KAPOLEI, Hawaii — Albert Haynesworth is getting alot of love from his AFC teammates at the Pro Bowl. He’s hoping the Tennessee Titans desire him just as much.
Haynesworth could become an unrestricted free agent and, by extension, the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL. That’s if the Titans aren’t able to sign their All-Pro defensive tackle to a new contract by Feb. 27.
Setting the scene
The Kapolei High School practice field’s pristine look didn’t take long to come unraveled as the Pro Bowl teams prepared for Sunday’s game by getting in a quick workout. More …
And the word is, he’s not giving any discounts to stay in Nashville.
“I want to be the top, not among the top,” Haynesworth said Wednesday. “That’s how the market goes. They put you as the top free agent, so you got to demand top dollar. It’s not me. I’m not making up these numbers. It’s you guys that come up with the numbers, so I go by that, too.”
Are the Titans willing to open up their wallet or, in Haynesworth’s case, the vault?
“Hopefully, the Titans step up,” he said. “If they don’t, I’m looking.”
Haynesworth just finished his seventh NFL season — all with Tennessee. The Titans slapped him with the franchise tag for 2008, but he earned free agency by meeting several incentives in his one-year deal, including reaching the Pro Bowl for a second straight season.
Haynesworth had a career high 8.5 sacks in 14 games before spraining his knee late in a loss at Houston, but he was a key reason the Titans went an NFL-best 13-3 and earned the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed.
This week, Haynesworth was all smiles — and the islands’ most sought-after man since Barack Obama. Haynesworth was being recruited by players such as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
Manning said unlike in college, where the sell is often the campus, facilities, stadium and attractive coeds, it usually comes down to numbers in the pros. So he’s unsure the Colts can afford him.
“But Albert deserves to have a great contract,” Manning said. “I’d love for him to come to Indianapolis. If he doesn’t, I’d like him to leave the division … I’m getting tired of us having to triple team him to get him blocked. (Center) Jeff Saturday says it’s just a nightmare playing against him. So come to us, or go to the NFC.”
Colts defensive end Robert Mathis even tossed Haynesworth an Indianapolis helmet during an interview about his future with the Titans.
Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images
Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth posted a career-high 8.5 sacks in 2008.
“I’ve been talking to players and asking how their coaching staff and stuff is, so I’m not going into this thing blind or anything,” Haynesworth said. “I’m just going to look at it and see how it goes.”
Besides Haynesworth, Pro Bowl quarterback Kerry Collins also could become a free agent, leaving the Titans without two of their leaders.
The Titans have said that signing Haynesworth and Collins are top priorities for them this offseason. And both players said they want to return and build on the success Tennessee had this past season, which abruptly ended with a divisional playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
“I would love to be there,” said Collins, an injury replacement for Brett Favre at the Pro Bowl. “I love Tennessee. I love the organization, Nashville, everything. It’s a good fit, so hopefully it will work out.”
Collins, a 14-year NFL veteran, took over for Vince Young, who sprained his left knee in the season opener, and went 12-3 as the Titans’ starter. Collins played well enough that he no longer is content sitting on the bench as a backup and wants to be a starter.
“I backed up and know what that’s about, and I just feel like I’m a starter in this league,” Collins said. “I’m 36 years old, so I know my time is limited. So if it doesn’t work out where I get to start, I’ll probably consider retiring.”
But Collins said he knows he has a lot left.
“I feel like I proved that I can still do it at a high level and win ballgames,” he said.
Collins said it would be unfortunate if the Titans weren’t able to sign both players.
“It’s kind of life in the NFL,” he said. “Free agency creates these situations. I would say they wouldn’t want to lose both of us for sure. But I’m sure their priority is signing Albert back, which it should be. He’s a dominant player in this league.”
Haynesworth said hopefully it will work out for both him and Collins. Haynesworth expects contract talks to become serious by the end of the month.
“I can almost safely say, hopefully I’ll have a job at the end of the month,” he said. “I’ll be somewhere. But first choice is definitely the Titans.”