Wednesday, March 4, 2009

New S Leonhard should free Leon Washington more offensively

Jim Leonhard and Lito Sheppard each had their conference calls lately. Sheppard talked about how change would be good for him, and Leonhard had a few quotes about what to expect from Rex Ryan's defense (very similar material to Scott in that sense, just without the mentions of violence). He also said he left money on the table from Denver, but “regardless of the money situation, the Jets were the place to be."

However, Leonhard's presence provides an interesting ripple in that he will likely be the new punt returner. Ryan has been quoted as saying that Leonhard can catch the ball "in a hurricane," and the sure-handed safety averaged 11.6 yards per return with a long of 46 yards on 20 chances.

As dynamic as Leon Washington was offensively and on kick returns, he is not a natural punt returner. He averaged 10.4 yards per return last year, his career high, on 29 punt returns.

29 less touches on special teams should free him up to contribute even more on offense. It's no secret that the Jets didn't use Washington, their most dynamic offensive player, enough offensively last year. People wondering who will replace Laveranues Coles on offense have part of their answer right there: Washington.

It's going to take a collaborative effort to replace Coles. The free agent market isn't strong. The best receiver available in free agency is, well, Coles himself. #87 hasn't received the offers he wanted in free agency and may regret leaving $6 million on the table. I haven't heard the Jets make a play at him, but the longer he lingers in free agency, the better the chance the Jets may swoop in.

There are a couple of smaller names out there, but Drew Bennett, Hank Baskett, Ronald Curry, and Joey Galloway don't scare people. Marvin Harrison? Devery Henderson? Justin McCareins? Just kidding about that last one.

Chances are the Jets will go into camp with Jerricho Cotchery, Chansi Stuckey, David Clowney, Brad Smith, and Marcus Henry at receiver. They may sign a lower-tier free agent like Kelley Washington. They'll probably grab a receiver somewhere in the draft. If they choose one in round one, it would either be Maryland's Darius Heyward-Bey, North Carolina's Hakeem Nicks, or maybe Missouri's Jeremy Maclin. The 2nd round has some intriguing prospects, too.

But none will have the impact Coles had. Clearly, Ryan wants a run-first offense, especially with Brett Ratliff and Kellen Clemens likely battling for the starting quarterback job. Neither one has any productive experience in the NFL. At the same time, Thomas Jones just led the AFC in rushing, and Washington is as good a home run hitter as their is in the league.

Washington should have gotten more touches last year, but now that his punt return duties are probably gone, he will certainly get many more chances to run and catch the ball. If he doesn't get 130 carries or more this year, I would be very surprised.

UPDATE (4:30 PM): The Bengals have signed Laveranues Coles. 4 years, $28 million dollars are the raw numbers, but no word on how much is guaranteed as of now. At least he's a Bengal. I couldn't deal with rooting against Pennington and Coles twice each a year.