Jets cut third-down RB Michael Carter in surprise move

In a surprise move, the slumping New York Jets waived running back Michael Carter on Tuesday — 24 hours after coach Robert Saleh hinted that changes could be coming.

Carter, a 2021 fourth-round pick and the team’s leading rusher in 2021, was benched after committing a chop-block penalty early in the third quarter of the Jets’ 16-12 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday night. The Jets’ third-down back, Carter wound up playing only eight snaps on offense in the game.

Carter’s ouster does two things: It sends a message to the underperforming offense, and it opens a spot for rookie Israel Abanikanda, a fifth-round pick from Pitt who was inactive for the first nine games. He’s expected to join starter Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook in the backfield.

On Monday, after his team failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive game, Saleh backed embattled quarterback Zach Wilson, saying, “I’ve never felt like making one guy the fall guy is going to make everyone around the better.” But Saleh made it sound like other players were fair game after two straight losses, dropping the Jets to 4-5.

“We’re looking at some things, some different personnel changes, which I’m going to keep here with me, but we’re looking across the board to see if we can find a way to generate some offense,” Saleh said.

In his third-down role, Carter wasn’t productive this season, managing only 15 receptions for 68 yards. He also had two dropped passes. As a runner, he carried only eight times for 38 yards.

Carter showed promise as a rookie, leading the team with 639 rushing yards and catching 36 passes for 325 yards. He role changed in 2022, when the Jets drafted Hall in the second round. Carter wasn’t happy when the Jets traded for James Robinson during the 2022 season, and he was passed over again when they signed Cook this preseason. He got into a heated exchange with running backs coach Taylor Embree during a Week 3 loss to the New England Patriots.

Despite his lack of experience, Abanikanda possesses high-end speed. Perhaps the Jets are hoping he can spark their offense, which has gone 11 straight quarters without a touchdown.

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