Agent: Leon’s return to Jets ’50/50 at best’

The way the Jets have been acting of late, it makes you wonder if they’re planning a radical shift in their “ground and pound” offensive strategy and are going to have Mark Sanchez conducting the run-and-shoot.

The Jets are treating their rushing attack, ranked no. 1 in the NFL in 2009, as if they want to dismantle it and start over.

Just days after the Jets informed Thomas Jones, their leading rusher the last three seasons, that they’re going to release him, they now have left Leon Washington dangling for another team to sign him away.

FEELY: NO RESPECT FOR JONES

The Jets yesterday issued Washington, their second leading rusher and a restricted free agent, to just a second-round tender offer. It means if another team wants to sign Washington, and the Jets don’t match the offer, that team would have to give Gang Green only a second-round draft pick as compensation.

For a former Pro Bowl player who’s a difference-maker on offense and special teams as an explosive returner, that doesn’t seem like a very high price.

Predictably, Washington’s agent, Alvin Keels, delivered this message on his Twitter account yesterday tweaking the Jets:

“Expect there to be a market for Leon during free agency and would say his return to the Jets will be 50/50 at best at this point,” Keels tweeted.

Keels, further pushing the Jets’ buttons, added of Washington, who’s recovering from a compound fracture in his right leg: “He is ahead of schedule while rehabbing from his week 7 injury. he will be 100% healthy and ready for camp either in NY or elsewhere.”

The second-round tender means Washington, who made $535,000 last year and was pushing for a long-term deal before the 2009 season, will make $1.759 million in 2010, unless another team offers him more. Had the Jets added another $800,000 to make that number $2.521 million, they could have given him a first-round tender, making it more difficult for a potential suitor to lure him away.

But the Jets, who already are rolling the dice that they will not miss Jones and the more than 2,700 yards and 27 rushing touchdowns he gave them the last two years, also are gambling that no team will go that hard after Washington coming off his injury.

more quietly, the Jets also issued a second-round tender offer to wide receiver Brad Smith yesterday. they, too, are expected to put a first and third-round pick tender on receiver Braylon Edwards.

as for the open free-agent market, which begins at midnight tonight, don’t expect much from the Jets because, as one of the final four teams they cannot by rule sign any unrestricted free agents unless they lose one of equal or greater value.

Considering none of the Jets’ unrestricted free agents — kicker Jay Feely, fullback Tony Richardson, defensive end Marques Douglas, tight end Ben Hartsock, long snapper James Dearth and linebacker Larry Izzo — will command big money, that will preclude the Jets from making an offer to any big-ticket items.

so don’t expect a run at pass-rushing specialist Julius Peppers, one of the prizes in the market who would fill a big Jets’ need.

what could happen, however, are that some under-the-radar moves such as signing players who are released by other teams or trades.

For example, the Patriots are expected to part ways with linebacker Adalius Thomas, who used to play for coach Rex Ryan in Baltimore. Linebacker Bart Scott said he already has talked to Thomas about signing with the Jets should he be released.

one veteran sure to be released is cornerback Lito Sheppard, who’s due a $10 million bonus and has already been told by the team he will not be back.

There have been rumors that the Jets might try to trade for Raiders star cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha or the Chargers’ Antonio Cromartie, who’s said to be on the trading block.

as attractive as having another shutdown corner opposite Darrelle Revis, the reality of Asomugha coming to the Jets is a pipe dream considering how much money it would cost.

Revis is in line for a new contract that’s going to pay him somewhere around $10 million a year, and Asomugha is owed $16.6 million in guarantees this year.

look for the Jets to draft a cornerback in the early rounds in hopes of finding a potential star to play alongside Revis.

Safety Kerry Rhodes, who’s due a $2 million bonus on March 12, is someone to watch. after having issues with defensive coaches during the season and being benched, Rhodes played well in the latter part of the season and has met with defensive coordinator Mike Pettine this offseason.

Whether that means all is smoothed out remains to be seen. Rhodes could be traded if the Jets could find good value for him.

mark.cannizzaro@nypost.com

Agent: Leon’s return to Jets ’50/50 at best’


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