Tony Richardson's release roils Jets

NEW YORK -- Continuing the purge of veteran leaders that began six months ago, the New York Jets released well-respected fullback Tony Richardson Sunday -- an immediately unpopular move in the locker room.

The announcement came only four days after the latest episode of "Hard Knocks," in which Rex Ryan and his assistants bemoan a lack of leadership on offense. According to a league source, the Jets hope to re-sign Richardson after Week 1, when the balance of his $855,000 salary wouldn't be guaranteed.

Dumping Richardson, even if only for a week, means rookie fullback John Conner will have to block All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis in his first assignment.

"Terrible," one player said of Richardson's release, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Another player said, "[It's] f------ ridiculous."

The Jets are taking an interesting approach to their season opener.

While they have solved the Darrelle Revis problem, the Jets are prepared to face the Baltimore Ravens with a shortage of veteran wide receivers, having released Laveranues Coles because they didn't want to guarantee his $855,000 contract. They also won't have Santonio Holmes, who will miss the first four games due to a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.

In the offseason, the Jets unloaded running backs Thomas Jones and Leon Washington and guard Alan Faneca, all popular leaders. Cost-cutting factored into each decision. If the Jets re-sign Richardson, 38, after the Baltimore game, they will have saved $50,300 -- one game check.

In last week's "Hard Knocks" show, general manager Mike Tannenbaum and coach Rex Ryan seem at odds on what to do with Richardson. Tannenbaum, citing Richardson's salary, seems in favor of cutting the 16-year veteran. Ryan defends Richardson, saying the team needs two fullbacks to implement his "ground-and-pound" rushing philosophy.

Publicly, Ryan gave Richardson several strong endorsements, saying he'd be "shocked" if the fullback was not on the roster.

"Each season, there are difficult choices when constructing the 53-man roster, and this year is no exception," Tannenbaum said in a statement. "We appreciate Tony's contributions and leadership over the past two seasons and have nothing but the highest respect for him as a person and as a player."

Richardson didn't return an e-mail seeking comment.

Ryan is smitten with Conner -- a.k.a. "The Terminator" -- whose crushing blocks have become one of the main storylines of "Hard Knocks." But, in the final preseason game, he lost a fumble and dropped a pass. Against the Ravens, he will face a defense that is the mirror image of the Jets' -- complex and unpredictable.

The Jets released Richardson and waived wide receiver David Clowney and running back Chauncey Washington on Sunday to make room for three waiver pickups -- wide receiver Patrick Turner (Miami Dolphins), defensive tackle Marcus Dixon (Dallas Cowboys) and offensive tackle Patrick Brown (Minnesota Vikings).

Turner will be reunited with quarterback Mark Sanchez -- they were teammates at USC in 2008. Turner was a third-round pick of the Dolphins in 2009; it's unusual for team to unload a relatively high draft pick after one season.

Clowney's roster spot appeared tenuous in recent weeks, ever since the coaches criticized him on an early episode of "Hard Knocks." They felt he never developed as a receiver, and they also had questions about his desire on special teams. The plan was to make him a "gunner" on kick coverage.

Thing is, Turner (6-foot-5, 220) has less special-teams potential than Clowney, according to an NFL personnel executive. As a receiver, Turner is strictly a possession type, with limited speed. He played in only three games last season and had no catches. In Miami, he was beaten out by two undrafted free agents.

The Jets play the Dolphins in Week 3, so it's possible they could pump Turner for information on his old team.

Clowney made positive headlines for his off-the-field efforts, taking trips on his own to Haiti and Ghana last offseason in relief efforts. On the field, Clowney had 15 receptions for 217 yards and one touchdown in two seasons.

The Jets have only four receivers on the roster. Turner will be behind Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. It's hard to imagine Turner receiving any early playing time, but if he impresses in practice, the Jets may decide not to re-sign veteran Coles after Week 1. They told Coles that was their intention when they released him last week.

Rich Cimini covers the Jets for ESPNNewYork.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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