FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- In Sheldon Richardson's mind, where thoughts of self-importance race at 143 mph, he expects to have a bounce-back season because ... wait for the reasons ...
1. Brandon Marshall is gone.
2. He hopes to return to his natural position on the defensive line, the 3-technique tackle.
3. It's a contract year.
The first two are reaches. Let's start with the Marshall situation.
First of all, Richardson's criticism Tuesday of his former New York Jets teammate was unfortunate because all he did was put his toxic relationship with Marshall back in the headlines, dredging up bad memories from last season. Coach Todd Bowles, who is trying to rebuild the locker-room culture, couldn't have been pleased with Richardson's "15 reasons" shot at Marshall. It was a setback for the team and for Richardson, who still hasn't matured into a team leader. It's one of the reasons why the Jets are trying to trade the 26-year-old.
Believe me, Richardson wasn't the only player chafed by Marshall, but it doesn't say much for his mental toughness if he let the antics of one guy drive him to distraction. It smells like an excuse. You can't expect all 53 players in the locker room to be BFFs, but they should be able to overcome petty feuds.
The bigger issue, at least from a football standpoint, is how Richardson will be deployed. There's a false narrative, some of it perpetrated by the team, that his production suffered because he was forced to play out of position at linebacker.
Fueling that notion, defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers strongly suggested this week that Richardson's days at linebacker are over, adding, "Really, at the end of the day, he’s a true 3-technique -- and that’s where he needs to play." The 3-technique lines up on the outside shoulder of a guard, the position Warren Sapp made famous.
Bowles painted a different picture of Richardson's role, saying, "He played 3-technique last year. He didn’t play outside linebacker for two years. He played his position last year."
So which is it?
Richardson played 618 of his 736 total snaps (84 percent) as a defensive lineman in 2016, logging only 87 snaps (12 percent) as a linebacker, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. Basically, he averaged six plays a game at linebacker, down from 17 snaps in 2015.
In other words, he can't blame his lack of production last season (1.5 sacks) on a radical position switch, although he seems to think that was the case.
"I haven't played [the 3-technique] for a whole year since I went to the Pro Bowl, so just put a light on that," he said, referring to his eight-sack season in 2014.
Unfortunately, we can't track how many times he lined up as a 3-technique, but the main takeaway is that he was a lineman, not a linebacker, often lining up in an interior position. You can see there isn't a huge disparity in his linebacker snaps from 2014 (Rex Ryan's defense) and last season. The outlier is 2015, when he was used fairly extensively by Rodgers as an outside linebacker late in the season.
As for the contract, Richardson will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017 season, and it would be an upset if the Jets invest long-term money in him. They recognize his talent, but there's too much off-the-field baggage (two suspensions) and not enough of a winning attitude. They've shopped him to teams such as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Seattle Seahawks and Indianapolis Colts, but haven't found a taker.
"This guy -- I shouldn’t say [he has] a chip on his shoulder -- I think he kind of has something to prove," Rodgers said, perhaps trying to light a motivational fire.
When that remark was relayed to Richardson, he shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm proven, honestly," he said. "I just have to get more stats. It's my contract year."