FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets tried to make it sound like they didn't decide to trade Derrick Mason until Tuesday, when they received a phone call from the Houston Texans. That's not true. This wasn't a knee-jerk choice.
In fact, the Jets were actively shopping the veteran wide receiver last week, a high-ranking official from another team told ESPNNewYork.com. Rex Ryan wanted him out, and wanted him out ASAP. They claimed it had nothing to do with his attitude or his mouth, with GM Mike Tannenbaum insisting it was performance related.
This much is clear: The Jets decided last week to drop Mason from his role as the No. 3 receiver, and they came to a quick conclusion -- probably by his reaction to the move -- that he was going to be royal pain in the rear if they kept him around.
What matters now is the impact of the move, the message it sends to the team and, to a lesser degree, the outside world. Ryan, always known as the chummy player's coach, showed everybody -- mainly the underachievers in his own locker room -- he can be Mr. Tough Guy.
The players can believe what they want to believe, whether Mason was a locker-room poison or a diminished player. The point is, a player with 937 career receptions was sent packing only five games into the season, replaced by a fifth-round draft pick, Jeremy Kerley. It wasn't about money (they saved a modest $640,000) and it certainly wasn't a deal they couldn't refuse (a conditional seventh-round pick).
This was a Belichick-ian move -- cold and ruthless, but with a purpose.
This was about Ryan making a statement -- a bold-letter statement because it involved one of his "guys," a player he knew from his Baltimore days. Everybody around the team knew it was Ryan who recruited Mason in August to replace the popular Jerricho Cotchery, and now he was showing him the door with the team mired in a three-game losing streak.
Nothing rattles a losing locker room like a casualty, and this team needed a little shock treatment.
Maybe this is a new Ryan. Instead of applying oil to the squeaky wheel, massaging egos with his considerable people skills, he simply decided to get rid of the wheel. A 2-3 start, in a Super Bowl-or-bust season, can make a coach do drastic things.
"I look at it and say, 'Take care of your job, they're not opposed to cutting anybody,'" said safety Jim Leonhard, one of the most experienced Rex-ologists on the team. "To make a move like that, he must have felt something needed to be done."
Ryan mentioned Mason in his team meeting Wednesday morning, according to several players. It was brief. He announced the trade and told the team to give Mason, a 15-year veteran, his proper respect. That was it. There was no explanation.
No explanation was necessary. In situations like this, the players aren't entitled to a Power-Point presentation. The players play, the coaches coach and lay down the law.
After talking to several players, you got the feeling they weren't buying management's stance that Mason's performance had slipped. Some legitimately wondered if Mason's critical postgame comments recently in Baltimore factored into the decision. Others said Mason wasn't the only player underachieving.
"Is he the most glaring person or position on this team that wasn't producing?" guard Brandon Moore asked. "There are plenty of people; the blame goes around the board. In a sense, it's like blaming him for our 2-3 start."
Actually, this fell apart last week. The Jets decided to demote Mason, who was struggling to learn his plays. They wanted to make Kerley the slot receiver. Ryan had a "private conversation" with Mason, presumably to break the news. That apparently didn't go well. Mason was relegated to scout-team duty, which had to be a slap in the face.
Suddenly, Mason was on the trading block. It happened so fast, too fast to believe that off-the-field issues weren't involved.
In truth, he was a goner before Sunday, when a published report claimed Mason, Santonio Holmes and Plaxico Burress went to Ryan to complain about offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The Jets already had decided to move on.
"Suffice it to say, he just didn't play the level that he had hoped and we had hoped," said Tannenbaum, basically admitting that he screwed up by signing Mason in the first place.
There are some lessons to be learned here. Tannenbaum took three high-profile players, each of whom has been a No. 1 receiver, and tried to shoe-horn them into one unit. It didn't work, and they should've anticipated that because Mason was known as a pouter in Baltimore.
Ryan knew the background, but he figured he'd be able to get him to buy in. Hey, everybody wants to play for Rex, right? Well, not everybody.
The Jets also underestimated the value of chemistry. They parted ways with strong locker-room guys such as Jerricho Cotchery, Damien Woody, Tony Richardson and Shaun Ellis, and they're now seeing the effects of not having them around.
Look, there's risk involved. The Jets unloaded a proven veteran, a player they desperately coveted only two months ago. If a receiver gets hurt, they're in big-time trouble. That should tell you how much Ryan wanted Mason gone.