Sheldon Richardson is an incredibly talented defensive end with the potential to be dominant at times. He's only 26 years old, too, and may have only scratched the surface of what he can do in the NFL.
He is, on the surface, the kind of player a team should build around.
But the Jets still made the right move to trade him - and they made a terrific deal.
It's not going to look like that on the surface, of course. Richardson is the premiere talent in the swap, far more valuable than a middling receiver like Jermaine Kearse, and quite possibly much better than whomever the Jets select with what will likely be a late second-round pick from the Seattle Seahawks. Richardson could turn into a dominant player on the Seahawks defense. The Jets could look ridiculous for letting a talent like that get away.
But it's about more than that. It's about character and the Jets' desire to change their locker room culture. It's about money. And it's about the Jets' commitment to a total rebuild of what had become a bloated, overpriced and old roster.
And it's about the simple fact that Richardson didn't fit into their future plans, and getting two assets in return was far better than the nothing they'd get next March when, as a free agent, he was sure to walk away.
Richardson once was part of the Jets' future, when he was the 13th overall pick in 2013. Of course, that was under a different coach and general manager. This regime made their opinion of Richardson pretty clear by investing big money in his teammate Mo Wilkerson (five years, $86 million with $53 million guaranteed) in 2016, and when they drafted Leonard Williams sixth overall in 2015.
Suddenly, Richardson was without a clear spot in the lineup, and there was no way the Jets were going to spend big on three defensive ends.
And this Jets regime has never liked what it has seen from Richardson. He has off-field issues and two NFL suspensions already on his resume. Whether it was his fault or not, he was at the center of a divisive locker room feud with Brandon Marshall last season - one he still hasn't been able to let go. Todd Bowles was furious this summer when Richardson continued his verbal assault on Marshall in a radio interview. It was clear then Bowles had tired of his act.
They also weren't getting the most out of him on the field. He had just 6 ½ sacks over the last two seasons, and his dominant flashes last season were few and far between. Yes, a big part of that was the Jets' defensive game plans and the way they moved him around. And yes, the promise of his terrific first two seasons was still evident at times. But with his salary now above $8 million and bigger numbers looming on the horizon, the Jets needed production to go with the promise considering all the baggage that came along too.
So the decision was made more than a year ago that the Jets would try to trade him. They tried last season at the deadline, they tried again at the draft, and they've been trying all offseason long. They knew Richardson didn't have a future in New York. So why pay him $8 million to be a lame duck - and perhaps an unhappy one since they surely wouldn't have been discussing a new contract -- in a rebuilding year?
Instead, the Jets got two things they desperately need in return - a veteran receiver and a relatively high draft pick. The latter is important because Jets GM Mike Maccagnan is absolutely determined to rebuild this team through the draft, so the more high picks the better - and a second-rounder is more than they would've gotten as a compensatory pick if Richardson had left on his own.
And the receiver is huge because that was the ugliest position on the Jets roster. In five NFL seasons, the 27-year-old Kearse has never topped the 49 catches for 685 yards and five touchdowns he had in 2015. But he is now by far the Jets' most accomplished receiver. He's also well-schooled in a West Coast offense. He can be a reliable target for whatever quarterback is playing and mentor and teacher in the receivers room - two things the Jets absolutely didn't have before he arrived.
Will he have as big an impact as Richardson could have had? No chance. But the Jets' defensive line will be fine with Wilkerson, Williams and now Kony Ealy. The Jets' receiving corps will be better. The second-round draft pick could produce a 2018 starter and the Jets will have additional cap room to boot.
All that for a player who underperformed, caused trouble in the locker room, and was six months away from leaving as a free agent. That's not a bad haul at all.
And that's why Maccagnan said he thought this deal "was a good fit and good value for what we're trying to accomplish here, short-term and long-term." Richardson is a terrific player. He may turn into a Pro Bowler again.
But his current salary, his future salary, his character and his play simply made him a bad fit into the Jets' plans. They will be better off in the short- and long-term with what they got in return.