Saturday, February 28, 2009

Another Perspective on the Haynesworth Deal

So obviously my attention has been affixed to the Skins wheelings and dealings the past couple of days. Has acquiring Albert Haynesworth, re-signing D'Angelo Hall, and re-acquiring Derrick Dockery made the Redskins a worse team than they were at the end of the season? Absolutely not. Has it made them the favorite in the NFC East? I say absolutely not given the fact they did not address their No. 1 weakness, which is at the wide receiver position.

But my attention now turns to how this signing and the economy work together. And I guess I should preface this with a personal story on my end. Don't mind the details I give, i swear it comes back around to the Skins.

In the past few weeks, the paper I work for in Northern Virginia has been struggling ... mightily. Like the past month and a half have been the worst in the paper's history of doing business bad. My office is beginning to look like a desert, there's so many empty cubicles.

It's funny, actually, how different the atmosphere around this paper is compared with the NY Sun this past summer. I was at the Sun during the last days it shined (haha get it) and other than the occasional bemoaning by one of the top editors about being a bit cash-strapped, you didn't hear much about it other than the company was hemorrhaging money, but they had been doing that since they started.

Here at this paper, the atmosphere has been gloomy at best. People are kind of panicking, thinking this bad boy could go under any day now. Me, I've tried to take everything in stride. I've got faith this paper, the local paper, will survive in some form and I'm pretty sure my skills are still in demand. That being said, I've been polishing the old resume and cover letter, in search of some alternatives in case I'm in need of another job in the next month or so.

But here's what really gets me about this paper. The reason I'm so confident about my standing has everything to do with my low salary. Literally, almost everyone they've fired has been with the company for more than 10 years. A good amount of the young writers like myself, we're all still hanging on. But it really sucks the big one for these older folk. And then I hear things like I heard yesterday. This editor, a gruff one I must admit, but ultimately a nice guy when not on deadline, was fired and now must deal with the reality of a wife with cancer and two kids who are mentally retarded — all with his health insurance gone. Maybe I'm being emo, but I guess it's the first time this whole economy thing has really hit home.

Enough with the heart break, though, what I really wanted to get out of this is a coffee machine. See, we had this pretty nifty Starbucks coffee machine and even a water cooler in my office. But now, with cost-cutting in full effect, they are both gone. Antiques of a better economy. It seemed weird to me to eliminate things as trivial as that (even though I don't really drink coffee) but I guess it had to be done. With all the recent firings, it makes sense I guess. Gotta penny pinch wherever you can if you're a newspaper.

Which brings me to the Redskins. A few weeks ago the team let loose 45 employees of the non-football playing kind, presumably because of the terrible economy. But in light of Snyder spending a whopping $180 million on new contracts yesterday, it really makes me wonder what kind of scumbag Dan Snyder is. How can you fire that many people and then go out and flaunt just how much money you have to spend? Obviously, with his history of spending frivolously on free agents, Snyder has shown that the word restraint doesn't resonate with him. But I figured that with the dignity in which he handles the whole Sean Taylor tragedy that he had some class. I guess I was wrong.

Since I'm not in a Skins-loving mood, I figure I'll give the Skins beat writer for the Washington Post, Jason LaCanfora, the stage. LaCanfora and the Skins have been at each other's throats for awhile now because LaCanfora is often hyper-critical of the team and well, Snyder and his gang don't appreciate it. Here's what he had to say about the Haynesworth signing and what not:
This is a guy who has never played a full season, and who has never played more than 65 percent of the snaps. He is someone who has had off-the-field issues and someone who has been an underachiever for much of his career. Keeping fit and motivated has been an issue, and it isn't clear how he'll respond with this kind of guaranteed money in his pocket. The pressure on him is enormous as well; he must elevate the entire defense, be an MVP type of performer and play with consistency -- at a time when the team has eliminated 45 employees who were paid far, far less.

Given the history of these kinds of deals here, it's hard to suspend your disbelief. It may well be another case of paying to a degree others would not and trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. How will Greg Blache alter his defensive approach? The Jason Taylor experiment didn't work, ditto LaVar Arrington before that. Now, they're hoping that Haynesworth can make Taylor and Andre Carter into game changers on the outside. Perhaps he can, but the supporting cast around him won't be what it was in Tennessee.

This guy needs to be special and this defense needs to be all about the big play, especially given the limitations of the offense and the holes on the offensive line (this defense, after all, did finish in the top five a year ago, as Blache repeatedly pointed out). This must be a scoring defense. It must produce two turnovers a game. It must give the offense a short field because this is a team that could not run the ball or protect the passer over the last eight weeks of the season as it finished 2-6.

During personnel meetings, Vinny Cerrato, the vice president of football of operations, made it a point to push the coaches for explanations for the horrible second half. The response to a large degree was that they needed three younger, starting-caliber offensive linemen. Perhaps the Skins will work more salary-cap magic and be able to add several offensive linemen who fit that description. The offseason is far from over, for sure.

But the expectations for Haynesworth, and cornerback DeAngelo Hall, for that matter, are -- and should be -- as high as possible. They must forge the identity of this defense, and the result must be playoff wins. Otherwise, in two or three years, the Redskins will find themselves handcuffed by another contract, making decisions that have more to do with navigating the salary cap than prudent football considerations.

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