The Tampa Bay Buccaneers thought Albert Haynesworth would be a good fit in their defense during the 2009 offseason, when the former Tennessee Titans star hit free agency for the first time. Now, with the Pro Bowl defensive tackle trying to get his NFL career back in high gear, the Buccaneers believe it's still a good fit.
Haynesworth agrees, and will get a chance to prove his fourth NFL team right after he was awarded to the Buccaneers off waivers on Wednesday. Tampa Bay put in a claim for the 10th-year veteran after he was released by the New England Patriots on Tuesday. To make room for Haynesworth on the 53-man roster, the Buccaneers released recently-re-signed defensive tackle John McCargo.
Before deciding to put in a claim, Buccaneers General Manager Mark Dominik reviewed all of New England's game tapes for the 2011 season, watching each of Haynesworth's 134 snaps on defense twice. Dominik saw a player that could still be as disruptive as he was in a similar 4-3 defensive front in Tennessee from 2002-08. After the claim was successful, Dominik spoke to Haynesworth on the phone and became further convinced that it was a good decision.
"I have had a chance to talk to him already and he was – as you would hope – excited and fired up," said Dominik, who was first promoted to his current post with the Buccaneers in January of 2009, a little over a month before that '09 free agency period began. "He asked how soon we could get him a flight because he wants to be in tonight and go to practice tomorrow. That was very encouraging."
The Buccaneers did speak to Haynesworth on the opening night of free agency in 2009 before the two-time Associated Press All-Pro chose to sign with the Washington Redskins. Haynesworth had two disappointing seasons in Washington and was traded to the Patriots this past July. In both Washington and New England, Haynesworth was primarily used as a 3-4 end with two-gap responsibilities.
"The thing I'm going to bank on a little bit here is our defense and what we ask the three-technique to do," said Dominik. "We've always felt like he was a one-gap penetrator, and the timing was what it was. It made sense to us to put the claim in on a guy I think can help us during the second-half stretch.
"[I saw] that he can be strong, powerful, dominating. He's disruptive still. He can overpower his opponent. When I see him hit a gap or shoot a gap, he can still play football. He's not one of these older players that really can't play anymore. I just want him to play our way. [Head] Coach [Raheem] Morris is excited about it and we're looking forward to moving forward with Albert Haynesworth."
Since Dominik and Morris took over in 2009, the franchise has concentrated primarily on the draft and young players in rebuilding the roster, with only occasional strikes in veteran free agency or the trade market. Despite the team's interest in Haynesworth several years ago, it's unlikely they would have made Wednesday's claim if not for the recent season-ending biceps injury suffered by starting defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.
"I would say candidly that if Gerald wasn't hurt right now I probably wouldn't do this move," said Dominik. "But because of the situation we're in, I felt like Albert Haynesworth had the best ability of any defensive tackle out there and for us, for me, it made sense as an organization to bring him onboard."
The move indicates the Buccaneers' belief that they are still very much in the thick of the playoff races in the NFC South and the conference overall. Tampa Bay hit the halfway point with a 4-4 record that is less than what they expected after a breakthrough 10-6 campaign in 2010, but still just 1.5 games behind the New Orleans Saints with eight games and three intra-division contests still to play. The Bucs still believe that the draft should be the primary manner of building the team's core but are not afraid to take on a veteran if it is the right fit.
"There are some misconceptions sometimes about the way we're trying to build this team," said Dominik. "We want to win and I think Albert Haynesworth coming down, we control his rights just like any other team in the league would. It will be up to him how he plays and how he performs.
"We were in talks with him that first night but at the end of the day Albert and his agent made the decision to go to Washington, which is fine. But it's a guy that I've continued to watch, and we'll continue to watch other players in the league that we've had interest over the past few years."
Dominik indicated that the evaluation of Haynesworth will be ongoing, as well. While the team is optimistic that their newest defender can return to the strong play of his days as a Titan, he will have to prove them right on the practice field and on Sundays in order to remain a Buccaneer.
"I'm looking forward to actually physically talking to him, having him in the building and watching his effort level tomorrow in a practice when we actually have the pads on. Let's go see what Albert Haynesworth can do and what he can bring to this football team."