Mickens might have been the Jets most effective defensive player last year after taking over as a starter in Week Three for an injured Donnie Abraham. He led the team with 18 passes defensed. He also played well against the run, finishing three games with seven tackles. Mickens was so effective that when Abraham returned from his shoulder injured on November 23, he couldn't get his starting job back.
But Mickens had the feeling his days as a starter would be short-lived.
Mickens expressed his frustration early this off-season when he said, ‘they are going to go out and get a 6-2 cornerback to replace me."
That actually did not happen. Instead, the Jets signed a player who is not much bigger than the 5-8 Mickens. They gave big money to former Arizona Cardinal David Barrett to start opposite Donnie Abraham. Barrett is under 5-10. This has to be tremendously frustrating to Mickens, who obviously feels he is better than Barrett, who was an average player in Arizona.
Barrett was clearly signed to start, so why can't Mickens start opposite him? Well that spot is now Abraham's to lose. Considering the job Mickens did filling in for Abraham last year, this job should be up for grabs. The Jets will probably announce that Abraham and Mickens will compete for a starting job. However, that was the case the last two years, but you never got the idea it truly was an open competition. It was more lip service, and Mickens knew that.
It's no secret Mickens hates being a nickel back, and feels he is a starting cornerback. He proved he can handle a starting job last year, just like he did as a rookie in 1996, when he started 10 games. While Mickens size has always been brought up as an issue, his height has never been a big problem when he starts. Remember Darrell Green was an effective 5-8 cornerback for two decades in the NFL. Plus Mickens size isn't an issue in bump-and-run or run support because of his excellent strength and top-shelf toughness.
According to an NFL source, if he can't start, Mickens wouldn't mind a trade, and a team he'd love to join are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys are coached by Mickens' former head coach with the Jets, Bill Parcells. Mickens lives in Dallas in the off-season, was born and raised in El Paso, Texas and attended Texas A&M.
And the Cowboys desperately need a starting cornerback.
They have a solid left cornerback in last year's first round pick Terence Newman, but have a void on the right side. They let last year's starter Mario Edwards leave as a free agent to sign with Tampa Bay. Now they have a committee of unproven candidates to fill that role with players like Pete Hunter, Donald Mitchell, Andrew Davison and Jemeel Powell, vying for the spot. The Cowboys are very concerned that this right cornerback position could turn into the Achilles heal of the defense.
But while Mickens would love a trade to Dallas if the Jets won't allow him to start, this deal is a long-shot. The Jets are very thin at cornerback. With Jamie Henderson out for the year due to a head injury suffered in a motorcycle accident, they basically have four cornerbacks they can rely on entering camp with Barrett, Abraham, Mickens and 2004 third round pick Derrick Strait.
The Jets are going to a man-to-man based defense, so you could make the argument Mickens is the best cornerback the Jets have for that system. He excelled in that formation in college, and played well in a man-based defense prior to the Jet installing the Cover Two in 2001. Barrett, Abraham and Strait are considered better fits for the Cover Two system.
Regardless, Mickens is still likely going to be the team's nickel back. While he doesn't like the role, he is too good at it for the Jets to let him leave. So he is likely staying put. The only way the Jets would consider trading Mickens is if Strait has a great training camp, and a fourth cornerback emerges. But right now, there doesn't seem to be another reliable fourth cornerback on the roster.
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