money in future years and it allows the Redskins to trade Haynesworth without Cap consequences.

Kudos to them for preparing for this inevitability well.

While JaMarcus Russell became the symbol of everything wrong with the rookie pay structure – which was changed in the recent CBA negotiation – Albert Haynesworth is the symbol of the fear that all teams have of a player getting his money and coasting. Free agency is still alive and well, but more teams may be cautious and concentrate on their own players, in part due to the Haynesworth fear.

Follow me on Twitter at adbrandt.

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