The storyline surrounding Sheldon Richardson is complicated, intriguing, and frustrating all in one. It’s a tangled web of many possibilities for Richardson and for the future of the Jets. Let’s take a look at where this could lead for both parties involved.
Before getting into possibilities, let’s start off with what we know. Richardson is entering a contract year and he has a great deal of incentive to play well this season. He’s also coming off multiple of suspensions from the NFL, leading many to believe he’s only one strike away from a full one year suspension. On top of all that, amongst Mo Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, he’s one of three defensive ends on the Jets that has the potential to be great. So this upcoming season is not just important for the future of the Jets, its probably the most important season in Sheldon Richardson’s career so far.
What if Sheldon has a bad or decent year?
Richardson having a poor 2017 season hurts both him and Jets. The Jets already gave Mo Wilkerson a new contract, and cannot allocate an additional big contract to the defensive line before Leonard Williams. So, a subpar or unimpressive year from Richardson would lead to the end many already envisioned: the Jets letting Richardson walk. The key here is that the Jets can’t be the reason Richardson underperforms. Not giving him a chance to work himself into more playing time (maybe even ahead of Wilkerson), would be a waste. Ruining the opportunity to make him attractive to other teams in a trade would be foolish. It’s better for the Jets to see what they have in Richardson where he’s most comfortable. If he still has a disappointing season, then they have their answer.
If the Jets do end up letting him walk, they can hope for a compensatory draft pick. However, chances are they won’t get a third round pick like they did when Damon Harrison signed with the Giants, particularly if Richardson has a down year. So in the end it would be the Jets, losing a former first round pick in free agency, and gaining maybe a 5th or 6th round draft pick in return. But its also possible the Jets don’t get a pick at all for losing Richardson. Especially because of how active they’ll need to be in free agency.
What if Sheldon plays well?
Its hard to say if we really know what Richardson is capable because we’ve seen him so many times played out of position, and away from his strengths. We all know what we saw from Richardson that won him rookie of the year in his first season, though. Now, after an offseason of peace and encouraging form in training camp, we may get to see Richardson at top form. When he is on, he is dominant.
If Richardson can play up or near a Pro-Bowl caliber season, both he and the Jets can benefit. Chances are likely the teams may just start calling again if he can not just flash greatness but be consistent. Regardless of how many “strikes” he may have left, teams that contending will understand the unique opportunity to bring in a player like Richardson in the middle of the season. Whether its to cover for an injured player or just to upgrade along the defensive line, Richardson would be a solid pick up if he’s playing at his best.
Despite how much cap room the Jets will have next season, even if Richardson plays out of his mind, there’s still very little chance they retain him long term. Leonard Williams is going to have a massive extension in the future. Quincy Enunwa needs to get paid this year. In addition, the Jets need to be active in free agency next season, with players available at positions of need for the team. The only real possibility would be if the Jets decided to franchise tag him after a strong 2017 season. It would give them up to another year to try to trade him for draft picks as they rebuild. It would also give them another year with a player of great ability, even if they know it’d be the last.
Its easy to wave off Sheldon Richardson leaving because of the other two stars the Jets have a defensive end. But it’s not easy when you consider he’s a first round pick. The Jets have to be getting something back in return if they lose Richardson. Having him play well and at the right position in 2016 was probably more important than playing Wilkerson on a bad leg after he already signed on long term. Now, they have to figure out how to mix in and market Richardson with a healthy Wilkerson and an elite player in Leonard Williams. It’s not an easy task, but the Jets brought this situation upon themselves. If they leave empty handed, it’ll be hard for them to blame anyone else.
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