Jets Need to Pay Leon Washington

Brian FitzsimmonsContributor IJuly 27, 2009

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 28:  Leon Washington #29 of The New York Jets scores a touchdown as Tyrone Culver #29 of The Miami Dolphins attempts the tackle during their game on December 28, 2008 at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)


The New York Jets and electric running back Leon Washington have been playing tug-of-war for too long now.


With training camp set to start on Friday in Cortland, New York, it’s imperative first-year head coach Rex Ryan has his most dynamic playmaker not only in attendance, but satisfied.


Cast in the shadows of Thomas Jones, Washington is asking for an extensive contact worth around $30 million, and could hold out until an agreement is reached.  His wishes are a bit drastic considering the 26-year-old has recorded just 1,451 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in three seasons as a part-time player.


However, according to Peter King of, the former Florida State standout could register up to 300 carries this season, which would easily surpass his career high of 151, set in his rookie year in 2006.


"He had six touchdowns on 73 carries last year.  That number has to go up—drastically. And it will,'' Ryan told King in a published report.


Washington appears ready to handle an increased workload, too.


"Talking to Rex Ryan and the coaches, they are going to try and expand my role; get me the ball more," Washington told the Associated Press.  "I am a competitor and I want to help the team win, so hopefully I get the ball more and put us in a position to win games."


Washington, who is scheduled to earn the minimum salary of $535,000 in the fourth and final year of his rookie deal, touched the ball 200 times—123 from scrimmage—last season en route to being selected as the AFC’s kick returner in the Pro Bowl.


"This is where I want to be," Washington told the AP.  "You look at my career—I believe that I did all the things I had to do on and off the field to have this contract extension."


Perhaps the numbers don’t suggest that, considering he’d be making significantly more money than Jones, who led the AFC in rushing yards last season.  There’s no doubting Washington’s potential, though, and that alone should have been enough for New York’s brain trust to extend the contract before this conflict began.


With Jones set to turn 31 on August 19, Washington represents a safety net for an already questionable Jets offense.


After all, he’s more likely than Jones to join rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez as the joint face of the franchise once the Jets move into a new, lavish stadium next year.


Also unhappy about his contract, Jones is entering the third year of a four-year, $20-million deal, and had missed two weeks of his team's workouts in the spring before deciding to show.  He is scheduled to make just $900,000 this campaign, despite coming off the best season of his nine-year career.


When it comes to prioritizing, general manager Mike Tannenbaum has an easy decision to make.  Would you rather extend the contract of a young, promising lightning bolt with enormous potential, or brush that problem aside and pony up for a worn, aging running back who has likely hit his ceiling?

Perhaps Tannenbaum has realized this already, since the New York Daily News is reporting Washington and the Jets want to reach an agreement by Friday.

Prior to last season, the San Diego Chargers made the mistake of putting all their eggs in the basket of the 30-year-old LaDainian Tomlinson, while letting an unhappy Michael Turner walk out the door.

Maybe Washington will never rush for 1,700 yards or become a finalist for the AP NFL MVP award like Turner did for the Atlanta Falcons last season, but it’s scary to think of letting a diamond in the rough escape.

The ball is in the Jets' court. It's time they convert this lay-up.