The running back signed his tender contract offer Thursday, and he hopes to be recovered from a broken right leg in time for training camp.
"It's great to be back," a healthy-looking Washington said. "Walking in today, I felt all the love like I've felt the past four years."
Washington, a fourth-round draft pick out of Florida State in 2006, received a second-round tender worth $1.759 million last month. The restricted free-agent signing period ended Thursday, although he could have waited until June 1 to sign the tender.
"It was quite natural for me to go out there and try to find an offer sheet that was better than $1.8 million," Washington said. "Basically, that's what I told them today and that's the message I relayed to them. They totally understood, and they said it wouldn't have been right if I didn't do that."
Washington, a former Pro Bowl kick returner, suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula during an Oct. 25 game at Oakland and missed the rest of the season. He has been training at the Athletes' Performance Institute in Pensacola, Fla., for the past five weeks.
Washington will continue his rehabilitation at the Jets' facility, but he has been running in straight lines and feeling good.
"Next week, we'll do some reassessing and see where I'm at," Washington said. "We'll shoot for a target. Everything looks good and looks right on target for me to be back for the regular season and hopefully for training camp. Right now, I'm trying to take it one day at a time."
When healthy, Washington has been one of the NFL's more dynamic players, serving a dual role as a kick returner and running back. He was injured on his first carry against the Raiders in the first quarter of the Jets' 38-0 victory. It was a gruesome injury that required a rod to be inserted into the tibia, and many speculated about whether Washington would be able to fully recover or even play again.
Instead, Washington healed quickly and was told by doctors that he was way ahead of the normal recovery rate. After being tendered, Washington headed down to Florida to rehabilitate closer to home after making big strides working out at the Jets' facility.
"The whole time I was down there, I was wearing my Jets gear every day and working out and hoping I would be back here," he said.
Jets coach Rex Ryan recently said he was disappointed that Washington opted to train away from the team; he was the only player not at voluntary workouts. Ryan also said he envisioned the versatile Washington more as a kick returner and third-down back, behind Shonn Greene and recently signed LaDainian Tomlinson, than an every-down ball carrier.
"I talked to Rex," Washington said. "He told me his stance is that when I get healthy and I can carry more load and it feels like I'm back to the old Leon, he'll increase my role. That's all that was."
It has been speculated by some fans and media that Washington could potentially be trade bait now that he has signed.
"We're excited to have him back," Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "You never know what happens if the phone would ring, but our expectation is he will certainly be here. ... Our expectations are that he should really be a meaningful player for us this year."
Washington has run for 1,782 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 123 passes for 969 yards and two scores in his NFL career. He also has returned four kickoffs for touchdowns, including three in 2007.
Before the injury, Washington had hoped to receive a long-term deal from the Jets after being selected as an All-Pro as a kick returner for the 2008 season. He made $535,000 in the final year of his rookie deal and was believed to have been seeking something in the range of $5 million to $6 million per year. Washington chose not to sign a long-term deal that was offered by the Jets, and then came the injury that put his future in jeopardy.
Washington said reports of the Jets' offer at the time were inaccurate, and he just wanted a fair deal.
"It just wasn't the contract that was feasible for me and my family," he said. "I'm always about team. I think I need to put that out there so people know that it wasn't me that didn't want to sign a contract. It was something that I felt like wasn't my worth at the particular time."
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press