ASHBURN, Va. - After signing a contract with an NFL-record US$41 million in guaranteed money, Albert Haynesworth made a guarantee of his own.
''You're not going to remember Albert Haynesworth as a bust,'' he said.
That's a tall order, even for a player as talented as Haynesworth. The 27-year-old all-pro defensive tackle has to live up to the $100-million, seven-year contract he signed Friday with the Washington Redskins, a team that reverted to form by snagging the biggest name available with a blockbuster deal within hours of the midnight start of free agency.
''With the contract, it's going to be all on me,'' Haynesworth said. ''My goal is to be the best player on the field and to eventually get to that Hall of Fame status and be mentioned with Reggie White and Bruce Smith and all the greats.''
At least he can claim membership in a championship team - as in champions of the off-season. The Redskins also spent the wee hours re-signing cornerback DeAngelo Hall to a $54-million, six-year deal that includes $22.5 million guaranteed.
''We're not done yet,'' added coach Jim Zorn, who confirmed the team is talking to free-agent guard - and former Redskins draft pick - Derrick Dockery.
All this from a team that has laid off at least 30 people since the start of the year in two rounds of cutbacks. The Redskins are among an estimated 10 to 12 teams that have cut staff during the economic downturn.
But marquee free agents appear to be recession-proof. Haynesworth's guaranteed payout tops the $37 million the Atlanta Falcons gave Michael Vick in 2004. He'll receive $32 million of the guaranteed money in the next 13 months.
''I think this is similar to what baseball was,'' executive vice president for football operations Vinny Cerrato said. ''You saw early on, (Mark) Teixeira and CC Sabathia and then after that first wave - nothing. And I think it's going to be similar here (in the NFL). I think after the draft you'll see a lot of veteran guys still out there. There'll be no middle area. It's the top and then it's the bottom.''
Asked if he felt sheepish dishing out so much money to a football player during tough times, Cerrato said: ''I understand the economy and I watch it every day. We had a budget, and we owe it to the fans to improve the football team.''
Haynesworth said his reaction to the money was a loud and astounded ''What?'' when informed by his agent in a phone call at 3:45 a.m. ET.
''All the years of my mom making me run around the house when I was getting too big, waking me up at about six o'clock in the morning to get ready of the season, it guess it's a recouping or something like that,'' said Haynesworth, whose mother travelled with him to Washington for the news conference.
Meanwhile, the Redskins added another name to the unemployment rolls by cutting expensive, oft-injured cornerback Shawn Springs, deemed expendable after Hall was re-signed.
Still, the theme of the day was the Redskins were back as the first-day free-agent newsmakers. From Smith in 2000 to London Fletcher in 2007, Dan Snyder made his NFL name as the owner who always got the player he wanted, even if it meant overpaying for players who didn't pan out. Snyder's deep pockets have produced only one playoff win this decade.
Last year, the team was uncharacteristically quiet, making no major signings during the entire free-agency period. An 8-8 season with an aging roster - along with the fact that the Redskins have only four picks in upcoming draft - prompted the owner to revert to his old ways.
''I got caffeinated up because I knew that Mr. Snyder was going to be oh-so-ready,'' Zorn said. ''We had a big entourage last night at 12:01, and that phone started humming.''
Whatever the money, the Redskins get credit for targeting two deficiencies from last season: sacks and turnovers.
Haynesworth should help with the sacks. The lineman got to the quarterback a career-high 8 1/2 times last year, more than one-third of a Washington team total (24) that tied for 28th in the NFL. If nothing else, he will divert attention away from defensive ends Jason Taylor and Andre Carter, who managed 7 1/2 sacks between them in 2008.
Haynesworth, six-foot-six and 320 pounds, has 24 sacks in seven NFL seasons since the Titans drafted him in the first round out of the University of Tennessee in 2002. His possible downsides: He hasn't played a full season since his rookie year because of various injuries, he's been known to take plays off, and he's still living down a five-game suspension for swiping his cleated foot over Dallas centre Andre Gurode's face in 2006.
The suspension is the NFL's longest for an on-field act, and Haynesworth also was required to attend anger management sessions. Now, having signed with an NFC East team, Haynesworth will face Gurode twice a year.
''I started a new chapter in my life after my incident,'' Haynesworth said. ''It really tested my faith in myself. I had to look at myself and see if I wanted my career to go down the drain, and I wanted all of y'all to remember Albert Haynesworth as the player that kicked somebody in the head - or be remembered as a player that turned around, took his punches, did what he did, and stepped up and became a great player.''
Hall will be getting paid to get picks. His five interceptions for the season - three with Oakland, two with Washington - were three more than any other cornerback on the Redskins' roster. Washington had only 18 takeaways in 2008, tied for 28th in the league.
The 25-year-old cornerback also netted his second big payday in as many years. He was guaranteed about $24 million in a $70-million, seven-year contract he signed a year ago with Oakland, but he struggled to adjust to the Raiders' man-to-man defence and was waived after eight games.
The Redskins picked him up less than a week later, and he provided a needed boost to a secondary beset by injuries. He was also a model citizen, avoiding the outbursts that prompted the Atlanta Falcons to trade him to Oakland in 2008.
To fit Haynesworth and Hall under the salary cap, the Redskins spent this month renegotiating several contracts to clear money for the upcoming season. The team also saved money under the cap by releasing linebacker Marcus Washington last week. Then came an eight-hour session at Snyder's house the day before the start of free agency to work out all the possible scenarios.
''The bags under our eyes - and under Albert's eyes - are there for a reason,'' Zorn said.