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Jets may not have landed Darnold if it weren’t for this trade

It was the trade before THE TRADE.

On Sept. 1, 2017, general manager Mike Maccagnan shipped defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson to the Seahawks in exchange for a second-round pick and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse.

It looked like a good trade at the time. Thirteen months later, it looks like a great trade.
The Jets used that second-round pick as part of the package they sent to the Colts to move up in the 2018 NFL Draft. By moving up to No. 3, they were able to take quarterback Sam Darnold, who is showing signs of becoming the franchise quarterback the Jets have chased for four decades.

Without that second-rounder, the Jets surely would have had to give up a first-round pick in the 2019 draft to jump from No. 6 to No. 3, but with it, they were able to send Indianapolis three second-round picks and move into position to grab Darnold.

The Seahawks trade comes to mind this week because Richardson returns to MetLife Stadium as a member of the Vikings. After one solid, if unspectacular, year in Seattle, Richardson signed a one-year, $8 million deal with Minnesota. It is basically a prove-it deal for Richardson, who could land the long-term contract he has desired for years next March.

Sam Darnold
Sam DarnoldPaul J. Bereswill

Richardson is now 27 and is playing well for the Vikings. He only has one sack, but he leads the team with 10 quarterback hits.

There was never any question about what type of player Richardson was inside the Jets organization. The questions were always about his character. After a failed drug test and a highly publicized arrest in 2015, there were obvious questions about handing him a long-term, big-money deal.

Richardson then was involved in a locker room feud with Brandon Marshall in 2016 that caused a rift inside the team.

The Jets had been trying to trade Richardson since the middle of the 2016 season, but Maccagnan wisely waited until someone would give up an attractive package. The Cowboys chased Richardson in 2016, but would not give up enough to make Maccagnan pull the trigger. During the 2017 draft, the Jaguars and Jets got close on a deal, but Jacksonville would not meet Maccagnan’s price.
Finally, the Seahawks did.

It was such a smart move because the Jets were not going to give Richardson a long-term deal and the defensive line was a position of strength. Instead of letting him walk in free agency with the chance to get a compensatory pick (no guarantee) in 2019, they landed a pick and a true professional in Kearse.

People are likely to remember the March 17 trade with the Colts more, but I think the Richardson trade was the shrewdest move Maccagnan has made as a general manager. Not only did he land the pick that led to Darnold, but he also brought Kearse to the team.

Kearse has developed into a locker-room leader. He has shown the young receiving corps how to be professionals in the past two seasons and has been highly productive. He led the team with 65 receptions last season, good for 810 yards and five touchdowns.

After a slow start this season as he dealt with a core injury, Kearse looked like his old self in the win over the Colts on Sunday with nine catches for 94 yards. His role will only increase now with the injury to Quincy Enunwa.

Richardson did some good things as a Jet. Jets fans should give him some applause Sunday. His 2013 Rookie of the Year season and eight sacks in 2014 were memorable. But his biggest contribution to the Jets will be what he brought back in that trade and what it enabled the Jets to do.

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