The New York Mets have done more than enough to address their rotation issues. They offered a qualifying offer to Marcus Stroman, which he took, they traded for Carlos Carrasco and Joey Lucchesi. When they get Noah Syndergaard back from injury, the unit will be among the best in the league. Jacob deGrom (arguably the best pitcher in the league) and David Peterson are the other two members.
However, the Mets have also been connected to Trevor Bauer lately. After trading for Francisco Lindor and Carrasco and signing Trevor May and James McCann, the assumption was that they wouldn’t be bringing additional big contracts unless the target was a center fielder.
However, an opportunity to bring the reigning NL Cy Young award winner is right there, mainly because he is getting out of potential suitors. Bauer would be a natural fit for the Los Angeles Angels, but a recent article by the Los Angeles Times explained that the relationship between the pitcher and coach Mickey Callaway is damaged beyond repair from their days with the Cleveland Indians.
The Toronto Blue Jays have spent lots and lots of dollars in George Springer, Kirby Yates, and Marcus Semien. It’s unlikely that they pursue Bauer. The Yankees appear all set in the rotation, and the Los Angeles Dodgers are in wait-and-see mode, just like the New York Mets.
The Mets’ offer in detail
MLB Networkâ€™s Jon Heyman explained the details about the Metsâ€™ offer to the free-agent right-hander:
“Metsâ€™ offer to Bauer thought 3-4 years with opt-outs and less than $36M AAV record. Dodgers could have similar type interest but unlikely to go long. Some teams believe Bauer seeks much longer deal, and pitching comps theyâ€™ve used are long deals: Cole (324M) and Strasburg (245M),” he tweeted.
The thing is that Bauer is unlikely to get that kind of money and years in the current market. Not at this point, when most teams have addressed their rotation and/or spent their budget elsewhere. And there is the situation with Callaway and the Angels.
The Mets can certainly swoop in and get Bauer. Will they? Is it possible that they are the favorites now? We should be getting closer to a resolution.
Every player has a specific role on any given team, and the New York Knicks have embodied a new culture and style of play this season after hiring head coach Tom Thibodeau. His focus on defense has proved to be a significant factor in the Knicksâ€™ minor success, as they currently sit at 8-11 on the year. With a competitive game against the Cleveland Cavaliers coming up on Friday evening, we should anticipate another hearty performance.
However, sometimes new styles and the expectations that come with them can create distrust in some players. Specifically, Center Mitchell Robinson has worked admirably to improve his shooting this past off-season, and heâ€™s waiting for an opportunity to unlock his talents. Nonetheless, Thibodeau expects him to be a premium interior defender, focusing on defense rather than scoring.
Robinson tweeted out his frustration before immediately deleting the message: “One day they’ll let me play.”
Robinson isnâ€™t indicating his playing time, as heâ€™s averaged 29.6 minutes per game. However, heâ€™s only averaging 9.1 points, compared to 15 last season. Heâ€™s also attempting one less shot per contest, indicating a change in focus.
â€œIâ€™m waiting on the opportunity,â€ Robinson said in Boston. â€œIâ€™ll continue to play my role when it presents itself. When that time comes, I know I can shoot.â€
The New York Knicks need to continue focusing on defense, and Robinson is a massive part of that plan:
As a 7-foot Center, Robinson is expected to be a shot-blocker and interior defender, but he has other goals in mind.
Thibodeau, on the other hand, is sticking to his guns. Robinsonâ€™s lack of shooting hasnâ€™t come up in conversation, and his old school style doesnâ€™t give much value to Twitter posts. If Robinson has a concern, Thibodeau expects him to address it face-to-face. If he hasnâ€™t, this doesnâ€™t seem to be a major issue, and I wouldnâ€™t expect to see Robinson taking more shots in the coming days. His ability to draw attention to the paint allows for more open shots on the outside as defenses collapse.
â€œI really donâ€™t pay attention to that stuff,â€ he said after practice Thursday over Zoom. â€œAnd Iâ€™ve never coached through the media or social media or whatever that is. My conversations with him, thatâ€™s never come up.â€
Last Saturday at UFC 257, Michael Chandler (22-5) finally made his debut with the world’s premium MMA organization. Chandler spent the majority of his career at Bellator where he became a three-time lightweight champion.
He was always considered one of the best in the world, but with him not fighting in the UFC, many didn’t give him credit. At UFC 257, he made his debut against Dan Hooker (20-10). Stylistically, this was a very tough matchup for Chandler.
Hooker is a sensational striker, incredibly tough, and he’s tough to take down and keep down. Not too mention the fact that he’s very tall for the weight class and uses his kicks and knees extremely well to keep distance.
There were questions around if Chandler could get in range to hit Hooker or even take him down. Well, at UFC 257, Chandler answered all of the doubts emphatically. Chandler put Hooker out and he did it with his striking in the first round.
Michael Chandler is an elite wrestler, but he’s scored three straight first round knockouts on the feet. He’s got ungodly amounts of power in his hands to go along with his elite wrestling skills. He proved he’s going to be a problem in the UFC‘s lightweight division.
The UFC’s New Company Man
Michael Chandler has made it clear from the jump that he’s there to be a company man. That’s why he was willing to be the UFC 254 backup for the promotion. Chandler traveled to Fight Island, quarantined, and made weight despite not fighting.
He was also willing to take any opponent in the UFC’s top six for his first fight regardless of the style. For that reason, he’s already becoming a favorite of Dana White. Dana White said he knew within seconds of talking to Chandler that he wanted to sign him when he was a free agent.
A couple of days ago, Chandler posted on his Instagram Story that he received a call from Dana White. Chandler said in the post that he’s happy to be the UFC’s new yes man. We can likely draw the conclusion that the promotion asked him about a potential fight.
With how quick the debut was, Chandler will likely get turned around quickly. No telling who Dana White was offering Chandler on the phone, but we know when the UFC calls, Chandler is going to say yes. For that reason, he’s going to become a quick favorite of the promotion and the fans.
Team Penske accounted for half of the NASCAR Cup Series’ final four title contenders, but they feel they can do better.
2021 Team Penske Driver Chart
Advance Auto Parts/BodyArmour/Menards
Austin Cindric (part-time)
Well regarded for his endeavors at both the NASCAR and open-wheel levels, Roger Penske’s first trek into the former came in 1972. After moderate success with Bobby Allison throughout the 1970s (four wins and a pair of fourth-place finishes), Penske left the sport after the 1980 season but returned 11 years later to enjoy prosperity through the “Blue Deuce”. Back by sponsorship from Miller Lite and the talents of 1989 champion Rusty Wallace, the No. 2 Ford won 36 races between 1991 and 2001. During that time, Penske opened a second car, the No. 12, driven by Jeremy Mayfield (1998-2001) and later Ryan Newman (2002-08). A third car began racing in 2004, becoming the No. 22 seven years later.
Wallace retired after the 2005 season, leaving the No. 2 to fellow Cup champion Kurt Busch. Former Hendrick Motorsports protege Brad Keselowski ventured over to the No. 2 in 2011 and brought home the organization’s first Cup championship the year after. Another transfer, Joey Logano from Joe Gibbs Racing, brought the title back to Penske six years later in the No. 22.
2020 in Review
One of the most-discussed transactions in NASCAR last season was the great crew chief swap at Team Penske, Jeremy Bullins, Todd Gordon, and Paul Wolfe all moving to different pit boxes. All things considered, the gambit paid off, especially in a season where on-track activities were mostly limited to the race itself.
Logano won two of the first four races of the 2020 season at Las Vegas and Phoenix before the coronavirus-induced pause put things on hold. Once things rebooted, it took a while for Logano to regain his form, but Ryan Blaney took the June race at Talladega while Keselowski won at Charlotte, Bristol, and New Hampshire, allowing all three Penske cars entry into the playoffs.
While Blaney was eliminated after the first round, Keselowski won a playoff race at Richmond and finished no worse than sixth in the three-race semifinal. Logano regained his championship and advanced to title contention at Phoenix with a win at Kansas (also winning that venue’s summer event). The No. 22 would lead all but two of the first 119 laps at the finale, but the Penske duo proved to be no match for champion Chase Elliott. Keselowski was the runner-up while Logano came home third.
Meet the Drivers
Experience:Â 12th full season Career Cup Victories:Â 34 (last: Richmond, fall 2020) 2020 finish:Â 2nd Best standings finish:Â 2012 champion
Keselowski has quietly amassed quite the ledger since the 2016 season. He has won at least three races in each of the five seasons and has been in contention for the championship twice in that span. True to form in terms of showing up when it “matters”, Keselowski noted to the media this week that, after winning the 600-mile event in Charlotte last year, he has victories in each of NASCAR’s supposed “crown jewel” races…with the exception of the season-opening Daytona 500. The others are considered to be at Charlotte, Darlington, Indianapolis, and Talladega.
“Iâ€™m one crown jewel away from having them all, which is really cool and special for me,” he said. “It means a lot to me personally, so thatâ€™s definitely on the list is trying to get Daytona to come together and not get wrecked, but I think the team is pretty good and really happy with a lot of people Iâ€™m working with. Jeremy has got an incredible attitude that is really healthy for our team and it was a really fresh, new challenge for me personally last year. I still have hunger and eagerness to achieve more results and that opportunity is coming up real quick here in the next few weeks, so nothing is taken for granted. Everything has to be earned.”
Keselowski’s fate was one of the most talked-about rumors in NASCAR last season, as many felt he was destined to return to Hendrick Motorsports to take over the No. 48 Chevrolet that Jimmie Johnson was set to leave behind. But Keselowski re-upped with Penske for at least another year and there’s little to suggest that the relationship has deteriorated. Keselowski was particularly enthused by his relationship with Logano, as the two have collaborated in each of the last nine seasons.
“He immediately made me a better driver with a number of weaknesses I had,” Keselowski said of Logano. “I donâ€™t think I was a very good qualifier. The things I was doing on the plate tracks some were good and some were bad, and he taught me a few good habits. He definitely made me up my game on restarts, so overall I think heâ€™s made me better and I would hope that he would feel the same way that I challenged him to be better in other ways. So, I think thatâ€™s ultimately what would be your goal, is that you would have two teammates that make each other better.”
Experience:Â 6th full season Career Cup Victories:Â 4 (last: summer Talladega, 2020) 2020 finish:Â 9th Best standings finish:Â 7th (2019)
It’s hard to complain about Blaney’s Cup Series career. The son of sprint car legend Dave, Blaney’s first win ended Wood Brothers Racing’s 16-year winless drought at non-superspeedway tracks. Last season, his win allowed him to become the first driver to win consecutive races at Talladega since Jeff Gordon swept the 2007 set (also becoming the first Ford representative to pull it off since Buddy Baker in 1975). He led a career-best 668 laps last season, good for seventh in the Cup Series and just ahead of defending champion Kyle Busch. But Blaney struggled throughout the summer, earning only a single top five finish in the 13 races after Talladega. Those struggles followed him into the postseason, and he was a surprise first-round elimination. Blaney did manage to close things on a strong note, earning top tens in all but one of the last seven races (including a runner-up at the penultimate race at Martinsville).
Blaney knows that it’s time to show more, especially if he wants to solidify his status as one of the faces of NASCAR.
“Iâ€™m 27. Itâ€™s time to get rolling here and winning multiple races throughout the season and try to make it to the (final four),” Blaney said. “Thatâ€™s something I havenâ€™t done yet, so itâ€™s definitely time to step up and I think we have all the right tools in place to do so, itâ€™s just about applying all of them and really capitalizing on moments. Great athletes and great players, they capitalize on big moments. Thatâ€™s just what we have to put in our heads and put in our minds.”
Experience:Â 12th full season Career Cup Victories:Â 26 (last: fall Kansas, 2020) 2020 finish:Â 3rd Best standings finish:Â 2018 Champion
It feels like only yesterday that Logano entered the Cup Series with the nickname “Sliced Bread”. The Middletown, Connecticut native has more or less lived up to the hype behind such a name, winning the 2018 title and finishing no worse than fifth in each of the last three seasons.
Logano is ready to race “anything” as he goes into his 12th season on the full-time circuit. The biggest change in his repertoire has been his on-track confidence, which he spoke about in detail earlier this week. He’s also thankful for the tough times that have gotten him to this point in his career.
“As a younger driver or someone coming in, I went through (tough times) where I got my butt kicked and came in very confident thinking I was gonna be the man and then quickly realized I was not even the boy,” he said. “I was in trouble and being able to kind of overcome that has really helped me a lot now. Iâ€™m glad Iâ€™ve gone through that. Those are the experiences that I absolutely love that I had because itâ€™s made me into who I am today, but in the moment itâ€™s hard. Itâ€™s not fun, but it makes you stronger for sure.â€
Austin Cindric (part-time)
Experience:Â 1st season (No previous Cup Series starts) Career Cup Victories:Â N/A 2020 finish:Â N/A Best standings finish:Â N/A
Penske will field a part-time third car for Cindric, the defending Xfinity Series champion. Cindric will protect his title in Penske’s No. 22 Ford before joining the Penske-affiliated Wood Brothers in 2022.
While Cindric’s full schedule is subject to change, he will definitely attempt to reach the Daytona 500 through the 150-mile qualifying events on February 11, three days before the engines fire for the main event. Cindric won’t be the only talented name fighting for a spot. He’ll be joined by fellow Xfinity finalist Noah Gragson and former Truck Series runner-up Ty Dillon, all while preparing for the 300-mile Xfinity opener on the same weekend.
“I think you always as a race car driver, whether you have a good year, a bad year, or the best year, you have to continue to better yourself whatever that level is because everyone else around you is gonna keep stepping that up,” Cindric said of his 2021 goals. “I have some great opportunities to run some Cup races and get a taste for what it means to race against the best, because ultimately thatâ€™s what I want to be one day, is to race against the best and the best of the best.”
Keselowski and Logano will be constant contenders in 2021 and no one would be surprised if they reprised their roles in the final four. The real wild card is going to be Blaney, and if he can take the next step in his development. Winning multiple races, preferably prior to the playoffs, would be a great display of power, and there are high hopes he can do it relatively early. Blaney was the runner-up in last season’s Daytona 500 and placed third at Homestead-Miami, the site of the third event of the year.
It is no secret that the New York Giants have one of the weakest offenses in the NFL, based on their 17.5 points per game during the 2020 season. Losing star running back Saquon Barkley in weaken 2 against the Chicago Bears significantly hurt their chances at even mediocrity. Coordinator Jason Garrett struggled to get things going with a lack of talent. While he did manage to spur a decent run game, which averaged 110.5 points per game behind a suspect offensive line, the passing game ranked 29th in the NFL in yards per game at 189.1.
Second-year quarterback Daniel Jones threw just 11 touchdowns, one year after throwing 24 in his rookie campaign. While Garrett didnâ€™t do himself any favors regarding his passing attack, the running game earned him another season, most likely.
However, this off-season represents a great opportunity for the Giants to upgrade the receiving corps, whether it be in free agency or in the NFL draft. There are a bevy of FA options, including elite targets like Allen Robinson and second-level options such as Corey Davis and Kenny Golladay.
Three premium level receivers could fall to New York when it comes to the draft, but it is unlikely that Jaâ€™Marr Chase and DeVonta Smith make it to the 11th overall pick. The Giants, though, could watch Alabama standout Jaylen Waddle fall right into their laps, given he dealt with an ankle injury during the 2020 season, which significantly affected his statistical output.
How Waddle could transform the New York Giants offense:
Waddle is an intriguing prospect, composed of elite athleticism and defense-destroying speed. At 5-foot-10 and 182 pounds, heâ€™s not an imposing receiver by means of his frame and size, but he is slightly faster than Henry Ruggs and is capable of running an offense that is designed to get him open. If you are unfamiliar with Ruggs, he ran a 4.27 40-yard dash in 2020, blowing the top off of defenses regularly during his rookie campaign.
Believe it or not, Waddle is an even more exciting prospect, based on his route running capabilities and versatile attributes. With consistent hands and fantastic body control, utilizing him in the slot or Z receiver alignment is how a team like the Giants can maximize his potential.
Before suffering an ankle injury this past season, he posted 591 yards and four scores over just six games. He was averaging 21.1 yards per reception, indicating his ability to pick up yards after the catch and make tacklers miss in the open field. Essentially, from the Z stance, heâ€™s lined up a few feet from the line of scrimmage, making it incredibly hard for corners to press him. By using his speed, he can avoid contact and blow by them, creating significant separation, something the Giants have lacked.
He is a player that benefits from schemes that utilize pre-snap motion and bunch wide receiver sets. Waddle plays extremely similarly to Tyreek Hill in the sense that he moves around the backfield pre-snap regularly and creates separation instantaneously. Offering Daniel Jones a weapon like Jaylen would not really help his ability in the short/intermediate zones but also push the field up the seams and spray-fade routes, a route that Garrett loves to utilize from the slot/Z alignment.
The attention a player like Waddle will command also opens up the running game, and having a back like Saquon is a perfect combo. Athleticism and natural traits are not something you can teach, and Waddle has so much more than that. He would be a fantastic selection if he drops to the 11th pick, and he would like the revolutionize the Giantsâ€™ offense.
The Alabama product is also a phenomenal return man, especially on punts. While the Giants do have several options in that category, take a look at this clip for a nice surprise!
The New York Mets are one of the multiple teams who will head to Austin, Texas, to watch Jake Arrieta showcase what he has left in his tank. Arrieta was coming off the last three seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies and pitched his worst season since 2012.
Arrieta is heading into his age-35 season and has fallen off dramatically since his illustrious 2015 Cy Young award-winning season. His ERAs since 2015 are 1.77, 3.10, 3.53, 3.96, 4.64, and 5.08. Arrieta’s once unhittable sinker lost its bite, resulting in the lowest strikeout rate of his career.
Arrieta’s effectiveness with his offspeed pitches was the one redeeming quality of his 2020. He threw his slider 23.2% of the time, and batters hit just .178. Arrieta’s changeup had an xBA of .225 and a 30.6 whiff rate. As Arrieta’s sinker declines, he will need the secondary pitches to revive his career.
It is unlikely for the Mets to take a risk on Arrieta unless he shows flashes of his Cy Young caliber years. The Mets do not have a rotation spot to offer him, especially with Trevor Bauer potentially on the horizon. The bulk of their offseason moves show they are looking for younger, more reliable depth options for their starting pitching.
The New York Yankees officially signed star infielder DJ LeMahieu to a six-year, $90 million deal, according to team representatives. LeMahieu, who has produced two fantastic seasons in pinstripes since joining the organization in 2019, will Â remain a focal point moving forward.
However, his experience during the negotiation process these past few months was â€œfrustrating,â€ as he noted during a zoom conference on Thursday.
LeMahieu finished the 2020 campaign with a .364 batting average, a league-high. He also tallied 10 homers and 27 RBIs, recording a career-low 9.7% strikeout rate. He seems to continue improving offensively while maintaining his defensive prowess at the same time. His ability to maneuver in the infield makes him an invaluable asset and one the Yankees simply couldnâ€™t afford to lose. Nonetheless, that didnâ€™t stop general manager Brian Cashman from testing his market value and eventually managed to settle on a price far less than most expected.
â€œFor me, I donâ€™t understand why it takes so long,â€ LeMahieu said of the process.. â€œI donâ€™t know why we couldnâ€™t get it done two weeks after the season. But I guess thatâ€™s the business side and thatâ€™s how it is right nowâ€¦ I thought the whole time we could get something done and it wasnâ€™t happening, so I just didnâ€™t know what the heck was going on.â€
Clearly, LeMahieu wanted to stay in pinstripes the entire time, as he indicated during an interview following the 2020 season. His interest in other teams seemed to be a tactic by Cashman, who hedged his bet on alternative options offering less than the Yankees. While the Toronto Blue Jays reportedly offered him more per season, they wouldnâ€™t provide him with the years he desired. Locking him in long-term gave the Yankees some additional flexibility in free agency, as it lowered his AAV.
â€œI definitely had to consider going other places,â€ LeMahieu said. â€œI had to put myself in other situations, even though it would have been a really tough page to turn. Thankfully, I didnâ€™t have to.â€
Now that LeMahieuâ€™s contract has been settled, Cashman has been active in acquiring starting pitching and resolving their rotational issues following the departure of James Paxton, Masahiro Tanaka, and JA Happ.
It doesnâ€™t seem as if the Yankees are done making moves, but locking in DJ was a priority, and while it did take a bit longer than most anticipated, they managed to secure him on a deal that was more cost-efficient than expected.
The New York Yankees announced the finalized $90 million, six-year contract between the Yankees and batting champion DJ LeMahieu. Upon doing so, LeMahieu took to Zoom on Thursday to talk about the contract. He stated that he didn’t know why it took so long to complete; he thought it could have been completed in two weeks, he expressed his frustration. But all being said, he is happy to be back. As much as getting the security he wanted, he said he had unfinished business; he is back with the Yankees to win a World Series.
â€œThis is an exciting group. We need to get over that hump. Thereâ€™s no secret we need to get over that hump. Thereâ€™s one goal with the Yankees and thatâ€™s to win a World Series. We havenâ€™t been able to do it.â€
LeMahieu ended the shortened season with an amazing .364 batting average that won him the batting championship for all of baseball. He had 71 hits, 10 of them long balls. He impressed with a 1.011 OPS. He continued to earn his nickname “the machine” for his ability to get on base, hit or not; he even stole 3 bases in the process. He in the call also expressed his views on the Tampa Bay Rays:
â€œI think we ran into a really hot Tampa team,â€ LeMahieu said. â€œI thought we were better than they were. I think they just made a couple plays that we didnâ€™t and that was the bottom line. Going forward, weâ€™ve got to make those plays, whatever it is. I thought last year, they just had our number. It was disappointing and I really think weâ€™re gonna get over the hump here.â€
Corey Kluber talks about being ready on day one
Corey Kluber will be pitching for the Yankees this year after not pitching for nearly a year and a half. His season was ended in 2019 when he got hit by a comebacker, which resulted in a fractured right arm. During the offseason, he was traded to the Texas Rangers. That didn’t go well at all, as he ended up pitching one inning during the entire season due to an injured shoulder.
The New York Yankees did not blindly sign Kluber to his $11 million contract; they had the inside information provided by the Yankee’s Eric Cressey, their training and strength/conditioning head. Kluber had long been with Cressey and did his rehab there at his Florida Facility. Kluber is a two time Cy Young Award winner. If he can regain his previous form, he could be every bit as good as Yankee ace Gerrit Cole. On Zoon Thursday, Klube talked about his health:
â€œI consider myself to be healthy at this point,â€™â€™ Kluber said. â€œIâ€™m not rehabbing anything or tending to any issues lingering with anything. Iâ€™m basically at the normal stage of my offseason right now, which is a good feeling to be at: to be out of the rehab mode and just try to get ready for the season.â€
It’s finalized Masahiro Tanaka returning to his Eagles in Japan
For seven years, Masahiro Tanaka was a New York Yankee stalwart of the pitching rotation. After the 2020 season, when he posted a 12.37 ERA in the postseason, the Yankees decided not to give him a qualifying offer of $18.9 million. During 2020 he would have earned $23 million had it been a normal season. With the Yankees’ priority of resigning DJ LeMahieu, Tanaka waited for the Yankees to give him an offer, an offer that never came.
The Yankees hired Corey Kluber and traded with the Pittsburgh Pirates for pitcher Jameson Taillon. Tanaka saw the writing on the wall and re-engaged with his old team, the Rakuten Eagles, the team Tanaka spent his first seven professional seasons with. According to reports, he signed a deal with them for a two-year contract worth nearly $9 million US dollars annually. The Eagles confirmed the deal but did not provide financial details.
In his seven years with the New York Yankees, Tanaka posted a 3.74 ERA over 174 games, including seven complete games. Nicknamed the “Tank,” he was a fan favorite of many Yankee fans; many will miss him. After the signing with the Eagles Tanaka he took to Twitter and thanked the Yankee fans:
EmpireSportsMedia.com’s Columnist William Parlee is a member of the Society for American Baseball Research. Follow me on Twitter @parleewilliam.
How will the New York Jets move on in their rushing situation after Le’Veon Bell? ESM investigates in Part II of its offseason preview.
The Position: Running Back On the Roster: La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson Free Agents: Frank Gore, Josh Adams Reserve/Future:Â Pete Guerriero
If you told New York Jets fans this time last year that Le’Veon Bell would be getting ready to play in Super Bowl LV, they would be ecstatic and likely booking their flights and hotels to/in the Tampa area.Â Alas for the wearers of green, we’re enduring a socially distanced Super Bowl this year that will limit attendance. If Bell plays, he will not represent the Jets, but the Kansas City Chiefs, having been mercifully granted his New York release after 17 games over the last two seasons.
Upon his departure, Bell left behind an aura of uncertainty with the Jets rushing situation…and that can’t be pinned entirely on his release. The Jets had an opportunity to clear up their rushing future with several viable candidates. Fourth-round rookie La’mical Perine was emerging from an early stretch of injuries while the Jets added former Detroit draft pick Ty Johnson off waivers. Joe Douglas’ former Philadelphia disciple Josh Adams was also called up from the practice squad. Alas, New York opted to give most of its rushing opportunities to an aging Frank Gore, who put up a career-low 3.5 yards a carry and never reached the 75-yard plateau.
While Perine (64 carries, 232 yards, 2 scores) struggled to gain traction, missing six games due to injuries and a late positive test for COVID-19, Johnson and Adams took advantage of the little opportunities left. The pair united for 178 yards in a December contest against Las Vegas, with Johnson accounting for the first triple-digit rushing game for a Jets back in over two calendar years.
One can easily respect the brilliant, resilient NFL career of Gore while acknowledging that it’s probably not the best idea to make him your feature back at age 37. But that’s exactly what the Jets tried to do last season, and it didn’t end well. Again, one can’t entirely pin the disaster on Gore, who had a purpose upon his signing. No one was going to quarrel with the veteran Gore coming to New York and serving as a spell option, mentor, and veteran leader, but making him the top back after Bell’s release was ill-advised, especially when the macabre gift of consequence-free football games would’ve allowed the Jets to try something new.
Gore hinted at retirement during the season but left the door open to a 17th season earlier this winter, telling team reporter Jack Bell “I haven’t made a decision yet”. He ended the 2020 campaign as the third-leading rusher in NFL history at exactly 16,000 yards, behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Whether he’ll add to that tally remains to be seen, it’s possible additional yardage could be earned in a Jets jersey. Several of Gore’s younger teammates often cited the value of his veteran leadership and the Jets could be getting even younger at some of their most vital positions…i.e. quarterback. Then again, Gore may be better off “ring-chasing” as the Jets seek to make their own luck moving forward.
After all the drama, someone with the name “J. Adams” actually contributed something positive for the Jets in 2020. Adams previously worked with Douglas as an undrafted rookie during the Eagles’ failed Super Bowl defense in 2018, picking up a team-best 511 yards. One of Douglas’ first moves upon taking the Jets’ GM spot was to pick up Adams after he was a part of Philadelphia’s final camp cuts the following year. Adams played sparingly in his New York debut but led Jets running backs with a 5.4 average carry (albeit on 29 attempts) last season.
Adams’ familiarity with Douglas could potentially work in his favor if he’s interested in a reunion, but he may seek a new destination with more consistent opportunities to avoid getting lost in the fold.
Will They Draft?
Unlikely. The Jets just used a fourth-round choice on Perine last spring. They will likely turn to free agency to find a more established primary option, whether it’s in preparation for someone like Perine or Johnson to take on the role full-time or a longer-term option. It has been a long time since the Jets drafted a running back during the draft’s early portions, their last selection over the first two days coming in 2009 (Shonn Greene), but there are far too many holes to fill to “waste” an early pick on a rusher.
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay
Another future Super Bowl participant, Fournette could work in the same capacity Gore did: serve as a calming veteran prescience that knows how to win. In addition to his upcoming trip to the Big Game, Fournette was also involved in Jacksonville’s surprising trip to the AFC title game in 2018. The true difference from the Gore era would be that Fournette, 26, has proven he can still handle the workload of a top rusher. He has come up particularly big for the Buccaneers during their title run, putting up 313 total yards and scoring a touchdown in each of the three games.Â
Malcolm Brown, LA Rams
It’s possible the Jets could go with a rusher-by-committee approach, though they could use an experienced option to head up the group. Brown will likely seek a new opportunity after sharing duties with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson in Los Angeles. He and Henderson led the Rams in rushing scores with five each.
Kyle Juszcsyk, San Francisco
It has been a while since the Jets experimented with a fullback, their last legitimate project perhaps being Lex Hilliard in 2012. They briefly toyed with tight end Trevon Wesco in the spot but more or less abandoned it when the sophomore dealt with injuries this season. Adding Juszczyk, who would be familiar with Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur from his San Francisco days, would give the Jets not only a player with winning experience but a goal-line option to go along with his traditional blocking duties. Juszczy, a five-time Pro Bowler, scored a career-best six touchdowns this season, including two in his first multi-score game against Arizona in December.
There is certainly plenty of room to get better when it comes to the Jets’ run game, but, for a team that has so many holes, bolstering the unit may take a backseat while they settle some other affairs. Combine that with a relatively weak free agent class (the top overall options may be Fournette, Kenyan Drake, and Todd Gurley) and the Jets’ still recovering from the Bell debacle, it’s difficult to imagine them making too drastic of a movie. There’s certainly potential from the names on the roster right now, but the Jets’ failure to perform extensive research once Bell left could come back to hurt the team in the near future. An opportunity presented itself to check something off the offseason checklist, but they opted to give that opportunity to a potential Gore retirement tour.