Commentary

How could Shaun Ellis sign with Pats?

Money, that's how -- and the Jets had better hope their gamble was a good one

Updated: August 9, 2011, 7:30 AM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

Shaun Ellis is this year's Jason Taylor, feeling so betrayed by his forever team that he jumped to the dark side of a bitter rivalry.

Ellis is the football version of Johnny Damon, in reverse -- New York going to Boston, a heart-and-soul guy placing opportunity ahead of loyalty.

You always figured Ellis would be the last player on the New York Jets' roster to ride the Foxborough shuttle, but anything goes in professional sports. On Sunday morning, he agreed to a one-year contract with the New England Patriots, pending a physical.

What next, Fireman Ed wearing a Brady jersey and leading "P-A-T-S!" cheers at Gillette Stadium?

Ellis was the Jets' longest-tenured player. He spent 11 seasons in green, acquiring a profound dislike for the New England Patriots. It was part of his DNA.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Charles KrupaEllis said hello to his future teammate several times in January's upset win.

When the Jets lost the 2008 opener to the Patriots, their 11th defeat in 12 games to Brady & Co., Ellis was so disgusted that he flung his helmet across the field in the waning seconds. His new teammate, Brett Favre, was taken aback by the stunning show of emotion, his first "Same Old Jets" snapshot.

Ellis enjoyed sweet revenge last January in Foxborough, playing the game of his life in the Jets' biggest win since Super Bowl III. He sacked Tom Brady twice that day in the playoffs, his personal Super Bowl. Ellis was "the best player on the field," Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum said the other day in a radio interview.

The best player on the field became an unrestricted free agent, and the Jets made him a one-year offer for the veteran's minimum ($910,000). Ellis, spurned in his bid for a contract extension before the 2010 season, was insulted, he told friends. The token offer, coupled with the previous year's rejection, soured Ellis.

Presumably, Ellis will get a little more from the Patriots, who don't mind withdrawing a few extra bucks from their "Tweaking the Jets" account. Rest assured, the Jets feel the same way about the Patriots.

"The fact that he chose them, and all that ... there's no way I'm going to wish him well," Rex Ryan said Sunday. "There's no chance of that."

Former Jets safety Victor Green knows what Ellis is experiencing. Dumped by the Jets after nine seasons, he signed with the Patriots in 2002.

"I can't speak for Shaun, but it's like a slap in the face," Green said Sunday. "You spend your whole career with one organization and, at the end of the day, your arch-nemesis treats you better than your own team. For Shaun, I'm sure it came down to principle."

Ellis, 34, going to the Patriots isn't going to tilt the rivalry. After all, this isn't Bill Parcells or Curtis Martin or Bill Belichick changing allegiances. This isn't Chad Pennington, still in his prime, signing with the Miami Dolphins after being kicked to the curb by the Jets. It's more like Taylor, near the end, jumping from Miami to New York (and, a few days ago, back to Miami).

That said, Ellis still could've helped the Jets. Yes, Muhammad Wilkerson is the future, maybe the present, but it wouldn't hurt to have had someone of Ellis' stature in the huddle and in the locker room.

The Jets performed an extreme makeover to their defensive line, unloading Ellis and Kris Jenkins (since retired) and drafting Wilkerson (first round) and Kenrick Ellis (third). They got younger and bigger. It had to be done, but they may have underestimated Shaun Ellis' value.

Ellis would've helped Wilkerson, who didn't have the benefit of an offseason because of the lockout. Now the Jets are counting on the former Temple standout to be the opening-day starter. A year ago, he was beating up the likes of Bowling Green. On Sept. 11, he'll be starting against the Dallas Cowboys.

What if he's overwhelmed? Who steps in? Ropati Pitoitua? He's never played a down in the league. Marcus Dixon? He has minimal experience.

"You're breaking in a rookie on a Super Bowl-or-bust team, and that's a lot to put on a young guy, especially after no offseason," said former Jets tackle-turned-ESPN analyst Damien Woody, adding that he's "still in disbelief" that Ellis will be a Patriot.

The Jets have parted ways with some of their best locker-room guys, players like Ellis, Woody and Jerricho Cotchery, and they'll probably be criticized for that. But the Patriots have done the same thing in recent years, unloading popular players such as Richard Seymour and Mike Vrabel. The most successful franchises know when to say when.

Of course, it hurts when one of your most beloved players jumps into the arms of your No. 1 enemy. Some players won't do it. In 2008, Troy Brown, knowing his fabulous run in New England was up, was offered a contract by the Jets.

He retired.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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