Jets cut bait, ship Washington to Seattle

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Leon Washington decided to spend Day 3 of the NFL draft on the high seas. He and former Jets teammate Chris Baker made a fishing date for Saturday afternoon off the coast of Long Island. By early afternoon, Washington's many fans were lamenting the one that got away.

Washington is headed to faraway waters -- specifically, the Pacific Northwest. In perhaps the most stunning move in a wild offseason, the Jets traded their popular all-purpose star to the Seahawks for the small price of a fifth-round pick.

Actually, it was Washington and a seventh-round pick for the fifth-rounder, which the Jets used to select Kentucky fullback John Conner.

"Honestly, I was stoked," Washington told the Seattle media in a conference call. "It was a great opportunity for me to get a change of scenery. ... This is a brand-new start for me."

When Washington reported to the Jets' offseason workouts eight days ago and signed his one-year tender ($1.75 million), it was widely assumed that he'd be with the Jets in 2010, rehabbing his surgically repaired broken leg. But the Jets' front office told him there was a chance he could be dealt, according to Washington.

"They told me there are no guarantees in this business," he said. "They told me the phone could possibly ring and there could be a possibility. I didn't expect it, but I knew it was a possibility."

That possibility grew larger as the draft progressed. When the Jets traded up Saturday in the fourth round to pick USC running back Joe McKnight, a bigger version of Washington, it became clear the Jets had something up their sleeve. A short time later, Washington was gone.

GM Mike Tannenbaum said the primary reason for trading Washington was his contract situation, claiming it would've been "very, very, very difficult" to sign him after the season. Obviously, his physical condition also factored into the decision. Washington claims he's on schedule on his rehab, but he didn't start running until about three weeks ago. Tannenbaum said it "would've been hard for Leon to be here by opening day," an indication the team was concerned about his leg.

Tannenbaum believes they can fill Washington's various roles with committee approach. McKnight can be a third-down back and return kickoffs, with first-round pick Kyle Wilson handling the punt-returning duties. They have also Jerricho Cotchery and Jim Leonhard as backup punt returners.

The Jets' new-look backfield includes Shonn Greene, LaDainian Tomlinson, McKnight and Conner, with Tony Richardson the incumbent at fullback. Mainstays Washington and Thomas Jones are gone.

"I'll never bet against Leon Washington," Tannenbaum said. "We just felt that managing the team, both short term and long term, this was really in the best interest of our team."

Washington's contract has been an issue for a year. He boycotted a few workouts last offseason, then played on the final year of his contract. He turned down at least $5 million on a long-term proposal. It was a gamble, and he got burned last October in Oakland, where he suffered a horrific leg injury -- a double open fracture.

This offseason, Washington irked Rex Ryan by skipping the voluntary workouts, opting to rehab his injury at a facility in Florida. But, at the end of the restricted-free agent signing period (April 15), Washington signed his tender and reported to workouts, vowing to be ready for training camp and the regular season.

Washington's agent, Alvin Keels, didn't return messages.

Saturday, before leaving for the fishing trip, Washington learned of the trade. He will be reunited with Baker, who signed with the Seahawks earlier in the offseason. How weird is that?

"I was like, 'Dude, we're teammates now,'" Washington said.

Washington is heading to another crowded backfield. The Seahawks traded for ex-Titan LenDale White, who played for Pete Carroll at USC. The Seahawks also have Julius Jones, the younger brother of Thomas Jones, a close friend of Washington.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.