FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - He's been a disappointment on and off the field for most of the last two seasons, and he knows the Jets have tried their best to ship him somewhere else. Yet as the Jets begin preparing for the 2017 season, Sheldon Richardson is still on their roster.
And the Jets believe -- or at least hope -- he's returning more motivated than ever before.
"After just one day in OTAs, and watching him move around, this guy -- I shouldn't say (he has) a chip on his shoulder," said Jets defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers. "I think he kind of has something to prove."
That seems obvious given how the last two seasons have gone. He's been suspended twice -- four games in 2015 for violating the league's substance abuse policy, and once last season after he was arrested for resisting arrest and other traffic violations when he was caught driving 143 miles per hour with a loaded gun and a 12-year-old in his car. He also had a disappointing five sacks in 11 games in 2015, and a dismal 1 ½ sacks in 15 games last year.
On top of all that, he was the center of a locker room feud with receiver Brandon Marshall that wreaked chaos and cast what Darrelle Revis called "a dark cloud" over the Jets last season. And considering the Jets' logjam at his position -- with Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams -- that caused him to play out of position far too much last season, it's no wonder the Jets tried to trade him last season and again during the draft.
Still, he has plenty of supporters in the Jets' organization -- including Rodgers, who said he's loved Richardson's attitude, even when he's been forced to play in spots he didn't necessarily want to play.
"He's one of my favorite players," Rodgers said. "We ask him to do a lot of stuff and it's probably a detriment to him. One game, he played (middle) linebacker, he played (outside) linebacker and he never said a word. 'Whatever you need me to do, coach.'"
Rodgers said that Richardson "needs to play" a "true 3-technique" position - essentially a pass-rushing defensive end in the Jets' 3-4 defense, lining up between the offensive tackle and guard. He played far too much linebacker last season as the Jets struggled to figure out how to use all three of their best linemen. This season, Rodgers promised, "We're going to try to let him do what he does best."
It makes sense, since while playing that position, Richardson was the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2013 (with 3 ½ sacks) and a Pro Bowler in 2014 (with 8 sacks). Maybe getting back to where he's comfortable can rejuvenate the 26-year-old star. And the timing couldn't be better, as he enters the final year of his rookie contract with a guaranteed salary of a little more than $8 million this year.
Richardson certainly wants to play better than he has, especially with a shot at a mega-deal on the horizon. But he didn't agree with Rodgers assertion that he's got something to prove.
"I'm proven, honestly," Richardson said. "I just got to get some stats. It's a contract year."
As for where he'll get those stats, Richardson insisted he wants to stay with the Jets - nothing famously that he has "15 reasons why" the locker room is a better place now, a nod to Marshall, who wore No. 15 last season. He said he decided to pay no attention to the trade rumors this offseason, "until I get a phone call saying you're no longer a part of the New York Jets. That's the only call that matters."
So far, that call hasn't come. And now, with training camp just two months away, it's likely it's not coming at all. That seems just fine with Richardson, even if this does turn out to be his last year here.
"If I got some trade value or I don't, either way I'm a Jet," he said. "So until I'm not a Jet, I'm here. Playing. Full force."