The Jets and Rams swapped struggling right tackles Monday night as New York acquired Jason Smith from St. Louis for Wayne Hunter.
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Both the Jets and Kenny Zuckerman, Hunter’s agent, confirmed the deal, adding that it was pending physicals on Tuesday.
Smith was the No. 2 overall pick by the Rams in the 2009 draft, but failed to live up to lofty expectations and lost his starting job. Free agent Barry Richardson has started at right tackle all preseason ahead of Smith, who has been plagued by concussion problems and ineffectiveness throughout his career.
Hunter was demoted to the jumbo tight end spot and replaced by Austin Howard last week after struggling in the first two games of the preseason while coming off a rough first year as the Jets’ starter at right tackle. But the Jets made it clear he was still in their plans for this season when they didn’t cut him before the start of free agency — allowing his contract to become guaranteed for $2.45 million.
A person familiar with the deal tells The Associated Press that Smith is expected to serve in the same role Hunter was expected to fill, and Howard will be the starter at right tackle. The Jets had no intention of trading Hunter — but then the Rams called to inquire about a deal and both teams thought the players would benefit from a change of scenery, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither team had discussed details of the trade.
The Rams thought they had drafted a cornerstone player for their offensive line when they took Smith out of Baylor, signing him to a six-year contract with $33 million in guarantees. But Smith sustained a concussion as a rookie, and has been limited to only 29 games in his three seasons.
St. Louis appeared to have been down on Smith for some time, making him take a pay cut from $10 million to $4 million in April.
Now, he’ll get a chance to rejuvenate his career with the Jets, likely competing with Howard for the starting spot.
One of New York’s biggest question marks heading into the season was at right tackle, and it did little in the offseason to address the position. The Jets traded for former Panthers first-rounder Jeff Otah before training camp, but he failed his physical and was eventually returned to Carolina.
Hunter was slated to be the starter despite his struggles, and offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo expressed his faith in the right tackle during the spring.
”Until they ship him out of this building or until they shoot me dead in my office, that son of a gun’s going to be the starting right tackle, and he’s going to play well,” DeGuglielmo said in May.
Coach Rex Ryan decided last week to put Hunter back in his role as the sixth offensive lineman — a spot in which he excelled before taking over for the retired Damien Woody last season. The Jets said they would not trade Hunter, but rather he would serve in the valuable jumbo tight end spot.
Howard started at right tackle against Carolina on Sunday night and was solid, not allowing any sacks and keeping Charles Johnson away from Mark Sanchez.
”Austin Howard had a nice game for us,” Ryan said after the Jets’ 17-12 loss.
The Rams suddenly have a plethora of former Jets, including Hunter, offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, quarterback Kellen Clemens, offensive lineman Robert Turner, tight end Matthew Mulligan and defensive end Vernon Gholston, New York’s first-round pick in 2008.