By Jason Keidel
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We’ve heard all manner of sports cliches over the years. Among them are that you can’t teach speed, or height, or quickness, or any number of physical gifts.
Another way to put it: you can’t teach whatever it is that Sheldon Richardson does on the gridiron.
But the other part, the hard part, the traits that can’t be measured with tape or film or a watch, is often what separates haves and the have nots. The muscle between the ears.
Richardson is so singularly gifted the Jets have made him shuttle to several spots on their defense. But he’s also challenged the Jets’ brass with head-scratching moves off the field. Because of his athletic splendor, Richardson gets more of those transparent “second chances” the NFL espouses than most players. Indeed, the Jets have looked the other way several times when it comes to Richardson’s renowned malfeasance.
Now this. Richardson is blowing off serious steam now that he sees himself as a free man, unburdened by a former teammate’s eccentricities. In a recent chat with local media, Richardson exhaled before a bouquet of microphones, saying there were “15 reasons” the Jets’ locker room would be way less toxic than it was last year. The number, of course, refers to the jersey number of Brandon Marshall.
Richardson followed up during an interview with Newsday, calling Marshall a “drama queen” and then “selfish” before the final diagnosis of Marshall as a “locker room cancer.”
It’s not a secret that the two players don’t share meals or Christmas cards. There were reports of blow-ups between the two after several losses in 2016, particularly against the Chiefs, and again later in the year when Richardson posted a gaseous monologue online after a loss to Miami. Marshall took Richardson to task for the latter, chiding Richardson for his Snapchat tirade. And again, after a beating by the Patriots, Marshall said Gang Green should be embarrassed, to which Richardson said it’s Marshall who should be embarrassed.
Fast forward to this week, and Richardson seems obsessed with spanking Marshall on his way out the door, or down the hall, as he changes his uniform from Gang Green to Big Blue.
For his part, Marshall cruised the high road, refusing to pour gas on the flame Richardson seems so eager to ignite. The loquacious wideout has no problem musing over any number of topics, on or off the field. But as the older, more heralded and accomplished player, he knows there’s no percentage in a fight with a former teammate.
And there’s a clear, curious irony in Richardson calling out Marshall. In a sense, they are similar. At one time, Marshall was the classic NFL dichotomy — a monster on Sunday and migraine on Monday. The wildly gifted receiver, who earned the nickname “Blackjack” for catching 21 passes in a single game, came quite close to moonwalking right out of the sport with his antics. Since then, however, Marshall has become a model citizen, a poster boy of football harmony. Once he discovered and addressed his bipolar disorder, Marshall has not only become a better player, but a better person and advocate for mental illness awareness.
Richardson, 26, is still be on the front-nine of his journey, where the bonehead moves far outweigh his charitable side. He’s already saddled the Jets with a failed a drug test, and then he was arrested for his infamous joyride, reportedly replete with guns and minors in the car. Both incidents were followed by suspensions from the NFL.
After a stellar maiden campaign, which earned him Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, his sophomore season yielded a Pro Bowl appearance. His third season wasn’t quite as dominant (just 5 sacks), though still productive. But Richardson didn’t exactly turn the NFL into his personal demo reel last year, with 62 tackles (38 solo) and an anemic 1.5 sacks (none after Oct. 23), and one forced fumble over 15 games. (He didn’t play 16 because he was suspended for Week 1.) His attitude entering 2017? Richardson deadpanned that he needs to pad his numbers for “contract year.”
Maybe Marshall was the membrane between Richardson’s docile and dominant sides. Unlikely, but even if we give the all-world lineman the benefit of the doubt, it’s hard to invest cap-bending money in someone who lets personal squabbles stunt his professional growth. And Richardson already proved that he doesn’t need a locker room tormentor to make some dubious decisions away from MetLife Stadium.
So before Sheldon Richardson talks about contract years, he needs to be dominant every Sunday. And a decent citizen on Monday.
Or just be like Brandon Marshall.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel