Four days after saying they had no plans to trade demoted right tackle Wayne Hunter, the New York Jets did just that Monday night, dealing him to the St. Louis Rams for former first-round pick Jason Smith.
The trade agreement, confirmed by the Jets, amounts to a swap of disappointing right tackles. Both players, who will take physicals Tuesday, had lost their starting jobs.
The embattled Hunter, vilified by fans and media, was benched last Thursday in favor of Austin Howard. The journeyman tackle played well Sunday night against the Carolina Panthers and will remain the starter, according to a source.
Smith, the second overall pick in 2009, took a massive pay cut last spring and lost his job at the start of training camp to Barry Richardson, a stunning downfall for the former Baylor standout. After three seasons of injuries and ineffectiveness, the Rams finally decided to move on.
Basically, Smith will assume Hunter's role as the swing tackle off the bench, also contributing as an extra blocker/tight end in their jumbo package.
Unless Smith restructures his contract, the swap will cost the Jets an additional $1.55 million for 2012 -- the difference in guaranteed salaries for the two players. Smith is due to make $4 million, Hunter $2.45 million.
The Jets had no intention of dealing Hunter, but they received a call from the Rams shortly after demoting him, a source said. Rams offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who held the same position with the Jets from 2006 to 2011, always held Hunter in high regard.
On Sunday night, Hunter struggled again in a backup role, surrendering a fourth-quarter sack at left tackle. Behind the Jets' bench, he was verbally abused by unruly fans. Hunter lost his temper and had to be restrained by teammate Vladimir Ducasse, according to a team source. In the previous game, Hunter allowed 2.5 sacks against the New York Giants.
"The whole New York City knows that I've been struggling for the last year and the last game (I) didn't do much better," Hunter said last week upon his demotion. "I was waiting for it, to be honest with you. I knew I was struggling. I knew everything was kind of going south for me."
The Jets, under heavy criticism for not addressing the issue in the offseason, had reached the point of desperation. On the eve of training camp, they traded for former Panther Jeff Otah, another first-round disappointment, but the deal was voided a week later when Otah failed his physical.
At the start of camp, the Jets professed their faith in the beleaguered Hunter, but they ran out of patience. Hunter, hounded by fan and media criticism, lost his confidence, leaving the Jets little choice but to bench him. They turned to the unproven Howard, who didn't allow any sacks in the game.
"I thought Austin Howard had a nice game for us," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Smith was on shaky ground as far back as April, when he agreed to a massive pay cut, lowering his salary from $10 million to $4 million. He's due to make $12 million in 2013, but the deal voids if he plays in at least 31 percent of the offensive snaps this season.
Concussions have limited Smith to only 29 games (26 starts) over three seasons. He suffered a severe concussion as a rookie.
In 2009, the Rams drafted Smith three spots ahead of where the Jets selected quarterback Mark Sanchez. At the time, the Jets were concerned because they thought there was a chance the Rams were going to pick Sanchez.
The Jets and Rams have swapped draft busts in recent days. On Aug. 22, the Rams signed defensive end Vernon Gholston, whom the Jets drafted sixth overall in 2008.
Hunter, whom Ryan once called "the best backup tackle in the NFL," suffered through a nightmarish 2011. His most memorable moment came in the final two minutes of the final game, when he got into a shoving match in the huddle with Santonio Holmes and told the mercurial receiver to "get the f--- out." Holmes was benched.