FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- To Leon Washington, returning a kickoff for a touchdown this Sunday against his former team, the Jets, would mean the same to him as it would if it were any other team in the NFL. Washington is playing Gang Green for the first time since the team traded him away in 2010.
“There is no added attention to me playing the Jets,” Washington said on a conference call. "Honestly, I’m very serious when I say this: we’re concerned with what we are doing out here. We got a really good football team so we’re trying to put things together. We’re not too concerned about our opponent, we’re prepared for them but we’re concerned about doing things we need to do for us to win the game.”
Washington, a fan favorite during his time with the Jets, rushed for 13 touchdowns in his career with the Jets and was a threat out of the backfield. As a return man, he showed he was among the league’s best, earning a Pro Bowl bid in 2008.
The running back broke his leg in a win against Oakland in 2009 and missed the remainder of the season. After he suffered the injury, the Pro Bowl return man was worried that if he would ever be able to get back to that same level. He ranks second in the NFL with a 29.1 kickoff return average this season, and is second all-time in kickoff returns for touchdowns.
“Obviously the doubt from breaking my leg that part of it was like, wow, can I ever get back to being Leon, can I ever get back to returning kicks and making plays,” Washington said. “That’s the only hesitation that I had but obviously playing football again was a great opportunity that Pete (Carroll) gave me out here in Seattle. I’m thankful for that part of it. Just to play football again is awesome.”
After Washington signed a one-year tender with the team, the Jets ultimately shipped him and a seventh-round pick away for a fifth-round choice in the 2010 NFL Draft. Washington said he was told the team needed to pay its stars, like center Nick Mangold and Darrelle Revis, and he understood the decision. Since leaving the Jets in 2010, Washington has 90 carries in his 41 games with the Seahawks.
“It’s a business, I understand it,” Washington said of his trade. “I was just thankful I had the opportunity, they drafted me in the first place. It was awesome.”
Washington is still close with some of the Jets and keeps tabs on his former team. He said he was surprised to see Rex Ryan was recently voted the most overrated coach in the league since he believes Ryan is a player’s coach. Washington played under Ryan for one season in 2009.
“I saw that yesterday it’s kind of like man, the Jets are 3-5 this year and he’s overrated. A couple years ago when they’re going to AFC Championships and things he’s the best coach in the National Football League,” Washington said. "You know how things like that go. Every year it’s something different in the National Football League.”