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LaMont's Lament: Pay Me And Play Me Or Trade Me!

By Matthew Bitonti
Jets Insider.com Staff Writer
May 6th, 2004
LaMont Jordan: A Jet in a tough spot.
LaMont Jordan: A Jet in a tough spot.
“I know you want to leave me,
but I refuse to let you go.”

– The Temptations

2001 turned out to a very good year to draft a running back into the NFL. After Ladanian Tomlinson (SD, 5th overall), Duece McCalister (NO, 23rd overall), Michael Bennett (MIN, 27th overall), and Anthony Thomas (CHI, 38th overall) were selected, Jets GM Terry Bradway scooped up the dynamic Lamont Jordan with the 49th pick. Lamont was lauded as a top running back coming out of Maryland, where he ran for over 4,000 yards from scrimmage and displayed power, quickness and elusiveness - the total package. While Jordan has since flashed his talent on several occasions, including 102 yards and 2 TD’s in the 2002 playoffs versus the Colts, he has for the most part been forced to ride the pine behind the pain tolerating institution that is Curtis Martin. Much like a hot-rod that one keeps in the garage most of the year only to drive on sunny weekends, Lamont is for the most part in mint condition but accumulating dust.

Recently, Jordan and his agent have presented the Jets with what amounts to an ultimatum: commit long term to us financially (at starting rates, something the Jets clearly cannot do), give him the ball over Curtis, or trade him. Not clear is the implied “or else” but usually it means hold out of camp and regular season.

Unfortunately for Mr. Jordan and his agent, the best move for the Jets make is to take a page out of the Chargers book of negotiation like they did with Eli Manning and call the player’s bluff. In fact, news surfacing today is that the Jets are doing just that. Bradway confirmed that the Jets are not trading Jordan are they are also incensed that his agent is playing this in the media. Jordan may have a legitimate complaint but he’s missing one important ingredient to get what he wants. It’s called LEVERAGE.

Some fans may see this situation as direct evidence of head coaching incompetence. Jordan has been more explosive than Curtis at times and thus maybe he should have been played at least when the superstar fighting two foot sprains in 2002. Why didn’t Edwards play the youth? 2002 ended with Curtis limping to his 1057 yards to keep his streak of consecutive thousand-yard regular seasons alive while Jordan took over afterward, running all over the Colts in the playoffs. However, upon closer examination, the decision to play Jordan was never really Edwards’ decision to make from the beginning. This is a complex situation and must be laid out in full.

Jordan’s selection came shortly after an unstable juncture for the New York Jets as a franchise. The previous long time owner Leon Hess, passed away and the Jets were acquired in February of 2000 by Robert Wood (Woody) Johnson III. Bill Parcells was semi-retired and Al Groh was the new head coach.

One of the prime assets of the organization at the time (and still is today) was RB Curtis Martin. If keeping his current rushing pace up (without injury) CuMart will break Emmitt Smith’s all-time record in early 2008. The press frenzy would be astounding if such a thing happened in New York. That record plus a ring would surely put Martin in Canton, as a member of the New York Jets. That coincidentally is the same year as the Jets’ lease is up in the Meadowlands. Johnson owns a lot of West Side property, where they are trying to build the new Jets Stadium. With the new home, the record, the possible hall-of-famer, all of that together and the franchise value increases all around.

As a billionaire, Johnson plays the long bet as much as he plays the short and invested long term in Martin during the summer of 2002. It was at that point Lamont Jordan lost all leverage with the Jets. Curtis is making rock-star money and is “the” player on the Jets. If he were released the cap hit would be tremendous and as a franchise it would be unacceptable to sit Curtis on Sunday and pay him top dollar every week.

So, back to the present situation. The team can’t pay Lamont what he’s worth, and due to the all-time rushing record and consecutive 1000 yard season streak, he won’t play over Curtis to accumulate the stats he will need for his second contract (traditionally a player’s biggest contract, as he is in his prime). The third option, to trade Lamont before his contract expires in a year was something the Jets pretty openly pursued at this year’s draft. Finding no offer better than Oakland’s 3rd round selection, the Jets held onto Lamont, a move this write applauds. Furthermore, there is also the issue of the Jets depth at RB. Given, Martin is never injured but if he is, who will be the Jets feature back? Little John Flowers? 7th round rookie Derrick Ward? It’s scary.

Contrary to popular belief, Al Davis is no fool, and he’s also a bitter conference rival. If the Jets wanted to trade Lamont, they would be smartest to do it to a team out of conference. In light of Terry’s recent heist of WR Justin McCareins from the Titans (Tennessee drafted DE Travis Leboy), it would have been tempting the football gods to trade a possible stud running back for a third round selection. Jordan’s rookie contract makes him one of the NFL’s few attractive tradable commodities, at any position. The salary-cap restricts trades of high-bonus players, and as a result, blockbuster style deals are few and far between.

Jordan will be a player in this league. He’s got excellent talent and due to the great class of 2001, his low miles, is worth at least a 2nd round selection. He’s got fantastic potential, and the fumbles that critics site were due to his injured arm/wrists (two consecutive injuries in two years), direct result of Jordan’s collisions lead blocking on kickoff returns. He got those injuries being a team player. He’s been silent backup to Curtis Martin for three years.

As Jordan will have been in the league four seasons he won’t be eligible for a restricted deal. With Chad Pennington, John Abraham and Shaun Ellis coming up for contract renewals, the franchise tag is unlikely. Ironically, the only way he can really remain a Jet in 2005 is if Curtis Martin fails in 2004.

As condition of his restructure, Martin carries an insurance policy against career-ending injury and the beneficiary is the Jets. This clause is one of Assistant GM Mike Tannenbaum’s masterstrokes. Should Martin suffer a career ending injury the insurance money would be added back to the cap, and the Jets would be free and clear to give Jordan the money he deserves. Although many believe Coach Edwards’ recent comments about running Curtis in preseason were in fact to get him in rhythm for the year, the savvy observer knows better.

Where does this leave the Jets and Jordan? He’s a great player to have on the roster and unless someone out there is willing to pony up a 2nd round pick or better, there he shall remain. Bradway is erring on the side of caution and it’s the right move. With his luck, the year they trade Jordan will be the year they need him. It is possible that if running backs like Ward or BJ Askew prove capable runners this preseason, and/or an NFC contender loses their back for the year before the trading deadline, a deal could be put together. However, forced to predict an outcome to this affair, I see the same outcome for Jordan as previous years – some cheap talk from the Coaches regarding his involvement in the game but for the Jets its sixteen weeks of the Curtis Martin show. Money talks and in 2005 Lamont walks.

Bottom line is that anything can happen when it comes to the Jets and player personnel; so stay tuned to JetsInsider.com for the real news as it develops.

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