The New York Jets on Tuesday declined to resubmit a restricted free agent qualifying offer to defensive back Jamie Henderson, who suffered a life-threatening head injury in a motorcycle accident on April 3, thus relinquishing their rights, at least temporarily, to the three-year veteran.
In March, the Jets made Henderson the standard qualifying offer of $628,000 to retain a right of first refusal on him. But the former University of Georgia standout was involved in the accident before he signed the qualifying offer or negotiations could begin on a longer-term contract. Under league rules, teams must resubmit the qualifying offer on June 1 for any restricted free agents still unsigned at that point, and failure to do so means the player essentially becomes unrestricted.
For Henderson, his status may be moot, since injuries sustained in the crash will preclude him from playing in 2004 anyway. Henderson, who has made considerable progress in what is expected to be a lengthy recovery, hopes to return to the field in 2005.
And there is a possibility, acknowledged agent Pat Dye Jr., that Henderson could resume his career with the Jets. The team will closely monitor Henderson's recovery, will assess his condition next week when they bring him to New York, and would like to have him part of the organization.
The Jets, in fact, would like to divine a way to permit Henderson to continue recovery around the team. One sticking point, though, is his lack of a contract with the club. As a veteran player, it should be noted the medical costs for Henderson's outpatient treatment program are assumed by the league.
"I don't think (the events of Tuesday) really sour his relationship with the team at all," said Dye. "The fact is, they never really intended to sign him to the (qualifying offer), but we never got the opportunity to discuss an alternative."
Early in the offseason, there was some discussion of not making the qualifying offer to Henderson, but perhaps signing him to a deal that paid him a modest signing bonus and perhaps the minimum base salary for a fourth-year veteran, $455,000. Dye and New York officials also spoke at one point about a potential two-year deal. The accident, however, suspended all discussions.
Technically, because Henderson was injured in a non-football related situation, the Jets would not have been liable for his salary, even if he had signed a contract. Throughout the recovery period, Dye and the Henderson family have lauded the Jets for their care and understanding. Team officials and New York players have visited with Henderson, who recently moved to a facility more prepared to deal with his rapid pace of recovery.
Henderson is said to be months ahead of the anticipated rehabilitation period. He speaks frequently by phone to teammates and is aware of the status of offseason programs. That said, neurologists likely won't know for months if Henderson will ever play again.
A fourth-round choice in the 2001 draft, Henderson, 25, was injured near his home in Carrollton, Ga., while riding a motorcycle he had purchased only a month earlier. Local police have confirmed that neither alcohol nor drugs were involved in the accident, and it is believed that novice biker Henderson failed to negotiate a curve, drove off the road and was thrown from his vehicle.
In three seasons, Henderson has bounced back and forth between cornerback and safety, appearing in 32 games.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.