Major News Break: Thomas Jones and Leon Washington Holding Out
It is only May 12, almost five months before the Jets kickoff the 2009 season in Houston Texas and already, the team has some major issues. No, it is not the impending quarterback battle between Kellen Clemens and Mark Sanchez, and, no, it is not the installation of Rex Ryan's complex 46 Defense. No, the problem is at one of the Jets strengths, the running game.
Both running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington were no shows at the Jets organized team activities Monday afternoon in Florham Park because of disputes over their contract status.
Jones, who led the AFC in rushing with 1,312 yards in 2008, skipped out on the Jets voluntary workouts in March, and there is reason to speculate that he could skip out on mandatory workouts next month if his agent Drew Rosenhaus and the Jets can't come to terms on a new deal. Currently, Jones is entering the third year of a four year $20 million contract, and apparently $5 million a year is not enough for him.
Meanwhile, Washington is entering the final year of his contract and is looking for a long term deal that could pay him as much as $6 million a season. According to the Newark Star Ledger, Washington is looking at other dynamic running backs, such as Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jaguars, who received a four year $32.8 million deal, and Chargers back-up running back Darren Sproles, who received a one year $6.621 million deal, as leverage in negotiations. Currently, the Jets are still in negotiations with Washington's agent, Alvin Keels, although nothing seems imminent.
This is a huge dilemma that the Jets can ill afford to mess up, especially with a new coaching staff entering its first year.
Eventually, Jets General Manager Mike Tannenbaum, who has been praised as a salary cap guru throughout his 13 year tenure with the franchise, and Head Coach Rex Ryan will have to make a really, really tough decision; truth is, the decision is pretty obvious.
Pay Leon Washington his money.
Washington is too special for the Jets to let him walk to someone else after this season. The guy is a two-time Pro Bowler and he is only 26 years old. He set a franchise record last year with 2,332 all-purpose yards and proved to be the Jets greatest offensive weapon whenever he touched the football. Throughout his first three seasons with the club, Washington has been reduced to kick and punt return duty because of his ability to race past on-coming special teams' defenders. In 2008 alone, Washington had 1,231 yards with one long 94 yard touchdown against the Patriots in Week 11.
One reason the Jets have not made a commitment to Washington as an every down back has more to do with his skinny 5'8", 202 pound frame. Most running backs are in the 220 range for weight, so there has been question whether Washington can take it, but it's worth the shot. Why? Because the Jets could have their version of Tiki Barber in Washington.
Barber was not the biggest running back in the NFL and lacked the kind of size required to be an every down back, weighing in at only 205 pounds. Yet Barber put up prolific numbers in the final five years of his career; 1,387 yards in 2002, 1,216 yards in 2003, 1,518 yards in 2004, 1,860 yards in 2005, and 1,660 yards in 2006. No one was more reliable during those years for the New York Giants than Barber, and right now, no one is more reliable to the Jets than Leon Washington. He is worth every penny of a contract that could pay him up to $6 million a year.
As for Jones, he is 31 years old, and as almost everyone knows, the skills of a running back tend to deteriorate after the age of 30. No doubt, Jones had the year of his life in 2008, but for a man who has logged in 132 games and 1,949 carries, it might be time to consider other options.
One of those options is the drafting of Iowa running back and Sicklerville native Shonn Greene. Greene rushed of 1,850 yards in his senior season with a school record 20 touchdowns to boot. Greene also led the Big Ten Conference in rushing yards per game, 152.9, and was the only Division I athlete to rush for 100 yards in all 13 games. Greene is supposed to be a between the tackles type of back, similar to Jones, and if he can develop into something, then the Jets can move on without Jones.
There have even been persistent rumors, started by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, that the Jets and Browns could make another big trade, this one involving a swap of Jones for talented wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Edwards would be a great addition to the Jets, considering he is 6'3," a tall receiver that Jets have not had since Keyshawn Johnson. However, Edwards is coming off a down year logging 873 yards receiving on 55 catches. In 2007, Edwards had a breakout year with 1,289 yards receiving for the Browns, and was a Pro Bowler. If the Jets can get a deal like that done, they have to pursue it further.
In addition, dealing with an agent like Rosenhaus can be tricky. Remember the Terrell Owens fiasco in Philadelphia? Rosenhaus likes to ruffle the feathers of teams he is dealing with, and the fact that he is trying to hold out a 31-year-old runningback who is making $5 million a year speaks volumes about Rosenhaus' intentions.
The Jets should stick to their convictions regarding Jones and Rosenhaus; eventually, Jones will show up to play, $10 million over two years is nothing to sneeze at, and he knows that the only way he will get the money is if he shows up to training camp and starts working out with his teammates.
But if the Jets really want to start looking to the future, they must give Washington a vote of confidence that he can be their every down back. The man deserves the opportunity; he has earned it in just three years.
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