Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett poses after one of his three sacks of Titans quarterback Vince Young last weekend in Tennessee.
Perhaps Darnell Dockett is playing better than he ever has, wanting to help drive the Cardinals toward another Super Bowl appearance or reach another Pro Bowl.
As motivations go, however, the defensive lineman doesn't hide from the blunt truth.
"I'm just trying to be better than Albert Haynesworth," Dockett said.
It's odd in a way, listening to Dockett bring up a player with whom he doesn't really have a relationship or doesn't play against. But it makes so much sense in Dockett's world, where the name of the Redskins' star is dropped – often with a tinge of pointed humor – without a second thought.
"He's the defensive tackle everyone talks about that gets $100 million for the things he's doing," Dockett said, "so I figure, 'Do it like him or do it better.' "
It comes down to money for Dockett, who has stumped often for a new contract for more than a year despite signing a five-year extension that just kicked in at the beginning of the 2007 season. Yet his quest for a new deal hasn't turned Dockett sour – at least not in-season – and is mostly white noise in the background of his best year.
Dockett's three sacks in Tennessee last week tied the career-high he set against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. He has sacks in four straight games, and his total of seven this year is tops among NFL defensive tackles. He also has 46 tackles – a good number for his position – and 12 tackles for loss, already a career-high with five games remaining.
"Honestly, I could give a damn about sacks," Dockett said. "I just want to show up in the game, be disruptive, keep guys off the linebackers, make tackles for loss, be that guy on the defense you've got to watch."
It has become clear he's become that watch-worthy defender, at least according to the coaches the Cardinals have come up against.
"I'll tell you what, Dockett's the best player I've seen on film this year," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said prior to the two teams' meeting in October.
"You better pay attention to where he's at," Vikings coach Brad Childress said.
Dockett revels in that attention. He'd prefer to avoid the double-team blocks that come with it – he said those have lessened of late, and the Cardinals do their best to move Dockett around along the line to improve his matchups – but he does like getting noticed.
After the Titans game, Tennessee defensive end Jevon Kearse told Dockett that one of the Tennessee defensive coaches had seen video of Dockett and mentioned, "Man, I'd love to have him."
"I was like, 'For real?' " Dockett said. "Then I started thinking, 'They used to have Albert Haynesworth here."
And for Dockett, the focus becomes clear once again.
The free-agent contract for Haynesworth, signed at the end of February, called for $40-plus million in guarantees, with $32 million of that reportedly to be paid out in the first 13 months of the deal. Dockett's current deal isn't set to expire until after the 2011 season, with his salaries at $3.5 million this year, $3.75 million in 2010 and $4 million in 2011.
Hearing that Dockett likes to invoke the name of Haynesworth brings a chuckle to general manager Rod Graves, who not only praised Dockett's play but also the way he hasn't let money concerns change him on or off the field.
"Darnell has certainly taken the opportunity to let us all know his contract is an issue with him," Graves said. "But we are excited with the way he has played, and I have to say I am really pleased with the way he has handled himself this season.
"He has emerged as a leader for this football team. Winning is important to him, I think the leadership aspect is important to him, he's a team captain, and I think he has fit his role well. I am proud of the fact he is one of our core players."
Dockett's pass rushing skills increase in importance this weekend against Minnesota, but in a nationally televised game, Dockett usually plays at his highest level. The Cardinals could use Dockett adding to his sack total, one better than Minnesota's Kevin Williams, coincidentally one of the tackles ahead of Dockett in the current Pro Bowl voting.
Haynesworth, by the way, is one of the three players – with Williams and fellow Vikings defensive tackle Pat Williams – ahead of Dockett in the Pro Bowl race. Haynesworth has been credited with 27 tackles and three sacks this season.
"(The Pro Bowl) is all politics," Dockett said. "Hey, if I don't go this year…"
Dockett pauses, but only briefly.
"As long as I did it better than Albert Haynesworth."
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