Jets to cut loose rushing leader
The New York Jets will release running back Thomas Jones this week, allowing the leader of the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense to become a free agent.
General manager Mike Tannenbaum said yesterday that the team told Jones it will cut ties with him when the league's free agency period begins Friday.
"Thomas joined us three years ago and has been a productive, passionate leader both on and off the field who has served as a positive influence for our younger players," Tannenbaum said in a statement. "We were fortunate to acquire Thomas and wish him the best."
Jones was due a $3 million roster bonus on top of a $2.8 million base salary this season. He and the Jets failed to reach a compromise on restructuring his contract; the team wanted him to take a pay cut.
Drew Rosenhaus, Jones' agent, didn't immediately respond to e-mails seeking comment.
Jones sat out voluntary activities last offseason while trying unsuccessfully to renegotiate his deal, which was front-loaded with $13.1 million over the first two seasons. He made only $900,000 in base salary last season, but didn't allow it to affect his play.
The 31-year-old is coming off a season in which he set career highs by rushing for 1,402 yards and 14 touchdowns while helping the Jets reach the AFC championship game against Indianapolis. He was also a popular presence in the locker room, twice being voted the team's most inspirational player by his teammates.
UNDERCLASSMEN HAVE TOUGH DECISION
Taylor Mays has no regrets about finishing his senior season at Southern Cal.
Eric Berry saw no sense in risking everything one more time at Tennessee.
The top two safeties in this year's NFL draft exemplify the high-stakes choice dozens of college underclassmen debate each winter: Should they stay in school or should they jump to the NFL?
"He told me I'd be a fool to come back," Berry said with a laugh explaining the advice his defensive coordinator, Monte Kiffin, provided.
Kiffin's NFL pedigree helped Berry make an informative choice, one that could bring in millions of dollars by August. The junior is projected to be a top-five pick in April and could become the first safety to go No. 1 overall since 1956.
Mays made the other choice, going back to school to win a national championship, become a more complete player and improve his draft position. Things didn't work out that way.
The Trojans went 9-4, Mays was criticized for not living up to the hype and now Berry has surpassed him as the top-rated safety. While Mays could have gone in the top half of the first round last year, as the No. 1 safety, he's now ranked No. 2 and could slide into the bottom of the first round — costing him millions.
But Mays isn't second-guessing the decision.
"I was close (to leaving) and then at the end, I just got my eyes put onto the prize of trying to be the best, one more time," he said at this weekend's annual scouting combine in Indianapolis. "Trying to learn the game a little bit more. It wasn't about coming out for the money or for the fame. It was more about coming out to really just be a finished product, and take all the chances I had to be the best safety I could be."
This year 53 underclassmen have declared for the draft.
CHICAGO WAIVES VETERAN OT PACE
Chicago waived tackle Orlando Pace after one season in which the 34-year-old played little like the All-Pro he once was with St. Louis.
The Bears also waived tight end Fontel Mines and guard Tyler Reed yesterday.
Chicago signed Pace last season as a free agent to help patch up a faulty offensive line, but the fading star didn't provide much help.
Pace started 11 games, missed time because of a groin injury and finished his 13th season in the NFL as a reserve.
Pace was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection with the Rams and one of the best offensive tackles in the league. He was drafted No. 1 overall out of Ohio State in 1997 and went on to play in two Super Bowls with St. Louis.