- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now, now. Don't go getting all worked up without reading first. I'll even start you off with a little anecdote to ease you into it.
My first beat writing job in sports journalism was as the Florida Marlins beat writer for The Palm Beach Post in 1997. The Marlins had a big offseason prior to 1997, bringing in big free agents and hiring a new manager, Jim Leyland. One of the big free agents they'd brought in was Bobby Bonilla, who'd been a star early in his career in Pittsburgh but had gone on to New York and other places and cultivated a reputation as a selfish malcontent. It was the selfish malcontent thing that led people to question the Bonilla signing, but the reason the Marlins felt good about it was Leyland, who'd been Bonilla's manager in Pittsburgh when Bonilla was a rookie and a young star.
They were right. Reunited with Leyland, a manager he adored and whose every decision he respected and honored, Bonilla played very well for the 1997 Marlins, who won the World Series. He was gracious with and helpful to those of us who covered the team. He was good with the young players. When Leyland dropped him in the batting order during a slump, Bonilla said, "I never question that man." The writers in New York thought we were nuts when we awarded Bonilla our "good guy" award, but the fact is, he was a different guy in Florida than he was in New York, and Leyland was the reason.
So that's what got me thinking about Albert Haynesworth and the Philadelphia Eagles this morning. Haynesworth was released Wednesday, to no one's surprise, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They are the third team in the past seven months to kick Big Al to the curb, and since he hasn't done much in the three years since he left Tennessee besides loaf and make coaches and teammates angry, it's fair to wonder if any team will even think about signing him.
But if there's one team in the NFL that might think it can get something out of Big Al, it may well be the Eagles. Their defensive line coach, Jim Washburn, was Haynesworth's defensive line coach in Tennessee. Washburn was said to be interested in a reunion with Haynesworth last summer, and to have been hoping the Redskins would cut him so the Eagles could bring him in. Not wanting to risk playing against an angry, motivated Haynesworth twice a year, Mike Shanahan traded him outside the division. But now, he's just sitting there, probably not getting very many offers, and available for Washburn and the Eagles if they want him.
Whether this happens depends on a number of things, but the biggest may well be the way Washburn feels about Haynesworth and what kind of relationship the two men have. If Washburn really feels strongly that he can dig up the performance Haynesworth gave him in Tennessee, and if Haynesworth feels about Washburn the way my man Bonilla felt about Leyland, it's the kind of thing that could work beautifully. It surely wouldn't cost the Eagles much to take a flier on him, and if he turned out to be the same miserable lump he was in Washington, it'd be easy just to cut him and send him on his way.
The Eagles don't need to invite discord into their locker room at this point, so it would behoove them to be sure Washburn can really draw out his talent and motivate him to perform. But if he can, wow. Haynesworth doesn't even turn 31 until June, and when he was at his best, he was one of the best defensive linemen in the league. There's no indication that he's not healthy. His problems with Washington, New England and Tampa Bay all seem to have been attitude related. And yeah, maybe he's just a guy with a bad attitude who got his money and no longer cares about anything else. This is possible, even likely, and can't be ruled out. But sometimes, a coach and a player just click. And if Washburn could get Albert Haynesworth clicking again, the Eagles could come away with one of the steals of the offseason.