New York Jets: The case for a Bilal Powell reunion

Bilal Powell’s long tenure with the New York Jets came to an end this offseason. It’s late in the game, but here’s why that has to change.

One can argue how much of an honor the label “longest-tenured New York Jet” really is. It’s great to have continuity and familiar faces in an offense, but the merits must be questionable when a nine-year veteran has played witness to only 57 wins (better only than Jacksonville and the artists formerly known as the Oakland Raiders in the AFC).

At the end of the day, though, running back Bilal Powell saw no negatives in bearing such a torch.

““or me, I just like to sit put,” Powell said in a late January interview with Joe Beningo and Evan Roberts, WFAN’s midday pair. “I had a couple of opportunities to leave around the times that I was a free agent in previous years, but I wanted to stick around and see this thing unfold.”

If the New York Jets need something to get through 2020, it’s veteran leadership. Sure, this is a team that’s plenty ingredients short of a championship recipe, but the return of a guy who knows his way around an NFL field could make this process a little easier to bear.

Hence, it’s time to start talking about bringing Powell back into the fold.

The Jets enter 2020 with a lack of experience on the field. There’s something to be said about the team’s dedication to youth. But without a sense of direction, the development could be for naught. The team took a step in the right direction in that regard by bringing Frank Gore, a 16-year veteran whose best NFL days may be behind him but has the experience and leadership that can motivate a young team and teach them the professional ropes.

“Frank brings something that is really hard to teach,” Jets head coach Adam Gase said of the Gore signing, per Ethan Greenberg of the Jets’ official site. “He’s a natural leader. He’s the kind of guy that guys respect around the NFL. He’s done a great job as far as helping younger players that are in the room. I think he’s a good teammate especially the last three or four years in that backup role and the supporting role of whoever that starter is.”

Powell may not have the impressive resume that Gore has earned over his tenure…few running backs do…but, in several ways, Powell represents the quintessential NFL success story. A day three pick back in 2011 (126th overall), Powell made himself a reliable part of the offense, a rare silver lining as the offense remained relatively stagnant. He was a reliable spell option and injury fill-in that became a multi-threat. Since Powell entered the league in 2011, he is one of 30 running backs to tally over 3,500 yards of total offense.

Perhaps the greatest lesson Powell can teach is one resiliency, which will be vital for players looking to get through what could be a difficult year. In 2018, Powell suffered a neck injury during an October loss to Minnesota, one that threatened to end his career. When it was possible that Powell’s NFL could well be over, the Jets knew what they could be losing.

“Bilal is one of the hardest workers on this team,” then-head coach Todd Bowles said at the time, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “It’s a big blow from that standpoint, but you worry more about the person, healing, than the football player.”

“It’s one of the toughest things,” defensive lineman Steve McLendon said in the same report. “It almost makes me emotional because I know how hard he worked. This is how a lot of guys feed their family, and you never want to see someone lose that ability.”

Powell instead worked his way back, inked a one-year return deal last June, and partook in the Jets’ 2019 proceedings. Like the rest of the Jets’ rushers, things didn’t really go his way, as he put up a career-low 229 yards over 15 games (the best a 74-yard showing in his lone start of the season in a win over Miami).

With so many receivers going down and the offensive line revamped, the Jets could leaning on their run game a little harder at the onset of the 2020 season. As last season proved, Le’Veon Bell can’t do it alone. Gore will be able to assist, but the Jets did lose Lamical Perine during a scrimmage at MetLife Stadium on Sunday afternoon. While there’s some belief that Perine avoided true disaster, the Jets may look to fill the void and bide a little time while Perine’s ankle heals. A trade for former Gase pupil Kalen Ballage was also voided when the Miami running back failed a physical.

A suitable replacement and locker room prescience in Powell could appear on the horizon in Powell, who knows the Jets’ offense and has earned himself an NFL decade through strength and resiliency. Powell himself is even open to the opportunity, if SNY’s Jets pregame and postgame show host Jonas Schwartz is to be believed:

“I just stay in my lane. I sit back and let things happen and unfold,” Powell told Beningo and Roberts. “I want to retire a Jet, that’s the biggest thing for me.”

Fulfilling that dream could well become beneficial for all sides.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Four Late Free Agents That Should Be Brought Back

The free agent frenzy has mollified, but the New York Jets would be smart to handle matters with a handful of their own unsigned players.

Professional football discussions are currently centered on the draft. The free agency period thus feels like a distant memory, but, for several recent New York Jets, it remains an all-too-current reality.

Entering Thursday, the Jets still have 14 players in the free agency pool. The team has made plenty of moves on the transaction front, but a few more could truly solidify them for the 2020 season…

P Lac Edwards

We spoke about the Jets’ holes in the special teams department earlier this week. Edwards’ lingering free agency is only exacerbating the tenuous situation. Former Steelers summer leg Ian Berryman is currently destined to take the role as the only punter on the roster.

Edwards endured a heavy workload last season (an NFL-high yardage of 3,991 on an equally-high 87 punts), but he tied for eighth in punts inside the 20 (28). It seems like a trivial matter, but a reliable punter is a must-have accessory for an offense that struggles to consistently score. Having built a rapport with long snapper Thomas Hennessy and drawn the praises of special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, Edwards could be an under-the-radar signing that puts both the offense and defense at ease.

S Rontez Miles

Miles is one of the NFL’s most undersung success stories. A California alum…not the Golden Bears of Berkeley, but the California University of Pennsylvania on the Division II level…that entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Miles has built himself a respectable NFL career primarily through special teams exploits. His efforts with the team were rewarded last season with a team captaincy.

Assisting Miles’ case is the Jets’ failed signing of former Los Angeles Ram Marqui Christian. The veteran safety was set to sign with the Jets before a salary dispute caused the deal to fall through. For a team in desperate need of veteran leadership, Miles’ experience could be indispensable.

RB Bilal Powell

Another longtime Jet that has yet to be invited back is Powell, the longest-tenured guy in green at nine seasons. During the Jets’ endless stream of starts on the offensive line, Powell was able to lead the team with a 3.9 rushing average. A decent average has been part of Powell’s repertoire since his 2011 entry. Over the past nine seasons, Powell’s 4.32 ranks 12th in the NFL amongst rushers with at least 800 attempts.

The Jets upgraded their offensive line this offseason, which should allow Bell to at least reach a closer version of Pittsburgh self. Spell options, however, remain slim in the form of Josh Adams, Kenneth Dixon, and Trenton Cannon. With fellow free agent Ty Montgomery failing to find a true spot in the rushing rotation, bringing back the reliable Powell makes a lot of sense.

WR Demaryius Thomas

Renovations on the blocking front have provided a long-sought sense of hope for the Jets’ offense. But there’s no denying that the loss of Robby Anderson was a big blow. For example, whereas Anderson scored 20 touchdowns for the Jets since his 2016 entry, no other Jets receiver reached double-digits. Sam Darnold’s current top target is destined to be Breshad Perriman after a stellar season wrap-up with Tampa Bay. Jamison Crowder returns in the slot, but a whole bunch of uncertainty lies behind him.

Thomas probably isn’t at a level where he can be a reliable top target. But the Jets could his experience and veteran leadership on a roster in desperate need of older help. It may be a lot to ask Thomas to duplicate his stellar numbers from Denver, but a young quarterback like Darnold needs a seasoned veteran to help him out. He recently told Denver radio station 104.3 The Fan (KKFN-FM) that he was very willing to return for an eleventh season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Happy April Fools’: The Best Trick Plays in New York Jets History

With the nation in need of a laugh, ESM counts down the best practical jokes in the history of the New York Jets.

Alas, our current situation isn’t one that can be remedied by the powers that be declaring “April Fools”. But, we could certainly use a laugh, or at least an “ooh? or an “ahh” in this day and age.

ESM is happy to pick up the slack on this, the first day of April. We present the New York Jets’ greatest examples of the trick play…football’s version of the practical joke:

1/3/87: Walker This Way

(skip to 16:34)

You’d perhaps never expect the Jets and Cleveland Browns to create one of the most memorable games in NFL postseason history. After all, the two are often regarded as the most cursed franchises in football. The Jets perhaps gave the game a fitting conclusion by blowing a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter en route to a 23-20 loss in double overtime. Cleveland’s defense limited the Jets to less than 300 yards of offense and brought down Jets quarterbacks on nine occasions.

The Jets got the memorable game’s scoring off to a roaring start in the second quarter despite their problems on offense. Pat Ryan got things going with a toss to Freeman McNeil before the rusher tossed the ball back to him. Another Ryan toss, this one deeper and of the forward variety, landed in the arms of Wesley Walker to give the Jets the early lead. That single throw constituted nearly half of Ryan’s yardage output on the day (103 yards while splitting duties with Ken O’Brien).

10/6/91: Blair It Out

(skip to 31:44)

Four years after suffering that heartbreaking playoff defeat at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, the Jets created deja vu all over again. Green trickery allowed them to break another scoreless tie in the second quarter. A throw from a running back was involved, but unlike McNeil, Blair Thomas got a chance to show off his downfield prowess.

As the Jets entered the Cleveland red zone, Thomas took a handoff from O’Brien. The Browns defense converged on Thomas, who mustered only 13 yards on eight carries during the afternoon. He more than made up for it on the 16-yard floater to Rob Moore. The sophomore receiver was left wide open in the lingering infield of the Cleveland Indians and caught the “pop-up” to give the Jets the lead. Gaining a quantum of revenge, the Jets topped the Browns 17-14.

Thomas’ toss was the only throw of his NFL career. He’s one of three Jets (along with fellow rushers McNeil and Curtis Martin) to have a  perfect “touchdown percentage”.

9/24/00: Wayne’s World

(skip to 1:42)

At the turn of the century, Keyshawn Johnson was apparently not pleased with how often he was getting “the damn ball”. The Jets traded the top overall pick of the 1996 draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in April 2000. One of Johnson’s parting gifts was some harsh criticisms of Wayne Chrebet. The undrafted receiver was making a name for himself by becoming the quintessential NFL success story, but Johnson labeled the Hofstra alum as a “mascot” in his aforementioned autobiography.

Chrebet and the Jets didn’t have to wait long to serve Johnson’s words back to him. The schedulemaker placed the Jets’ interconference showdown with Tampa in the September portion. Both teams entered 3-0 and Johnson continued to run his mouth, saying comparing him to Chrebet was “like comparing a flashlight to a star”.

In the end, Chrebet earned the last laugh as the recipient of one of the most electrifying moments in Jets history. A Vinny Testaverde handoff to Martin seemed questionable with the clock running in the final minute, but Martin suddenly launched am 18-yard pass that landed in the bare hands of Chrebet, who snuck by defenders Damien Robinson and Brian Kelly. That score allowed the Jets to complete a quick comeback after trailing 17-6 within the final two minutes. Johnson was forced to wash down his serving of humble pie with a mere one-yard output in the 21-17 New York victory.

Martin is the only Jet in team history to a perfect passing touchdown percentage on multiple throws. His second and final toss came in a December 2001 loss to Pittsburgh.

10/23/00: An OT Sends It To OT

(skip to 10:03)

Offensive lineman may be the most underrated and undervalued position in all of sports. Anonymity is perhaps the blocker’s dearest friend. Create the hole for the quarterback or rusher, and the skill player gets the credit in terms of highlights and fantasy points. Failure to do so often introduces you to fans in the grimmest of ways. Entering the box score, much less the scoring summary, is a long-shot at best.

Jets offensive tackle Jumbo Elliott found a way to it in the most memorable way on a Monday night at the Meadowlands.

The final regulation touches on the Jets’ erasure of a 30-7 deficit to the Miami Dolphins was Elliott’s three-yard touchdown catch from Testaverde on a tackle-eligible play. It certainly didn’t come easy…Elliott bobbled the ball throughout the process…but after replay deliberation, the game was allowed to continue after referee Walt Coleman approved the catch. John Hall wound up finishing the “Monday Night Miracle” with a 40-yard field goal to give the Jets a 40-37 win.

They say things are bigger on Monday night, and, in Elliott’s case, that axiom came literally. His catch (the only reception of his career) allowed him to become the heaviest player in Monday Night Football’s history to score a touchdown.

The Jets’ official social media accounts adapted the classic game into a Twitter-friendly setting earlier this week. 

10/14/12: What Might’ve Been

(skip to 2:06)

Tim Tebow’s New York saga was perhaps the most attention ever devoted to a personal protector. For all the pomp and circumstance behind that chaotic year, no one in the metropolitan area seemed to truly find an established role for Tebow. His spot on the Jets’ punting unit offered the sole form of green consistency.

Tebow’s longest New York play from scrimmage came on special teams in a midseason visit from Indianapolis. The Jets led 14-6 but were forced to punt in the latter stages of the second quarter. Needing 11 yards for the first, Tebow helped the Jets earn 23. He would navigate a quickly collapsing pocket before finding linebacker Nick Bellore wide open in the middle of the pair. Colts back deep brought him down, but the Jets situated well enough to set a pre-halftime touchdown from Mark Sanchez to Jason Hill. The Jets would up crushing the Colts 35-9 after momentum was permanently shifted to their side.

11/13/16: Varsity Green

The Jets welcomed fans from a galaxy far, far away last season when they hosted their first-ever Star Wars-themed day at MetLife Stadium last fall. It was hardly the first time cinematic exploits graced the East Rutherford field.

Closing on a scoring opportunity against the Los Angeles Rams, the Jets wound up punching it in on a play similar to one displayed in the climax of the 1999 coming-of-age high school football drama Varsity Blues. A Bryce Petty pass went to Brandon Marshall, but he immediately tossed the ball over to Bilal Powell on a hook-and-ladder surprise. The perplexed Rams could do nothing stop Powell’s score that gave the Jets a lead in the second quarter. It served as a moment of lateral redemption for Marshall, whose previous attempt…could’ve gone better. 

The Jets’ fortunes were unfortunately not tied to those of the West Canaan High School Coyotes. Powell’s magic score accounted for their only points of the game in a 9-6 loss.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: 3 Potential Replacements for Le’veon Bell

New York Jets, LeVeon Bell

Le’veon Bell and the New York Jets are expected to part ways at some point in the offseason which will leave the Jets with another massive hole to fill on offense. Le’veon Bell is the only running back on the Jets that is under contract for the 2020 regular season. Bell was misused the entire season and set career lows in yards per game and yards per attempt. Here are the three best options for the Jets to fill their need at running back this season.

Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor would be the perfect fit for the New York Jets assuming they resign Bilal Powell. Taylor’s downhill running style would be a perfect complement to Powell’s receiving ability and would open up the playbook for the Jets. Taylor comes from the University of Wisconsin which relies heavily on their run game, so he is no stranger to zone and gap blocking schemes which essentially makes him scheme proof. Taylor style is very reminiscent of Chris Ivory and he could provide an identity to an offense that has none.

Melvin Gordon

This one is kind of a long shot but if Melvin Gordon is available, he is worth looking at. Melvin Gordon is a proven running back and is only 26 years old. Gordon is a versatile back that can do everything you ask him to do. Although it wouldn’t make sense to replace Le’veon Bell with a running back like Bell it is the Jets and they’re not really known to make the smartest moves. The chances of Gordon landing in New York are even slimmer with the fact that he wants to be among the highest paid backs in the league. If somehow Gordon’s market isn’t high enough expect the Jets to be players.

Travis Etienne

Heading into the 2019 college football season Travis Etienne was regarded as the top running back of the class, as the season drifted on focus shifted more towards D’andre Swift. Travis Etienne is a game changing back who is extremely explosive and elusive his ability to accelerate quickly makes him such a dangerous weapon in the backfield. Etienne is an underrated pass blocker as well and can do it all he is comparable to Bilal Powell.

New York Jets: Le’Veon Bell’s story is not a comeback

New York Jets, LeVeon Bell

New York Jets offseason acquisition Le’Veon Bell is not far off from a time where he was renowned as one of the best offensive players in football.

His versatile and dynamic skill set made him a 2-time All-Pro and a 3-time pro bowler. He set the league on fire from the start having seasons with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage like in 2014 or even in 2017 having another near 2,000-yard season with 11 scores.

Le’Veon provided the Steelers a patient runner but also a receiving threat. In his opinion, he is a number 1 RB and a number 2/3 WR. Thus, he felt he should be compensated as such or traded. Yeah, well the Steelers didn’t answer that request and after a year off from the game, now Bell joins the Jets and becomes one of the most anticipated Jets players maybe ever.

Bell has been given lofty expectations by the bulk of the sports media world but what are reasonable expectations for a guy who took a year off from the game in his prime?

What should the New York Jets expect from the versatile running back?

Well first things first, Bell was receiving anywhere from 113-321 carries in a season and anywhere from 26-106 carries in a season. Bell saw the ball as much as 427 times as most recently as 2017. Under Mike Tomlin, Bell saw a TON of snaps with the ball in his hands.

Adam Gase is not typically like that and in fact, Kenyan Drake disappointed mightily in his offense last season and only saw 194 times with the ball whether it was catching it out of the backfield or running it. Jay Ajayi is closer to the talent level of Bell and he even only received 295 targets or carries in his only season as the lead back.

The fact is, Gase is going to feed Bell but not as much as Tomlin, especially if you factor in the fear of rust from a year off. That leads me to believe that Ty Montgomery and Bilal Powell will play big parts as rotational backs this season. Both men are strong backups for Bell and can help limit wear and tear and take some reps to ease Bell back in. 

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So, although it would be awesome to see Bell getting the kind of volume he saw in Pittsburgh, that kind of volume isn’t typical of an Adam Gase run offense. Bell will see the field and no doubt be a difference-maker but if there is rust he can still take the pressure off Sam Darnold (a big reason the Jets wanted him) and be the lead back in an explosive offense.

Bell will have a lot of pressure this season coming off a year away from the game but there is no doubt if Bell is even a fragment of what he was in 2017 he will make a significant difference on Gang Green.