(D’Brickashaw Ferguson (60) set to block for QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – Photo by Neil Miller / Sportsday Wire)
Ten years ago, the New York Jets made the decision to invest in a foundation for their offensive line when they drafted D’Brickashaw Ferguson.
An All-American tackle out of Virginia University, Ferguson was drafted with the hopes of delivering a worthwhile return for team owner Woody Johnson. Ferguson did exactly that – he delivered.
Ferguson will be a tough act to follow, not just because of his size. The 6’6 310-pounder never missed a snap because of injury. He never missed a practice, if he was ever injured, we never knew about it. One thing for certain every Sunday during football season, for a decade, Ferguson was on the field ready to protect his quarterback. He was a constant professional.
The Jets wasted little time finding a replacement for Ferguson. Team general manager Mike Maccagnan moved quickly to trade for four-time Pro-Bowl tackle Ryan Clady. The Jets had to move fast on a contingency plan, the left tackle position is an extremely important piece to any team’s offensive line.
Ferguson, more often than not, was assigned with protecting the quarterback’s blind side, while usually lined up against the opposing team’s best pass rusher on defense.
The Jets, with limited financial flexibility this offseason, used their fifth-round selection in this year’s draft to get Clady and a seventh-round pick from the Denver Broncos.
Time will tell if Clady can successfully take over from Ferguson. He brings game experience to the table and a veteran-loaded Jets team can only benefit from that. While Clady was a fixture on Denver’s offensive line, however, he was nowhere as durable as Ferguson. Clady, in the last three seasons, missed both of Denver’s Super Bowl appearances due to injuries. He missed all of last season because of a torn ACL.
When the numbers add up on Clady, he’s played in only 19 of a possible 55 games, the last three seasons. It’s a calculated risk by the Jets – however, it is a logical one.
Salary cap concerns may have contributed to Ferguson deciding to walk away from football. He was due to make a little over ten million in 2016. The Jets reportedly asked him to consider taking a pay cut in order to help create financial flexibility.
It’s important to remember here that the Jets still have not come to terms on a new contract for last year’s starting quarterback, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Now with Ferguson retired, the Jets freed up nearly nine million in salary cap space they needed to absorb Clady’s salary which the Jets will most likely attempt to restructure.
In his beautifully-written farewell letter to the fans, Ferguson referenced a growing awareness of the constant grind of the NFL perhaps taking it’s toll on him, while also serving as a possible reminder to him that father time is still undefeated and it’s time to pursue another path.
“I am sure some of you might be pondering: Why now?” Ferguson wrote. “ Well, my goal coming into this league was to become the best player I could be. I never wanted to define myself by the size of a potential contract, but rather by my ability to compete with the best the game could offer. Though I was successful in accomplishing that feat largely throughout my career, the difficulty in playing at such a level began to increase.”
Finding someone as steady and reliable as Ferguson is never a given for any professional sports team. The only offensive snap he ever missed will most likely be a Jets trivia question for years to come. It was the final play of the 2008 season, then-head coach Eric Mangini called a trick formation which Ferguson watched from the sidelines.
Jets owner Woody Johnson called Ferguson “one of the finest players” in team history. High praise and well-deserved for a football player who went out and did his job to the best of his ability for a decade.
The Jets invested their fourth overall pick in 2006 on Ferguson, he delivered on a profitable return for the team and their fans, who will set the bar high for anyone who follows him.