Jets' Leonhard: From college walk-on to big bucks
Jim Leonhard still can't quite believe it.
"Going into college as a walk-on, you obviously don't ever picture yourself being in the NFL and then signing a contract like this," Leonhard said during a conference call yesterday.
The Jets signed Leonhard, 26, to a three-year deal worth a reported $6 million Monday, completing what the safety called a "wild ride" that started at age 18. With no Division I scholarship offers coming out of high school in Tony, Wis., Leonhard passed on several Division II offers to play football and baseball. Instead, he chose the long-shot path of walking on as a freshman at Wisconsin.
"Ultimately, it came down to giving it a run at that top level," he said. "I would be kicking myself my entire life if I didn't take that chance."
Although it didn't take Leonhard long to show he belonged - he made a Big Ten record-tying 11 interceptions his sophomore season - it took a little longer in the NFL. He signed with the Bills as a rookie free agent in 2005 and spent three so-so seasons with Buffalo before signing a one-year deal with the Ravens in 2008.
His opportunity came early last season when Ravens safety Dawan Landry went down with a season-ending injury. In 13 starts, Leonhard had 85 tackles (fourth on the team), one sack, one interception and six passes defensed.
"It was very important for me to take advantage of my opportunity," he said. "Going into my fourth year, I really needed to make a statement last year to extend my career in this league."
The Ravens made little effort to re-sign the 5-8, 186-pound Leonhard, and it seemed a foregone conclusion he would end up with the Jets, coached by his former defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan. The Broncos made a late bid - a slightly higher one, Leonhard said - Monday morning, but the Jets felt right.
"I took a few hours to consider and we ultimately decided that regardless of the money situation, the Jets were the place to be," Leonhard said. "We kind of knew that New York was probably the best place for me."
Notes & quotes: A source confirmed an Associated Press report that the Jets agreed to terms with Jay Feely on a one-year deal. He became the Jets' kicker last season after Mike Nugent was hurt in the season opener. Feely, 32, made 24 of 28 field-goal tries, including 2-for-2 from 50 yards or longer. Feely's return was expected because the Jets never made a serious move to keep Nugent, who signed a one-year contract with the Bucs ... Former Jets WR Laveranues Coles signed with the Bengals. NFL Network reported the deal was $28 million for four years.