By DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Jason Smith and Wayne Hunter swapped places, eager to revive their NFL careers with a change of scenery.
The Jets and Rams completed their trade of struggling right tackles Tuesday, with New York acquiring Smith from St. Louis for Hunter. Both Smith, the No. 2 overall pick by the Rams in the 2009 draft, and Hunter, a nine-year veteran, had lost their starting jobs — and likely their confidence.
Smith was due $4 million this season, but a person familiar with the deal told The Associated Press that the Rams restructured his deal earlier in the day. Smith received a $1.55 million signing bonus that the Rams will pay, with the remaining $2.45 million paid by the Jets, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because neither team publicly discussed financial details of the deal.
The Jets were due to pay Hunter $2.45 million this season, so they are not doling out anything more by acquiring Smith.
"We're really intrigued by Jason's ability," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said.
Smith could play in the preseason finale at Philadelphia on Thursday night, but Tannenbaum made it clear that Austin Howard will remain the team's starter at right tackle — for now.
"We'll see how things play out," Tannenbaum added.
Smith will serve in the role Hunter did, as a backup tackle and jumbo tight end while he learns the new offense.
"For us, it's more about what we think he can do," Tannenbaum said of Smith. "He has very good movement skills for somebody his size, he plays both sides, we like his range. Again, I think he has to learn from what happened in St. Louis, but with that said, he comes here with a fresh start."
Smith failed to live up to lofty expectations with the Rams after being derailed by concussion problems and ineffectiveness. Free agent Barry Richardson has started at right tackle all preseason ahead of Smith, making the former Baylor star expendable.
The Rams thought they drafted a cornerstone player for their offensive line when they selected Smith, but he has been limited to only 29 games in his three seasons.
"We understand the risks there, and Jason did pass his physical," Tannenbaum said.
Hunter was demoted to the jumbo tight end spot and replaced by Howard last week after struggling in the first two games of the preseason while coming off a rough first year as the Jets' starter at right tackle. That came after New York signed Hunter to a contract extension last summer, thinking he was a long-term solution to replace the retired Damien Woody.
"When we signed Wayne, we felt like there was a lot of good football there," Tannenbaum said. "He played a lot of good football for us. Last year was mixed, it wasn't all bad. There were some really good things in there, and we felt like he deserved another chance."
Tannenbaum said the Jets never intended to trade Hunter, seeing him as the jumbo tight end — a role he excelled in a few years ago — and backup lineman. But then the Rams called, and that changed things.
"I just felt like the landing spot was good and fair for us," Tannenbaum said.
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