The Jets were down to one running back at Monday's organized team activity, with Leon Washington joining Thomas Jones in the Society of Missing Jets Running Backs. According to Dave Hutchinson of the Newark Star-Ledger, Washington's absence skipped the start of this phase of the Jets offseason program because he's unhappy with his contract.
That's not a surprise, nor is it something that Washington has kept secret. He's been taking part in the offseason workouts, which are voluntary, up to this point however. According to Hutchinson, he found the team's first offer "insulting," which may mean this is an attempt to move negotiations from the front to the back burner. Things haven't been as rancorous between team and player as they have been in Jones' case, but they could quickly escalate because of the curious nature of this situation.
With Jones, the Jets hold all the cards because of his age and, now, because Shonn Greene is on the roster to take between-the-tackles carries. In Washington's case, though, the Jets don't have another player who can replicate his skills as a kick returner and offensive jack-of-all-trades capable of breaking big plays at any time. They can't afford to lose those things from an already underpowered offense, and with Jones also holding out there's not much room for the Jets to play hardball.
That said, Washington doesn't have all the leverage. The NFL doesn't have a collective bargaining agreement with the union for 2010, which will change the rules for free agency after this season. Washington would be a restricted free agent, entitled to less money than he would have been under the current CBA. It's in his best interests to get a long-term extension done now because he'll have absolutely no leverage in 2010.
He may need to wait to get that deal done until the Jets sign Mark Sanchez and try to find a top-flight receiver through a trade and new contract. There's not a ton of urgency unless and until Washington skips the mandatory mini camp on June 9th, but any public dialog bears watching to see if the relationship takes a turn for the worse.
Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.