- Jane McManus, Reporter & Columnist, espnW.com
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- When Plaxico Burress saw Derrick Mason playing scout team last week, it was a red flag. A 15-year veteran doing a rookie's job during practice? When told that Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said Mason was traded Tuesday night due to a lack of production on the field, the Jets' No. 2 receiver paused.
"My production hasn't been all that great either. Santonio (Holmes') production hasn't been all that great either," Burress said. "You can't just point at one guy. You can't just say it was his production. He's a wide receiver so he goes out and controls what he can control. He can't do everything for himself. There's 10 other players on the field also, and we all have to contribute, so that one person or each of us can have success."
The Jets tried to make it sound like they didn't decide to trade Mason until Tuesday, when they received a phone call from the Texans, when in fact, the Jets were actively shopping the veteran wide receiver last week, a high-ranking official from another team told ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini.
Sending Mason, who had complained about the Jets offense, to the Texans for an undisclosed draft pick became official Wednesday. Sources told Cimini on Tuesday that the Jets received a conditional seventh-rounder.
"I can't worry about what happened in New York," Mason said. "I enjoyed my two months there, if it was that. I enjoyed Rex, I've known Rex for a long time. But things just don't last sometimes. You want one thought as an organization, and then you come out with another. I think it was a win-win for everybody. I'm not upset."
Perhaps it wasn't intended to be one, but the move to send Mason to the Texans five weeks into the season is an eye-opener to many players in the Jets locker room. The team is 2-3 with three straight losses, struggling to find chemistry in the passing game -- and elsewhere.
"Anybody can be gone in this locker room," said cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Jets safety Jim Leonhard played with Mason in Baltimore and knows that he and Jets coach Rex Ryan had a relationship that goes back years. It sends a message whether intentional or, as Ryan contended, not.
"I think it has to," Leonhard said. "Everyone if you've been around this long enough you realize stuff like this happens, and veterans are let go. Leaders in the locker room are let go. To have it happen right now, it's definitely tough and a shock, but if they felt like a move needed to be made they obviously went out and made one. We can't get caught up in that. We've got plenty of issues on the field to deal with."
There had been signs that Mason was disillusioned with the Jets. Mason, who signed a two-year contract ($1.3 million this season), complained after the Week 4 loss to the Ravens, telling reporters that there were "cracks" in the offense.
A week later, a published report said he and fellow receivers Holmes and Burress met individually with Ryan to complain about offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer's system.
Ryan and the three receivers refuted the story. ESPNNewYork.com reported Sunday night that Mason was benched for the first half of the Jets' loss to the New England Patriots because of his postgame comments from the previous week.
The Jets denied that, too. On Tuesday, both Tannenbaum and Ryan said that Mason was not cut because of what he said publicly after the loss in Baltimore.
"I think the hallmark of our program is everyone has to be themselves," Tannenbaum said Wednesday. "And clearly that's the environment we have here. What he said after the Baltimore game had nothing to do with the decision we made last night. Obviously the performance on the field wasn't where he had expected to be or where we had expected to be."
Mason didn't practice with the Texans on Tuesday, but coach Gary Kubiak said he could still play this week.
"He's played for a few friends of mine, so I know what he knows, terminology-wise," Kubiak said. "I've got to see how quick I can get him ready to help us in this game. He could (play Sunday), but let me spend a day or two with him and see where he's at, and how much of our stuff overlaps with what he's been doing. Hopefully, that will happen."
With his 7-yard catch Sunday, Mason became the 18th player in NFL history to reach 12,000 yards receiving.
"We had a chance to go get a guy who still runs very well, even though he's played a long time in this league," Kubiak said. "He's been very effective in this league, and we feel like we can catch him up really fast. That was a big key."
Mason will be closer to his home base in Tennessee, where he went on Mondays and Tuesdays each week as part of a special arrangement when he signed with the Jets. Yet that may have contributed to his difficulty getting the Jets playbook down, something he talked about after he was benched in the loss in New England.
Still, Mason insisted that his football skills haven't diminished.
"The numbers may have," he said, "but if you watch me, week in and week out, it's the same guy."
Burress called the league a "performance-driven business."
"You're not doing what you're supposed to do, they'll find a way to bring somebody else in who they think can come out and be better," he said.
Rookie Jeremy Kerley will be the Jets starting receiver in the slot. He wore No. 85 in training camp, his number at TCU, but when Mason came in Kerley gave up the number before being asked. He said he'll keep the No. 11.
Kerley has been the Jets punt returner and had a solid training camp. In New England he had three catches for 35 yards. Kerley said he would still return punts, but the Jets could tap Joe McKnight to shoulder some of that burden so that Kerley can concentrate on reps with the offense.
"It's a part of the business," Kerley said. "I wish him the best of luck. He's a great player, and he'll be great other places. I'm just glad I could step up and be the man in the third spot."
Kerley impressed his teammates during the NFL lockout, when the recently drafted kid paid his own way to Mark Sanchez's Jets West Camp before getting a paycheck, at least that's how tight end Dustin Keller remembers it.
"I think so," Keller said. "I'm probably giving him more credit than he deserves, but he was out there, regardless. He was out there and he spent the time. He just got drafted and he really didn't know any of the guys well, but he came out and he put in the work."
Tannenbaum said Mason wouldn't have been sent packing if Houston didn't call, even though the Jets barely get anything in return. He didn't clarify whether that call was the result of the Jets trying to shop Mason, saying those discussions were internal. Tannenbaum did say Mason was surprised at the news.
"Clearly what our program stands for is (that) it's a disciplined program, but it's also a program that lets guys be who they are, lets their personalities come out," Tannenbaum said. "And we're always going to make the decisions on what's best for the team, but it's going to be based on what gives us the best chance to win on the field."
Mason was added to the Jets' roster after slot receiver Jerricho Cotchery asked for and received his release. Ryan knew Mason from his days in Baltimore, but the 37-year-old veteran was not able to get into the system quickly enough, and leaves with 13 catches in five games.
"At times I think our offense has looked productive, efficient, and at other times we've all seen it, it hasn't been to the level that we hope or expect," Tannenbaum said. "But with that said, I believe in the guys in the locker room. I believe in the coaching staff, the same coaches that have developed this quarterback and brought up to two AFC Championship Games. We've got to get those inconsistencies addressed and hopefully it happens soon, and we expect it to."
Asked if he would try to shore up the Jets' thin receiver ranks, Tannenbaum expressed confidence in Kerley and noted that Logan Payne will eventually come back once his broken wrist heals. The Jets also added Michael Campbell to the practice squad.
Jane McManus is a reporter and columnist for ESPNNewYork.com. Information from ESPNNewYork.com's Rich Cimini and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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