Sporting a cleanly-shaven bald head and showing no noticeable limp, Leon Washington stepped up to podium where GM Mike Tannenbaum, VP of College Scouting Joey Clinkscales and Senior Personnel Executive Terry Bradway had just given their thoughts on next week's draft minutes earlier.
Washington had already inked his one-year, $1.759 million tender earlier in the day, officially bringing him once again into the mix and ending weeks of speculation that he stayed away simply because he wasn't happy with the Jets' tender offer. Both sides finally appear to be in harmony and Washington isn't on the trading block.
He has hopes of being ready for training camp and soon returning to his Pro Bowl form.
“It’s great to be back,” said Washington, who's continuing to recover from broken right fibula suffered Oct. 25 in Oakland against the Raiders. “Walking in today, I felt all the love like I’ve felt the last four years. The situation with the tender thing, obviously, when they second-round tendered me, I talked to Mike T. and I talked to Rex [Ryan]. It was quite natural for me to go out there and find an offer sheet that was better than $1.8 million. And basically, that's what I told them today and that's the message I relayed to them. They totally understood and they said it wouldn’t have been right if I didn't do that.
"Meanwhile, while I was trying to get a higher offer sheet, I was down in Pensacola, Fla. hanging out on the beach, having the family down there and training at API, which is Athletes' Performance Institute with Dr. Andrews down there. I was down there the whole time, training hard and really got physically fit down there. At the same time, I'm watching the Jets make all those moves and I'm like, 'Man, I really want to be there. The whole time I’m down there, I’m wearing my Jets' gear every day, working out wearing my Jets' gear. Hopefully, I can be back here -- whether I get a better offer sheet and hopefully the Jets can match it -- or ended up signing the tender. I ended up signing the tender. So it worked out best for me.”
Some would say it hasn't worked out all that well for Washington, though, considering he broke his leg in a contract year -- after failing to secure a long-term deal. But Washington said the contract that was offered didn't meet what he thought was fair market value.
He also said that a reported deal that would've earned him a salary of roughly $4.5 million and had reportedly $10 million in guarantees wasn't accurate.
“I would've loved to sign the long-term contract next year,” Washington said. “It wasn’t a contract that was feasible for me and my family. Obviously, it was a lot more money than the average American – I’m not knocking that. But what was reported, it wasn’t what it was. So I think people need to know that. The number that was put out there wasn’t true. People know me. I meet tons of fans around this city. They know Leon is a great guy, high character, great personality, does things the right way. He’s not the type of guy that's greedy or does things that suits himself.
“I'm always about team. So I think I need to put that out there so people know that it wasn't me that didn't want to sign a contract. It’s something I felt like wasn’t my worth at the particular time.”
Washington, who would've been an unrestricted free agent if there was a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, is making solid strides in his rehabilitation and said the Jets were kept aware of his progress throughout the entire time he was away. He's been running since March 28 and can do so in a straight line. He isn't cutting just yet, but said he's still right where he should be.
Either on Monday or some other time early next week, the Jets will reassess Washington's status and what the next move is.
“Everything looks good, looks right on target for me to be back in the regular season and hopefully training camp.” Washington said. “So right now, I’m going to try to take it one day at time because I’m back here and I’m seeing a lot of new faces, obviously some guys that I’ve seen in the past. So timetable and things, we’ll hold off a little bit [until] I see the doctors. But I feel good and my body feels good, and everything is on the up and up.”
Washington could've felt a bit down when he heard Rex's comments at the NFL Owners meeting last month, when Newsday's Bob Glauber asked him what role he envisioned for Washington. Rex said he saw him as a third-down, change-of-pace type back.
But Washington wasn't taken back in the least.
“Not at all, I talked to Rex and he told me his stance on that is when I get healthy and when he’s sees that I can carry more of a load or when he feels like I’m back to the old Leon, then he’ll increase my role. That’s all that was. It was the initial start of me starting off doing the things that I did in the past. And as I get healthier and I get better, he’ll increase my role. So that’s all that was.”
Washington also isn't worried that his slice of the pie might not be all that large since the Jets now have a plethora of weapons on offense. The acquisitions of RB LaDainian Tomlinson and WR Santonio Holmes within the last few weeks paired with the likes of returnees Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery and Dustin Keller means Washington will have to get in where he fits in.
“I think irregardless, I feel confident in my ability. My main thing is getting healthy,” he said. “I feel like when I do get healthy, I’ll be able to contribute to this team in a significant way. Whether it be returning kicks or catching the ball out of the backfield or even running the ball out of the backfield. So being able to do so many different things, I believe I can help this team win football games. And that’s basically what it comes down to.
“If you look at the moves the Jets have been making this offseason, we probably have put ourselves in the situation where we we are going to be in the Super Bowl. So if I can do anything to help this team get there, being healthy, I think it would be a tremendous fit for me and the team.”
So with his contract situation behind him for now, Washington is ready to prove his worth on the field and ease any worries that he's not going to be the same player.
“The best thing I can do now is just go out and play football,” he said. “I am in a perfect situation where I can be with a team that’s making the right steps. And when we win, we all win. That's the way I look at it. So that stuff is going to play itself out. I have no control over that. I just need to play football.”