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N.Y JETS SENT HUNTER TO ST. LOUIS RAMS
Fri, 31 Aug 2012 02:30 AM EDT

The Wayne Hunter-for-Jason Smith trade, perhaps the most publicized swap of backup right tackles in modern times, became official late Tuesday. But not before the New York Jets and St. Louis Rams executed a rare sign-and-trade for the NFL.

Smith, due to make a guaranteed $4 million this season, confirmed a new contract with the Rams, receiving a $1.55 million signing bonus, according to a league source. He officially turned into a member of the Jets, who will pick up the base income of the re-worked deal — $2.45 million, matching to Hunter’s salary. Odds

In the end, the 2 players will receive their full compensation for 2012, and the payroll of the two teams will remain the same. Smith is under agreement for 2013 — that was unaffected by the restructuring — but the deal likely will void after this season.

Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum declined to discuss the financial facet of the trade. He announced Smith, the 2nd overall pick in the 2009 draft, will inherit Hunter’s role — a backup at right and left tackle and an additional blocker/tight end in their jumbo package.

Tannenbaum declared Austin Howard, promoted last week to replace Hunter in the lineup, will be the starting right tackle.

“I think Jason has an opportunity to come in and help us,” Tannenbaum said. “He’s going to get a fresh start here and he’s got a lot of athletic ability.”

Fundamentally, Smith, 26 years old, is a younger version of Hunter, 31 years old, except with less baggage. In New York, Hunter turned into a lightning rod for fan feedback. During Sun. night’s home loss to the Panthers, he was focused by hecklers behind the bench and had to be restrained by a colleague, according to a source.

Tannenbaum claimed the fan reaction, and Hunter’s reduction in confidence didn’t factor into the trade. After demoting Hunter last week, the N.Y Jets claimed they had no intention of trading him. What changed?

“St. Louis approached us (last Friday) and we felt like, ‘Hey, perhaps this is a win-win, ‘ two guys getting fresh starts,” Tannenbaum claimed. “It sounded like a reasonable approach to try and improve ourselves.”

Smith, who lost his starting job after 3 disappointing seasons, endured similar treatment in St. Louis, where he’s regarded as one of the franchise’s largest draft busts. Unlike Hunter, Smith has a medical concern. He’s had at least three concussions since 2009. In fact, he missed 10 games last season.

“We realize the chance there,” Tannenbaum recounted. “Obviously, that was a concern, but we felt like it had been a acceptable risk to take.”

In hindsight, it appears as if the Jets made a mistake by re-signing Hunter, a vocation backup, to a 4-year, $14 million deal last summer and making him the starter. Tannenbaum refused to admit the blunder.

“Last year was mixed, it wasn’t all bad,” he revealed. “We felt like he merited another chance and we kept evaluating it.”

Like Hunter, Smith has struggled mightily in pass protection. His game has “some inconsistencies,” according to Tannenbaum, but he thinks Smith has the movement abilities and range to play left and right tackle. He’ll back up Howard – for now.


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