Keeping Mark Sanchez out of the clutches of defensive linemen, like Carolina’s Thomas Davis, means that Wayne Hunter has been benched and. now, traded for Jason Smith. (Bill Kostroun / AP)

The Jets, touchdown-less in three preseason games, sent Hunter to the St. Louis Rams for Jason Smith, a fourth-year player who has not met the expectations that come with being a No. 2 pick in the NFL Draft.

Hunter, dubbed “the league’s most criticized right tackle,” was replaced by Austin Howard after giving up 2 1/2 sacks (another was nullified) against the New York Giants in the second preseason game. Hunter was back to a role at which he has had more success: backup tackle and tight end in jumbo formations. Howard is expected to remain the starter.

“Everyone knows. The whole New York City knows that I’ve been struggling for the last year, and the last game [I] didn’t do much better,” Hunter said last week (via ESPN New York). “I was waiting for [a demotion], to be honest with you. I knew I was struggling. I knew everything was kind of going south for me.”

Drafted out of Baylor as a left tackle, Smith was switched to the other side and has started only 26 games (and played in 29) over three seasons because of injuries, particularly concussions. His 2011 season ended in the sixth game, against Dallas, when he suffered a severe concussion. Trading him will save the Rams $1.55 million in salary-cap space, according to, with Smith due to make $4 million this season.

Perhaps a change of scenery will help both players, whose arrivals aren’t likely to comfort either Mark Sanchez or Sam Bradford. Hunter, who gave up 11 sacks last season, will be reunited with Brian Schottenheimer in St. Louis. Ryan defended Hunter’s work last week.

“He’s played 10 years in this league. You don’t bluff your way in the National Football League for 10 years. Ten minutes maybe, but not 10 years,” Ryan said last week. “... He wasn’t the only one that never maybe performed to expectations last season.”

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