The New York Jets announced today that they will release veteran running back Thomas Jones on Friday when the NFL's free agency period commences.
"We have informed Thomas and his representatives that we will release him on March 5," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said in a statement released by the club. "Thomas joined us three years ago and has been a productive, passionate leader both on and off the field who has served as a positive influence for our younger players. We were fortunate to acquire him and we wish him the best."
Jones, who will turn 32 on Aug. 19, enjoyed one of his best statistical campaigns in 2009. He not only ran for a career-high 1,402 yards but established a franchise record for rush touchdowns as his 14 broke the mark of 13 he set in '08. His 210 yards on the ground in a Week 6 overtime loss to the Buffalo Bills also set a Jets single-game mark and personal best.
"When I got here, Thomas immediately became one of my guys. He had one of his best years last season — might have been his best," said Jets head coach Rex Ryan. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a player and a person. As I said the other day, this is one of the tough decisions we had to make for our organization."
Jones was acquired in a masterful stroke by Tannenbaum when the Jets dropped 26 selections in the second round of the 2007 draft as their No. 36 overall selection went to the Chicago Bears in exchange for the No. 63 selection and Jones. Despite the Jets' team struggles in '07, Jones, in his first season in green and white, finished 10th in the NFL in rushing with 1,119 yards and his 310 carries ranked second in the league. In need of a bellcow back following Curtis Martin's retirement, New York's AFC representatives had found their man.
Then in 2008, Jones' 1,312 yards paced the AFC and his 15 overall TDs set a franchise record. His teammates voted him the recipient of the Curtis Martin MVP Award and of the Dennis Byrd award as most inspirational teammate. The Jets won nine games in '08 as Jones rushed for 100 yards five times and he also scored a touchdown in eight consecutive games. And after nine long years, he was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl appearance.
In three seasons with the Jets, TJ averaged 1,278 yards on the ground. He also was a good locker room presence throughout his tenure and helped tutor his eventual workhorse successor, Shonn Greene. There was a figurative passing of the torch in the Jets' three-game postseason run as the rookie gained 304 yards on the ground and scored twice while averaging 5.6 yards a clip. Meanwhile, Jones, slowed by a knee injury, amassed just 117 rush yards while picking up 2.6 yards an attempt.
When Greene exited the AFC Championship Game with injured ribs early in the third quarter, the Jets' offense didn't look the same in their season-ending 30-17 loss to the Colts.
Last April, the Jets made a shrewd move to start day two of the draft by trading up to select the bruising runner from Iowa. The 5'11", 226-pounder, who rushed for 540 yards in the regular season, will be counted on heavily in 2010. And the Jets, who could also add another back in the draft or free agency, hope that the explosive Leon Washington will return to form after suffering a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula last October.
Jones, who's rushed for 1,000 yards in five consecutive seasons, gave Jets Nation one great final moment before exiting. The Jets rode Greene's 128 yards to their 17-14 divisional playoff win in San Diego, but they cemented it with Jones' 2-yard gain on fourth-and 1 from the 'Bolts 29 with just 1:09 remaining.
"It just shows the confidence we have in both of our backs," Ryan said. "With the game on the line, we went to Thomas Jones."
Now after three memorable seasons, the Jets will move on without Jones, and TJ will find a new home.