The reported trade between the New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins with the Pats acquiring DT Albert Haynesworth and the Skins getting a 2013 fifth-round pick in return has created a buzz around the NFL. Just when you think the Pats aren’t doing anything in free agency, they pull off a big move behind the scenes. Risk-wise, factoring in just the price tag for Haynesworth, is low compared to the potential rewards. The Pats are giving up just a fifth-round pick two years from now, and are on the hook for only $5 million of the big contract Haynesworth signed with Washington. As long as Haynesworth doesn’t create a, well, Haynesworth-sized distraction, the Pats really can’t lose.
Bill Belichick said earlier that the deal is not done, YET, but he usually doesn’t talk about a player unless it’s pretty much a done deal. But what exactly would Haynesworth’s role be in the Patriots’ 3-4 defense, one which he maligned while in Washington?
For starters, the Patriots use more four-man fronts than most people think. They particularly use these fronts on third down in passing situations. Having Haynesworth playing defensive tackle in a four-man front is where he shined while in Tennessee, and that would be the most immediate (and easiest) use of his talents. Pairing him with Vince Wilfork in the middle of that four-man front is a SCARY proposition for opposing interior offensive linemen. Wilfork usually takes two offensive linemen to block by himself, and now you add in Albert Haynesworth?
This move could also be a reaction to the lack of big-time pass rushing outside linebackers on the market. We could be watching the Pats shift to more four-man fronts now due to the dearth of talent at that position. However, we all know that Bill Belichick prefers the flexibility he gets and the disguise capabilities of the 3-4, so can Haynesworth fit into that defense?
The answer is YES.
In Washington, Haynesworth was asked to play nose tackle, where his role was to take up offensive linemen and allow others to make plays (like Wilfork). Haynesworth will not be asked, in my view, to do that in New England. Instead, as most 4-3 defensive tackles do when switching to the 3-4, he will line up at defensive end like Ty Warren does and Richard Seymour did. Here, he will be allowed to do more pass rushing instead of “people eating” and make plays. Having Wilfork next to him at nose will increase his chances of success.
Can a guy who has more of a nose tackle build play defensive end? Absolutely, and you can look no further than Vince Wilfork to see a good example of that. Last season, due to the lack of depth at DE, Wilfork would line up as a DE at times. He did a great job in that role, and I can’t see how Albert Haynesworth, who probably has better pass rushing skills than Wilfork, can’t excel there.
Of course, this is all dependent on Haynesworth buying in and wanting to play. But that’s always been the case with Albert Haynesworth. We’ll get our answer sooner rather than later.