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New York Jets Throwback Thursday: The Deal That Brought a Hall of Famer

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Using the then legal poison pill strategy, the New York Jets out-strategized the New England Patriots to bring in Hall of Famer Curtis Martin.

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5x Pro Bowl selection. 1995 NFL Rookie of the Year. 2004 NFL rushing title (oldest player ever). All-Time NYJ leader in rush attempts, rushing yards, and rushing touchdowns. Fourth leading rusher in NFL history. 2012 Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection. Curtis Martin wouldn't begin his career with the Jets, but it is the Green & White Jersey he is forever remembered for.

The Early Years

As a junior at the University of Pittsburgh, Martin rushed for 1,045 yards in just ten games. He missed the last 2 games with a sprained shoulder. The following season, Martin began his senior year with a career high 251 rushing yards against Texas, but sprained his ankle the following week against Ohio causing him to miss the rest of the season. Curtis did have the option to redshirt and play one more season for the Panthers, but decided instead to enter the NFL draft. Martin's injury history obviously plummeted his draft stock; a total of nine running backs were drafted before the New England Patriots selected Curtis Martin with the 74th overall pick. Of those nine included Cincinatti's No. 1 overall pick Ki-Jana Carter, who amassed a total of 1,144 career rushing yards. Martin surpassed Carter's career total in every year except 2002 (1,094 yards) and 2005 (735 yards).

Martin immediately made his presence felt in the NFL, rushing for 30 yards on his first carry and finishing his first game with 102 yards. Martin would rush for 100 yards 8 more times his rookie season, claiming the AFC Rushing Title, Offensive Rookie of the Year, and a Pro Bowl selection. The following season, Martin rushed for 1,152 yards and 14 touchdowns, helping the Patriots reach the Super Bowl against Green Bay. Curtis rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown in a losing effort to the Packers, but ended the season with a second consecutive Pro Bowl selection.

Enter the New York Jets

After the 1997 season, Martin became a restricted free agent. As a refresher, a restricted free agent can field offers from any other team, however, the team who has the player under control has the right to match any offer. If the team chooses not to match, they are rewarded draft pick compensation corresponding to when the player was drafted. Since Martin was the top tender in 1997, the offer would require first and third round picks (the top tender was removed after the 2011 lockout). After coaching Curtis for 2 years as a member of the Patriots, now Jets head coach Bill Parcells knew first hand just how talented #28 was. So when Martin's agent Eugene Parker called the Jets on February 13th, 1998, Parcells immediately took an interest despite running back not being a pressing need.

The Patriots offered Curtis a 6-year $21 million dollar deal, of which Martin quickly rejected. Then came the Jets who proposed an offer that rocked the NFL and blew any other offer sheet out of the water. The deal was for 6 years $36 million dollars, but included a few key intricacies: Martin could void the deal completely after one year and the team who signed him could not use the franchise tag, making him unrestricted after year 1. The Jets also included a poison pill, a $3.3 million dollar roster bonus that would destroy the Patriots' salary cap. Parcells of course knew this, which only angered his former team even more. To match the offer was incredibly risky for the Patriots; they could retain Martin for 1 year, but would risk losing him to free agency without any compensation (1st and 3rd round picks) and would also jeopardize their salary cap with Martin's added roster bonus.

A poison pill contract is a type of contract given to a player whose rights are still controlled by another team. The offer sheet is then written with a specific clause that does not allow the other team to match the offer sheet. In this case, the poison pill was the $3.3 million dollar roster bonus. Robert Kraft complained to the NFL management council, saying the Jets violated the collective bargaining agreement. However, there was nothing illegal about New York's offer and the league sided with the Jets. It was extremely bold and cunningly strategic, but not rule-breaking. The NFL banned the poison pill strategy the following year, but the future Hall of Famer was already a New York Jet.

Parcells and the Jets front office were widely criticized for the seemingly outlandish move: $36 million dollars and 2 premium draft picks for a running back. In Martin's 7 full seasons with New York, the Jets endured only one losing season. In the NFL, game-changing talent is rare. Even more seldom is the opportunity to pursue these talents. When you recognize them, you jump on them and pay them, which is exactly what Parcells encouraged. The potential reward is limitless for your franchise. Of course, some of these talents never fully pan out. Some of them, like Curtis Martin, end up in Canton. It was a true privilege watching #28 week in and week out. Find below one of the many highlight videos of Martin's career. Have a great weekend everyone.