Jets finalize deal for RT Jason Smith

Updated: August 28, 2012, 10:07 PM ET
By Rich Cimini | ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Wayne Hunter-for-Jason Smith trade, perhaps the most publicized swap of backup right tackles in recent history, became official late Tuesday. But not before the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams executed a rare sign-and-trade for the NFL.

Smith, due to make a guaranteed $4 million this season, signed a new contract with the Rams, receiving a $1.55 million signing bonus, according to a league source. At 4 p.m., he officially became a member of the Jets, who will pick up the base salary of the re-worked deal -- $2.45 million, identical to Hunter's salary.

In the end, the two players will receive their full compensation for 2012, and the payroll of the two teams will remain the same. Smith is under contract for 2013 -- that was unaffected by the restructuring -- but the deal likely will void after this season.

Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum declined to discuss the financial aspect of the trade. He said Smith, the second overall pick in the 2009 draft, will inherit Hunter's role -- a backup at left and right tackle and an extra blocker/tight end in their jumbo package. He may play a few snaps in the final preseason game Thursday night in Philadelphia.

Tannenbaum said Austin Howard, promoted last week to replace Hunter in the lineup, will be the starting right tackle.

"I think Jason has a chance to come in and help us," Tannenbaum said. "He's going to get a fresh start here and he has a lot of athletic ability."

Basically, Smith, 26, is a younger version of Hunter, 31, except with less baggage. In New York, Hunter became a lightning rod for fan criticism. During Sunday night's home loss to the Carolina Panthers, he was targeted by hecklers behind the bench and had to be restrained by a teammate, according to a source.

Tannenbaum claimed the fan reaction, and Hunter's loss of confidence, didn't factor into the trade. After demoting Hunter last week, the Jets said they had no intention of trading him. What changed?

"St. Louis approached us (last Friday) and we felt like, 'Hey, maybe this is a win-win,' two guys getting fresh starts," Tannenbaum said. "It sounded like a reasonable approach to try to improve ourselves."

Privately, some in the organization felt that Hunter, coming off a nightmarish 2011, wouldn't be able to overcome the adversity in New York.

Smith, who lost his starting job after three disappointing seasons, endured similar treatment in St. Louis, where he's regarded as one of the franchise's biggest draft busts. Unlike Hunter, Smith has a medical concern. He's had at least three concussions since 2009. In fact, he missed 10 games last season.

"We understand the risk there," Tannenbaum said. "Obviously, that was a concern, but we felt like it was a reasonable risk to take."

Smith, who arrived in Florham Park early Tuesday and passed his physical, wasn't made available to the media.

In retrospect, it appears as if the Jets made a mistake by re-signing Hunter, a career backup, to a four-year, $14 million contract last summer and making him the starter. Tannenbaum refused to admit the blunder.

"Last year was mixed, it wasn't all bad," he said. "We felt like he deserved another opportunity and we kept evaluating it."

Like Hunter, Smith has struggled mightily in pass protection. His game has "some inconsistencies," according to Tannenbaum, but he believes Smith has the movement skills and range to play left and right tackle. He'll back up Howard -- for now.

Earlier in the day, coach Rex Ryan said Howard probably would be the opening-day starter, but he stopped short of committing to it.

Rich Cimini

ESPN New York Jets reporter

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