Edwards goes from problem child to playoffs

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. – As wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery(notes) ran into the end zone Sunday night during the New York Jets’ 37-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, Braylon Edwards(notes) was right there enjoying the most exuberant moment of his five-year career.

Edwards (center) has found himself in a much better situation.
(Douglas Jones/US Presswire)

Edwards was also right there blocking along the way until he could start jumping for joy. Edwards was giving the kind of quiet effort that eventually turns good teams to great and turns dreary careers into something worth remembering.

“That was such a great block and he held that for a good, long time,” Cotchery said of the sequence that put the Jets up 24-0 and essentially sealed the team’s playoff berth. “When I finally saw him in the end zone, he was just smiling so big, like he’d been waiting for this for a long time.”

Edwards, the third overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft, has gone from years of struggling with the Cleveland Browns to reaching the postseason after arriving in New York via an October trade. It was previously unimaginable to Edwards, who did his best to go along with a counterproductive program in Cleveland.

“Here, they’re committed to winning football games and everything else is secondary. They don’t worry about petty things here at the Jets organization,” said Edwards, whose squad faces the Bengals again in Saturday’s AFC wild-card matchup. “Everything is built around winning and forget everything else. Over there, everything is petty, worried about the wrong thing – what a guy is saying, what a guy is making. There’s just too much foolishness over there and too many people there who are still worried about the wrong thing.”

Edwards isn’t speaking from a statistical approach. In his 12 games with the Jets, he has caught only 35 passes for 541 yards, a small percentage of what some people believe he’s capable of doing.

While many people around the NFL have considered Edwards a diva concerned with his own numbers, his joy of finally getting to the postseason reflects a different vision.

Edwards is on the top rushing and defensive (scoring and total yards) team in the league – a team hell-bent on protecting rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez(notes) from his own mistakes – and it’s really all good.

“With what he’s been through, to come here and make the playoffs, we had a nice embrace after the game was over and he was really excited,” said Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. “A credit to him has been: We’re not having gaudy numbers because we’re not throwing it all over the park, but you watch the guy block week in and week out and it’s a highlight reel of blocks.

“He’s just bought in and done a great job. I’m happy for him. He’s been a big part of what we’ve done in the running game because he’s playing split end and has to come down and dig out a lot of safeties. He’s a big part of what we’re trying to do.”

Fellow wide receiver David Clowney(notes) saw the joy continue well after the game.

“He was all over the locker [room], talking to guys, being so happy,” Clowney said. “We were all happy, but you could see it was just a little bigger for him.”

Jets defensive tackle Kris Jenkins(notes), who joined New York last year after some tumultuous seasons with the Carolina Panthers, understood exactly what Edwards was feeling.

“You’re getting this chance to wipe the slate clean and start everything over in your career,” Jenkins said. “When you first come to a team, it’s not really a clean slate. You still have that reputation about what happened in the other place. The media, the players, everybody knows it and you have to accept it.

“You have to realize the things you did in that old situation so that you can change it here. Braylon is out there, playing hard, doing whatever he can do to change whatever the perceptions were.”

In Cleveland, Edwards was part of what became constant rebuilding. He set the Cleveland team record for touchdown receptions (16) in 2007, when the team went 10-6 and missed the playoffs on the last day of the season. But the team regressed in ’08. Ultimately, general manager Phil Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel were fired, with Eric Mangini taking over as coach.

“[In 2007, we were] a surprise. We played a not-so-tough schedule, we were new, nobody had seen us, nobody knew what we were going to do, so we surprised some people,” Edwards said. “[In 2008], we had a lot of injuries and then we were on film. People got to see us, got to scout us, see what we would do and [offensive coordinator Rob Chudzynski] had no answer; he couldn’t make adjustments. That’s what happens in this league: If you can’t make adjustments, you’re going to get beat.”

From there, Edwards’ unhappiness made him look like a selfish malcontent.

Edwards has still had an issue with securing the ball.
(Rick Stewart/Getty)

“It’s just inconsistency, frustration, losing confidence, the whole nine yards. When you’re supposed to be this big-name receiver and you’re only getting two or three balls a game and you’re losing, it frustrates you,” Edwards acknowledged. “Then everybody talks about how you’re going to get the ball, then you don’t get balls, then you’re playing with different quarterbacks all the time.

“I had four quarterbacks last year. We had Josh Cribbs playing quarterback at one point last year. Then you have guys who don’t know what they’re doing. Everybody talks about Andre Johnson(notes), Reggie Wayne(notes) being these great receivers, but their systems are consistent and their offensive coordinators know what they’re doing. They get these guys the ball. Twelve passes a game versus two.”

It didn’t help matters that Edwards, who became plagued with a serious case of dropped balls, had no strong desire to play in Cleveland from the start.

“I wasn’t into being there. It was a situation where, what am I supposed to do?” the Detroit native and University of Michigan alum asked rhetorically. “What am I supposed to say? ‘Damn, I got drafted here and I don’t want to play here’? It was a situation where you play the [political] game. Nobody says they don’t want to get drafted somewhere, in a situation like that. Bernie Kosar was the only one.”

Edwards’ assessment of the Browns quarterback situation is even bleaker. Asked if anyone could succeed at that spot in Cleveland, he said: “No, not at all. Brady Quinn(notes) and I are real good friends and I wish the best for him. But no.”

Even on a chilly day in New Jersey, Edwards was far more optimistic about his new situation.

“You look at what we have going here with [Sanchez] and you really get the feeling that it’s going to turn out. We’re not there yet. … But I have a feeling it will be the case.”

Jason Cole is a national NFL writer for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter. Send Jason a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Thursday, Jan 7, 2010