New York Jets: Suddenly, 2020 becomes an even bigger year for Marcus Maye

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - OCTOBER 13: Safety Marcus Maye #20 of the New York Jets celebrates a stop against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

As things deteriorate between the New York Jets and Jamal Adams, fellow safety Marcus Maye has a big opportunity to take over the secondary.

If and when we get a 2020 NFL season, green eyes of New York Jets observers will be on an SEC-based safety and 2017 draftee.

The object of their perusal? Former Florida Gator Marcus Maye.

The Jamal Adams roller-coaster is preparing to sink into its deepest valley, as the two-time All-Pro has repeatedly declared that “it’s time to move on”, presumably from New York. Time will only tell how this ride ends…especially with the Jets holding most, if not all, of the leverage cards…but in this of New York uncertainty, Maye’s prescience undoubtedly looms even larger.

Prior to the reported Adams trade request, Maye was perhaps seen as one of the Jets’ more expendable starters. An uncertain cap situation and good amounts of money due to 2019 splurges Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley meant that the team would likely be able to retain only one of their starting safety pair of Adams and Maye. The latter’s New York swan song appeared to be in the draft stages when general manager Joe Douglas declared the intentions of making Adams “a Jet for life” and submitted when the Jets drafted Cal-Berkeley alum Ashtyn Davis in the third round of April’s draft. Maye’s 2020 season, the final year of the rookie deal inked after the Jets chose him 33 picks after Adams in the 2017 selections, was set up to be an audition for potential new suitors.

Suddenly, with Adams seeking new surroundings, an opportunity has opened for the free safety, an opportunity that could make him a vital part of the most optimistic period the Jets’ perpetual new century rebuild has experienced.

Just four years removed from his draft day, Maye is already one of the most experienced members of the Jets. Only linebacker Jordan Jenkins and blocker Brian Winters have spent more time in the New York starting lineup. At 27, he is already a trusted face in the Jets’ lineup and someone that members of a young secondary can turn to.

“He’s been consistent, he’s been consistent,” Jets head coach Adam Gase said about Maye, per Charles McDonald of the New York Daily News. “He’s reliable, he’s probably one of the smarter players that we have on defense. His knowledge of football is outstanding. He’s one of those guys where it’s kinda like having an extra quarterback on the field in the secondary.”

That figures to be a trend extending into the new decade. The Jets are thin at safety depth, as potential Adams contingencies on the current roster (Davis and Matthias Farley) are dangerously low on meaningful game action. Fortunately for New York, if Adams indeed fulfills his promises of transferring, they have a seasoned, effective defender that has risen and fallen with the roller-coaster endeavors of the National Football League in a short timespan.

The 2019 campaign was a year of redemption for Maye. In a season where the length of the Jets’ weekly injury report could rival that of a CVS receipt, Maye stayed healthy after numerous injuries kept him out of 10 games the year prior. He went on to become one of two Jets defenders to start all 16 games last season (the other being lineman Steve McLendon).

While Adams captured the hearts of green New Yorkers with his propensity for backfield invasions and smashmouth style of football, Maye rebuilt a reputation for consistency gained in his rookie season. He tied for the team-lead in pass breakups with Adams (7) and partook in 99 percent of all defensive snaps. His crowning moment came in a win in the MetLife Stadium finale, a 16-10 win over playoff contenders from Pittsburgh. The game saw Maye tally his first interception since the infamous 104-yard touchdown-free return in October 2019 against Denver and he broke up the potential game-winning touchdown pass on Pittsburgh’s penultimate play.

Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams referred to Maye as “an angel in the outfield” at free safety, per reporter Ethan Greenberg. The final line of New York defense is a role that Maye relishes.

“It’s a huge role, just being the last line of defense,” Maye remarked to Greenberg. “You have the Mike (linebacker), but to be the quarterback of the back end, you have to get everyone lined up in the right spot, cover up for guys, make plays down the field and just be where I’m needed.”

Maye’s reemergence was noticed beyond the corridors of MetLife Stadium and One Jets Drive. In November, Pro Football Focus produced its list of the most underrated player from each of the NFL’s 32 teams. The Jets were represented by none other than Maye.

“Maye had to make a big statement in 2019, and he is doing just that so far, earning a 77.8 overall grade that currently ranks 14th among safeties,” PFF wrote after the Jets’ November win over Washington. “Maye has allowed only four catches on 455 coverage snaps and has broken up four passes along with that. The Jets may have question marks at nearly every position group on the field, but the duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye just may be the best safety pairing in the entire league.”

The idea of Maye and Adams reuniting in the Jets’ secondary seems more remote than ever, but the former has a chance to make his New York mark.

2020 is a year where Myae can either impress his new squad or solidify his career and develop a foundation for his prime in his current surroundings. Speaking with Greenberg shortly after the season, he made it clear that his immediate focus is purely on green endeavors.

“It’s definitely going to be big next year because we’ve been through a year with Gregg and we know his play-calling style,” he said. “We know the feel of his game and he now has a feel of us. He knows he has a type of players that can do a lot of different things. Next year could be even better than this year and I expect that.”

Maye clearly believes that the Jets’ defense can produce big things in 2020. Whether that includes Adams or not remains to be seen. But the possible loss of one defensive leader could well give way to another.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags