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Lost in the Middle

Of all the players who have skipped mandatory team practices, none has been more mind boggling then Albert Haynesworth.  He's not holding out because he feels he's under paid like Chris Johnson.  If anything he's being overpaid with his $100 million contract he just signed last year.  He's not avoiding practices because he's too old for a full season like Brett Favre (Haynesworth just turned 29), although he may feel just as entitled.  No, the reason for the holdout is really more bizarre.  Haynesworth skipped both voluntary and mandatory workouts because he's unhappy with the team's switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense.  He's afraid his numbers will go down and people will say he wasn't worth the big contract, although I'm not sure how he thinks skipping every practice for no good reason will improve the public's perception of him. 

So why is Haynesworth so convinced his numbers will go down?  Because the Redkins want him to play the least glamorous position on any 3-4 defense.  They want him to play Nose Tackle. 

NT's will rarely find themselves in the game highlights and almost never will make it into the ESPN top 10.  They don't make interceptions.  They don't get lots of sacks.  They don't even make many tackles, usually only an average of 2-3 per game.  But as any serious fan of the game knows, there's probably no position more important to the success a 3-4 defenses than NT.  Without a solid NT the 3-4 defense just doesn't work very well. 

Some people will argue that all they do is take up space, but it's a lot more than that.  They occupy blockers and clog the running lanes.  Having a solid NT is what allows the LB's to make so many plays.  Plus it allows defensive coordinators to be creative in their play calling and blitz packages. 

And that's the irony of the situation.  Haynesworth is being asked to play the most important position on the defense, but he doesn't want to do it because he's affraid it will cut back on his fame.

More after the jump. 

Casual fans can always name the top QB's in the league like Manning and Brady.  They can name Chris Johnson, LT, Ochocinco, TO, Jeremy Shockey, and usually Steve Hutchinson, and Jeff Saturday.  On defense they know Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Champ Bailey, and Dwight Freeney.  They can even name kickers like Vinatieri and Janikowski.  But how many people know the name Jamal Williams?  How many people have heard of Vince Wilfork or Casey Hampton?  Yet they were 3 of the best NT's of the last decade. 

Then there's another problem.  A team running a 3-4 defense will value a good DT playing the nose more than a team running a 4-3.  But all DT are treated the same when it comes to franchising a player.  So their $7 million franchise tag number undervalues what a good NT means to their team.  Only Safeties, TE's, and Kickers have a lower franchise tag number.   It should come as no surprise then that 3 of the 6 players to have the franchise tag placed on them this year have been NT's. 

But the low franchise number isn't the only reason to target NT's.  Every year it seems like more teams are switching to the 3-4 defense, which means every year there's more demand.  But how many athletically fit 350 pound men are their walking the earth?  So when teams finally get one, they're reluctant to let them leave.

The Redskins have the athletic big man with Haynesworth to run the 3-4.  Haynesworth has the monster contract players like Aubrayo Franklin want.  Considering he just cashed a $21 million check on April 1st, he should be willing to do anything the team asks him to do.  But I guess his own fame and glory are more important to him than winning as a team.

Several Washington players have accused him of being "selfish", and there not the only ones.  His ex-wife, Stephanie, who's back in court claiming he isn't paying her health insurance and children's bills, had this to say about him, "He thinks he's above everything.  He feels like he's entitled.  He's narcissistic.  It's very frustrating to go to someone constantly and ask them repetitively to do the things they're already supposed to be doing."

The NFL is already full of players who don't feel they get the ball enough on offense.  Will the new trend on defense be players complaining about not getting enough opportunities to make sacks or interceptions?  24 hour sports channels have changed the way we watch the game.  But not all of it has been for the best.