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Wednesday, October 5, 2011
The omen: Damien's ouster haunts Jets

By Jane McManus
ESPNNewYork.com

After the 2010 regular season ended, the New York Jets made a quiet roster move Ebenezer Scrooge would have applauded, cutting a veteran in the process of rehabbing a ruptured Achilles. Just like that, Damien Woody's salary was off the books going into the NFL lockout, which to some bean counter in a Florham Park office probably looked a genius move.

Not so much right now.

The decision to cut Woody -- he didn't retire until after the lockout ended -- was not only cold-hearted, given that he'd sacrificed his knee all season in service to the Jets' offensive line, but also has had repercussions that arguably contribute directly to the team's two losses this season.

Damien Woody
Damien Woody was a Jet for the final three seasons of his 12-year career in the NFL

And Woody, who will turn 34 next month, isn't coming back. He misses playing, but he's happy in his new role as a television analyst, which allows him to spend time with his family and still be pretty involved with the game.

"I've moved on," Woody said Wednesday in advance of the Jets' showdown with the Patriots. "I feel real comfortable with where I'm at currently."

Fans have been clamoring for Woody to get back in a green-and-white uniform. Some are even angry and feel that his decision to retire was a betrayal of his old team. There is no question that the Jets' offensive line is in a shambles, but it's hardly Woody's fault.

Here's the timeline:

March 1: The Jets cut Woody, Vernon Gholston, Kris Jenkins and Jason Taylor.

March 11: The NFL lockout begins. Woody starts to mull retirement, wondering whether he needs to press the gas on his rehab quite as hard and whether his family might need him to be able to walk when he does retire.

July 25: The NFL lockout ends, but Woody isn't in game shape anymore even though the Jets are interested in having him back.

Aug. 5: Woody holds a news conference at Florham Park to announce his retirement and that he will join ESPN as an analyst.

Conclusion: Woody didn't jump. He was pushed.

General manager Mike Tannenbaum cut him at a crucial moment in his rehab and right before communication between teams and players was severed. Wayne Hunter was an excellent backup and the natural choice to replace Woody at right tackle, but it left the team with one reliable fill-in -- who is now driving around the Jets' facility in a motorized cart.

When Rob Turner broke his leg in an Aug. 15 preseason game against the Texans, the Jets were essentially left with Vlad Ducasse, a second-year player now mentioned by call-it-as-he-sees-it Joe Namath in the same sentence as Gholston.

All it took was the high-ankle sprain to Nick Mangold's right leg to force a choice between Ducasse, who seems to have been tragically born without twitch reflexes, and rookie Colin Baxter.

The result: Quarterback Mark Sanchez has .0002 seconds to get rid of the ball before Ray Lewis wraps him in a bear hug.

Aside from the fact that the Jets should have scoured the free-agent market immediately after Turner's injury, the team could have avoided its current predicament if it didn't cut the injured Woody in March.

Best offensive line in football? The Jets used to claim it. Try saying it this year with a straight face. Or, depending on how much the Jets mean to you, without crying.

But it isn't just about what Woody could do on the football field. It's also the gravitas he brought to the team. Woody was always accountable, win or lose -- and it's not insignificant that few Jets were available Monday in the locker room to talk about their implosion in Baltimore. Kudos to D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Jim Leonhard and Matt Slauson for standing up and taking the heat.

Woody was the kind of player who didn't duck out on his responsibility. He wasn't just there to talk about his own successes on a good day.

If you take too many of those guys out of the locker room, it tips the balance. Whatever financial calculation the Jets did that made it seem like a sensible move to cut Woody didn't take that into account.

There are intangibles that can't be quantified on a ledger sheet.