Sheldon Richardson’s immediate future remains uncertain, but his long-term goal has always been in focus.
“To be great,” the Jets defensive lineman told Newsday of his expectation to one day be a Hall of Famer. “Some people judge it by rings, but not necessarily. Cause there are a lot of great defensive linemen who haven’t won a ring, just [based on] all out play, effort. Some people want to go off stats, but others just like the style of people’s play. It’s a whole bunch of ways to get into the Hall of Fame. I just want to be remembered.”
The Jets, who are 3-7 heading into Sunday’s AFC East rivalry game with the Patriots (8-2), are on the verge of missing the playoffs for a sixth straight season. As a result, Richardson, their 13th overall pick in 2013, has never experienced postseason play in his career. But his end game remains clear.
“I’m blessed, period,” said Richardson, who turns 26 on Tuesday. “Not privileged — I’m blessed. I worked for this. I put a little blemish on it, but still, there are a bunch of Hall of Famers that have blemishes on their record. I’m not the only one, won’t be the last. To do this . . . [your] body’s all banged up. Mentally, might not be the same, you never know how that’s going to go. I’ll be damned if I’m going to be remembered for who I am today.”
Despite his all-out effort and his tireless work ethic, Richardson’s off-the-field judgment has resulted in league-mandated discipline and caused plenty of Jets fans to sour on him. But it’s his talent and versatility that make him a commodity.
Though signed through 2017, the former Missouri defensive tackle was used as trade bait before the Nov. 1 deadline, and the Jets will likely try to deal him again in the offseason.
“It doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I prioritize my life. I compartmentalize it, know what’s going on, know this is a business. I’m not a fool.”
He has made plenty of dumb mistakes though.
On July 2, 2015, he was notified of his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s league’s substance abuse policy. Twelve days later, he was arrested in Missouri following a high-speed chase with police. The league suspended him for the Jets’ Sept. 11 opener against Cincinnati for violating its personal conduct policy.
After their 24-3 road loss on Sept. 25, Richardson got into a verbal spat with Brandon Marshall in the locker room. Then on Nov. 6, Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson were benched for the first quarter against the Dolphins for being late to a meeting. Though reports of repeated tardiness by Wilkerson surfaced soon after, Richardson maintained his lateness was a one-time thing and the result of oversleeping by “20 minutes.”
In addition to his off-the-field infractions, his production is also down this season. The 2013 defensive rookie of the year, Richardson made his first Pro Bowl a year later, registering a career-high eight sacks as an interior lineman. He followed that up with five sacks last season. This year, however, he has just 1.5. But his deployment at end, tackle, outside linebacker, and also middle linebacker, may be the biggest culprit in his diminished stat line. Richardson, however, sees his versatility — and his team-first mentality — as a plus.
“I’m the most selfless person ever,” he said. “I don’t play every third down. From my rookie year til now, I don’t play my natural position. But you still hear Sheldon Richardson’s name called. It might not be for the glorious sacks that everybody wants. But there are other ways to be effective throughout the whole game.”
Some may question how such a “selfless” athlete can put himself in situations to be taken off the field, but Richardson’s defense is a simple one. “I’m still human. People make mistakes,” said the lineman, who became a first-time father to daughter Riley Rose Richardson on July 28. “At that time of my life right there, I wasn’t concerned with being who I want to be. I lost sight of that. I really didn’t care about public image — I mean, I still don’t. If I could just play football and not be famous, I would. That’s just how I am. I’ve [always] been private. But knowing that I go back home and seeing kids still run up to me like, ‘Oh, Sheldon, let me take a picture of you!’ and telling me, ‘I’m going to your high school’ and stuff like that . . . I don’t want to change the world. I just want to change my community.”
And the Jets are still the team Richardson envisions winning it all for. At least, for now.
“Yes. This is the team I’m on,” he said. “So yeah, I picture it here.”
SHELDON, SO FAR