Now that business is out of the way, Darron Lee can focus on football.
His negotiations with the Jets weren’t as highly publicized as the Ryan Fitzpatrick saga, but the first-round pick didn’t officially sign his rookie deal until last Wednesday — the same day Fitzpatrick finally walked through the door.
Lee is happy that contract talks no longer are a distraction. But now he faces a new challenge: dealing with the growing pains of NFL life.
“I think that would be the hardest part for any rookie, especially me,” he said Sunday. “You’re not going to win every rep. This league will humble you. A lot of veterans have told me that: You will be humbled.”
That’s tough to accept for someone like Lee.
The speedy, athletic linebacker made a name for himself at Ohio State, and it was clear when the Jets drafted him 20th overall that he wasn’t short on confidence.
Asked during his April 29 introductory news conference about the criticism of his size and ability, the 6-1, then-237-pound rookie quipped: “All I have to say to that is, click on the Wisconsin tape.”
He was referring to the Buckeyes’ blowout of the Badgers in the 2014 Big Ten title game. “That’s all I have to say,” continued Lee, who now weighs 232 pounds. “We won, 59-0. [It showed] that I can take on bigger guys and take on a fullback.”
But now he has his hands full learning the Jets’ playbook and trying to make the most of every rep he’s given during training camp.
“I think there were a couple plays [Saturday] in practice I was just like inches away from making,” Lee said, adding that he’s sought the advice of third-year safety Calvin Pryor. “I asked him, ‘How do you not get so frustrated about that? Because you’re so close, you’re confident in your ability to play at this level.’
“He’s like, ‘Hang in there. You’ve got to be patient with yourself.’ ”
Lee registered 12 sacks as a two-year starter for the Buckeyes, but it’s far too early to know how he’ll perform as a pro.
“He’s fast, everybody knows that,” Jets coach Todd Bowles said. “So as he learns the system and gets more comfortable, you look for him to make more progress.
“He has to focus on all of his areas. You just don’t play linebacker and play in this league with one area to focus on. Run, pass, technique, fundamentals, playbook, you’ve got the whole gamut.”
Added Bowles: “We won’t know what [type of year he’ll have] until the season starts. You’ve got to watch the other guys play and he’s got to compete just like everybody else. So we’ll wait and see.”