I like Leon Washington, I really do. But he doesn’t deserve the money that he’s demanding. Leon Washington was a key contributor to the Jets last year — this is clear. Is he underpaid in the final year of his rookie contract? Yes, he’s scheduled to earn only $535,000 as a base salary next year. However, the Jets should not yield to his demands to around $6 million per year.
WHO IS LEON WASHINGTON?
Last year, Leon Washington set the Jets single season record for all-purpose yardage. He’s proven to be an extremely versatile player as a change of pace back and a returner. There’s no denying that Little Leon is a key contributor to the Jets offensive attack. However, I don’t think he’s established himself as a premier back in this league as his salary demands might indicate.
Washington had 448 rushing yards on 76 carries for a whopping 5.9 YPC with 355 receiving yards. Those are great stats when complemented by his return numbers. That being said, Leon’s impressive 2008 doesn’t look that much better than the best seasons of Brian Mitchell.
At the same time, I seriously doubt that Leon would be a capable number one back. He actually had 151 carries in 2006 but had only 4.3 YPC that year. Even if he did develop into a solid RB1, it’s probable that he would have less of an impact in the return game. While that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I would argue that Leon Washington’s value is maximized in his current role — one that isn’t worth $6 million a year.
WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?
The Jets have to play hardball here and that means there’s a chance Leon walks. But is that really such a bad thing? The money that he wants is more than any running back drafted outside of the top 5 overall. For less money, the Jets could have signed almost any of the free agent running backs from the 2009 class. Realistically, Leon Washington is easily replaced by a late first round to early third round running back. The fact that he offers so much in one package is nice but not necessary. As much as I love Leon, the Jets can’t afford to appease a former 4th round pick that is replaceable.