By Jason Keidel
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About eight years ago, if someone told you that Brandon Marshall would become a model citizen, face of a franchise and emblem of mental health awareness, you would have demanded some fluid or follicle for drug testing.
Marshall was too singularly gifted to pinball around the NFL map. But his personal life was imploding, as notorious for his malfeasance on Saturday as his monster stats on Sunday. Yet here he is, changed, charitable and mature. His football and focus are so fused that he’s already rolled out the red carpet into a post-gridiron career in television.
Sheldon Richardson is just like Marshall, but without the whole epiphany and maturity part.
We don’t know exactly what spawned this tête-à-tête between them, but the young, restless and reckless defensive lineman is now publicly calling out the elder statesman and team leader for some imagined slight. And even in his ornery, disrespectful bent, he doesn’t follow through on what he meant when he said after Saturday’s 41-3 blowout at New England that Marshall “should be embarrassed.” When asked after the game to elaborate, Richardson merely said, “He knows what he did.”
That’s just silly. Not that anyone of Richardson’s dubious standing on the team should ever shame a teammate — especially one as highly regarded as Marshall — through the press. But don’t start unless you’re ready to fully commit.
If there is one member of the Jets who has no professional or personal high ground over Marshall, it’s Richardson. Not long ago, Richardson was suspended for some cinematic joyride that would make Vin Diesel blush, that allegedly included speeding at 143 mph, as well as weed, guns and a minor in the car.
Now is the exact time for Richardson to ease up, wake up and grow up. Whatever his beef with Marshall, it needs to be handled in-house, in a locker room or before a team mediator.
If Saturday in Foxboro weren’t bad enough — when the Patriots used the Jets as target practice and could have rolled out the practice squad and still dropped 40 on Gang Green — we now have this soap operatic rift between a wildly gifted receiver who could soon surrender his hold over the team and a defensive force who should soon be assuming his.
As if the turkey shoot at Gillette Stadium weren’t bad enough, there are now squabbles in the locker room and clear signs some players have quit on the team, and the season. Indeed, the Jets have been shellacked in three of their last four games by a combined score of 116-26.
Richardson just didn’t flout the rules or the law or any sense of etiquette. He has been entirely unrepentant since. His dedication on and off the field is being increasingly questioned. And while most dominant players at his position are grooming their games for a huge contract, Richardson seems to be speeding down the left lane of self-destruction.
Barring some spiritual awakening or a binge on Tony Robbins tapes, Richardson is clearly greasing the skids out of Gotham. Not only do the 4-11 Jets not need this gratuitous headache, the one place where the team is stacked with talent is defensive line. Yet even if they wanted to trade the petulant defensive tackle, how many suitors would they have?
You can be sure 31 NFL GMs are acutely aware of this spat between veteran and neophyte, and can’t possibly like what they see or hear. It’s one thing to have a fight in the pseudo-bubble of the postgame locker room, but Richardson has made this public and personal, which speaks to the control, or lack of it, that coach Todd Bowles has over the team and the control Richardson has over himself.
The Jets could also entertain the idea of backing out of the fifth-year option they exercised for the former first-round pick. They wouldn’t receive any compensation for him, but they would free up $8.069 million in much-needed cap space.
Meanwhile, Richardson needs to call one big audible or he could find his career among the many “what if” candidates who seem to twirl into the sewers every year. If he needs to find a role model on and off the gridiron, he should talk to Marshall.
So it says a lot that Marshall is the one person in that locker room Richardson hates.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel