Keying in to the Jets’ Problems

By Tim Sullivan Hoya Staff Writer

The New York Jests have shown once again why they are a 12th rate organization and why they will not win a Super Bowl in the near future. Trading Keyshawn Johnson to the Tampa Bay Bucs for a pair of first-round draft picks just doesn’t compute and represents a startling and troubling potential trend in professional sports.

Let me preface the rest of this column by stating my allegiance to the J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets. Though it’s hard to root for a team that can stink as nauseatingly as this one does, more often than not, I suppose geography has had the last laugh on me because they play a stone’s throw from my house. Beyond that, the fact that you can actually get Jets tickets has cornered me into being a Gang Green fan.

Which is why I am so peeved by this ridiculous trade. Johnson is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best player on the Jets. When he showed up following his remarkable college career at Southern Cal, he had an immediate impact. And then he wrote a stupid book that I doubt anyone actually read, but that’s beside the point.

The Jets drafted Johnson with their No. 1 pick in the midst of the Rich Kotite era, years that saw more losses than one team’s fans should be subjected to in a lifetime. Johnson was the ray of hope, the carrot hung in front of Jets fans’ noses, promising them better days if they stuck with their team. And now he’s gone.

The Jets, in picking up two additional draft picks, now have a total of four first-rounders, which they will likely package to move up to the very top of the draft. But they won’t get anyone nearly of the caliber of Keyshawn, unless they manage to move up to No. 1 or No. 2 and get Peter Warrick or Lavar Arrington, neither of whom will be ready to make a difference right away.

But I doubt that they will be able to move up that much, this draft not being particularly deep, and they having a slew of a middle-range picks. I can only imagine what the talk has been like on New York’s sports talk radio station, WFAN. That’s one of the things I miss at college, not hearing the ridiculous trades that fans propose in the early hours, things like “The Jets should trade the four picks and Chrebet to the Vikings for Randy Moss and Daunte Culpepper” from Short Al or Jerome, both of Queens, two of my personal favorite callers.

But I digress.

All that said, Johnson is, and always has been, a baby. Anyone who would name his book Just Give Me the Damn Ball needs no further evidence to prove the size of his ego. He completely forced the Jets’ hand in this situation, crying to both executives and the media about how he thought his contract was unfair and didn’t pay him market value.

So, he threatened to pout and sit out the season until the Jets would come to the table and give in to his demands. Faced with that prospect and unwilling to pony up the money, the Jets had no choice, really, but to get as much as they could for him before he could leave for free. (See also Ken Griffey, Jr.)

Still, the Jets should not have traded their franchise for two picks in the latter half of the first round.

Trades such as Johnson’s have to scare sports executives and make them rethink their policies of signing big name free agents to long term contracts. If athletes have the power to cry about their contracts for not paying them market value after they sign them, then a contract is not really a contract, but a binding letter of intent to play.

In Johnson’s case, his hi-jinks cut his contract by two years, the Jets being afraid that they would lose him, not after this season, but the next. If athletes are coddled by management buckling to trade demands such as these, what’s to keep them from wanting to leave a losing team despite being under contract for years to come.

The idea of a long-term deal becomes null and void if a player wants to renegotiate every time someone else gets a raise. (See also Kevin Brown.) Because of deals like the Jets’, general managers have to be thinking twice about committing the futures of their franchises to long term deals with volatile players like Johnson.

And while I’m on the subject of volatile players who went to USC, rumors are circulating that the Chargers have been talking to Darryl Strawberry disciple Todd Marinovich about quarterbacking for them next year. In a related story, massive drug shipments have been rerouted to the San Diego area in hopes of him signing a contract.

Well, at least I have the Mets to root for. That Mike Hampton deal is working out pretty well.

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