Jets finalize deal to acquire Jones in trade with Bears

By th

NEW YORK – Thomas Jones is bringing stability to the New York Jets’ running game and providing a bona fide replacement for Curtis Martin.

The Jets, quiet during the first few days of free agency, finalized their deal for Jones on Tuesday, acquiring the running back from the NFC champion Chicago Bears for a second-round draft pick.

“I had a great time in Chicago, and it was a great experience playing there and making it to the Super Bowl last year with those guys,” Jones said on a conference call. “But I’m very, very excited to be here in New York.”

The Jets gave up a second-round draft pick, 37th overall, for Jones and Chicago’s second-round choice, No. 63 overall. The teams agreed to the deal Monday night, but Jones needed to pass a physical and agree to a contract extension before it was completed.

“We did a lot of research on Thomas as a person, and we think he’s a good fit on and off the field,” general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. “He’s a tough, outdoor, Northeast runner, and he provides leadership.”

Jones, who’ll be 29 when the season starts, rushed for 1,210 yards and six touchdowns in helping the Bears reach the Super Bowl against Indianapolis. He gives the Jets the No. 1 running back they’ve been seeking since Martin – who’s expected to retire soon – was sidelined a year ago by knee problems.

“Curtis Martin is one of the best backs of all time in the NFL,” Jones said. “I followed him for a long time, but I’m just excited about being here in New York and having the opportunity to help this team win. They have an exciting team. They have a lot of great players. I’m just one of the guys here on the team. That’s my mentality coming in.”

Coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer used an ever-changing rotation of running backs last season to make up for the loss of Martin. Derrick Blaylock, Kevan Barlow, Leon Washington and Cedric Houston all took turns carrying the load for New York, which finished 20th in the NFL in rushing.

“I’m here to help this team win,” Jones said when asked if he expected to get the bulk of the carries next season. “The best players play, and that’s a great situation to be in. It gives you an opportunity to go out there and compete. Competition makes everybody better.”

Blaylock and Barlow were released in the offseason, leaving the Jets with just Washington, who led the team as a rookie with 650 yards rushing, and Houston, who was second with 374. Jones’ acquisition will allow both backs to work as situational runners, the roles most believe they’re best-suited for.

“I think he’s a complete back, in terms of, he can be on the field for all three downs,” Tannenbaum said of Jones. “How he’s used and in what role will ultimately be determined by Eric and Coach Schottenheimer, but he’s a guy who can come in here and add to the productivity of the team.”

Jones, the No. 7 overall pick out of Virginia in 2000, rushed for 3,493 yards in three years with the Bears after spending his first four NFL seasons with Tampa Bay and Arizona. He joined Walter Payton as the only Bears running backs to rush for more than 1,300 yards in a season when he ran for 1,335 in 2005.

After another big regular season, he ran for 123 yards and two touchdowns in the NFC championship game against New Orleans and had 112 yards on 15 carries in the Super Bowl loss to Indianapolis.

Despite his age, Jones has just 1,349 career carries, mostly because he shared the workload early in his career. So, wear and tear isn’t a concern to the Jets.

“I’ll be 29 years old this year, but I haven’t had a lot of carries for a 29-year-old back, and I’m a workout warrior,” he said. “I love working out, I love taking care of my body, and I’m very in tune with my body and how I feel.