New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan is not one to mince words. And, lest you need reminding, he’s not interested in kissing Bill Belichick’s rings.
So when Ryan was posed with a question about a pair of former Patriots on the Jets roster, Jermaine Cunningham and Ras-I Dowling, he didn’t talk around Belichick like any other coach might.
“I don’t believe the one guy up in New England’s got all the answers,” Ryan told the New York Daily News. “I worry about ourselves, what we think of a player and how we evaluate a player. Do I respect the hell out of Bill? Absolutely. But if we think a player can help us, we don’t care how we get him.”
Cunningham was drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft by the Patriots while Dowling was picked in the second round of the 2011 draft. Both are looking to jumpstart their careers after washing out in New England.
Dowling was most notably cut after training camp last season by the Patriots because he couldn’t remain healthy. He quickly signed on with the Jets afterward on the team’s practice squad. Cunningham was also cut last season, signing with the 49ers before landing with the Jets.
With Cunningham only 25 and Dowling only 26, both players certainly still have the ability to contribute to a football team. And if Dowling had remained healthy for at least some extended period of his two seasons in New England, he’d likely still be a Patriot. But Cunningham failed to make an impact after switching to defensive end, felled in part by a four-game suspension in 2012 for performance enhancing drugs. (A source told the Boston Globe at the time the drug was Adderrall, which is meant to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.) It didn’t help that 2012 draft picks Chandler Jones and Jake Bequette had come along, or that Rob Ninkovich had established himself as a presence at defensive end as well. Backups Justin Francis, Trevor Scott, and Brandon Deaderick all happened to be contributors at defensive end, too.
All of this, of course, is an over-explanation of what Ryan was trying to say. He’s got two former Patriots players that he wants to make something out of, even if Belichick couldn’t. It doesn’t matter that injuries or circumstance were the main drivers of their dismissal. Ryan acknowledged as much.
“If you let a defensive player go, why pick him up if he can’t play for you,” he said. “It could have been a logjam at [the position]. Maybe they were looking for something else. You really don’t know. But again, I don’t care.”
We do know. And it’s obvious that this is an opportunity for two players — two leftovers — to make a career in New York when they couldn’t get going in New England. But here’s the rub: Ryan sees the availability of these two players as a possible mistake by Belichick.
Ryan insists he won’t get additional satisfaction if he succeeds with players that Belichick rejected.
“Sometimes what might not be good for you looks good for somebody else,” Ryan said. “You know what? Guys make mistakes.”
Ryan knows just as well as Belichick does that guys wash out all the time, and circumstance — not necessarily talent — are the reason why some players make it and others don’t. That’s not a mistake, per se, but an acknowledgment of where the Patriots were in 2013 and where the Jets are in 2014. Belichick’s mistake, if you can call it one, was having a luxury of cornerbacks and defensive linemen to depend upon. Ryan’s mistake is being in need a of a cornerback and a linebacker. Now he’s got Belichick’s leftovers. How awkward.
Zuri Berry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.