Heir Jordan Seems Unlikely

By Glenn Bernardi
Jets Fan Correspondent
February 24th, 2005
Can the Jets keep this man in green? (Jets Photo)
Can the Jets keep this man in green? (Jets Photo)
He should have been the heir to the throne, the man who took the torch from Curtis Martin and ran with it, but itís looking more and more like LaMont Jordan has played his last down of football for the New York Jets.

On the surface it may appear as if the Jets are losing a backup runningback, just another spare part, but in this case the surface view couldnít possibly be further from the truth. What the Jets are losing here, should they lose him, is a bona fide franchise runningback in every sense of the phrase. This player is a 5í 10Ē, 230 pound, twenty-six year old wrecking machine with speed. But itís worse than that. This world is filled with men of similar dimensions, power, and speed. Heck, there is no doubt that a few running backs right now who are riding an NFL bench or sitting on a teamís practice squads are guys who possess that same impressive package, yet most of them will never amount to much of anything. What makes Jordan special is that rare combination of a great package and awesome ability.

Thereís an old saying in football and it goes like this, ďGreat running-backs are born and not madeĒ.

This is why franchise runningbacks come in many shapes and sizes, because the special ones just have the knack.

This also explains why some runningbacks look like Earl Campbell and run like Naomi Campbell. They may have the look, but donít have the instincts. They may possess enough skills or physicality to make a name for themselves in college, but the NFL is where you separate the naturals from the competent fakes.

Thereís one more thing you should know which further proves that old saying. Consider every franchise runningback you have ever seen and ask yourself how many of those men did not serve notice or at least show flashes of brilliance from almost the moment they stepped foot into the league? I can assure you, there arenít many.

Thatís the thing about the natural runningbacks, with few exceptions they can transfer it from college to the NFL in a virtual eye-blink. That is why I have always contended that you can discern a running-back bust faster than any other position player in the NFL, because if they fail to show even a glimpse of being special very early on, chances are they never will. Or to put it another way, if some hotshot running-back who was drafted in the first round comes into the league and does nothing to distinguish himself as a rookie, showing not even flashes of brilliance early on, you wonít go broke betting against him ever becoming anything special. Think of former Bear Rashaan Salaam or Cincinnatiís Ki-Jana Carter; two guys who came out of college with a supposed pedigree and amounted to nothing in the NFL. Not counting kickers and punters there is only one position you can say that about in football, and that position is running-back. All other position players can start slow and then catch fire after being groomed.

But why is this true? Great running-backs are born and not made.

This brings us back to LaMont Jordan. Here is a young man who has had only one great misfortune since entering the NFL, and through no fault of his own. He was drafted by a team that already had an established hall of fame runningback. And thatís what makes it tricky when you try to evaluate Jordan, because he has never had the opportunity to carry the load. Itís tricky, but not impossible.

First you must use his current body of work, however small that may be. Hereís what we know for certain Ö During his four years with the Jets behind Curtis Martin, Jordan has accumulated 262 carries for 1277 yards and a 4.9 yards per carry average. By contrast, and I do this not to diminish Martin but precisely because Martin is a certain Hall of Famer, CuMart has never averaged more than 4.6 yards per carry for a single season during his long and illustrious career. His career average is 4.1 YPC and if you research some of the greatest running-backs who ever lived you will find that 4.9 stacks up very well with the all-time greats. Of course this is not to suggest that Jordan is an all-time great or even close, but that 4.9 is still a mighty big number when placed in historical context.

Granted, 262 carries is a small sample, but it is not a miniscule. Itís around 60 carries shy of a 16 game season for most running-backs, so while small it is certainly worth noting.

There is also the argument which says Jordan mostly carried the ball in the second half of games and when defenses were worn down. I will admit there is some merit to this argument, but even if you were to slice his 4.9 to 4.1 over the course of sixteen games and as the main man lugging the football, it would still equal the career average of our very own Hall of Fame lock

Moving on, Iím glad we got the numbers out of the way because Iím not much of a numbers guy myself. If not for the sake of this column I would not even have taken a glance at the numbers. At the risk of sounding arrogant, the truth is that I have always had more faith in my own eye than anything I can take off the stat sheet. So hereís what I have seen from Jordan, for whatever itís worth Ö everything I have seen from this beast spells franchise running-back. I see power, I see speed, I see vision, and I see the knack.

Now if you want me to explain what the knack looks like I canít do that for you. You either know it when you see it or you donít. I am not being flippant and I am not cocky. I am not placing myself above any other fan. I actually despise making a statement like the one I made here because even creating the appearance of arrogance makes me want to cringe, but I cannot sacrifice the truth just to come-off as humble. I can talk about speed, vision, power, and many of the attributes that make up a franchise running-back, but I can be no more successful in describing what the knack looks like than describing what a sweet swing looks like in baseball. You either know it when you see it or you donít.

It is the opinion of this fan, who has been studying running-backs for close to thirty years and possess a pretty fair track record for spotting the good ones and not so good ones rather quickly, and who once labeled Blair Thomas and Ron Dayne as busts during their rookie seasons, that LaMont Jordan does indeed possess that knack which is apparent to this observer in all of the good ones. Jordan is not a competent fake, but is instead one of the naturals. It only makes it tougher to swallow, should we lose this player, that he is a twenty-six year old natural who comes in an awesome package.

It is also my opinion that the New York Jets should have moved heaven and earth to keep this player, because franchise running-backs who come in that kind of package are special players who are not easily replaced, and because history has not been kind to thirty-two year old running-backs which is what Curtis Martin will be in 2005.

I should note here that Curtis Martin is one of my favorite players. If he never played another down of football he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer in my view, and having said that, heís an even better human-being than he is a football player.

I have not come to disparage Curtis Martin. If you donít admire Martin as both a football player and a man there is something terribly wrong with you. But I have seen too many great runningbacks begin to fade before their 32nd birthday not to realize that even Martin canít elude father-time forever. Of course the one saving grace is that Martin is coming off a rushing title {1,697 yards rushing} at the age of thirty-one, where he also achieved his career high of 4.6 yards per carry, so if any man can continue to defy all football logic it is this amazing individual. But it sure would have been nice to have LaMont Jordan around, just in case.

I must admit that it is more than a little disheartening to see how other teams with two key ďfree agents too beĒ scrambled at the deadline to keep their guys, and then to witness our failure to do the same. Upon seasons end I was certain the Jets would re-sign John Abraham prior to the deadline and then use the tag on Jordan. I virtually assured a number of Jet fans this would happen and I even staked my reputation on it. I have since watched the Colts, Raiders, Seahawks and others employ the exact same strategy I suggested for the Jets, as a means towards retaining their two key free agents too be. The Raiders re-signed Jerry Porter at the deadline and thus had the tag available for Charles Woodson. The Colts re-signed Ryan Diem at the deadline and thus had the tag available for Edgerrin James. The Seahawks re-signed Matt Hasselbeck at the deadline and thus had the tag available for Shaun Alexander. etc. etc.

This is what I had advocated for the Jets Ö exact same strategy Ö re-sign John Abraham prior to the deadline and thus have the tag available for LaMont Jordan.

I have heard many times that to tag Jordan would be ridiculous. Logic being, you cannot pay a backup running-back the amount of money one would need to pay a franchise tagged player. Well first off I take issue with any attempt to label this player a backup running-back if one fails to acknowledge that he also looks like a franchise running-back waiting to happen, but that aside Ö

I beg to differ for two reasons:

1. The tag is often used only as a tool towards maintaining exclusive rights to a particular player, eliminating all competition for his services, at which point you can immediately get to work on a long-term deal with said player. And if you look at the history of the franchise tag, this is often how it works out in the end.

2. Should you encounter any serious resistance from the player or his agent towards working on a long-term deal, you maintain the option of a tag-and-trade and thus receive something of value (draft pick or player) for the same player you are now losing with nothing to show for it.

It sure would have been nice to keep Jordan for the reasons stated above. Just to know it would be a smooth transition from one franchise running-back to the next. Just to know we were covered at running-back well into the foreseeable future. Just to know we were protected against injury or the decline of Curtis Martin. Just to know we had ďHeir JordanĒ waiting in the wings. Sure would have been nice, but alas that seems highly unlikely now, so all we have left is to hope that Curtis Martin can continue to elude father-time, and to hope that Terry Bradway can uncover another gem in the draft.

Did I hear someone say Ryan Moats, or was that Vernand Morency?

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