<
>

Jets face a quandary with Sheldon Richardson: There's no easy way out

The most compelling non-quarterback storyline in the coming weeks and months will be the future of defensive end Sheldon Richardson, a onetime rising star who has been on the trading block so long that it has become his legal address.

The New York Jets, who started shopping him last fall before the midseason trading deadline, found no takers during the draft. But instead of unplugging his phone and committing to Richardson for 2017, general manager Mike Maccagnan made it clear he's still open to moving him.

"There's a whole offseason ahead of us," he said. "We'll see how it unfolds going forward."

This could get messy.

Clearly, Richardson isn't part of the team's long-term plan. He's regarded as an enigma, a talented headache who has only one year left on his contract. The Jets are trying to clean up the locker room and they evidently don't want him to be part of it. That they're still attempting to make a trade, post-draft, shows they're willing to play the "addition-by-subtraction" card. The best they can get now is a player in return or a 2018 draft pick.

A similar situation played out two years ago, when the Jets shopped Muhammad Wilkerson during the draft. But as soon as it was over, Maccagnan removed the "For Sale" sign, saying he had no plans to trade him. He hasn't done that with Richardson, a headstrong personality who won't be happy about being in limbo. You'd like to think he'll be highly motivated in a contract year, but he also knows his salary ($8.1 million) is fully guaranteed.

The Jets have boxed themselves into a tough situation. Basically, they have three options:

  • Trade him: Good luck. It's hard to find a team willing to take on a one-year, $8.1 million rental. Sure, Richardson could renegotiate the contract to facilitate a trade, but where's the motivation to take a pay cut? It would be a different story if the money weren't guaranteed, but he's entitled to the dough, no matter what. Another hurdle: His market value, which wasn't high anyway, has plummeted because everybody knows the Jets are trying to get rid of him. Can you say, "Fire sale?"

  • Cut him: The Jets would get laughed at. The time to cut Richardson was before March 9, when his salary became fully guaranteed. Imagine telling owner Woody Johnson he has to pay big money for a player not to be on his team when they could've cut him for free in March. If they assumed they'd be able to deal him and his hefty salary before the draft, they miscalculated.

  • Keep him: They'd get a good player for the season (if they can figure out how to use him), and they'd be in position collect a 2019 compensatory draft pick -- assuming he bolts as a free agent and commands a lucrative deal on the open market. On paper, this sounds like the best option, but what if he becomes a distraction? What if he suffers a serious injury in an offseason practice? That would kill any chance of a trade.

Yep, it's a tricky spot for the Jets. They apparently don't want him, but there's no easy exit plan.