Bears swap Jones, pick for Jets draft pick
• John Clayton
Filling their need for a No. 1 ball carrier, the Jets agreed to a trade with the NFC champion Chicago Bears that landed them Thomas Jones and the 63rd overall pick in the upcoming draft in exchange for the 37th overall pick. New York acquired that in a draft-day deal with Washington last year.
The Jets still own two picks in the second round, their own (No. 59) and now the Bears' original selection. The Bears select 31st in Round 1 and for now are set to be on the clock six picks later.
"We did a lot of research on Thomas as a person, and we think he's a good fit on and off the field," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "He's a tough, outdoor, Northeast runner, and he provides leadership."
Jones passed a physical Tuesday and agreed to a $20 million, four-year contract with the Jets, $12 million of which is guaranteed. Jones will be paid $13.1 million in the first two years of the deal.
"I had a great time in Chicago, and it was a great experience playing there and making it to the Super Bowl last year with those guys," Jones said on a conference call. "But I'm very, very excited to be here in New York."
With rookie Leon Washington, Cedric Houston, and Kevan Barlow sharing the rushing load, New York ranked 30th in the league last season with an average of 3.5 yards per attempt. Washington led the team in rushing with 650 yards. Martin did not play last season and is expected to retire.
In NFL history only two players have run for at least 1,200 yards in back-to-back seasons and then started the following season with a different team. Thomas Jones, right, joins the list, for 2007.
|New team||Rushing yds.|
|*Note: The Jets-Bears trade is expected to be approved by the league on Tuesday.|
In Jones, 28, the Jets get a back who has rushed for more than 1,200 yards in each of the past two seasons -- becoming the first Bear to do so since Walter Payton in 1985-86. Jones was the postseason's second-leading rusher with 301 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per attempt and scoring four touchdowns in three playoff games.
"I'm here to help this team win," Jones said when asked if he expected to get the bulk of the carries next season. "The best players play, and that's a great situation to be in. It gives you an opportunity to go out there and compete. Competition makes everybody better."
The Jets and their fans got an up-close look at what New York is getting Nov. 19 when Jones rushed for 121 yards on 23 carries in the Bears' 10-0 win at the Meadowlands.
After rushing for 1,335 yards and nine touchdowns in 2005, Jones acted on his unhappiness with his contract by boycotting the Bears' voluntary offseason workouts. Jones was entering the final year of the deal he signed in 2004 and slated to earn $2.75 million this season, but his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, and the Jets were believed to be working on a new long-term contract last night.
The seventh overall selection in the 2000 draft by the Cardinals out of Virginia, Jones played three seasons in Arizona, spent the 2003 season with the Buccaneers, and has led the Bears in rushing each of the past three seasons. The Bears, however, drafted Cedric Benson with the fourth overall pick in 2004. Jones and Benson made a formidable tandem during last year's run to Super Bowl XLI, but what was believed to be an icy relationship with each other, as well as Benson with the rest of his teammates, has been a popular topic in the Windy City since Benson's arrival. Jones requested a trade earlier this offseason.
Despite his age, Jones has just 1,349 career carries -- mostly because he shared the workload early in his career. So, wear and tear isn't a concern to the Jets.
"I'll be 29 years old this year, but I haven't had a lot of carries for a 29-year-old back and I'm a workout warrior," he said. "I love working out, I love taking care of my body and I'm very in tune with my body and how I feel. The way I feel right now, I could play for a long, long time."
Benson tied Jones for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns and equaled his average of 4.1 yards per rush, carrying 157 times to Jones' 296. It was never a matter of if but when the Bears would elevate Benson to No. 1 status. That time is now.
"We like Cedric Benson and felt it's his turn now," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "Thomas talked to me on several occasions prior to this season. I visited with him recently about his situation and in the end it was the right thing to do."
Michael Smith is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Len Pasquarelli and The Associated Press contributed to this report.