The Jets’ willingness to trade Sheldon Richardson for the better part of a year is sheer lunacy by an outfit that needs as much premium talent as it can get these days.
It makes little sense.
It’s downright absurd that an organization devoid of difference makers would be amenable to part with such a special talent, who practices hard during the week and plays harder on Sundays.
Richardson isn’t Muhammad Wilkerson, who team insiders say “takes a lot of plays off.”
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The consensus on One Jets Drive: Richardson eats, breathes and lives football. At 26, he’s only now entering the prime of his career.
There’s an important faction within the building that wants Richardson to be a part of the organization’s rebuilding process, but general manager Mike Maccagnan seriously entertained trade offers during the draft.
Sources say that teams tried to low-ball the Jets to land the former Pro Bowl defensive lineman. For the first time, Richardson revealed details of the trade talks this offseason that included suitors that wanted him to play for less than his guaranteed $ 8.1 million salary as part of a fifth-year option.
“It’s a business, bro,” Richardson told the Daily News during a lengthy and open discussion about his future. “There was one team that asked me to take a pay cut … and it was Seattle. And Washington too. There were a lot of offers. A lot of good offers. You’d be surprised.”
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It’s strange to think that the Jets would trade Richardson, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year and 2014 Pro Bowler, during the season or let him walk in free agency given that the organization is hoping to build a young core.
Team insiders expressed some level of concern about Richardson’s lax outlook on weight lifting sessions and his outspokenness about playing out of position in the past, but made it clear that it’s smart business to keep your best players. Richardson obviously is one of the team’s most talented players.
Richardson’s off-field transgressions (failed marijuana test and high-speed chase) have prompted some to suggest that getting rid of him would be addition by subtraction. That’s laughable.
Trading Richardson would be foolish. Trading Richardson for 50 cents on the dollar would be idiocy. Signing Richardson to a long-term deal after this season if he returns to Pro Bowl form makes the most sense regardless of the loaded defensive line that includes Williams and Wilkerson, who could be cut with minimal financial damage if he underperforms in 2017.
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Remember, the Jets won 10 games in 2015 partly because of their formidable defensive line.
“That’s their decision,” Richardson said of getting a lucrative long-term contract from the Jets after the season. “Would I pay me? I’d pay me … I would (keep Williams, Wilkerson and him), because you can save money in other places with a stout defensive line.”
Todd Bowles recently said that Richardson is “in a peaceful place” after the turbulence that defined parts of his past two seasons. Richardson is on the doorstep of landing a monster payday if he delivers in 2017, but insists that he doesn’t feel additional pressure to perform so he can cash in.
“I play football,” Richardson said. “Been playing it since I was five. No pressure at all … Cashing in means you’re almost done. I’m still grinding. Even if I do get a big deal, I’m still grinding. Some guys do throw the towel (after they get paid)… I’m not going to do that.”
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Richardson’s confidence hasn’t been shaken despite his poor statistical season (1 1/2 sacks, 62 tackles). For a variety of reasons, he knows he’s still a difference maker of the highest order no matter what the 2016 numbers said.
“Ask other offensive linemen,” Richardson said with a smile. “You know my opinion. In my opinion, I’m the best defensive lineman in the league. That’s my opinion. You can’t go draft a d-lineman and then ask him to play outside linebacker, middle linebacker all in the same season. It’s just don’t work like that.”
People at all levels of the organization will tell you that Richardson is one of the hardest workers on the field. Nobody in the building loves the game more than he does. He doesn’t need or want to prove anything. He didn’t want to prove anything coming out of Missouri four years ago, either.
“I ain’t got to prove sh–,” Richardson said. “I didn’t have to prove a damn thing. I knew I was cold. … I didn’t have to prove nothing.”
“Cold. Tight. Raw. Great. Dominant. Elite,” he continued. “What do you want me to say? I don’t want to toot my own horn. But I knew I was good coming out of college. I knew I was going to be a force to reckon with. Football ain’t changed for me. I learned a little bit more as far as the technique part and how offensive coordinators attack certain defenses. Looking at plays before they develop. I’ve been doing that since high school. Ain’t nothing changed for me. See ball. Hit ball.”
Anyone who believes that Richardson’s statistics told his story last season didn’t pay close enough attention. Richardson’s athleticism coupled with a stacked defensive line prompted Bowles to move him around in his defense. The versatile lineman played a little outside linebacker and even inside linebacker.
Defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers said the plan is to keep Richardson at his natural three-technique position (lining up on the outside shoulder of the guard) in 2017, which should cause a statistical spike. Rather than playing outside-in and funneling traffic back inside for his defensive line mates and linebackers to make tackles, Richardson will be playing inside-out again, shooting the gap and causing havoc.
“We’ll see, because it ain’t set in stone,” Richardson said of exclusively playing three-technique. “They want me to stay at three-technique, but it ain’t set in stone. That’s what they want to do. But what we got to do to win … You never know.”
No matter what happens, Richardson, who dropped 15 pounds this offseason, remains undaunted by the chatter that he might not finish the season here. He wants to be a part of the solution for this star-crossed franchise. He’ll do his part for as long as he can.
It would be an epic blunder to let him go.
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