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Jets' league-leading backfield could face changes

Mark Sanchez hands off to Thomas Jones in

Mark Sanchez hands off to Thomas Jones in the first half against the Indianapolis Colts. (January 24, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

There are a few tough decisions facing general manager Mike Tannenbaum as he attempts to tweak the Jets' roster, setting things up for another potential postseason run next season.

Perhaps the biggest question of all: What does he do with their crowded backfield?

The Jets' ground game was easily tops in the NFL, amassing 2,756 yards. At 31, Thomas Jones had a lot to do with that, with 1,402 hard yards and 14 touchdowns, both career highs. Jones silenced the critics who thought he was done, putting together a midseason surge during which he topped triple digits five times in a seven-game span, which included a career-best and franchise-high 210 yards against the Bills on Oct. 18.

However, Jones got worn down a bit at the end of the season after a career-high 331 carries and serving as a battering ram at times. Rex Ryan began resting him on Wednesdays during the stretch run, hoping it would keep his legs fresh and allow a bruised knee to heal. But it didn't do much to revive Jones, who mustered only 117 yards on 45 attempts in the postseason, averaging only 2.6 yards.

After making a base salary of $900,000 this season, Jones is due a $3-million roster bonus in March and has a base salary of $2.8 million. That's nearly $6 million for someone who'll be 32 by the 2010 opener. With the emergence of rookie Shonn Greene during the season-ending run, Jones could be expendable because he probably won't be the featured back. And who knows if he'd consider a lesser role?

Still, his status in the locker room could keep him around. Greene emulates everything Jones does, constantly picking his brain. Jones is also extremely close with fullback Tony Richardson and Leon Washington. The three are like brothers and spend a lot of time together, so letting Jones go and banishing him from teammates who want him back might not be as easy as it appears.

Greene had more rushing yards than anyone this postseason, gaining 304 with two touchdowns on 54 carries. Keep in mind he rushed 108 times for 540 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season.

He hits the hole much more quickly than Jones and has the ankle-breaking moves to leave defenders in the dust. Greene averaged 5 yards a carry in the regular season but also isn't without his faults. He fumbled three times, losing each.

Plus, Greene was hurt frequently in his first pro season, beginning in training camp in Cortland, when he showed flashes of brilliance in the Jets' Green & White scrimmage but had to leave with an ankle injury. He battled bruised ribs in the preseason and against the Colts on Sunday, sitting out most of the second half.

With that in mind, is he really ready to shoulder the load?

As for Washington, who will be a restricted free agent under the current collective-bargaining agreement, he expects to be 100-percent healthy by the time the season rolls around. The Jets missed Washington's big-play ability and versatility when he sat out the final 12 games with a broken right fibula. He said he thinks a three-headed monster in the backfield would work and remained open to the idea.

But we'll have to see if he can return to his shifty self.

We didn't even mention the other Washington on the roster. Who knows what the Jets think of second-year man Chauncey Washington, Mark Sanchez's former USC teammate whom the Jets picked up off Dallas' practice squad Dec. 15.

So the Jets have some difficult choices to make, and there's a good chance the league's top-ranked backfield might not look the same come September.

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