Washington returns to the Jets

June 1, 2009 5:33:58 PM PDT
Jets running back Leon Washington returned to the team Monday after boycotting practice the last three weeks while in a contract dispute. Washington, selected for his first Pro Bowl last season as a kick returner, was back on the field to start New York's final week of team activities. Agent Alvin Keels wrote on his Twitter page that Washington returned "while we continue to work on a contract extension for him. A move of good faith."

Washington is due to earn $535,000 this season, the final year of his rookie deal. He's believed to be looking for about $6 million a year, similar to deals that Jacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew and San Diego's Darren Sproles - players to whom he's often compared - have received.

"Leon is excited about finishing the offseason program off strong," Keels wrote, "and is very much 'hopeful' that we can come to terms on a fair market deal."

Pro Bowl running back Thomas Jones, who returned last week while sitting out all of the team's offseason workouts, was also at practice Monday. It was the first time this offseason that new coach Rex Ryan had both Washington and Jones on the field together.

The Jets' next open-to-media activities are on Wednesday and they will begin their mandatory three-day minicamp next Tuesday.

Ryan previously said he expected both running backs to be back for the minicamp.

While Jones is the starting running back - he rushed for an AFC-leading 1,312 yards last season - the elusive Washington provides a change of pace. He's one of the league's top game-changing players with the ability to score from just about anywhere on the field by run, catch or return.

The stumbling block in getting a new deal done with Washington, a fourth-round pick out of Florida State in 2006, is the uncertainty of the league's collective bargaining agreement. Without an extension to the CBA, Washington would become a restricted free agent - not unrestricted - next offseason and the Jets would be able to retain his rights for far less than what Keels and his client are currently seeking.

Washington, 26, has rushed for 1,451 yards and 13 touchdowns, and caught 108 passes for 838 yards and two scores, in his first three seasons. He has also returned four kickoffs for touchdowns.