NEW YORK (AP) — Santonio Holmes was walking his dog at home Sunday night when he received an unexpected phone call.
It was the Pittsburgh Steelers, telling their talented but troubled wide receiver he had been traded to the New York Jets for a fifth-round pick in this year's draft.
"I was very shocked at first," Holmes said during a conference call Monday. "But, I knew it definitely opened up a lot more doors and a better opportunity for me to start over."
Holmes won't make his Jets regular-season debut until Week 5 of the regular season after the NFL suspended him earlier in the day without pay for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.
"We understood that was part of it, but we just felt like even with that, it was worth it," general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. "Obviously, a guy with his production and at 26 years old, he would not have been available if these indiscretions didn't happen, and obviously the suspension. But, with that said, we just felt like the risk and the price was reasonable for us."
Unafraid lately to add players with checkered pasts, Tannenbaum said he, coach Rex Ryan and owner Woody Johnson had "a robust debate and robust discussions" before deciding to acquire Holmes.
"We're not going into this with our eyes closed," Tannenbaum said.
Holmes, the 2009 Super Bowl MVP, is eligible to participate in the team's offseason program and in all preseason practices and games. He would be suspended for an entire season if he violates the league's policy again.
"To go back down the same road, make the same mistakes, won't be accepted," Holmes said.
Holmes is coming off his best season, with 79 catches for 1,248 yards and five touchdowns. But he is also facing a lawsuit in Florida from a woman who claims he threw a glass at her, cutting her above the eye, in an Orlando nightclub. A witness has since taken responsibility, according to Holmes' lawyer.
Holmes was also arrested in 2008 for possession of marijuana, and involved in a domestic violence incident in 2006; the misdemeanor charges were later dismissed. He was also recently accused of telling a fan to "kill urself" on his Twitter page, but implied that his account was hacked.
"It wasn't me," Holmes said. "I never tried to defend myself on that topic among anyone on Twitter or among anyone that tried to ask me for interviews. I would definitely be accountable for my actions if I did say it."
The 5-foot-11 Holmes, a first-round pick out of Ohio State in 2006, has one year remaining on his contract and will essentially be on a 12-game tryout for a long-term deal. The Jets have taken the same one-season approach with Braylon Edwards, another wide receiver who came to New York with baggage, and cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who was acquired from San Diego even though he was dealing with paternity issues.
Holmes has 235 catches for 3,835 yards and 20 touchdowns, but his troubles off the field could explain the relatively low price the Jets paid to get him. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday, citing anonymous sources, that the Steelers were prepared to release Holmes if they couldn't find a trade partner.
"I don't think I need to dig myself out of any hole," Holmes said. "These guys have opened their arms to me right now and all I have to do is walk into them."
The deal came together quickly as talks between the teams began late Saturday night. Holmes gives the Jets a game-breaking player for an offense that already included second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, wide receivers Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery, tight end Dustin Keller, running backs Shonn Greene, Leon Washington and the recently signed LaDainian Tomlinson.
"Obviously, there's been some bumps in the road in the past and hopefully he's learned from that," Tannenbaum said. "We understand that there's risks, significant risks."
Despite being benched earlier in the 2008 season for the marijuana arrest, Holmes made a number of big plays for Pittsburgh — none bigger than in the Super Bowl against Arizona. His tiptoe catch in the corner of the end zone of a 6-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 35 seconds left sent the Steelers to a 27-23 victory.
The Jets clearly see Holmes as another major piece in making their own Super Bowl run after finishing a win short last season.
"I know for a fact that's why they brought me here," Holmes said. "The opportunity presented itself for the Jets to acquire me, and I'm definitely here for a reason."