New Jets safety Jim Leonhard said earlier today that the Ravens never made a legitimate offer to keep him in Baltimore, either before or after New York made an offer. To be fair, Leonhard also said that he was neither shocked nor insulted that things worked out the way they did.
In a conference call today, Leonhard said, when asked that very question -- whether the Ravens made a legitimate offer -- he said, "I never heard of an offer." He then said that if his agent didn't pass one along that if there had been one, it wasn't anything that Leonhard could have even considered.
Leonhard, who was a surprise impact player at strong safety and as a punt returner in the Ravens' run to the AFC championship game, said that he knew his time in Baltimore had come to an end when general manager Ozzie Newsome made some telling comments at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis last month.
Newsome, when asked about Leonhard's status, said that the fifth-year veteran would have to compete for a starting job. Leonhard had replaced the injured Dawan Landry and waiting in the wings are second-year draft picks Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. That also meant the Ravens would be reluctant to pay Leonhard starter money.
"It's realistic," Leonhard said of Newsome's comments at the combine. "He understood that there would be teams out there willing to pay me as a starter."
Leonhard also said he also understood that the Ravens' position has to be viewed in the perspective of the other free agents with whom they have to deal, such as linebacker Ray Lewis. Another former Raven that was eligible for free agency, Bart Scott, has already signed with the Jets and Baltimore put a franchise tag on Terrell Suggs, and it's still possible for the Ravens to hammer out a big-bucks long-term agreement with him. Now toss in the safety situation where there's Pro Bowler Ed Reed, Dawan Landry trying to return from injury and the two young guys and Leonhard knew he wasn't a priority, at least in terms of a big contract.
"It was more of a fact that he really said that they didn't think they had the money to pay me. He never said that they didn't want me back." Leonhard said.
Meanwhile, the Jets and new head coach Rex Ryan were irresistible. Ryan helped make Leonhard the player he became last season with a defense that Leonhard said gives players the freedom to make plays. Leonhard said that Ryan called him just as soon as the new Jets' head coach left Bart Scott's house about 12:45 a.m. when free agency began on Feb. 27. Ryan and a couple of assistants were at Scott's home one minute after the stroke of midnight and then called Leonhard to let him know about the status of things immediately thereafter.
There was a moment after Leonhard and the Jets had an understanding when the Denver Broncos jumped in with what Leonhard described as a "big number," but he turned it down and, in the process, left money on the table because he felt the football opportunity with Ryan and Jets was far better.
Ravens fans will surely lament Leonhard moving on. In a single season, the gritty 5-foot-8 safety became a fan favorite with both his defensive play and his timely returns that saved the playoff against Tennessee and almost pulled out the conference championship against Pittsburgh. But another person who might sorely miss Leonhard is free safety Ed Reed who was performing at All-Universe levels through the last few months of the season.
Before the AFC championship game, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that Leonhard's chief value was that he was so steady at holding his position and so adaptable in the secondary that he allowed Reed to take the risks that resulted in Reed's highlight's tape big plays. And yesterday, Leonhard conceded that he played that role to let "Ed Reed be Ed Reed." But as Leonhard described it, it was a role he relished: "At times, I did have to sacrifice a little bit to do the dirty work, but that's my role."