The New York Jets shouldn’t trade defensive end Sheldon Richardson due to his potential to be developed into a cornerstone on defense.
The popular thought – or at least the most often repeated proposition – as we close in on next week’s 2017 NFL Draft is to dispense with Sheldon Richardson, the 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and a 2014 Pro Bowler, for compensation well below his original draft position.
Even for a team in rebuilding mode, there are more reasons to keep Richardson for the final year of his five-year contract than to treat him as an easily replaceable piece that Jets’ beat writers insist would net no more than a third-round pick.
Sure, Richardson was fined over $8K for mixing it up with a Green Bay Packer in the second game of 2014. Yes, the league suspended him for the opening four games of the 2015 regular season for use of marijuana. Then, he had an embarrassing reckless-driving run-in with the law that endangered a young passenger in his speeding car during the 2014 offseason – and that culminated in a one-game suspension. Last year, he (and Muhammad Wilkerson) missed a team meeting, which forced head coach Todd Bowles to bench him for the first half of a game.
It’s not a pretty picture, however, if you take a closer look…
The Jets’ second 2013 first round pick (No. 13 overall), Richardson possesses too much talent to be sent elsewhere for that third-round college pick. Richardson is a defensive game-plan wrecker, a run stuffer and unusually gifted pass rusher from the defensive tackle position. He proved himself to be all of those sparkling elements in 2014.
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A third rounder for that kind of talent? ONLY if he is the more of a disruptive force inside the Jets clubhouse than on the field.
We, on the outside, don’t know that to be the case. Richardson has not been an angel by a long shot and yet Bowles has pretty steadfastly defended him. His outrageous 140-mph speeding escapade resulted in a reckless driving conviction, a finding that he resisted arrest, and sentencing that encompassed two-year’s probation, 100 hours of community service and a $1,050 fine.
It is hard to imagine that Richardson failed to take this multi-count punishment as a wake-up call and a future warning that his behavior had better toe the line. He knows that the NFL would step in if he got out of line again.
I like to believe that Richardson, from a broken family and now 26 years old, may be growing up. If the Jets can get past the car incident, I think that Richardson’s other infractions are comparatively and relatively minor.
Reasons to give him another chance
I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt in consideration of:
• Richardson’s standup locker room presence. He has become a fixture following games, consistently facing reporters after the few good Jets’ team performances and a load of horrid ones. He’s admitted to his faults and been continually peppered with questions about things that are not his responsibility (i.e., the behavior and performance of teammates). He has oh-so-carefully avoided taking the bait. It’s classic good teammate behavior. I want to believe that his best days are ahead of him – and the Jets should reap those benefits, possibly in a final campaign as a Jet. One other point about his value: given the violence in pro football and the constant threat of injury to all the players on the field, who is to say that an injury to another Jets’ defensive lineman wouldn’t immediately transform Richardson into an even more important cog in the year’s ahead?
• Richardson’s unequivocal talent cannot be overlooked nor ignored. There is almost no aspect of defensive line play that he can’t handle. At defensive tackle, he can do it all like few others in the game. He has the skill level to thrive at defensive end; he may be better suited to play there. Although I have doubts about him dropping back in pass coverage, Richardson has impressed Jets defensive assistants that he can do a serviceable job there, too.
• Richardson’s first-round skill level demands first-round compensation (or as close to it as is possible) in a trade. If that isn’t dangled, bring him to training camp, make it clear to him that he is being counted on to become one of the team’s vocal leaders, insert him in the defensive front four, keep him at one position as much as the Jets can and turn him loose.
• If the Jets suffer through the kind of nauseating 2017 season many of us fear, Richardson’s good play at year’s end would reportedly reap the Jets, at a minimum, the identical third-round draft pick in free agent compensation that they can supposedly grab now. As in 2016, the Jets could make him available if he excels – and his mid-season worth might gain a No. 1 or No. 2 from a contender.
So, there is no rush. If Richardson was a major distraction, the case for a deal would be more compelling. Trade Richardson only if the price is right – and it’s not where it needs to be, yet.