Why the Eagles had no interest in Haynesworth

One nugget from the Donovan McNabb-to-the-Redskins trade aftermath concerned the rumored inclusion of Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth in the deal. Obviously, he was not, but the fact that the free-agent bonus baby of 2009 was being shopped around is news. A closer look at the contract shows, however, why taking on Haynesworth was a nonstarter for the Eagles and how untenable it would have been to include him.

$21M paid on April 1

As part of the megadeal that Haynesworth signed in the opening hours of free agency in 2009 – a contract that still has the league buzzing – Haynesworth received a $21-million – yes, $21 million -- option bonus that had to be exercised in the first 10 days of the 2010 league year, a time period that has now passed.

Also as part of that deal, the Redskins had a right to “supersede” that option payment and convert it to a signing bonus of the same amount. They did exactly that, payable in full on April 1 (last Thursday).

Potential recovery

One reason for the change is the treatment of the different bonuses for potential recovery purposes. An option bonus – as per the arbitration involving former Bronco Ashley Lelie – is treated as money that is “earned,” thereby shutting off recovery options for the team. A signing bonus – as per the Michael Vick and Plaxico Burress cases – does not afford appreciably greater protection for a team if the player engages in willful negative behavior, although it does potentially provide some relief.

Cap and cash accounting

The other reason deals with accounting. The Redskins initially structured the bulk of the bonus money in the contract – $21 million of the $26M total – in the form of an option bonus to keep the cash and cap hit on the deal out of 2009, the last capped year of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and a year when, as has often been the case, the Redskins were snug against the cap.

Now that the Redskins got through 2009 into uncapped 2010, they used their contractually negotiated supersede right to turn the option into signing bonus.

And as part of the renegotiation, the Redskins added a clause allowing Haynesworth to void the contract after next season and walk away, having pocketed over $24M from the team in two years.

Haynesworth can now void the remaining years of the deal after 2010 if – and only if – he returns four-fifths of the $21M he is now receiving, or $16.8M. Of course, he’ll only do that if he finds a team willing to pay him more than that a year from now, which would require some serious tampering discussions. He likely will not have the money to void it anyway since it may be spent by this time next year.

Also, with a player-controlled void – as Haynesworth now has – the entire $21M is contained in 2010 for cash and cap purposes with no proration allocated to future years.

Containing costs in uncapped year

With new general manager Bruce Allen trying to move the team away from the credit card spending mentality of the past, the Redskins are trying to “pay as they go” more than ever. Despite no cap, they are operating as they would pre-2010, as Allen used this void tactic previously when he was with Tampa. Allen may also suspect, as do other GMs around the league, that there will be some kind of retroactive accounting in place next season and wanted to incur the bulk of the cash and cap burden of Haynesworth’s deal in 2010.

Now untradeable

Beyond the intricacies of the option/signing bonus/void and its accounting treatment, the bottom line is that the Redskins gave Haynesworth a check for $21M last week, perhaps the biggest single check written in the NFL this year. So any trade discussions to move Haynesworth this year ended last Wednesday, as an acquiring team would have had to take on that amount or restructure it by that time.

Whatever people think of ‘Skins owner Dan Snyder and his proclivity to spend, no one gives someone $21M to play for someone else.

NBA trade

The Redskins were shopping the Haynesworth contract, one they willingly agreed to a year ago, as much as they were shopping Haynesworth. This was an example of an NBA-style proposed trade, an offer to take a bad contract off a team’s books. For the Eagles, or any team, to take on the Haynesworth contract prior to April 1 would have been a colossal investment for a player who already has questionable motivation.

We may see more of this type of trade where the value becomes more related to financial obligations than player value. With disproportionate amounts paid to the top players in the draft, we may see teams try to move out of these overpriced slots and upset the traditional value chart of draft choices. That chart, of course, does not take the financial ramifications into account. It should.

Albert Haynesworth and his $21M are staying with the Redskins, whether they like it or not. At least if he does become an ex-Redskin some time in the future, they will have lessened the potential consequences of his release. It’s not as good as trading him and his contract, but some relief nonetheless.

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