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Questions persist about Leon Washington's future with the Jets

Orlando — Jets coach Rex Ryan expressed hope that Leon Washington will be fully recovered from a fractured leg he suffered last October. But it's not just Washington's physical condition that has the coach somewhat concerned about the fifth-year running back's future. It's his contract situation.

Washington is a restricted free agent who hasn't signed his contract tender and is not present for the team's voluntary workouts. Ryan expressed some questions about Washington's situation at a coach's breakfast here at the NFL owners meetings.

Not only that, but Ryan said he envisioned Washington's role as somewhat more limited than the player might want, something that could have an impact on contract negotiations.

"We had an idea that he wasn’t going to be there," Ryan said of the workouts. "It is a voluntary situation, but the rest of his teammates volunteered to be there, so it was disappointing that he wasn’t there ... We'll have to ask Leon why he's not here."

I asked Ryan what he expected out of Washington this year, and the second-year head coach said he envisioned a return to Leon's previous role.

"What we should do with him, in my opinion, is put him back to his role which he had initially, which is third-down back, a change-of-pace type back, and a Pro Bowl returner. And there's nothing wrong with that."

Ryan envisions a more active role in the rushing offense for newly acquired LaDainian Tomlinson.

"Hypothetically, we'd see him carry the ball 15 times a game," Ryan said. "We're just going to ground and pound away. I'm sure some games he'll have more rushing attempts than Shonn Greene, and I think Shonn will have more than L.T. in other games."

Washington last season looked for a contract similar to the four-year, $32.8 million deal signed by Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. But Jones-Drew is the Jaguars' workhorse back, and the Jets were unwilling to meet those numbers when Washington's agent, Alvin Keels, was negotiating before the season.

Keels is now advising Washington not to sign his contract tender, so it's not difficult to envision an impasse at some point. And because the Jets hold his contractual rights, the only leverage Washington would have is to remain away from the team.

Washington is also eligible to sign an offer sheet with another team, but the time period for such deals expires a week before next month's draft.

New York Sports