The locker stall sat empty all week.
The neon green name plate that hung above has long been taken down. The cleats once scattered at its base were removed days ago, too. But David Harris’ hold on his old locker room remains intact, even though he’s no longer in the building.
The linebacker’s absence serves as a constant reminder of how different this Jets team is and will continue to be, especially for Sheldon Richardson.
As players traded bro hugs on Thursday and promises to text one another during their six-week break until training camp, the defensive lineman sat at his locker — directly next to Harris’ old one — and described the void left by a very good football player and an even better man.
At one of Richardson’s lowest points, Harris was “a big brother to me, through thick and thin,” offering the defensive lineman kind words and much-needed advice. And that’s why the 33-year-old’s surprising release on June 6 — the end result of failed contract talks between Harris’ agents and the front office — hurt Richardson and their defense so deeply.
A month after the Jets finished 4-12 in 2014, Richardson’s close family friend, Durance Harvey, was fatally shot in his hometown of St. Louis. Harvey’s murder sent Richardson spiraling into a depression. Later that offseason, he was suspended four games for a failed drug test (marijuana) and he was arrested on July 14 following an alleged high-speed chase with Missouri police.
And whenever Harris was compelled to speak to his struggling teammate, his message was typically terse but direct.
“He pulled me aside, let me know what was right was right, wrong was wrong,” Richardson told Newsday.
Asked how often Harris had to do that, Richardson grinned.
“A couple,” he said. “A few. Like three or four. Not more.”
“ . . . I was in a dark spot when he really spoke to me, outside of football. And just joking around, being teammates, he [delivered] words of wisdom. It was something he felt I needed to hear and I thank him for it. Him, Brick [former left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson], and a few of the guys that are gone now. Just simple things like that.
“Kind words in a dark time will do a lot.”
Throughout his 10-year career with the Jets, Harris shied away from publicity. Rather than seek out the spotlight, he immersed himself in film work, outworked guys in the weight room and cultivated close ties within the Jets brotherhood. And truth be told, it always bothered Richardson that Harris never got his just do.
“He was an underrated linebacker for years — like, 100-plus tackles every season,” Richardson said, motioning toward the empty locker beside him. “The only thing is, we just didn’t win during some of those seasons. And even when we did win, he was still underrated.
“I feel like he never got the true exposure he should have gotten, even with this media market. That’s why I don’t understand why a guy like that could go unnoticed to the league. He’s a humble guy who came from humble beginnings. I respect him to the fullest. That’s my guy.”
The Jets who are left behind believe a “true pro” like Harris won’t be out of work for too long. But his release — and the timing of his departure — could still be felt throughout minicamp.
“It definitely was a somber day [the day after Harris was cut],” said Darron Lee, their second-year inside linebacker. “For the whole defense, and for the whole organization, and everybody in here because Dave was like a Dad to all of us.”
“It hurt my feelings,” Richardson said. “. . . It took them a while to clean out the locker. They waited until the weekend, I think. It’s weird, though. It’s weird now.”