by Tom Shane
The last time the Jets signed a Hall of Fame defensive back, his name was Ronnie Lott. He came to the Jets to provide veteran leadership, share his unparalleled football savvy and to instill the championship demeanor he forged in the course of shaping a dynasty into a young Jets defense on the verge of being good. However, he left the green and white as a broken player, the two seasons he spent here little more than an ugly blight at the end of an otherwise stellar career; the last seasons of which were spent going 14-18 in NY, with the Jets faithful raining boos down onto this once-proud warrior wearing #42 in green.
Welcome to New York Jets football, Ty Law.
Lott was 34 when he signed with the Jets in 1993; Law will be 31. But Law is coming off of a broken foot that has rendered him unable to play or practice since Halloween night of 2004 when he went down against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Concerns about his ability to run this off-season have seen him passed over by such DB-hungry teams as the Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, and the Detroit Lions. The Chiefs eventually settled on Ashley Ambrose, and the Lions signed R.W. McQuarters–neither of whom are Hall of Fame-bound, to say the least. Each of them passed on Ty Law after seeing him run. So the question that needs to be asked is, just how bad is Law’s foot?
If teams that are desperate for corner help weren’t willing to chance signing Law, then why would the Jets throw a $5 million dollar signing bonus at him, not to mention an average of $6 mil per annum? Granted, the Jets have included stipulations in the contract regarding Law’s ability to play, so that if Law is a bust they won’t be completely on the hook for what figures to be a huge cap number, but there still has to be concern that Law might not be ready to help the Jets this season on the field. Forgetting the money for a second, if Law’s foot isn’t ready to go, they’ve taken the gamble, by cutting vet Ray Mickens, that either rookie Justin Miller or second-year man Derrick Strait can fill in as a Jets’ starting corner. David Barrett came on late last season as a solid, if unspectacular player, but he isn’t making anyone forget Darrell Green anytime soon, as evidenced by the burn marks he still has on him from a beating at the hands–and feet–of Torry Holt late last season. By cutting Mickens to make room for Law, who still has to be considered an unknown quantity at this point, the Jets have left themselves perilously thin in terms of experience at CB and could very well end up regretting it.
On the plus side, if Law can be at least 75% of what he has been in the past (something that apparently the Lions, Jaguars, and Chiefs were all suspicious of), then the Jets have helped themselves tremendously. Law brings a competitive swagger with him that will mesh nicely with an already confident bunch, but beyond that he brings an obvious amount of skill and experience to what, right now, is a Jets weakness in the secondary. Donnie Henderson’s defense was exposed last season after John Abraham’s injury problems robbed the team of its pass rush and quarterbacks were able to take advantage of both Barrett and the now-retired Donnie Abraham. With a healthy Law, Henderson will be able to implement a more aggressive blitz package in the event/inevitability of another John Abraham stint on the injured list. However, if Law can’t go, it will be Strait or Miller lining up against the opponent’s best wideout with only a rookie at SS to cover their backs: not a promising situation. Miller is extremely raw, and Strait lacks the kind of speed a corner needs to run with receivers one-on-one in a heavy blitzing scheme.
In effect, the Jets have made an all-or-nothing gamble with Law, despite the foot problems and despite his almost full calendar year of inactivity. If it works out and Law plays up to his capabilities this season, then the Jets could very well challenge for the Super Bowl. But if it doesn’t, and Law is on the sidelines standing next to Herm Edwards for the bulk of the season, a rough season awaits the future Hall of Famer as well as the Jets.
If Law wants to know what that feels like, he can just give a call to #42 in green, Ronnie Lott.