New York Jets: The true culprit of the Sam Darnold era was…

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

Adam Gase is far from innocent, but he’s not the primary reason why the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold era didn’t work out.

There’s no use in crying about the past, especially when the prior affairs are only three weeks old. But social media’s stranglehold on society and the NFL stretching its news cycle from eight hours on Sunday to 365 days a year have seemingly done away with rationality.

If invitations to Canton were granted through 280 characters or less, for example, the construction of Sam Darnold’s bust would not only be underway but his 2021 season might have its own wing. It’s easy to see why Darnold’s modern endeavors have earned their share of headlines: he’s the quarterback of one of five undefeated NFL teams and his redemption story is compounded by the fact his former employers, the New York Jets, serve as a running gag amongst professional and amateur football comedians alike.

The Jets’ reunion with Darnold was crossed off of their bucket list on kickoff weekend. It’s way too early to fully grade the trade that sent Darnold to Charlotte, especially considering two of the metropolitan spoils garnered (second and fifth-round picks next spring) don’t even have names yet. Realistically, the Jets shouldn’t worry about Darnold again until 2025, the next scheduled meeting between Gang Green and Carolina.

Yet, the omnipotent nature of modern NFL football doesn’t allow the Jets a moment’s peace (Carolina’s nationally televised win over Houston on Thursday hasn’t helped stop the spread). The fact that Darnold is playing an active role in the Panthers’ success…he’s responsible for six of Carolina’s eight touchdowns while the Jets have scored two over their first three games under Zach Wilson’s offensive watch…is placing only a bigger spotlight on both Gang Green’s past, present, and future blueprints.

As their team continues to sputter sans Sam, Jets fans have sought a main villain, a living, breathing entity whom they can blame for their predicaments. Former head coach Adam Gase has been the primary target as Darnold joins a list of breakthrough stars that have flourished upon his departure (joining names like Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, and Laremy Tunsil).

Such fingering is misdirected.

The Jets’ modern struggles obviously do not fully exonerate Gase. Surely the post-Gase success list (which has also welcomed the fortunes of Gase’s collegiate and professional teams) isn’t a matter of coincidence and, traumatizing as this season has been so far, his weekly denials that he was fighting with the faces of the franchise haven’t been missed. Besides, the obvious suspect, as so many other murder mysteries have proven before, is more often than not the one who did the deed.

Gase will require some extra supervision when he inevitably gets yet another NFL job (because the modern NFL loves, if anything, coaching retreads), but he’s shielding the real culprit: it was ex-general manager Mike Maccagnan, in the front office, with a misguided sense of roster management.

 Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The jury is still out on Maccagnan’s successor Joe Douglas, especially with the poor early returns of the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. But one thing Saleh knew what Maccagnan was doing wasn’t working: as of Sunday’s Week 3 contest (a garish 26-0 loss in Denver), only three players from Maccagnan’s last contest as the metropolitan decision-maker (Foley Fatukasi, Marcus Maye, Nathan Shepherd) remain on the modern roster. Half of Maccagnan’s ill-fated final class (in the ensuing 2019 draft) is already gone.

Douglas’ pruge of the Maccagnan is a microcosm of what Darnold had to deal with. The Maccagnan era was one of negligence and ill-advised splashes, one that tried to cover inefficiencies at the supposedly “boring” positions with high-profile signings.

From the get-go, Darold was mostly left to fend for himself. Maccagnan’s strategy seemed to be an incomplete cause-and-effect chart whose profits and yields relied on Darnold becoming an MVP candidate. The offensive cabinets assembled by Maccagnan consisted of the aforementioned big-ticket free agents equally saddled with big baggage (Le’Veon Bell) and that was just the beginning of the team’s issues.

In his all-too-brief time as the Jets’ thrower, Darnold was also stuck with first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman), former stars past their prime (Demaryius Thomas, Frank Gore), flash-in-the-pan breakthrough candidates that wilted under a brighter spotlight (Chris Herndon, Quincy Enunwa), and undeveloped projects that either didn’t work out (Terrelle Pryor, Jermaine Kearse) or remain a work in progress (Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims).

All the while, Maccagnan almost completely ignored construction of the wall in front of Darnold. Save for some desperate moves late in his tenure…the ill-fated trade for Kelechi Osemele and drafting Chuma Edoga in the third round of his final draft…Maccagnan opted to go with blockers made of inconsistent one-year failed fixes. Darnold, for example, worked with three different primary centers (Spencer Long, Jonotthan Harrison, and Connor McGovern), an inconsistency set forth by Maccagnan’s failure to find a long-term solution.

It was a stark departure from predecessor Mike Tannenbaum’s finest hours: during his first draft in 2006, Tannenbaum chose Virginia tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, passing (pun intended) on touted quarterback prospects like Vince Young and Jay Cutler. When they had a chance to take touted collegiate, skill player heroes like Joseph Addai, Sinorice Moss, and LenDale White, they instead opted to bring in Nick Mangold. Not only did those two blockers headline the closest things the Jets have had to recent glory days, but they also became two of the most beloved figures in franchise history. Tannenbaum surrounded his homegrown talents with accomplished veteran strengths like Alan Faneca and Damien Woody. Carolina had already restocked its blocking cupboard with Taylor Moton and Matt Paradis.

Compare that to what Darnold has to work with in Carolina: the Panthers found a way to unite him with Robby Anderson, one of the few things that were working with him in New York. Anderson was one of two four-digit yardage receivers Darnold now has to throw to, the other being DJ Moore. Of course, no one in Jets circles needs to be reminded about the impact Christian McCaffrey can have, as the returning running back served as the 187-yard difference in Carolina’s 19-14 triumph on opening weekend. Carolina’s defense has also come up huge; through a majority of Week 3 action, the Panthers are the only team in the league that has let up less than 200 yards a game (191).

Rather than the hapless Gase, Darnold is also working with accomplished offensive minds Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. The former is all too familiar with raising lost causes from the football abyss, taking downtrodden college programs at Temple and Baylor to unprecedented new heights.

Carolina is in the midst of working with a new general manager, having brought in former Seattle scouting expert Scott Fitterer last winter. Adding Darnold is by far his most impactful move to date, a trade that open a new chapter in the book of the Panthers, one that officially allowed them to move on from the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera glory days.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few months into the job, Fitterer has done more Darnold than Maccagnan ever did.

Darnold is no longer being relied upon to be the sole source of offensive sparks. Many of those pieces arrived before Fitterer, but also spent valuable offseason funds on the aforementioned defense: former Temple linebacker was reunited with Rhule and now leads the team in sacks (4.5). They used their first pick on South Carolina shutdown corner Jaycee Horn (though he’s set to miss some time due to a non-contact foot injury). The Panthers are only poised to upgrade further after Week 3’s events: according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, they’re close to picking up former Jacksonville cornerback C.J. Henderson for tight end Dan Arnold and a third-round choice…a move the Jets, frankly, should’ve investigated further into.

Simply put, Fitterer appears to know the impact of surrounding a franchise quarterback with reliable help on all sides of the ball…a lesson the Jets are learning the hard way. Douglas at least appears to understand that on paper, having added accomplished veterans and using expanded draft capital on assistance in protection. There’s plenty of time to develop past the Darnold era and get things back on track. It doesn’t diminish, however, the progress Carolina has made with the former green thrower.

There’s no use in looking back on the Darnold era, at least not at this point on the NFL timeline, but that’s not the nature of modern football. If a (premature) culprit must be found, the Jets must start at the top. Blaming Gase is popular…but putting on Maccagnan is may be right for now.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

It’s time for Robert Saleh to prove why he got the New York Jets job

new york jets, robert saleh

Ending the New York Jets lengthy postseason drought is still a tall task, but early injuries have raised the pressure on the new boss.

For New York Jets fans, hiring Robert Saleh was like getting that one Christmas gift your parents insist they’re not getting you.

Saleh was one of the most sought-after coordinators during the NFL’s search for head coaches in 2021. He was an anomaly in the lens of modern American football in that his prior duties have centered around defense, a new arrival in the brotherhood of NFL head coaches at a time when stats like 30 points or 400 yards appear on more losing box scores than ever. Of the seven new hires, Saleh was the only one with a background primarily in defense.

He nonetheless earned interviews with all but two of the teams looking to fill headset vacancies. His eventual hire by the Jets earned positive reviews both domestically and abroad. A football fan landscape that uses any simple Jets mistake as a guaranteed punchline almost didn’t know what to do with itself.

Jets supporters would’ve taken any average football mind after the harrowing two years under Adam Gase’s watch…something along the lines of the mediocrity on display with say, Eric Magini would’ve been downright euphoric. Getting Saleh, the coveted coordinator from San Francisco, could’ve been classified as the closest feeling the Jets have had to a postseason triumph since their visit to the AFC title game at the start of the prior decade. Saleh’s mantra of “All Gas, No Brake” has been more quoted than lines from the scripts of The Sopranos…no easy tasks in Northern New Jersey.

Despite the praises hoisted upon Saleh (and a strong refurbishing of the team’s depth chart), the Jets’ issues didn’t instantly vanish. No one was booking trips to Inglewood for Super Bowl LVI. MetLife Stadium probably won’t have to reschedule any events in January. The feeling of being a savior, a prophet amongst metropolitan football fans, has to feel good. But it’s going to take a lot of work to keep that trust.

Jets fans were understandably patient: Gase’s antics over the last two seasons left the franchise in shambles. “Trusting the process” has become a parody of itself…especially since such a strategy has produced nothing greater than heartbreak in the conference semifinals for the concept’s originators in Philadelphia…but Gang Green’s worshippers had no choice. Merely improving from last year’s disaster would be viewed as a genuine step in the right direction. The veteran additions they made this offseason were strong markers in that path back to respectability.

The trigger fingers of NFL decision-makers are quicker than ever: Gase’s two-year tenure was the shortest in Jets history to end via firing since Rich Kotite’s cursed 32 games in 1995-96 (Al Groh resigned after a single season in 2000). But, perhaps a completely winless campaign notwithstanding, Saleh isn’t getting fired if/when the Jets miss the playoffs this year.

 Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But Saleh probably thought he’d at least get to enjoy the spectacle of opening kickoff before dealing with his first true test.

Saleh’s first games as an NFL head coach are going to held without the services of two of his top defenders after a costly business trip to Green Bay. Carl Lawson is done for the year after rupturing his Achilles while linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) is out for at least the first five games after leaving the exhibition showcase that concluded the trip. The football gods continued to show no mercy as the Jets prepare for their final preseason contest on Friday against Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS); former Eagles Vinny Curry will miss the reunion with his former team and all 17 regular season games after that after he was diagnosed with blood clots.

Saleh has also been left to finish cleaning up the mess the prior regime left behind. The incompetence of the last two seasons created so many holes that it was a near guarantee that some area on the roster was going to be neglected. New York’s secondary appears to be the odd group out: inexperienced raw talent reigns at the top of the cornerback depth chart (Bless Austin and Bryce Hall). The new, experienced arrivals upfront could’ve helped the Jets get by, especially in the early going. Now, Saleh is dealt his first major crisis before the calendar flips to September, to the point where the team is planning to seek out more help in the pass rush before the season starts…an endeavor that would ignore holes like backup quarterback and the aforementioned secondary. He’ll have to work through his first games with a relatively thin group on the defensive front.

In other words…the showcase that got Saleh hired continues.

If one’s criteria for hiring a new head coach stopped at a quick glance at the standings, Saleh’s status as a former 49ers assistant likely would’ve eliminated him. San Francisco followed up an NFC title with a 6-10 showing that sank them to the bottom of the NFC West. But the standings often rarely tell a team’s full story.

Since Gase, among others, was doing a fine job of upending the Jets’ fortunes on his own, the football gods might’ve left the Jets alone during the 2020 season. They instead turned their focus to the Bay Area, where several key ingredients were forcibly removed from the 49ers’ Super Bowl recipe. Saleh’s unit was no exception: the defensive injury list resembled a Pro Bowl ballot. Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, and Richard Sherman missed significant time, while Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, and K’Waun Williams were also medical departures. San Francisco was extensively also affected by the COVID-19 issues that invaded the NFL last season; local restrictions forced them to relocate to Arizona for the last portions of their season.

Saleh responded to the challenges head-on. Whereas some new hires (i.e. Arthur Smith, Tennessee offensive coordinator-turned-Atlanta head coach) earned their promotions through on-field results, Saleh earned his job through adaptation.

Despite the front seven losing a good part of its bite, San Francisco’s defense managed to keep its pressure at a consistent rate, forcing hurries on 11.2 percent of opposing quarterback dropouts (fifth-best in the league). In more conventional stats, Saleh’s ragtag group of defenders allowed 350 yards or less in six of their final games. One such effort allowed the Washington Football Team’s offense to put up 193 yards…in a game the 49ers lost 23-15. Washington’s points were primarily earned through a Chase Young fumble return touchdown and Kamren Curl pick-six and two other drives totaling 42 yards that led to Dustin Hopkins field goals. Their longest drive of the day, a 72-yard trek to open the second half, also produced a Hopkins triple.

Under Saleh’s watch, depth man Kerry Hyder got back to numbers (49 tackles, 18 quarterback knockdowns, 8.5 sacks) not reached since his sophomore season in Detroit, which was followed by a torn Achilles that cost him his whole 2017 campaign. He was rewarded with a three-year deal from Seattle.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw said that Saleh’s composure helped the 49ers keep their composure in a time of distress.

“(He made) sure that every guy is doing their job 100 percent of the time, as good as they can, hard as they can,” Greenlaw said per Shayna Rubin of The Mercury News. “Saleh said if we bring that every week to the game, we’re going to be one of the most dominant teams. Having the mentality he has, the mindset he has, it carries to us on defense. I don’t know where he’s going to go from here, but I know that mentality will stick with us.”

Now, Saleh has to deal with that adversity right from the get-go. He’s not looking for sympathy…he’s looking for players to step up.

“The NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after last weekend’s 23-14 preseason win over Green Bay per Randy Lange of the team website. It was Saleh’s first public comments after the dire Lawson diagnosis. “When someone falls off the train…it’s another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. A lot of men at that defensive end spot are chomping at the bit for the opportunity, and they got it. We’ll work our tails off to get them ready, and I know they’ll work their tails off to reciprocate.”

The New York Jets have been a franchise that has had to deal with adversity, a team that has been forced to adapt to landscapes changed through both self-inflicted calamities and issues bestowed from parties from abroad. Fortunately, they’ve found a head coach that earned his biggest opportunity to date through overcoming such issues.

This time, however, it’s time to do it in green gear.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Running backs

jets, michael carter

The New York Jets’ rushing room officially moved on from the Le’Veon Bell era, opting for a more minimalist future.

Following the conclusion of minicamp activities, the NFL offseason is officially over. The next time the New York Jets convene in Florham Park, they’ll be getting ready for preseason and regular season action for the 2021 campaign. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our lookback continues with the running backs…

Sep 27, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Jets running back Frank Gore (21) runs the ball in the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The 2021 game plan for the Jets’ run game technically began on October 13, when they released Bell after 17 uneventful contests, or at least it should’ve. With the Jets at 0-5 and armed with three young rushing projects (La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams), a macabre silver lining loomed: the playoffs were fathoms away from reach but the Jets had 11 opportunities of consequence-free, game day football that could be used as blank canvases, research and development for an uncertain future. They were de facto preseason games granted after the cancellation of the summer exhibitions. Jobs and/or New York longevity could’ve been won or lost.

Instead, Adam Gase opted to give Frank Gore, likely Canton-bound as is, a de facto retirement tour.

The 37-year-old Gore wound carrying the ball 187 times…40 more carries than Perine, Johnson, and Adam combined. Gore did manage did join Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton in the 16,000-yard club but his performance did nothing to keep him out of the future “NFL Legends in Wrong Jerseys” compilations.

Part of the reason for the focus on Gore was ridiculously poor luck on Perine’s end. In addition to Gase’s negligence, the fourth-round pick from 2020’s virtual draft also dealt with an ankle injury (sustained after running for 33 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in November against the Chargers) and even placement on the COVID-19 list during the final week of the season. Perine never really got into a rookie-year rhythm as a result of the instability, earning only 232 yards on 64 carries.

To their credit, Johnson and Adams capitalized on whatever opportunities they were offered. The pair averaged nearly five yards a carry (uniting for 411 yards on 83 attempts) with their magnum opus against Las Vegas in December overshadowed by Gregg Williams’ ill-fated final blitz. Lost in the chaos was the Jets’ most lucrative rushing performance in recent memory (178 yards between the two). Johnson even managed to earn the Jets’ first triple-digit yardage game in over two calendar years. Even with Johnson and Adams maintaining the workload well, Gase’s gift to Gore forced them into a small sample size conundrum, one where the Jets couldn’t be truly sure that any part of their young trio was primary rusher material.

Oct 22, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) runs the ball against the New York Giants in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

With the free agent Gore unretained, the Jets have opted for a relatively minimalist approach at running back for the immediate future, and rightfully so. Granting Bell a $52.5 million deal in an era where Super Bowl champions have won with frugal run games was one of the final mistakes of the Mike Maccagnan era, so it’s probably going to be a long time before the Jets spend big on a rusher again.

The incoming backs reflect that inconspicuousness. Tevin Coleman was brought in on a single-year deal worth $2 million, while the Jets used their first day three pick to take Michael Carter out of North Carolina.

Coleman is an interesting case. While the redemption-seeking Jets can’t afford to co-author big-budget/high-profile comeback stories…which made the decisions of trading Sam Darnold and passing on Julio Jones look all the wiser…Coleman is a player with big game knowledge and talent that slips under the radar. He’s a rare Jet with Super Bowl experience (partaking in the game’s 51st and 54th editions with Atlanta and San Francisco respectively) and knows the vision LaFleur will look to implement after their collaborations in the Bay Area.

On a personal level, the multi-talented Coleman can prove to both the Jets and the rest of the NFL that he has recovered from knee and shoulder injuries on a New York team that has very little to lose this season. At 28, Coleman perhaps has one more long-term deal in him, so it might be now or never.

Meanwhile, Carter arrived through the 107th slot on the NFL Draft board, though Joe Douglas reportedly would’ve been happy to take him in the third round (the Jets’ third-round choice had been traded to Minnesota to pick Alijah Vera-Tucker). Carter was one of the most pleasant surprises in minicamp and could well be at the top of the depth come September.

That leaves the aforementioned trio of returning young projects, at least one of whom is unlikely to be retained. The battle should be one of the most interesting debates of training camp and the Jets seem rather intrigued as well. One of their first moves this offseason was to retain Adams on a one-year deal ($1.18 million).

Dec 6, 2020; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hands off to running back Ty Johnson (25) against the Las Vegas Raiders in the second half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

The Jets’ minimalist rushing attack works in the modern NFL. Since 2010, only two top-ten rushers (Marshawn Lynch in Seattle and LeGarrette Blount in New England) have earned a Super Bowl ring at the end of their lucrative season. After drastically overpaying Bell (2019’s third-highest paid rusher behind only David Johnson and Todd Gurley), New York curbed their rushing budget. On paper, it looks like the move has paid off. Coleman’s championship experience and familiarity with LaFleur’s system can only help, while many view Carter as a day three steal.

That only leaves the puzzling situation regarding the returnees. At first glance, the odd man out appears to be Perine, whose north/south style of rushing conflicts with what LaFleur has preferred in the past. The sad part of the matter is that the Jets could’ve had some clarity on the group now, but the failure to take advantage remains one of the more underrated stains of the Gase era.

But there’s no use crying about the past at this point. The present has produced some solid finds in the rushing bargain bin that could well pave the way to an offensively upbeat New York future.

Final Offseason Grade: B+

What do you think of the Jets’ new rushing outlook? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets run game could be the long-sought offensive gamechanger

As Le’Veon Bell burns another bridge, the New York Jets’ current rushing attack could become one of their most impactful areas.

For Le’Veon Bell, it appears to be three teams down and 29 to go.

The former New York Jets running back has apparently torched another bridge for himself when it comes to NFL employment, as Bell said he would “retire first” before playing another season with Andy Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs. Bell’s declaration came, of all places, in an Instagram comment section, as fans bombarded him with questions on a post revealing someone spent over $700 at McDonald’s. Bell joined the eventual AFC champions mid-season after the Jets let him go after 17 games in green but was used sparingly (63 carries over nine games). He has since apologized for the arena in which he posted his comments, but reiterated his displeasure for his time in Kansas City. 

The Bell experiment, one that cost the Jets over $52 million, came at a curious time on the NFL timeline, one that has placed an increased reliance upon aerial antics. Since 2010, only two top-ten rushers (Marshawn Lynch, LeGarrette Blount) have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. No leading rusher has triumphed since Terrell Davis in 1998. Thus, it was odd to see the Jets shell out so much for a dying art in the modern NFL, one that may have indirectly played a role in the recent offensive overhaul that ended the Sam Darnold era. With so much being dealt to Bell, other areas (i.e. receiving and blocking) were neglected.

Bell’s latest overpass arson allows his former employers to look back and realize just how much the situation behind the quarterback has improved. Interestingly, the Jets have gone for a more minimalist approach, adding two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman on a short deal worth $2 million, retaining a trio of young veteran projects in La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams, and a draft pick Michael Carter. Attention has centered on the Jets’ passing transactions, including a new quarterback (Zach Wilson) and several big-play threats (Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Keelan Cole). The Jets have also been renovating the offensive line, adding extra first-round choice Alijah Vera-Tucker to work next to Mehi Becton. New York also reportedly remains in the Morgan Moses conversation.

But despite the obvious upgrades in the passing game, this new approach when it comes to the rushers, one more conventional in the lens of the modern NFL, could be what truly awakens a dormant offense.

The relatively ignorance of the Jets run game is understandable in a sense: the Jets haven’t had a game-changing receiver since the magic of the Brandon Marshall/Eric Decker tandem during the star-crossed 2015 campaign. Robby Anderson nearly became that guy, but the Jets let him walk to Carolina with relatively little resistance. But trying to reverse fortunes fully through the passing game didn’t work out the last time around. It’s simply not fair to place the responsibilities of a metropolitan resurrection on players like Wilson and Moore. A strong run game in this year of development could help lighten that burden.

Even with legitimate improvements that truly make the Jets a better team…and not only because last year’s two-win campaign really couldn’t have made things much worse…asking the Jets to make the playoffs is going to be a tall task until on-field results prove otherwise. This season provides the perfect opportunity to experiment and work through any lingering issues they have before they plan to reintroduce themselves to professional relevancy. If they pull off an upset or two along the way, even if it’s as simple as topping the mediocre Patriots to end a ten-game losing streak against the Flying Elvises, call it an added bonus.

The developmental group of rushers can help them work toward the modest, yet attainable, goal.

Jan 13, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) runs the ball against Philadelphia Eagles outside linebacker Nigel Bradham (53) during the first quarter in the NFC Divisional playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Gold in a former 49er

Signing Coleman helps with the issues of youth and inexperience. The former Falcon and 49er has played an integral role in championship-contending squads and is a rare New York representative (though one of several veteran acquisitions) that brings playoff experience with him. Knee and shoulder ailments limited him to 87 total yards of offense over eight games last season in San Francisco. But, arriving on an affordable one-year deal and having proved serviceable in a lesser-heralded but nonetheless essential role, Coleman’s redemption story is one the Jets can afford to co-author (unlike that of Julio Jones).

New Jets head coach Robert Saleh knows about the impact Coleman can have on a team. One of his primary tasks in practice as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator was to find a way to stop Coleman, who spent the last two seasons in the Bay Area with Saleh. He believes Coleman personifies the “all gas, no brake” mantra

“His leadership, his on-the-field-demeanor, just all of it, his practice habits, he represents what we covet,” Saleh in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “When he gets the ball in his hand and he makes that one cut, it’s like he’s shot out of a cannon. He’s got tremendous speed, he’s got a tremendous mindset when the ball is in his hand, in terms of breaking tackles, falling forward, creating positive yardage.”

Though Coleman is by far the most accomplished name in the Jets’ current rushing room, it’s far from a guarantee that he’s going to be the primary ground option. The seventh-year veteran is faced with a goal of not only making an impact with his new employers but potentially extending his NFL career into his 30s.

“I’m a fast guy, I’m a strong guy, I’m big,” The 28-year-old said in Waszak’s report. “So I’ve definitely got a lot in my tank to prove myself.”

jets, michael carter
Jan 28, 2021; National running back Michael Carter of North Carolina (7) runs the ball during National practice at Hancock Whitney Stadium in Mobile, Alabama, USA; Mandatory Credit: Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

UNC You at the Top?

A lot of good vibes emerged from the Jets’ optional workouts earlier this month, if only because the sense of existential dread of the Adam Gase era has vanished along with the vanquished head coach. In fact, one can chalk any positive feeling the Jets have had since last holiday season on the Monkey’s Paw-style condition that last season was so unbearable that any offseason move would’ve felt like a step in the right direction.

One of the more subtle moves of that endeavor was the drafting of Michael Carter…namely the running back Michael Carter, though the Jets also have hopes for his fellow Michael Carter, this one being an untreated cornerback out of Duke.

The offensive Carter is a rusher from North Carolina, chosen in the early stages of the draft’s third day. Saturday at the draft is often a test of one’s football will, a day where you’re more likely to find Star Wars characters and orangutans than immediate starters. The Force, however, appears to be strong with Carter.

The former Tar Hell earned rave reviews during the voluntary portions of OTAs and instantly became a favorite target of fellow rookie Zach Wilson. A common theme in praise for Carter appears to be that he personifies the outside zone tendencies new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur would love to implement. It was one of the first things Carter noticed when the Jets made him the 107th overall pick of the draft earlier this spring.

“I think my change of direction and my stop-start ability, I think it compliments this system well,” Carter said in a report from DJ Bien-Aime of the New York Daily News. “I’ve been running pretty much wide zone since I was born. So it’s something that really comes naturally to me. We read a lot of it in college, even in high school I did, even in youth football I did. So I’m very familiar with it. I’m just excited to get in the system.”

Nov 22, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets running back La’Mical Perine (22) is congratulated after scoring a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers in the first quarter at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Left Behind

The Jets have engaged in a de facto purge of the Gase era, one that has left little, if any, reminder of the former New York boss on its 2021 masthead.

Perine, Johnson, and Adams (the lattermost earning a new one-year deal for next season) are three of the rare leftovers from Gase’s cursed watch, namely the truly garish latter of his two campaigns. Conventional wisdom seemed to hint at a great opportunity for the group when Bell was let go, as the Jets’ instant removal from the playoff picture gave them plenty of opportunities to hold auditions for future roles. Gase, however, instead opted to give the 38-year-old Frank Gore a de facto retirement tour, almost writing his application to the 16,000-yard club for (Gore did reach that number, sitting third all-time behind Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton).

To the casual observer, Perine seems destined to become an unfortunate casualty, even if his status as a Jets seems defined by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This time last season, he was in Carter’s position as a fourth-round pick that could make a difference but any hopes of impressing during the spring/summer practice traditions were undone by factors far beyond his or anyone remotely associated with football’s control: the COVID-19 pandemic. Perine himself carved out an opportunity (232 yards on 64 carries) but his season was plagued by both an ankle injury and placement on the COVID/reserve list.

Perine’s propensity for north/south style rushing as compared to speed and agility cherished by LaFleur has led some to label him the odd man out, ending his green career before it can truly get started. The return of preseason football should offer the Florida alum and 2019 Orange Bowl MVP an interesting, new opportunity as he embarks on one of the more intriguing battles of training camp.

Meanwhile, Johnson and Adams account for what passes as the closest thing the Jets have had to consistency in their run game since the underrated days of Chris Ivory. With Gore and Perine both missing a December tilt against Las Vegas, the pair provided the most lucrative rushing game the Jets had had in several seasons. It was forgotten in the wake of Gregg Williams’ doomed final blitz, but the two united for 178 yards. Johnson even reached triple digits, the first in New York since Isaiah Crowell’s one shining green moment in 2018.

Denied a full showcase by Gase’s Gore gambit last fall, Johnson and Adams face a bit of an uphill battle in carrying on their metropolitan careers. But the pair is mostly used to it, as they’ve built sizable tenures considering where they began. Johnson was drafted by Detroit in 2019’s sixth round but made the most of his limited opportunity by earning a 4.7 average on his 54 carries. Adams was undrafted out of Notre Dame but wound up joining current Jets general manager Joe Douglas’ former stomping ground in Philadelphia. He played his way into the Eagles’ roster when injuries ate at the veteran rushers. Competing in summer showdowns should be nothing new, but if they make it, they’ll provide an invaluable service to a long-sought hopeful chapter of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three lessons the New York Jets can learn from their Islander friends

The New York Jets have been staples of the Islanders’ postseason tour on Long Island. Perhaps they can learn a thing or two along the way.

In following the New York Islanders’ run to the Stanley Cup Final, the New York Jets have traded in green and white for blue and orange. They’ve engaged in (Bud) light debauchery and have gone viral in the process as the Islanders are halfway through their quest for a fifth Stanley Cup hoist.

The next step of the journey begins on Sunday afternoon when the Islanders battle the defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena (3 p.m. ET, NBC). Nassau Coliseum will host the third, fourth, and (if necessary) sixth games of the series, and it’s very likely that members of the Jets will attempt to take their usual seats for those contests. 

Is it possible that, in their fun, they might actually learn a thing or two along the way?

Class is in session, courtesy of ESM…

Have Depth Stars

On Long Island: Save for Mathew Barzal (appearances in the last two exhibitions), the Islanders are not a team of perennial All-Stars. John Tavares’ absconding for Toronto was supposed to be their downfall, but they’ve responded with playoff series victories in three consecutive seasons while the Maple Leafs have been relegated to opening round exits.

The Islanders are a team that has gotten by with a group of gritty, skilled players whose union has worked wonders. Nothing showcases their depth and consistency better than the grouping of Casey Cizikas, Cal Clutterbuck, and Matt Martin, a trio of bottom-six forward staples since 2014. Nicknamed the “Identity Line”, NYI head coach Barry Trotz says that the group sets the tone for what they’re trying to accomplish on the ice.

“They give you impact. When they are playing the right way, they give you a little of that bite that you want,” Trotz said after a dominant January 2019 over Tampa, per Cory Wright of NewYorkIslanders.com. “They give you sort of that determination and speed on the puck and sort of an Islander identity. If there’s a line that’s sort of an identity line, well that’s the best way to describe them better than a fourth line because they give us an identity.”

In Florham Park: The Jets tried to go the big-spending route over the last few seasons, but marquee signings have not panned out. Right now, they’re actively paying Le’Veon Bell and Trumaine Johnson to keep their distance, for example.

Blessed with one of the highest offseason budgets in the NFL, it would’ve been easy for the Jets to fall to temptation and spend big money on a blockbuster talent (i.e. J.J. Watt). But once it became clear that the big names wanted to move on to contenders, the Jets bolstered their depth so more parts of the depth chart provide production and security.

This offseason has still seen some big contracts bestowed…Carl Lawson and Corey Davis are a combined $26 million cap hit…but many others signings have been about providing depth. They’re not the flashiest arrivals by any stretch, not the type of names that one can put on a parking lot light pole’s banner, but they’re the type of depth options the Jets needed at this point in time.

Jarrad Davis is a redemption-seeking first-round pick whose success in the 4-3 sets of the Florida Gators could come up big. At receiver, Davis is one of several names with the potential to become a No. 1 target. Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder return from last year’s team, while Elijah Moore was drafted in the second round. Uncertainty lingers at tight end and in the secondary, but the Jets’ thriftiness could pay big dividends, as undrafted free agents Kenny Yeboah and Isaiah Dunn could come up big.

Make Sure Special Teams are Special

On Long Island: Since Trotz took over in 2018, the Islanders have improved by leaps and bounds in almost every major statistical category with the exception of their power play. New York ranked 20th in the final regulars season rankings with a man advantage, though they were the only team in the NHL that did not allow any shorthanded goals.

The Islanders, however, rose to the occasion on the penalty kill, coming home sixth in the category over the regular season. Doing it in the postseason has been a work in progress…they’ve killed off only 61.5 percent of their infractions…but the power play came to life in spectacular fashion in Monday’s Game 5 showdown in Boston. Facing a Bruins squad that led the league with an 86 percent kill rate during the regular season, the Islanders scored three power play goals that forever changed the course of the series. Barzal scored on a chance in the first period, while Kyle Palmieri and Jordan Eberle earned extra-man tallies in the second.

The power play success not only provided the difference in the goal category but more or less shifted the entire course of the game. Taking advantage of the opportunities allowed the Islanders to not only withstand a late Boston rush, but they were able to earn a momentum-shifting victory on a night where they were outshot 44-19.

In Florham Park: There’s major hope for the Jets entering the 2021 season, even if reaching the playoff is still a tall task for the time being. But there’s no doubt that they’re still developing, still a work in progress, particularly on an offensive end that’s debuting a new quarterback and receiving corps. Thus, special teams must be addressed.

Confidence for a developing offense can be built by getting points on as many drives that end in opposing territory as possible. That comes through reliable field goal kicking, an area where the Jets have fallen woefully short since Jason Myers left for Seattle. Chris Naggar has been brought in to compete with incumbent Sam Ficken for that role. General manager Joe Douglas has shown that he’s not afraid to use valuable assets to address special teams. He used the last pick of his first draft to pick up punter Braden Mann and has tried to fill in the Jets’ Andre Roberts-sized void at returned through additions in the 2021 draft (i.e. Michael Carter).

Perhaps the most telling sign of Jets management’s willingness to bolster the special unit came through the retaining of coordinator Brant Boyer, who has now survived the purges of both Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s doomed staffs.

It All Starts at the Head

On Long Island: Again, no one expected the Islanders to be in his position three years ago. This, after all, was a team that just lost the face of its franchise, perhaps the one thing it had going for it since the immortal early 1980s.

The hire of Trotz in 2018, however, may go down as one of the most fateful moves in franchise history.

Trotz had already developed a reputation as a strong nurterer of young talent and helping woebegone franchises find their path. He put the Nashville Predators on the NHL map as the franchise’s original head coach (serving 16 seasons at the helm after their 1998 inception). He then moved on to Washington, where he helped the Capitals removed the playoff monkey from their backs. Only under Trotz has Alex Ovechkin been able to reach hockey Nirvana in the Stanley Cup Final.

Once Trotz was voted out of Capitol Hill due to a contract dispute, the Islanders pounced and have been reaping in the benefits ever since. Under Trotz, the Islanders have won playoff rounds in three consecutive seasons for the first time since their quartet of Cup hoists (1980-83). Trotz’s status as a players’ coach that is nonetheless willing to hold his guys accountable has been a delightful contrast to the recent slew of also-rans. Doug Weight’s animated style, for example, was refreshing when he first took the reins but it quickly ran its course.

Trotz credits his success to looking at his status as a head coach as not a position of superiority, but one that leads to a partnership with his players.

“I look at coaching, my time, as I’m in a partnership with the players,” Trotz told Mollie Walker of the New York Post in March. “We’re in a partnership to win hockey games. The other partnership is to make you the best version of yourself, whatever that version is.”

In Florham Park: There’s no doubt that, despite the nine-win ledger, that the Jets had some talent on their roster over the last two seasons, better known as the Adam Gase era. Look no further than the names the Jets gave up on before him: Robby Anderson, Avery Williamson, Le’Veon Bell, and Steve McLendon accounted for only part of the list. But help has arrived in the form of Robert Saleh,  whose hiring has been universally praised.

The difference between the arrivals of Saleh and Gase are best contrasted by player reaction to the news. While Gase’s landing was met with mostly indifference…and whatever honeymoon there was quickly ended when he won a power struggle against Mike Maccagnan…Saleh’s arrival has been praised by players both domestically and abroad. It’s created an energy field in Florham Park not seen since, arguably, the Rex Ryan days.

“You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general,” former Saleh pupil Richard Sherman said of his potential as a head coach in December, per the Associated Press. “He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men and that goes a long way.”

As the Gase era showcased all too well, talent means nothing when the right man isn’t in charge. Though vital downs have yet to be played, it’s safe to say the Jets feel that they have found the perfect curator and developer in Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Analyzing the fateful moves of Joe Douglas’ tenure (so far)

Today in 2019, the New York Jets named Joe Douglas their general manager. ESM looks back on his most impactful moves, for better or worse.

Two years ago, a man named Joe opened a campaign that ran on change and reform. Today, he’s at the helm of one of the most renowned, yet volatile, systems in the world and trying to get his constituents back on track in the face of an ongoing crisis.

On this day two years ago, Joe Douglas became general manager of the New York Jets.

Douglas inherited a ghastly gridiron crunch from Mike Maccagnan after the latter’s shocking post-draft firing in 2019. The Jets were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought and hadn’t had a winning record since 2015, the first year of Maccagnan’s star-crossed term.

Two years later, however, much hasn’t changed in terms of on-field numbers. Douglas has overseen a mere nine wins over two seasons (besting only Detroit, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati) and saw the franchise plunge to new single-season lows last season through a 2-14 ledger. Even though they bested the single win of Rich Kotite’s doomed group in 1996, the Jets endured a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak to open the year, leading Douglas to start almost entirely from scratch in 2021. The playoff drought has been extended to a decade, the longest active streak in the NFL after Cleveland and Tampa Bay each earned postseason invites last winter.

In his brief time, Douglas has made several transactions that will affect the Jets’ future fortunes and perhaps his own metropolitan future. ESM looks back at the most impactful moves to date, for better and worse…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Better: The Drafting of Mekhi Becton

For his first draft pick at the helm of the Jets, Douglas opted to select Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice in the 2020 proceedings. There was no shortage of talent in the middle stages of the virtual draft’s opening night, as Henry Ruggs, Tristan Wirfs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson all heard their names called with the next eleven selections after Becton.

Analysis: For the time being, the draft of Becton is Douglas’ magnum opus. He made the selection in a thankless position: for every one fan/analyst/scout who wanted a blocker, there was another likely upset that Douglas passed on the plethora of receiving talent available in the slot. But after Becton served as a rare silver lining in Adam Gase’s dirge, Douglas publicly declared that he would base future decisions around Becton.

“I think he’s a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in November, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “We’re excited about working with him every day because you talk about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart. He’s tough as nails and has rare size and athleticism. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be so we’ve made it our mission to bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

The selection of Becton also snapped a dangerous streak in Jets history: he was the first opening-round offensive lineman chosen by the Jets since the legendary pairing of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006, ending a period of blocking negligence exacerbated not only by Maccagnan but by Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik before him. Additionally, shrewd maneuvering by Douglas allowed the Jets to pick up a big-play receiver anyway, using a second-round choice on Baylor’s Denzel Mims.

LANDOVER, MD – NOVEMBER 17: Alex Lewis #71 of the New York Jets looks on prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 17, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Worse: The Veteran Building Block(er)s 

Douglas’ blocking renovations didn’t begin with Becton. In the month before he scribbled Becton’s name onto a draft card, Douglas bestowed over $17 million in 2020 cap space to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. When he took office during the summer of 2019, among his first moves were trading a late pick to Baltimore for Alex Lewis and convincing All-Pro Ryan Kalil to postpone his retirement.

Analysis: Douglas had the right idea: he wanted to stock up on blockers to help his pre-packaged franchise quarterback Sam Darnold out. Alas, the moves he made only hastened the end of the Darnold era.

Part of the issues stems from Douglas signing the wrong names. Jack Conklin was reportedly interested in coming aboard (and Le’Veon Bell pleaded for the Jets to sign his fellow Michigan State alum on Twitter), but he instead embarked on an All-Pro season in Cleveland. Worse yet, the consolation prizes caused the Jets to neglect other areas of need, namely the weaponry necessary for Darnold to succeed. Luring Amari Cooper over from Dallas was probably always a pipe dream, but they missed out on serviceable parts like Emmanuel Sanders. They also made little effort to retain Robby Anderson, who went on to post career-best numbers in Carolina.

In the absence of marquee blocking signing, the Jets were forced to make do with washouts from first rounds past (Breshad Perriman) as well as former Patriots without the Belichick touch (Chris Hogan). The tough luck created a football situation where no good Douglas deed went unpunished.

New York Jets, Jamal Adams
Dec 29, 2019; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets strong safety Jamal Adams (33) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The Jamal Adams Trade

Once it became clear that Adams, the face of the franchise during the Maccagnan era, wanted out of New York it was on Douglas to somehow salvage the situation. Adams didn’t make things easier by telling metropolitan horror stories any chance he could. Despite Adams’ tales, Douglas eventually worked out a deal with Seattle in August 2020. The deal netted two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and veteran cornerback Bradley McDougald.

Analysis: It’s hard to fully analyze the Adams trade as there are still lingering aftershocks in the 2022 draft; the Jets own Seattle’s first-round choice while the Seahawks own a metropolitan fourth-round pick.

As of this moment, a lot of the Adams fallout has shifted toward the Jets’ favor. While McDougald partook in only seven games and doesn’t appear to be heading back (continuing a disturbingly common trend of Douglas’ veteran acquisitions not panning out), the Jets used the Seattle capital to bolster their offensive line, trading the 2021 first-rounder to Minnesota that led to a move up the draft board for Alijah Vera-Tucker. The fact that Adams’ cantankerousness followed him to the Pacific Northwest…he has yet to sign a long-term deal…only further shifts the current lead in the Jets’ direction.

There’s no use in grading the trade when several major names from it haven’t played a single regular season down yet. But the fact that Douglas turned a disgruntled superstar into a landmark blocker and a first-round pick to be named later is an inspiring sign. The same philosophy could apply to the trade that sent Darnold to Carolina, a deal that saw Douglas land a second-round choice (in 2022) for a quarterback that has yet to post a passer rating above 85 or throw more than 20 touchdown passes.

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)

Better: Franchise Tagging Marcus Maye

Both the SEC and the earlier days of the 2017 draft are still represented in the Jets’ secondary through the prescience of Marcus Maye. The Florida alum was bestowed the franchise tag in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, a move that makes him the 10th-highest-paid safety in the league in 2021 (over $10.6 million guaranteed).

Analysis: After the Adams debacle, Douglas had to carefully navigate the situation with Maye. The Florida alum was close with Adams and was one of the few name-brand talents leftover once Adams and Anderson donned new helmets. For all intents and purposes, things have gone well in the early going. Maye, who at the very least made sure the Jets appeared in the SportsCenter Top 10, earned a sizable new contract while Douglas and Co. bought some time for Maye to further consider New York and set the table for an affordable long-term deal.

While Maye appears to be holding out of offseason activities, possibly until he gets that longer contract, the conversations surround him inspire hope and optimism, unlike last year’s melancholy Adams situation.

“Marcus Maye fits every system and he’ll be just fine,” new head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I think these kids have earned the right to ask for whatever they can, especially when they do things the right way like he has. Joe and his staff are working relentlessly to get something done. We go with it and we support him all around the organization.”

New York Jets, Adam Gase
Oct 18, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets head coach Adam Gase looks at a play card during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Worse: Putting Up with Adam Gase

Douglas took over the Jets at an interesting, if not contemptuous, point on the Jets timeline. His immediate predecessor was not Maccagnan, but rather Adam Gase, who more or less won a battle of wills to remain in New York. Gase was granted interim general managing duties after Maccagnan was let go and was maintained as the head coach upon Douglas’ arrival. He would last two seasons at the helm before Douglas dismissed him, paving the way for Saleh’s hire.

Analysis: The Jets were able to mask a 1-7 start in Gase’s first year at the helm by winning six of their final eight games (mostly against competition equally, if not more, doomed). But an even more brutal start in year two…one that saw the Jets lose their first six games by multiple possessions…should’ve been all the evidence that Gase wasn’t going to be the one to lead New York to the promised land.

Sure, it had been a while since the Jets executed an in-season firing (with Charley Winner getting ousted for Ken Shipp in 1975), but early firings have become more common in today’s NFL. A playoff berth in year one couldn’t save Ben McAdoo with New York’s blue squad. Steve Wilks was granted only one year in Arizona once it became clear they could get Kliff Kingsbury. It’s not like Douglas wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on others; the Jets instituted an early-season fire sale that bid farewell to Bell, Steve McLendon, and Avery Williamson. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was likewise given the boot after his infamous blitz against Las Vegas cost the Jets their first win of 2020.

To make matters worse, once Gase couldn’t even take advantage of the macabre gift of consequence-free football that could’ve been used as research and development for the future. For example, he chose to give Frank Gore a retirement tour instead of giving young projects like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams a chance. Letting Gase finish out the season helped offseason questions linger and kept the Jets on a path of uncertainty.

Jan 3, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh against the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The San Francisco Treats

With the eventual purge of Gase and his coaching staff (save for the apparently immortal Brant Boyer) and the drafting of Zach Wilson, Douglas now officially has his signature on this team. The process will now be overseen on a day-to-day basis by a staff headed by Saleh and fellow former 49er Mike LaFleur, who is tasked with awakening an anemic New York offense.

Analysis: It’s foolhardy to grade any transaction without a single down of evidence, so the jury is obviously still out on Saleh. It’s an interesting approach for the Jets to take, for the Jets to go with a defensive-minded boss in an NFL landscape that increasingly favorites the offense (whether it’s inadvertent or not). It’s also somewhat surprising to see them hire a first-time head coach for a team full of unproven misfit toys. Time will tell how the gambit, similar to the Todd Bowles hire in 2015, plays out.

Having said that, the ultimate difference between the Gase and Saleh hires is who is praising the hire. When Gase arrived, it was praised mostly by the hot take artists like Colin “2020 AFC championship tickets at MetLife Stadium” Cowherd. This time, however, the Jets’ hire has been praised by on-field talent both domestically and abroad.

Much like the hire on this day two days ago…a hire where Douglas was plucked from a Philadelphia squad still celebrating its Super Bowl…Jets fans are filled with hope. But hope can only take you so far…it’s time to perform and find results, through, and in spite of, these moves.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

One question will define Sam Darnold’s New York Jets tenure

As the Sam Darnold era ends, a lingering question will haunt New York Jets fans as he prepares to move to Charlotte.

With respect to the countless devotees of movies, books, television shows, etc., across the world, no one writes more fan fiction than football fans. Rather than “Once upon a time…”, football fables often begin with a question: “What if…?”.

The question is endlessly asked before, during, and after every NFL season. What if that star prospect falls? What if they went for it on fourth down? What if that quarterback retires?

What if the New York Jets hired someone…anyone…other than Adam Gase to oversee Sam Darnold’s developmental years as head coach?

It’s a question whose answers reside months, even years, away. Both Gase and Darnold are now distant memories in the New York archives, the former fired and the latter bound for Charlotte in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. The Jets only have numbers to show for it in the immediate aftermath. Dealing Darnold netted them the 226th overall pick in the coming draft, as well as a second and fourth-round choice in the spring of 2022.

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

In the immediate aftermath, it’s easy to call the Jets’ Darnold deal with Carolina a win for both sides on paper. Darnold gains welcome stability in Carolina (reuniting with fellow ex-Jet Robby Anderson and working with All-Pro rusher Christian McCaffrey) while the Jets make some fine additions to their draft collection. But the Jets will forever look back on their Darnold with a sense of regret and what might’ve been. The chorus of “what if” echoes as the countdown to what’ll likely be the beginning of the Zach Wilson or Justin Fields era.

It starts with the hiring of Gase, a supposed offensive guru brought in to oversee Darnold’s vital post-rookie campaigns. Todd Bowles’ tenure had undoubtedly run its course, but its final stages were full of hope through Darnold’s final four games. It was a stretch that saw Darnold earn a come-from-behind victory in Buffalo (topping fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen in their first meeting) and go head-to-head and blow-for-blow with Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive weeks. The latter tilt, a Festivus showdown with the Green Bay Packers, was an overtime thriller that saw Darnold earn career-bests in passer rating (128.4) and passing yardage (341).

When Bowles was let go, the Jets needed someone with a strong developmental mind, someone who could nurture Darnold’s potential and build on the promise shown over the final stretch. CEO/Chairman Christopher Johnson knew just how vital the search would be when he spoke after dismissing the current defensive coordinator of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I think the Jets are a really good spot for a coach to end up,” Johnson said at the time. “So I think that we have a competitive advantage there. But we’re not going to sit down and wait for people to come to us, we’re going to search hard and fast. We want to get this done.”

It got done through the arrival of Gase, fresh off three years of Miami mediocrity. From the get-go, there probably should’ve been something off about the new boss, one who never truly fostered a young quarterback. Peyton Manning put the best numbers of his career under Gase, but the most adamant football denier could probably oversee an offense with Peyton Manning and still average 21 points a game.

Gase helped get the Chicago Bears’ offense back on track as coordinator in 2015, but Jay Cutler, despite a career-best passer rating, was in his 11th season and headed toward his polarizing career’s final stanzas. Even if Gase’s work with Cutler counted for something, it was more or less undone when the pair reunited for a fruitless season in South Beach two years later. In terms of youth, Ryan Tannehill endured what seemed like an endless stream of “make-or-break” campaigns before being mercifully shipped to Tennessee after Gase’s Floridan ousting. By now, little more needs to be written about Tannehill’s success sans Gase.

Yet, the Jets insisted Gase was their man, sticking with him after a dreadful 0-4 start. After his infamous bout with mononucleosis…a happening only amplified by social media schadenfreude that amplifies the Jets’ simplest errors…Darnold helped right to ship to the tune of a 7-9 ledger. Further fleeting flashes of brilliance emerged, such as Darnold’s return from illness, a 338-yard, two-score showing in a triumph over Dallas, the Jets’ first win of the year. Further silliness came through Darnold’s failed Ghostbusters tenure, but to have him post a winning record (7-6) despite endless silliness surrounding him was a promising sign.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

But seeds for a destructive 2020 season…for reasons far beyond limitations set up by the ongoing health crisis…were starting to take root. Anderson, Darnold’s favorite target during his opening years, absconded for Carolina after “(losing) his love of football“. Every week, it felt like Gase had to ensure the public that he wasn’t dealing with a full-on mutiny.

As the season moved on, the Jets continuously eschewed the notion of firing Gase in-season. Johnson even broke out the guru comparisons after a listless opening day loss in Buffalo by calling Gase “a brilliant offensive mind” after the Jets pulled off the statistical anomaly of earning under 300 yards in Orchard Park. The sub-300 tally, in fact, occurred 11 times during the 2020 campaign…a downright jaw-dropping occurrence in an NFL that worships offense.

All the while, the Jets gave up on several accomplished names before deciding Gase was expendable. A mini-fire sale ensued that saw accomplished defenders Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, and Pierre Desir sent away. Le’Veon Bell, a constant co-combatant in Gase headlines, was outright released while the eyes of the nation were centered on a rare Tuesday night game.

Darnold sank further into oblivion, forced into situations that even the greatest, most established quarterbacks would have trouble salvaging. One couldn’t even argue that the Jets were showing promise in these losses. All but one of their first eight defeats came by multiple possessions, exacerbated by the struggle to gain yardage. Unlike their blue MetLife Stadium co-tenants (the Giants losing five of their first eight in single possession games), there was nothing to get excited for from a Jets perspective.

For the record, it’s not only the Gase hire that Darnold had to put up with. His rookie season was spent behind an offensive built through the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. When the 2020 season kicked off, Darnold had only a single receiver left from his rookie campaign (tight end Chris Herndon, who has struggled to maintain rookie momentum) and his offensive line had undergone yet another makeover. The fact such flashes of brilliance were achieved despite playing in the far reaches of the football netherworld perhaps says something about Darnold, who has a prime opportunity to put his career back on track in Charlotte.

It could’ve happened in New York. The offensive line still needs work, but the Jets upgraded their weaponry this offseason, bringing in capable targets (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) that can compete with returnees (Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims) for top receiving honors. A multi-faceted rushing talent like Tevin Coleman can take some of the pressure off of whoever the quarterback will be.

But the Jets are trying to pen their own redemption story. They don’t have the time to co-author someone else’s.

In short, the Gase era left the Jets no other choice. His firing brought in a new regime, one praised not by the hot take artists but by players themselves, both domestically and abroad. For Robert Saleh to fully implement his vision and the Jets holding the ever valuable second overall pick of the NFL draft…the original of aerial franchise saviors like Donovan McNabb and Roman Gabriel…Darnold simply had to go.

Still, that won’t stop the eternal discussions, the fabled chapters that Jets fans will write for months before a single down is played and in the years after that, both supporting what Darnold could’ve done and celebrating his release.

The question will still be asked…what if?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Drafting Zach Wilson goes beyond talent

zach wilson, new york jets

Just a few days ago, the world saw BYU QB Zach Wilson produce one of the most memorable pro days in the past decade. Wilson caught the eye of so many that he’s viewed as a virtual lock to the New York Jets. Wilson’s performance may have booked him a ticket to MetLife for some, but others were less than enthused about his performance in shorts and drew comparisons to Sam Darnold’s past performances. The reality is that although Wilson is unproven, sometimes it’s better to take a shot at contention than aspire to toil in mediocrity. That shot is trading Sam Darnold and selecting Zach Wilson.

The case for trading Darnold goes beyond just the bad outweighing the good; since the day Darnold came out of USC, there has always been concern about his turnovers and decision making.

In two seasons as the quarterback for the Trojans, Darnold had 57 TDs to 22 INTs. Darnold also had a completion percentage of 64.9% in college, which is above average, but not a number that jumps off the page. For comparison, Zach Wilson had 56 TDs to 15 INTs. Not only that, but his completion percentage was over 3% greater than Darnold.

The eye-opening season that vaulted Wilson above Darnold in these categories was last season. After spending his offseason with John Beck, Wilson saw a jump from around a 64% completion percentage in his first two seasons to 73.5% last season. He also saw his interceptions drop from 9 in the season before to 3. Not to mention his pass attempts went up by over 25, his yards per attempt went up by nearly 4 yards and his touchdowns went up by an astronomical 22 touchdowns. Wilson refined his game and had a jump on par with that of Joe Burrow. Wilson’s decision-making is evidently better than Darnold’s was at this point, and there is an argument to be made Wilson has grossly exceeded where Darnold was when he came out of college.

The problem for Darnold is that his biggest issue was never talent, everyone knows he is talented. Darnold needed to see a jump in key categories like completion percentage and his touchdown to interception ratio, and it’s just not there. Darnold had a completion percentage of 59.8% throughout his three seasons to this point, along with a touchdown to interception ratio of 45 to 39. His touchdowns barely outweigh his interceptions, and his completion percentage ranked below nearly every quarterback who started a game last season. Darnold lacks confidence, and that stems from a lack of development. He doesn’t trust himself, and when he does, he tries to overcompensate with poor decisions.

It has been beaten to death how bad of a supporting cast he had, and that is true. I legitimately cannot think of a worse offensive line or wide receiver room than the Jets trotted out last season. Not to mention the utter incompetence of head coach. Darnold has not had help, and he has not seen any legitimate progression to this point. Sam Darnold is capable of making throws like Zach Wilson, and he has proven it, but Darnold has not developed, and with a new head coach, new offense, and a new future for the Jets, it may be best for parties to separate. It’s an unfortunate reality that, once again, a Jets quarterback has not worked out, but Darnold has not developed enough to earn the keys to the kingdom, and Wilson at least gives the Jets a chance to start fresh and the front office personnel a chance to take their guy.

The ghosts of the Adam Gase era still haunt the New York Jets

New York Jets, Adam Gase

The Adam Gase era lasted two seasons, but the burden left behind creates an uphill battle for the New York Jets.

At what point does a new football regime officially “own” its respective organization’s ledger? The unspoken accords of college football appear to dictate that if his team isn’t performing by his third season at the helm, he’s to seek employment elsewhere. The leash is even shorter in the NFL with patience wearing especially thin in the New York/New Jersey area.

Both the Jets and Giants bid two of their respective head coaches farewell after two seasons of futility. The blue representative, Pat Shurmur, quickly found work as the offensive coordinator in Denver, while Adam Gase’s redemption story has yet to be greenlit.

The January firing of Gase has allowed the tenure of general manager Joe Douglas to officially begin. Douglas wasn’t the one who hired Gase…that general manager, Mike Maccagnan, was let go before Gase ever wore a New York headset. Thus, the former Philadelphia Eagles executive has a bit of a restart button through the hiring of Robert Saleh, a hire that received positive reviews both domestically and abroad. The pair have admitted that it will take some time, but that they are committed to getting the Jets back in contention.

But, through little fault of their own…particularly Saleh and his clean green slate…the new unit remains sidelined by the ghosts of the Gase era.

As star-crossed as the Jets’ fortunes have been, few coaches reached the levels of futility seen during the Gase era. Among those that lasted two full seasons on the Jets’ sidelines, only Rich Kotite’s cursed squads posted a lower win percentage (9-23 vs 4-28). Gase’s group even managed to best Kotite’s dubiousness in some aspects. For example, the 2020 Jets lost their first 13 games…even Kotite’s notorious 1996 team (1-15) managed to secure a win by Halloween.

The Jets have managed to keep busy with the NFL’s legal tampering period well underway. Over the past 48 hours, the Jets have upgraded their defense, their offensive weaponry, and their special teams. Each of their acquisitions makes the Jets a better team. Sure, part of the reason for that is because there’s little room to truly fall further, but a plethora of cap space has created shrewd deals that have yielded a rising talent in the front-seven (Carl Lawson), an affordable audition for a former first-round linebacker with 4-3 experience (Jarrad Davis), a reliable weapon for the quarterback, be it Sam Darnold or otherwise (Corey Davis), and a defender to help pin opponents deep on punt coverage (Justin Hardee).

Yet, it’s not like Jets fans soothed themselves in 2020 with dreams of adding Jarrad Davis. With a plethora of cap space, the time seemed right to make a truly big splash, one that could welcome fans back to MetLife Stadium with open, hopeful arms. Even if it wasn’t the type of addition that tore up box scores, the Jets could’ve used the money to bolster their blocking, a long-gestating and neglected endeavor that got off to a strong start through the drafting of Mekhi Becton. Even Patrick Mahomes was neutralized when key pieces of his protection were lost prior to the Super Bowl.

But that’s when the reminders of the Gase era began to rise and create further losses for the Jets.

Jets fans have no doubt kept track of Joe Thuney’s career over the last two years. The team expressed interest in him when he was up for free agency last season, but the interior blocker was franchise tagged by his New England employers before anyone else could make a move. Thurst onto the open market this time around, Thuney was indeed lured away from the Patriots…through a five-year, $80 million contract from Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Former Green Bay Packer Corey Linsley switching shades of green could’ve helped the Jets resolve a center situation that has been in limbo since Nick Mangold’s retirement. The defending All-Pro, however, will instead hit the west coast and join the Los Angeles Chargers.

These early developments…the operative term being early…should be viewed with a bit of an asterisk. There’s plenty of time for the Jets to recover and earn themselves a stronger grade, all while acknowledging that an instant fix before the offseason lets out probably isn’t going to happen. But the Gase era has left this team in a precarious position.

Name-brand recognition through a city alone isn’t a selling point in this day and age. The NBA’s New York Knicks have spent the past decade learning this lesson the hard way. The Jets were a bit of a tough sell as it was; they’re the current owners of the longest postseason drought in the NFL and social media has amplified every little green mistake into viral disasters.

But it isn’t just the on-field woes from the Gase era that have the Jets reeling. What elite free agent is going to look at the way Gase handled things and declare “I want in on that”?

Every week, Gase had to be armed with two gameplans: one for the opponent and one for whichever superstar was feeling disgruntled. The usual suspects were Le’Veon Bell and Jamal Adams, a talented pair who have long abandoned their Jets equipment. Before the 2020 season began, Bell had to publicly insist that he and Gase “like(d) each other“. Less than a month later, Bell was bound for Kansas City. The lasting effects of the Gase era can well be witnessed through comments by Marcus Maye’s agent. Apparently disgruntled with the way the Adams situation was handled, Burkhart went on a mini-rant that has gotten only a quick passing reference since Maye was franchise tagged earlier this month. The comments showed just showed how a sense of mistrust has risen throughout the organization since Gase arrived in 2019.

The fact of the matter is that Douglas can bestow a big contract and evaluate talent with better resources than anyone in football. But the damage left behind in the wake of the Gase era has put the Jets in an even tougher situation. That might not fully be on Gase, but, as the most public face behind this most recent stretch of struggling, he’ll ultimately be the face behind it…even if he’s not the one who winds up suffering from it.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Robert Saleh is a risky, but affordable choice

New York Jets, Robert Saleh

Opting for a defensive-minded boss is risky in today’s NFL landscape, but the New York Jets are in prime position to pull the trigger.

Arguing with Paul “Bear” Bryant might be ground for dismissal from any football-related conversations for the foreseeable future. But his time-honored axiom of “defense wins championships” has been put to the test over recent seasons.

The modern NFL has come to worship a deity known as fantasy football. Scoring is at an all-time high, as the average NFL team scored 24.8 points per game this season. It was a year that teams routinely reach the 20s and 30s in scoring…and still lose. For the Cleveland Browns, 42 points weren’t enough for them to steal a win from Baltimore during Week 14’s action. Penalties against quarterbacks and receivers serve as defensive death sentences. NFL Red Zone was created as a means of informing fans when offensive happenings were occurring or nearby.

So, of course, when searching for the 20th head coach in the franchise history to lead them into the high-voltage 2020s, the New York Jets went out and hired…a defensive guru?

Ten days after Adam Gase’s firing, the Jets have brought in Robert Saleh to oversee the latest chapter of their perpetual rebuild. Saleh’s resume is one of endless defense. All but two of his prior postings have included words “defense” or “defensive”, the exceptions being his role as a linebacker supervisor in Houston (2009-10) and Jacksonville (2014-16). Saleh has overseen the San Francisco 49ers defense for the past four seasons, the penultimate of which ended with an appearance in Super Bowl LIV.

Ironically, Saleh has also earned football’s finest prize at MetLife Stadium of all places, earning a ring with the Seattle Seahawks as a defensive quality control coach during their dismantling of Denver in 2014.

Choosing a defensive guru is risky from a New York standpoint in the sense that the Jets are at a bit of a crossroads with their offense. For the umpteenth time, they may be searching for the long-term franchise quarterback denied to them since Joe Namath disappeared into the Miami night after his legendary victory at the Orange Bowl over a half-century prior. Whether their quarterback come Week 1 is Sam Darnold, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Deshaun Watson, or an unknown party yet to reveal himself, the Jets also need to surround him with weapons and protection. General manager Joe Douglas appeared to start the process with the respective acquisitions of Mekhi Becton and Denzel Mims. Surely an experienced offensive name…a Greg Roman, Brian Daboll, or Arthur Smith…would’ve been something to kickstart an offense that’s going to have to counter whatever Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs put up in Buffalo for the foreseeable future.

There’s a slight sense of deja vu with the Jets’ attempt to bend the curve, to defy the new football order where offense is king. That’s what made the Adam Gase hire so different: the Jets had been trying to buck a decade-long trend of smashmouth defense-first football that, frankly, had appeared to run its course. Rex Ryan’s bold and brash philosophies netted the Jets consecutive conference title game appearances with Mark Sanchez under center, but his schtick wore thin once his tactic proved unsustainable. Todd Bowles, another accomplished defensive mind, was well-liked by his players but it only translated to the most heartbreaking 10-win season in NFL history. Going the defensive route yet again seems counterproductive, especially with the Jets ill-equipped to handle shootouts. Last season, the Jets failed to break 30 points in any of their 16 contests, one of only two teams reach such dire straits (the other being Philadelphia).

But Saleh is a risk the Jets can well-afford to take.

For one thing, the Jets are a team that can use any form of good vibrations right now. Cleveland and Tampa Bay’s ongoing playoff treks only serve as reminders that New York now owns the longest playoff drought in the league by far at 10 years and their lone winning season in that span was the star-crossed 2015 season that ended in Buffalo heartbreak. Too many coaching candidates would’ve brought unnecessary baggage to let the good times flow. With the team stuck in a perpetual rebuild, they need as little distraction as possible. Gase, with his spotty Miami track record and uncanny clause of having his former pupils rise to stardom elsewhere (Ryan Tannehill, Kenyan Drake) wasn’t going to bring that aura of peace. Doug Pederson had the connections with Douglas but would undoubtedly have to deal with questions about his supposed tossing of the Week 17 contest against Washington during his Philadelphia finale. Smith just had to watch his Tannehill-led offense get stymied by Baltimore in a home playoff game.

Saleh, however, emerges with a mostly clean resume. San Francisco struggled in the final season of his era, but it was little fault of the defense, that ranked fifth in the league in yards surrendered and fourth in first downs allowed. Their spot in the statistical penthouses was secure despite several key defensive contributors (Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Solomon Thomas, and Jimmie Ward) missing a majority of the season.

The Gase-hire was met with a sense of wariness, his lone endorsement coming from Peyton Manning. While the accomplished Manning posted the best numbers of his career under Gase, there was a general sense that the staff from The Waterboy could’ve handled Manning during his early Denver days. Saleh, ironically one of those who helped solve Gase’s offense during the 43-8 destruction of the Broncos at MetLife Stadium, was endorsed by Richard Sherman himself. Unlike Manning, Sherman was never saddled with high expectations, more or less an afterthought when the Seahawks chose him 154th overall in the 2011 draft. But under Saleh, Sherman not only turned himself into a household name in the NFL but he also recovered from a lull in his career when he joined up with the 49ers in 2018. Sherman took to Twitter to extend his congratulations to the Jets upon learning of Saleh’s hiring.

Long before the Jets’ head coaching slot officially opened, Sherman endorsed Saleh for such a role, namely the one in Detroit after the Lions bid Matt Patricia farewell.

“You’ve got to give Robert Saleh an abundance of credit. You have to give him an unusual amount of credit, and I don’t think he’s getting enough credit not only here but in the league, in general,” Sherman said of Saleh after San Francisco’s 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams in November, per video provided by the 49ers. “I expect him to be a head coach next year, because of what he’s able to do,” Sherman said. “He’s able to rally men. He’s a leader of men, and that goes a long way.”

In that game, Sherman’s clutch interception of Jared Goff helped push the 49ers to the first win for a SoFi Stadium history. Los Angeles earned 308 yards and tallied only a dozen first downs in the triumph. Sherman would later tell Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that Saleh “had” to get the Detroit job.

“He’s a great leader of men. And he’s not stubborn,” Sherman said. “He doesn’t just think he has all the answers. He comes up with a great plan and evolves it with his players.”

Sherman might not have gotten his de facto wish of Saleh in Detroit but he seems happy for him nonetheless. He wasn’t the only one celebrating his New York arrival, with Quinnen Williams likewise joining the chorus. The Gase hire seemed to be appreciated only by the hot take artists like Colin Cowherd (who infamously demanded AFC title game tickets), with players mostly keeping to themselves. Some of Gase’s most vital constituents (i.e. Robby Anderson) wound up fleeing. With Saleh being welcomed with apparent open arms, it’s a swift, welcome departure and change of pace for the organization. From at least the outlook, the Jets are a destination that doesn’t seem so garish in the ultimate long run.

The Jets are in dire need of any positivity flowing in the organization. At least in the infantile going, Saleh is providing the best surge in a long, long time.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags