By Mark Gaughan
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
New York Jets safety Jim Leonhard will be facing his former team Sunday, and he's excited about it.
Leonhard played three seasons for the Buffalo Bills from 2005 through 2007 but left in free agency in 2008.
"It's one of those things like playing your brother or something," Leonhard said this week on the Jets' Web site. "You want to go in and do your best because I know a lot of guys still and am friends with a lot of guys there."
Leonhard admitted he was a little disappointed the Bills did not make an effort to re-sign him after 2007. Leonhard had started six games that season. But the Bills had to make a decision: Were they going to give him a chance to start or not? The Bills had two draft choices playing safety in first-rounder Donte Whitner and fourth-rounder Ko Simpson. They decided Leonhard was not going to vault either one of them on the depth chart and they did not want to give him a sizable pay raise to be a backup. (Simpson never panned out and was traded this summer.)
Leonhard signed a one-year deal to be a backup with Baltimore.
"I was surprised," Leonhard said of the Bills' stance. "I expected to have some conversation with them and they basically said, "We're moving on.' You don't forget something like that."
Leonhard was behind three draft choices in Baltimore last summer, but injuries forced him into the lineup. He excelled at free safety, starting 13 games and three playoff contests. He averaged a healthy 11.6 yards on punt returns.
After the Jets hired coach Rex Ryan from Baltimore, Ryan brought Leonhard to New York on a three-year deal worth about $2 million a season.
"He is a class person, a great athlete … a short, great athlete," Ryan told Buffalo reporters this week. "He won two slam dunk contests at the University of Wisconsin. He was a great pitcher in high school baseball. He's just a great athlete. I really wanted him when he came out of Wisconsin. As a free agent we tried to get him, but he chose Buffalo. ... He's smart, he's tough, he's durable and just a heck of a football player.
"When he came to our place in Baltimore, it was actually on a two-day tryout. And then I told Ozzie [Newsome, the Ravens GM] I really liked him and how much we really needed him. ... Ozzie said, "You can have him, but you've got to cut three players [laughing].' So we cut those three guys and Jim's now playing with me and the Jets and doing a great job."