TAMPA – Nearly three years after they tried to lure him to Tampa as a free agent, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Wednesday claimed controversial defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth off waivers from the New England Patriots.
Haynesworth, a 10-year veteran who has struggled to play at the All-Pro level he displayed before leaving the Tennessee Titans in 2008, was scheduled to arrive in Tampa late Wednesday and practice with the Bucs today.
Tampa Bay general manager Mark Dominik will leave it to his coaching staff to decide if and when Haynesworth plays in a game, he said, but it's possible Haynesworth will be in the lineup Sunday against Houston at Raymond James Stadium.
"Let's see how the week goes,'' said Dominik, who admitted the move was sparked by the loss on Sunday of defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, who had surgery Wednesday to repair a right torn biceps tendon and is out for the season.
"I would say candidly that if Gerald wasn't hurt right now, I probably would not (have made) this move,'' Dominik said. "But because of the situation we're in, I felt like Albert Haynesworth has the best ability of any defensive tackle out there."
The Bucs pick up the remainder of Haynesworth's contract. At the start of the season, he signed a two-year contract worth $8.7 million, with salaries of $1.5 million this season and $6.7 million in 2012.
Dominik spoke to Haynesworth shortly after making the claim and described the former Titans first-round draft pick as being eager to get to Tampa and get on with his career.
"As you would hope, he was fired up and asked how soon can we get him a flight and that he wants to be in (Wednesday night) so that he can go to practice (on Thursday).'' Dominik said. "That was very encouraging.''
Haynesworth was considered by many to be the NFL's most dominant defensive tackle when he left the Titans in 2008 after consecutive All-Pro seasons, but has yet to play at the same level since.
Dominik attributed his struggles in large part to the fact that the Redskins, whom he signed with in 2009, and Patriots, asked him to play defensive end in a three-lineman, four-linebacker scheme.
Dominik thinks Haynesworth is at his best playing in a four-lineman, three-linebacker set similar to what the Bucs play, and excels as an under tackle, the position McCoy plays.
"The thing I'm going to bank on here is our defense and what we ask the (under tackle) to do,'' Dominik said. "Regardless of what you've seen of Albert Haynesworth the last three or four years, he's been more of a three-four defensive end who's been two-gapping, and we've always felt like he's a one-gap penetrator.
"That's why it made sense to me to put the claim in for a guy that we think can help us down the stretch. There are some misconceptions, I think, about the way we're trying to build this team. We want to win.''
Dominik did not seek a scouting report or ask for recommendations from the Patriots or Redskins prior to making the claim. Instead, he claimed Haynesworth based on his own film study.
"What I did was look at the film, and I watched all 134 of his snaps this year - twice,'' Dominik said. "I watched his effort, watched his motor, watched what they asked him to do and what he actually did do.
"(And what I saw was) that he can be strong, powerful, dominating. He can be disruptive still. He can overpower his opponent. And when I see him hit a gap or shoot a gap, he can still play football. He's not one of these older players who really can't play any more.''
Haynesworth was credited for just three tackles in six games this season, but Dominik said those stats don't match the numbers he came up with watching Haynesworth on tape.
"NFL.com is not official stats,'' he said. "I counted seven quarterback pressures in 134 snaps. I counted about 15 disruption plays and I counted eight total tackles, which isn't tremendous, I admit. But (there was) disruption."
The Bucs have struggled to stop the run and to get to the passer. They are 31st in the league in sacks with 12 and 24th against the run in allowing 132.4 yards per game.
The Bucs hope Haynesworth can fix that, though he comes with baggage beyond his recent poor play.
Haynesworth has had run-ins with the law, including several related to traffic incidents. He also was suspended five games without pay in 2006 for attempting to stomp on Cowboys center Andre Gurode's head.
Asked if there was any concern about brining Haynesworth into a locker room of young players, Dominik said the team has had players in the past who were the subject of controversy and suggested poor behavior will not be tolerated.
"Albert Haynesworth came here on a waiver claim and I expect him to perform or the same thing (placed on waivers) can happen again,'' Dominik said. "It's a week-to-week evaluation with him. But it's that way with a lot of players.''