FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Ryan Clady’s body betrayed him — again — a year ago, and the big left tackle was forced to watch the Denver Broncos’ run to the Super Bowl title as a sidelined spectator.
A few months later, he was replaced on the roster and then traded to the New York Jets. A lost season capped by a championship ring and a tough divorce.
“I think it stings a little bit, you know?” Clady said Wednesday while talking to reporters for the first time since being dealt to New York in April.
“A little chip on my shoulder. I’ve got something to prove, so I’m ready for the challenge.”
Clady is a four-time Pro Bowl selection who quickly established himself as one of the best at his position after being a first-round draft pick by Denver out of Boise State in 2008. But the past three years have been rough as he missed 30 games in that span because of injuries.
There was a Lisfranc foot injury early in the 2013 season, when the Broncos also played in the Super Bowl and lost to Seattle with Clady on the sideline. He played in every game in 2014 and made the Pro Bowl, but during organized team activities in May 2015, he tore the ACL in his left knee and was done for the season.
Denver moved on and signed Russell Okung to take Clady’s place — despite Clady telling The Associated Press during the Super Bowl that he was willing to restructure his contract to be a “lifetime Bronco.” The Broncos and Clady’s agent met in March to inquire about a restructure, but those talks cooled when Denver signed Okung.
“I knew there was a good chance that I’d be moving on,” Clady said, “so I mentally prepared myself.”
Meanwhile, the Jets were looking for a left tackle as D’Brickashaw Ferguson surprisingly retired after 10 seasons. A day after Ferguson officially ended his playing career, New York traded a fifth-round pick for Clady — and Denver saved $8.9 million on its salary cap.
“You know, it was a contract situation and they felt they had to move on,” Clady said. “And I think it was a good change for me, as well.”
Just like that, the Jets had a high-caliber replacement for a three-time Pro Bowl pick.
“From afar, I didn’t think D’Brickashaw was retiring,” Clady said, “so it was one of those things where cropped up and felt like it was a good fit.”
But the Jets went from Ferguson, who remarkably never missed a game or practice in his career, to a player who has more games missed than played lately. While Clady is immensely talented, he realizes there are plenty of doubts as to whether he’ll be able to play 16 games for the Jets this season.
“I’m just going to answer them by getting on the field and playing,” he said. “I think I can do that. I’m feeling good right now and feel like I can stay healthy.”
The Jets have eased Clady into things through workouts and organized team activities, with the hope he’ll be completely healthy for training camp next month.
“He’s doing a lot better than what I thought he would be doing,” coach Todd Bowles said.
Clady says he just “working through the kinks” right now while he learns Chan Gailey’s offense. He also acknowledged that there is a bit of apprehension at play, in terms of getting over his most recent injury.
“There’s a little mental there, just feeling more comfortable playing on it and cutting off of it, but it’s feeling good,” he said. “I’ve been able to do everything and I’m moving well.”
Ferguson was a consistent presence on the field and one of the favorites in the Jets’ locker room, something that Clady has learned in his short time with New York.
“It’s a little awkward,” he said. “A lot of guys still talk about him, which they should because he was a great player and great ambassador for the Jets.”
Clady hopes to be the same in New York. But he had one final piece of business to take care of with his former team.
On Monday, the Broncos met with President Barack Obama at the White House to celebrate their Super Bowl win.
“Oh, I went,” Clady said, adding that it was a bit “awkward” being with the Broncos again. “It was cool. Saw some of my guys and shook hands with Obama. Can’t beat that.”
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)