Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Thursday, December 8, 2011
Jets found a real gem on the scrap heap

By Rich Cimini
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The organization responsible for Vernon Gholston -- three years and a cloud of bust -- is reveling in its discovery of the anti-Vernon.

The New York Jets found a winning lottery ticket in a garbage pail when they gave Aaron Maybin a second chance. Or was it a third chance? Either way, he's made such an impact in only nine games -- six sacks, four forced fumbles -- that he's already being marketed.

Aaron Maybin
Aaron Maybin celebrates a sack of Rex Grossman last Sunday.

Have you seen the customized Maybin jersey with his nickname on the back?

MAYHEM.

"Pretty cool," Maybin said Thursday. "I can't lie and say it isn't."

Just like that, the Jets go from Mayday to Mayhem, from Gholston to Maybin. Maybe the football gods felt sorry for them after three seasons of self-inflicted torture, and decided to bestow a gift upon them.

"I thought Vernon was ascending -- I never thought he was the 'bust' word -- but he went somewhere else and we were able to get Aaron Maybin," Rex Ryan said. "That's a good thing."

Gholston went somewhere else because the Jets, after paying $20 million in guarantees for a grand total of zero sacks, decided enough was enough and released him last offseason. The Chicago Bears took a flyer on him, the same way the Jets did with Maybin, and it turned out like most of them do.

With a pink slip.

Remarkably, Gholston, the sixth pick in the 2008 draft, is out of the league. There were no other flyers. One general manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of Gholston, "He couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat."

Meanwhile, Maybin has emerged as one of the unlikeliest comeback stories in the league. For two years, he was on a Gholston trajectory -- high draft pick, no production, fired by his original team -- but give him credit for capitalizing on his new opportunity.

The Buffalo Bills, who chose him 11th overall in 2009, aren't looking too smart here. Clearly, Maybin has some talent and, as he put it, the Bills "had the perfect opportunity to see what they were letting go." They let him go in the preseason.

There was more to the story, more to it than just a stat line that included zero sacks in two seasons. That's usually how it goes with these situations.

Maybin acted like "Mr. Cool" in Buffalo, according to a person with knowledge of the situation. He wore sunglasses to meetings, failed to maintain his prescribed weight and generally acted aloof, the person said, adding: "He did all the wrong things. ... I think the Bills questioned his work ethic."

Bills GM Buddy Nix wasn't made available to discuss Maybin. Nix doesn't comment on players from other teams, according to a Bills spokesman.

Just like the Jets did with Gholston, the Bills decided to cut bait. Maybin appeared headed to the Bears, who evidently like reclamation projects, but he was lured to the Jets with an 11th-hour recruiting call by Ryan. He flashed some pass-rushing ability in the preseason, but the Jets felt like he didn't know enough of the playbook because of his late arrival.

So they cut him. But they also gave him some hope.

"We told him, 'Hey, look, this might not be a permanent thing. Just be ready to go,'" Ryan said.

Obviously, the Jets wouldn't have sent him on his way if they knew he had the potential to be their leading sacker, which he is. So, yeah, there was some luck involved, but Ryan also saw something in Maybin. The day after their first loss, Week 3 to the Oakland Raiders, Ryan mentioned to GM Mike Tannenbaum that he wanted to re-sign Maybin.

"We were looking for some energy and production in the front seven," said Tannenbaum, who gave Maybin a first-round grade in the '09 draft.

The next opponent also factored into the decision. The Jets were playing the Baltimore Ravens, and some felt Maybin's burst off the corner would cause problems for the Ravens' massive left tackle, Bryant McKinnie.

So Tannenbaum called Maybin's cell phone. No answer.

Maybin's agent called the cell phone. No answer.

Maybin's friends called. No answer.

It took the Jets a day to track down Maybin, and there were some "anxious moments," according to Ryan. It turned out that Maybin was in South Carolina, attending an aunt's funeral, so his phone was off. When he turned it on, he had about 50 voicemail messages. As soon as he got word that the Jets wanted him back, he flew to New Jersey and signed a one-year contract.

Initially, the Jets had some concern about the locker room accepting Maybin, whose loud and flashy personality can rub some people the wrong way. It happened in a pre-draft interview over dinner with the Washington Redskins, who were turned off by his outgoing demeanor and dropped him from first-round consideration, a league source said.

From all indications, Maybin has fit in nicely with the Jets, who embrace castoffs with baggage. The only people he annoys, he said half-jokingly, are his coaches -- the ones he constantly peppers with questions about X's and O's. He's not shy about calling Mike Smith, who coaches the outside linebackers, late at night.

"I didn't know how his teammates would take him, but they like him, they understand him," Ryan said. "He's a Jet. That's how I look at him."

Could it be that Maybin, who drives around with a vanity plate that says "Mayhem," has learned humility? (He got the nickname from former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who inadvertently referred to him as "Mayhem.") Getting fired twice in a span of three weeks can make a person humble.

The question was posed to Maybin, who paused a moment before answering.

"I'd love to be able to say 'yes' because it sounds good, but I don't want to lie," said Maybin, explaining he never lost his swagger. "Everyone else might have thought I was whatever, but I always knew I could play."

Despite some similarities, namely position and draft pedigree, Maybin is the anti-Gholston on many levels -- and we're not talking about the contrast in personalities. (Gholston was well-liked, but totally vanilla.) Maybin has three attributes that Gholston never showed:

Speed. Relentlessness. Instinct.

"His success doesn't surprise me," the unnamed GM said. "He has an upfield burst and a non-stop motor, and those things bode well for a pass rusher. When you watch the tape, he goes full bore. You never questioned his effort or passion on the field. What he lacked was strength; he can get tossed around like a rag doll.

"But he has instincts, he sees it," the GM continued. "He knows when to pull the trigger and come out of a move. Gholston never had that."

It's funny how these things work out. The Jets made an enormous investment in Gholston, convinced he'd be a cornerstone player. He went bust. They replaced him with a bust who has become a key player. It doesn't atone for the Gholston mistake, but it's a cool story about redemption and second chances. For team and player.