Now that the NFL lockout is finally over, the NFL can finally begin free agency. A few months of action will be jam-packed into a few days, and that means a lot of 2011 NFL free agents will be changing teams. The Washington Redskins already have a dozen free agents to worry about, not to mention the scores of free agents they would probably like to sign.
But let's be honest. For the Redskins, the start of free agency means the end of the forced procrastination in the inevitable messy conclusion of two massive self-inflicted issues. Yes, we're talking about the status of quarterback Donovan McNabb and defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth. Both men are under contract, but both are surely not a part of this team's future after dominating the headlines in a drama-filled 2010. At this point, it is likely a question of when, not if they will be moved off the team.
Since this is the Redskins, we must always account for the possibility that the unthinkable happens and they remain on the team going into the season. Heck, with Mike Shanahan in charge, you sometimes don't know whether his need for one-upping his adversary outdoes his sometimes-brilliant football mind. The best thing for the Redskins is for both to go away, but will Shanahan's stubborness get in the way? I'd be lying if I didn't consider this doomsday.
Still, I'm confident Shanahan and Bruce Allen will eventually get McNabb and Haynesworth off this team. The question is when. There's an ever-growing sentiment that the Redskins need to just release both and forget about getting actual value, just so everyone can move on. This argument rests mostly on McNabb and Haynesworth being "distractions" next season, much like they may have been last year.
I'm sympathetic to this argument and I'm close to accepting it. But before I do, I feel like a point needs to be made, one that carries lasting effects on how these relationships eventually end. Just what exactly constitutes a "distraction" that threatens to tear down any foundational work the Redskins hope to accomplish with the rest of their roster?
I think this is a significant question to consider for a couple reasons. First of all, let's be honest: the Redskins will have to deal with distractions during training camp anyway. Every team will, due to the timing of the end of the lockout and the unique conditions that have been created. With free agents coming in during the middle of training camp, newcomers will be behind anyway. Without OTAs, valuable development time has been lost. Rookies will have to come in and learn very difficult terminology on the fly. These are very real distractions, arguably more real than anything Haynesworth or McNabb could do.
More importantly: isn't there a point where the idea of a "distraction" is merely in the eye of the beholder? Whenever the idea of a player being a "distraction" gains traction publicly, I wonder: towards whom is the player really a distraction? The immediate answer one could give is on their side of the ball. It's tougher for a quarterback to get chemistry with his receivers when he's not playing. It's tougher for a defense to transition into a 3-4 when its highest-paid player is bailing on conditioning tests. So the arguments go. But at this point, haven't all pretenses of McNabb and Haynesworth actually doing anything for the Redskins gone away? Don't the rest of the Redskins' players know that they don't need to count on McNabb and Haynesworth as key cogs on the team, unlike last season when they were counted on heavily?
If so, then the major remaining "distractions" are in large part media-driven. Shanahan now has to have his three minutes answering McNabb and Haynesworth questions before he curtly cuts the media gathering off. The players now have to repeat the same answer over and over again, carefully choosing their words to prevent stories from being created from their missteps. These are nuisances, don't get me wrong. But couldn't you argue they are nothing more than that? Couldn't you say that it means nothing once everyone else on the team actually gets out on the field?
The truth is, I don't know the answer to these questions. I could be wrong, and ultimately, I'm not definitively saying that Donovan McNabb and Albert Haynesworth won't be huge distractions if they stay on the Redskins for an extra couple weeks. Beat writers who cover the team have a better idea than I will, as long as I'm sitting where I am. But my point here is that nobody really knows, and as such, it's always worth taking conclusions by writers and fans with a grain of salt.
Me? I want Haynesworth and McNabb released immediately so I don't have to write about them anymore. At least I'm admitting my position is self-motivated.