Former Jet Farrior Is Driving Force in Pittsburgh

Unfair as it may be at times, it's human nature to have 20/20 hindsight when the subject is the NFL's free-agency market. A prime example is the case of ex-Jets linebacker James Farrior – who has emerged this season as one of the league's top impact players and a powerful component in the Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1-ranked defense.<p>

"[Farrior] is having a career year, authoring big plays nearly every week and ought to be on everyone's short list for defensive player of the year honors," wrote Len Pasquarelli in his ESPN.com column of November 26.

Thriving in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's aggressive 3-4 scheme at left inside linebacker, the speedy 6-2, 243-pound Farrior was second in team tackles (64), had four forced fumbles, three recovered fumbles, 4.0 sacks, and three interceptions – one of which he returned for a touchdown – entering the Steelers' game last week at Jacksonville. With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger finally showing toward the end of the season that he is a human rookie after all, the defense has come to the rescue and Pittsburgh continues to hold a comfortable lead in the AFC North race.

At times this season, Farrior has been a highly visible, ferocious one-man wrecking crew. In Pittsburgh's 24-20 win at Dallas in Week 6, he recorded six solo tackles, forced three fumbles and had two sacks of quarterback Vinny Testaverde. He scored his first career touchdown with a clutch 14-yard interception return of a Carson Palmer pass in the Steelers' 19-14 victory at Cincinnati in Week 11. The ex-Jet has been equally accomplished at stuffing running backs run near the line of scrimmage, pressuring and punishing quarterbacks and dropping back into coverage where his fleetness allows him to defend running backs and receivers on short-to-intermediate routes.

On Sunday at Heinz Field, Farrior will have another opportunity to use his skills against his former Gang Green teammates. Last season, at a snowy Meadowlands, Farrior played all 62 defensive snaps and tallied seven tackles in the Jets' 6-0 win over Pittsburgh.

The Steelers last summer accomplished what the Jets failed to do at the end of Farrior's first professional contract. They re-signed him -- to a five-year, $16.6 million deal that also included a signing bonus of $4.5 million.

Farrior's happy. And so are the Steelers.

GOING, GOING, GONE…

In 1997, the inaugural year of the Bill Parcells reign, the Jets selected Farrior out of the University of Virginia with the eighth overall pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. Farrior started 15 games his rookie year but was having difficulty adjusting to the team's 3-4 alignment. In his second and third seasons, Farrior was employed in situational roles, primarily on passing downs. He started five games in 2000, platooning at right outside linebacker with Roman Phifer. During that season, Farrior defended five passes and snared one interception.

The following year (2001), Farrior flashed neon signs of great things to come as a game-changing playmaker when new head coach Herman Edwards installed a Tampa Bay-style 4-3 defense. He started all 16 regular season games and was a dynamic defensive force throughout the campaign as the Jets attained a playoff berth. Farrior recorded a team high 181 tackles (116 solo), a sack, defended nine passes, forced three fumbles and had two interceptions for 84 return yards.

His clutch play in 2001 included a team-best 11 tackles in the Jets' playoff-clinching 24-22 victory at Oakland on January 6, which was decided by John Hall's 53-yard field goal with 59 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Earlier in the season, Farrior helped turn back a tenacious, underdog Cincinnati Bengals team at the Meadowlands with a huge fourth-quarter interception of a Jon Kitna pass intended for Peter Warwick that he returned 37 yards to seal a 15-14 win. He also led the Jets with 13 tackles.

Given Farrior's impressive first season as a fulltime starter, the Jets were eager to re-sign him in the spring of 2002 -- but they were almost $20 million over the salary cap. The expansion draft cleared $13 million in cap space, as the Houston Texans selected starting cornerbacks Aaron Glenn and Marcus Coleman and offensive right tackle Ryan Young. Then Gang Green quickly divested themselves of defensive tackle Shane Burton, underachieving wide receiver Matt Hatchette, defensive back Chris Hayes, and – shockingly -- longtime strong safety Victor Green. Linebacker Marvin Jones also was released, but he later agreed to a more economically feasible contract.

Farrior, however, wasn't pleased with the Jets' offer. His agent, Ralph Cindrich, was seeking a $6 million signing bonus while Gang Green was only offering $3 million. The Jets said Cindrich's contract request was "unrealistic." Neither side budged.

Gang Green finally inked Buffalo Bills linebacker Sam Cowart, despite the fact that Cowart had suffered a partial tear of his Achilles tendon in 2001 and saw little action that season.

Farrior signed with the Steelers, who were seeking a replacement for Earl Holmes. The three-year, $5.4 million contract included only a $1.7 million signing bonus, considerably less than the bonus the Jets were offering.

In September of 2002, Jets general manager Terry Bradway told the Daily News: "In four years, [Farrior] couldn't become a full-time starter. One year [2001], he did good things. We offered him a fair contract, much better than what he signed with the Steelers. What can you do there? Sam Cowart is a good player."

Cowart's talent was indisputable, as he earned several trips to the Pro Bowl while with Buffalo. But his unknown physical status prompted some observers to argue that the Jets had jumped the gun in signing him to a six-year, $31-million contract that included a $1.8 million bonus.

The late Joel Buchsbaum was among the skeptics. Bucshbaum, who served for many years as a well regarded NFL Draft and personnel guru for Pro Football Weekly, wrote at the time that Cowart's signing was "a surprise move" and a "big gamble" given his history of physical problems that included a knee injury at Florida State. "He has had a lot of problems staying healthy in the past," Buchsbaum added.

Since then, Cowart has continued to struggle with an assortment of injuries. The latest involves a knee that he hurt while pursuing a running back in the Jets' 10-7 win at Cleveland. He took himself out of the game, recently had the knee reexamined by a team doctor at Florida State, and his status is day-to-day.

Farrior, meanwhile, has been a virtual iron man during his career, missing only six games in eight seasons.

In due time, he might be regarded by the Jets organization and their fans as the great one who got away.


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