Now what? Solutions to the New York Jets’ injury woes

mekhi becton, jets

The New York Jets’ injury report resembles the top of its depth chart. What can they do to hold down the fort in the early going?

There are growing pains, and then there’s what Robert Saleh has had to deal with within his first 24 hours of being a ledgered head coach of the New York Jets.

In his comments from the aftermath of a 19-14 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers, Saleh’s injury updates resembled the unveiling of the Jets’ starting lineup seen shortly after kickoff during Sunday broadcasts. The headliner is offensive tackle and 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton, who’s out for at least four weeks after dislocating his kneecap on the Jets’ first scoring play of the afternoon.

For Saleh, adaptation after intervention from the football gods is nothing new. He had to work through several medically-induced absences during his final year as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator last season, posting respectable results after losing Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, K’Wuan Williams, and Richard Sherman, among others, to injuries. He hinted that help from abroad may be on the horizon.

“There’s going to be talks, obviously,” Saleh said per notes from the Jets. “(General manager Joe Douglas) and his staff getting together and gathering names, but there are going to have to be some additions.”

The Jets have four games left prior to their Week 6 sabbatical, starting with Sunday’s home opener against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS). ESM looks at each affected area and ponders the Jets’ next moves…

Offensive Line

Of Saleh’s subtractions, none may be more glaring that than the loss of Becton, the Jets’ anchor of the offensive line and their top pick from the 2020 draft. The Jets’ Sunday protection looked scary enough with Becton there: Zach Wilson was sacked six times and Jets rushers put up less than three yards a carry.

Saleh claimed that Becton’s departure may not be a death blow in part due to his limited prep time going into the 2021 season: injuries limited the Louisville alum to two practices in the “two or three weeks” leading up to game day in Carolina. Saleh confirmed that George Fant will assume Becton’s duties on the blindside while Morgan Moses will fill in for Fant on the right, as was the case on Sunday afternoon in Carolina. Becton is not expected to undergo surgery, but that could change if a second opinion recommends such a measure.

The Jets’ blocking depth took a hit before the season started: Connor McDermott and Becton’s fellow 2020 selection Cameron Clark linger on injured reserve and won’t be eligible to come back until Week 4. Jimmy Murray, Isaiah Williams, and undrafted rookie Grant Hermanns were part of the Jets’ final cuts from training camp but were retained on the practice squad. A promotion or two may be in the cards.

But simple promotions haven’t been the Douglas way: in making up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era, Douglas has left no stone unturned, no matter how seasoned that stone may be. His first moves upon taking office were to trade for Alex Lewis from Baltimore and convince Ryan Kalil to postpone his retirement. The trend continued this offseason when the team added Moses in the latter stages of the pre-training camp slate.

Not everything has worked out, but that’s probably not going to deter the proactive Douglas. Most available names have shown a preference for the right, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see Douglas nonetheless inquire. Asking for a name like Russell Okung might be a stretch, but the team could possibly take a waiver on someone like veteran Ricky Wagner or Chaz Green. An intriguing journeyman to watch could be Corbin Kaufusi, a former metropolitan practice squad rep (2019-20) whose time at BYU overlapped with Zach Wilson’s by a year (2018).

Linebacker

A rare sign of good medical news in the linebacking corps…that in the fact that C.J. Mosley was finally able to complete a game for the first time in his Jets career…was immediately offset by further calamities. Blake Cashman has return to the injury report with a hamstring issue while Jamien Sherwood sprained his ankle in his NFL debut. Each is expected to miss two weeks.

New York was already missing one potentially sizable contributor in Jarrad Davis, who was lost in the preseason visit to Green Bay. Del’Shawn Phillips filled in serviceably on Sunday, earning a team-best dozen tackles in defeat. Formerly of Buffalo, Phillips should remain on the active roster after his recent promotion from the practice squad.

The signing of Quincy Williams after cuts toward the original 53-man rosters feel particularly timely. He was inactive for Sunday’s game but he should be ready for the home opener. The older brother of Quinnen, the Jets renowned third-year defender, has starting experience from his two seasons in Jacksonville but, perhaps more importantly, has a long-term NFL case to prove.

“We care about winning football games. That’s all that matters to us. He is not just Q’s brother. We want to win,” Quinnen said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “Whether he’s my brother or not, we play football games to win, not to lose. He needs to come in and put (his) best foot forward every day, and we need to hold each other accountable.”

Despite the emergence of Phillips and the potential arrival of the elder Williams, the Jets will likely look to practice squads and free agency for assistance. Several former Jets linger on the latter front, including Avery Williamson and James Burgess.

Safety

Enough has been written about the Jets’ problems and lack of experience at cornerback, but the makeshift group held its own on Sunday. Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols, Michael Carter II, and Javelin Guidry united to allow only 77 yards and four first downs.

The true issues lied at safety, where some inopportune deep balls led to the Jets’ demise. Lamarcus Joyner was forced to leave the game early with an elbow issue, which Saleh as since diagnosed as torn tendons that will keep him out for remainder of the season. Sheldrick Redwine, a final cut from Cleveland, took over in Joyner’s wake. Alas, his lasting mark from Sunday’s game was getting victimized by the long scoring hook-up between Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson that helped Carolina break the game open.

Joyner was already standing in for Ashtyn Davis, who’s stuck on injured reserve (along with another safety, Sharrod Neasman). Neither will be back until Week 4. It’s thus inevitable that the Jets will seek further assistance elsewhere. Adrian Colbert, another recent practice squad promotee, is likely on board to stay.

Punter

The Jets will be without sophomore punter Braden Mann for 4-6 weeks, suffering a knee injury on his second attempt of the day. Mann made several trips in and out of the medical tent and was later seen pacing the sidelines in a knee brace on his left leg. According to Saleh, Mann’s situation is not expected to require surgery.

One almost wouldn’t blame the Jets if they stood pat at punter: Matt Ammendola stepped in and wound up amongst the league’s Week 1 leaders. The 65-yard boot on his second attempt was the best individual effort amongst Sunday competitors. But there’s no use in wearing down Ammendola, especially with kicker being such a vital role for an offense in transition. Saleh declared that the Jets will work out several legs.

It’s a surprisingly opportune time to be searching for a punter from a Jets standpoint, as several veteran names linger on the open market. Thomas Morestead is a former Pro Bowler from New Orleans while two entries from the Colquitt punting dynasty (Britton and Dustin) are also available. Chris Jones recently wrapped a decade-long stretch as Dallas’ fourth-down man. The Jets probably aren’t looking for a long-term solution here, as they have a little something invested in the sophomore Mann, a sixth-round choice from 2020.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Bryce Hall ready to become veteran statesman among CBs

jets, bryce hall

Bryce Hall is about to enter his second NFL season…which makes him a relic amongst New York Jets cornerbacks.

In Star Wars terminology, Bryce Hall is the NFL equivalent of a Padawan learner, an apprentice in layman’s (or people with a social life’s) terms: the fifth-round pick from Virginia has appeared in eight professional contests and is set to enter his second official season of service. The games on Hall’s infantile ledger were mostly irrelevant affairs in the grander sense of the NFL’s standings, though he made the most of the opportunity, recording 36 tackles and his first career interception.

By the New York Jets’ current cornerback standards, however, Hall is a seasoned Jedi Master.

Hall’s rapidly-gained seniority is part of the Jets’ efforts to eradicate almost every prescience of their garish two-win campaign from 2020. Of the 22 men listed in the Jets’ starting lineup from their most recent Week 1 contest (a 27-17 loss at the hands of the future AFC finalists in Buffalo that was nowhere near as close as the final scoreboard indicated), only eight are still with the team.

Cornerback Bless Austin was the latest casualty, as the Rutgers alum was surprisingly released in the aftermath of 2021’s first 53-man roster unveiling. Left behind is a hodgepodge of names who heard their names pressed into NFL service during the annual Saturday portions of the draft, be it through outright selection like Hall (158th overall) or post-Mr. Irrelevant free agency.

“I was surprised that they cut (Austin). He was working with the ones, so I didn’t have any knowledge of what was going on,” Hall said of the surprising transaction, per Peter Botte of the New York Post. “But that’s the nature of the business and you just have to keep going. You have to take it day by day and appreciate every opportunity that you get here. And the ball keeps rolling.”

Both head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas have publicly stated that the release of Austin was made to afford more snaps to the Jets’ younger defenders in the secondary: the team drafted Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols and also kept undrafted rookie Isaiah Dunn. Another undrafted invitee, Javelin Guidry, returns for his second season in New York while his comrade Lamar Jackson lingers on the practice squad.

The release of Austin made Hall the most experienced NFL veteran in the Jets’ cornerback department. Justin Hardee is technically speaking the elder statesman…the 27-year-old is entering his fifth professional season…but he’s far more renowned for his special teams endeavors.

Thus, Hall is left to lead the Jets secondary into an uncertain future: everyone’s already aware of Marcus Maye’s franchise tag situation while Maye’s veteran partner at safety, Lamarcus Joyner, is likewise inked for only a single season in green. Guidry, he of 11 games in 2020, likewise has Hall slightly beat, though he’s expected to primarily handle the slot. Austin’s vacancy next to Hall has yet to be filled on the Jets’ unofficial depth chart.

Unexpectedly thrown into the New York spotlight, Hall isn’t looking for excuses for any shortcoming the Jets might face in what could be a trying yet optimistic 2021 season. The slate begins on Sunday afternoon as the Jets face the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte (1 p.m. ET, CBS). Carolina’s aerial attack is headlined by the former metropolitan connection of Sam Darnold and Robby Anderson and their receiving corps are further bolstered by DJ Moore and rookie Terrace Marshall Jr. Star running back Christian McCaffrey, who is set to make his return from an injury that erased most of his 2020 campaign, has proven to be an equally dangerous aerial threat.

“You grow up quick in this league,” Hall said in a report from Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “There’s no excuse, no explanation, you just got to come in here and work. I think it’s good because it’s challenging me to step up into a leadership role to grow faster. That’s what I need and that’s what I want.”

If anything, Hall’s ascension up the Jets’ tenure ledgers is a prime opportunity for him to prove that some early hype was well-earned. Entering the 2019 draft, Hall was seen by some as a first-round talent as his junior season ended in Charlottesville. He led the nation in pass breakups en route to All-American honors.

Hall’s decision to return to Virginia was brought upon by a situation remarkably similar to the quagmire the Jets find themselves in: the history of Cavalier football has often been defined by a one step forward, two steps back struggle in which they’re forced to deal with a more renowned in-state rival (Virginia Tech). Hall’s junior year antics helped UVA earn its first postseason win in 13 seasons, as the Cavaliers earned a 28-point shutout over South Carolina in the 2018 Belk Bowl. He didn’t wait long to disrupt the 2019 mock drafts, announcing his decision to return hours after the Cavs demolished the Gamecocks.

“I feel like I want to finish what I started here,” Hall said of his decision to return, per David Teel of Daily Press. “This program gave me so much, and before I leave I want to give everything I have to them. I want to develop also as a leader, and when that next phase of life comes, I want to be prepared.”

(Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images)

Virginia indeed took things to the next level upon Hall’s return: they won the ACC’s Coastal Division (their first such title since 1995) and topped the hated Hokies (for the first time since 2003) en route to the conference title game and an appearance in the lauded Orange Bowl.

Alas, Hall was unable to reap the spoiled of his return. As the Cavs, ranked 20th in the Associated Press poll, battled Miami in Coral Gables, Hall endured devastating injuries to both his left leg and ankle. He missed the final eight games of the season and saw his draft stock plummet. Lingering effects from the injury cost him his first professional training camp, as well as the first half of his debut campaign in green.

But the experience allowed Hall to develop skills that will help define the rest of his football career. Though Hall’s name was missing from UVA’s lineups, he remained a reliable gameday prescience. He was granted a headset for the Cavs’ home games and commandeered positional meetings as the postseason dream became more realistic.

The process also allowed Hall to find clarity in his personal life: he realized that he would marry UVA field hockey player Anzel Viljoen, who remained by his side after his devastating ailment. He successfully proposed to Viljoen shortly after the Jets called his name at the draft and the couple welcomed its first child this offseason.

“(The injury) was huge. I felt like, usually, I am a guy who leads by example, but when I got hurt all I had was my voice and all I had was the experience that I had,” Hall said, per Joey Chandler of NJ Advanced Media. “I tried my best to help out the new guys, so I definitely feel like that has helped me as a leader to relate to the guys. Especially guys who are hungry and want to receive the knowledge that I have. I think that has trickled down into this system and this opportunity.”

Thus far, a roller-coaster career has culminated in Hall leading the Jets into a season that’s expected to be defined by development. Two of his most important football seasons have been gnawed at by circumstances beyond his control. But in a tumultuous time for unproven leftovers on the New York Jets timeline, Hall has made himself essential and figures to be one of the pillars supporting the team’s quest to make it back to the NFL’s playoff conversation.

Simply put…The Force is strong with this one.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Is a trade for pass rushing the right move right now?

new york jets, robert saleh

It’s been theorized that the New York Jets could seek out a new pass rusher. But is that the most worthwhile move as the 2021 kickoff looms?

Any analysis of the New York Jets’ 2021 offseason must be prefaced with the caveat that the previous campaign sunk the team to such dramatic depths that anything short of full-on contraction would’ve been seen as an upgrade…and, even then, some Gang Green fans would go full John McKay.

But there is no objectively denying that the Jets made smart moves following last year’s disastrous two-win showing. Even with the loss of the most expensive purchase, defensive end Carl Lawson, the Jets are in a favorable position to at least start to reintroduce themselves to the world of professional football relevancy. At the same time, however, even the most unapologetic Jets propagandist has to admit that Lawson’s forced season-long departure due to a ruptured Achillies sustained during last week’s joint activities with the Green Bay Packers puts a bit of a damper on Joe Douglas’ most impactful offseason to date.

To that end, the Jets are reportedly seeking help from abroad to bolster their pass rush game. A popular candidate amongst fans has been former New England pass rusher Chandler Jones, who’s reportedly displeased with his current settings in Arizona. Other potential movers could include Preston Smith of the aforementioned Packers or 2019’s fourth overall choice Clelin Ferrell in Las Vegas.

But as the Jets plan one more summer splurge before school starts, is the pass rush the right area to address?

The loss of Lawson obviously brings the unit down a few notches, but the Jets’ pass rush still has several notable returnees looking to build on breakout seasons from 2020. It’s a group headlined by 2019’s third overall choice Quinnen Williams and assisted by John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi. The team is also set to welcome back Kyle Phillips and Bryce Huff, the latter of whom has earned positive reviews during the most recent camp sessions in Florham Park. Veteran arrivals Vinny Curry and Sheldon Rankins have likewise dealt with ailments but bring talent and playoff experience from Philadelphia and New Orleans respectively. A major opportunity rises for Ronald Blair, a late arrival who previously worked with head coach Robert Saleh in the Bay Area.

In addition to the talent assembled, the Jets’ new boss has experience in dealing with big losses in the front seven. During his final season as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, new head coach Robert Saleh dealt with injury reports that resembled Pro Bowl rosters. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas were lost for the year after ACL tears at MetLife Stadium. Help from abroad (Dee Ford, Ziggy Ansah) was likewise medically removed from the 2020 proceedings.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the losses, Saleh’s backfield invaders still managed to post respectable efforts. The 49ers ranked fifth in quarterback hurries per dropback (11.2 percent) and yards allowed (314.4 per game) despite the departures. One could argue that Saleh’s ability to adapt was one of the big reasons why he was one of the most coveted head coaching candidates once the year let out.

Saleh knows how much is lost with Lawson done for the year but he was among the first to come to grips with the doomsday diagnosis in the aftermath of the Green Bay business trip.

“I’ve said it before, the NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after the Jets’ 23-14 preseason win over the Packers on Saturday, per team reporter Randy Lange. “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.”

There’s enough talent on the defensive line for the Jets to survive. The injury of Lawson shouldn’t awaken the Jets from dreams of development that would allow them to label the 2021 season a success. But there’s always room for improvement, especially when your rebuild prepares to enter a second decade. With so much draft capital…the Jets currently own 13 spots on the 2022 draft board…it would almost be silly not to seek out a trade. There are enough valuable names on the line that can hold down the pass rushing fort while Lawson heals. Improvement is better sought elsewhere.

Douglas has never been one to shy away from a late move if it helps the team: he took over the Jets after primary offseason activities like free agency and the draft ended and immediately tried to bolster the blocking (Ryan Kalil, Alex Lews) and receiving (Demaryius Thomas). None of those moves truly panned out in the long term…none of them are with the team…but Douglas’ activity was refreshing after the passiveness of the Mike Maccagnan era.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
 (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

It appears that the Jets might be ready to make another late summer move, but they have to assess their priorities. A show of faith to the talented youngsters of the defensive line might help team morale moving forward, leaving them to look at other areas, ones entrenched in far greater states of desperation.

With apologies to those still traumatized by the 2020 season, the ineptitude on display in the final year of the Adam Gase almost guaranteed that some area on the team was going to be neglected, even with the perfect offseason. The secondary still remains woefully undermanned in terms of experience. Their struggles were prominently on display during Saturday’s exhibition showcase in Titletown: Jets starters played deep into the first half and allowed a Green Bay offense consisting almost entirely of reserves to score on two of their four drives over the first 30 minutes. The ultimate insult was a 19-play, 81-yard drive that ate over 10 minutes of game time.

Zach Wilson’s (nearly) perfect showing allowed the Jets to bring some optimism home, but New York can’t allow it to mask their defensive struggles. Green Bay went 8-of-14 on third down, four alone earned through the air on the aforementioned long drive. The last was a five-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Benkert to Jace Sternberger. Perhaps the extra draft capital is better spent on a veteran corner to mentor and/or compete with Bless Austin and Bryce Hall. Charvarius Ward could be a championship addition from Kansas City (especially with L’Jarius Sneed’s emergence) while C.J. Henderson remains a tantalizing prize in Jacksonville.

The early strong returns from Wilson also shouldn’t discourage the Jets from bolstering their backup quarterback situation. Sam Darnold’s medical woes over the past three seasons have shown the Jets just how far south a season can go without the intended starter, even if they had good intentions through veteran additions like Joe Flacco, Josh McCown, and Trevor Siemian.

Mike White has been serviceable this preseason (86.1 passer ratings and no turnovers through two games) but it probably hasn’t been anything to convince the Jets they can stay afloat if the unthinkable happened to Wilson. White also took a few tough hits during Saturday’s win in Green Bay, leaving the contest with a rib injury. Late acquisition Josh Johnson was seen as a veteran mentor to Wilson but has yet to take a preseason snap in green.

Trading for Chicago’s Nick Foles remains the most popular and realistic option for teams seeking quarterback depth. Not only is Foles set to wallow in the third slot on the depth chart behind the Justin Fields/Andy Dalton conundrum, but the Bears are also in desperate need of early draft picks. Chicago has only two picks over the first four rounds in Las Vegas next spring, having dealt their first and fourth round choices to the Giants to ensure the selection of Fields. The Jets’ pair of first-rounders (including the last piece of the Jamal Adams trade from Seattle) is likely off the table but they have five other choices over rounds two through four.

No one’s denying the Jets can get better through a late trade or overcome the loss of Lawson (especially considering his prescience or absence wasn’t the difference in terms of ending their ten-year postseason drought). But if they’re going to make one more move before summer lets out, the Jets must take the time to assess their priorities, values, and faith.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three attainable goals for Saturday’s preseason opener

ESM’s New York Jets experts know Gang Green won’t solve every issue on Saturday, but there are honorable landmarks within their grasp.

You made it, Gang Green Nation.

It’s been 223 days since the New York Jets have put on their pads for an officially sanctioned NFL contest against another opponent…and 601 days since they’ve played in front of a crowd at MetLife Stadium.

Both dubious streaks will end on Saturday night, as the Jets resume their annual preseason battle against the New York Giants (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC). It will be the Jets’ first preseason contests since the summer of 2019 and the first MetLife Stadium football game to be held in front of fans since February 2020.

“Every day is an unbelievable blessing. But it’s always about the players. It’s a great opportunity for them to showcase who they are,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said of Saturday’s proceedings, per notes from the team. “You can take (the preseason) for granted from a team standpoint because it doesn’t matter in the win/loss record but your style of play and what you want to represent and what you want the entire league to know about you starts Saturday. That’s why I think there’s tremendous value to these preseason games.”

With kickoff looming, ESM’s Jets experts each have an attainable goal for the Jets to reach…

New York Jets, Bless Austin
New York Jets, Bless Austin

Geoff Magliocchetti: Corner the Cornerbacks 

No one was going to quarrel with why it was wiped out, but the cancelation of last year’s preseason put the Jets in a tough spot. Exhibition games return in 2021, albeit with only three on the slate rather than the customary four. Preseason football, scorned as the concept may be in modern times, was made for teams like the modern Jets. With nearly half of their starting lineup from last year’s opener in Buffalo exchanged, the developing Jets need to take advantage of every consequence-free game situation.

Centering Saturday’s MetLife Stadium civil war around Zach Wilson’s emergence is tantalizing, yet naive. Sure, there would be no better way to silence the critics who are using a poor intrasquad scrimmage to label Wilson a bust already…amateur and professional alike…than having Wilson tear apart the Jets’ quasi-rivals in front of a MetLife Stadium crowd that waited a year-plus to get in. But hinging all preseason success on the quarterback is a nominally fickle way to approach the summer slate.

The current state of the Jets’ cornerback situation showcases why preseason football still has a place in modern society: the Jets are going into a new era, a new base set under new leadership with a hodgepodge of inexperienced day three draft picks and undrafted journeymen. The safety spots are relatively secure with Marcus Maye and Lamarcus Joyner (even if Ashtyn Davis will miss all three games), but the Jets need to have someone separate themselves in the cornerback room.

With the Giants set to hold out several regulars including quarterback Daniel Jones, a perfect opportunity lies ahead for penciled starters like Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry to build some momentum as they assume larger duties. Austin and Hall are slated to be the Jets’ top two cornerback options, each of them looking for something to prove.

Born in Queens and emerging from Rutgers, there’d be no more appropriate hero in the return of the Snoopy Bowl than Austin, who has developed a professional reputation as a strong hitter who must show major improvement in his coverage. Austin issued a dire warning to those disregarding the Jets’ secondary solely because of the inexperience between him and the sophomore Hall.

“A lot of people forget me and Bryce were highly rated dudes coming out of college. We just fell short to injury,” Austin said this week, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. There’s a reason why they didn’t bring a veteran cornerback in here. Not to knock any out there, but they see something in us.”

Saturday should also be a tremendous showcase for the Jets’ defensive potpourri brought in during the most recent draft weekend Saturday. Expect extensive time for Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols (a big opportunity lingers for the undrafted Isaiah Dunn as well), as well as safeties-turned-linebackers Hamsah Nasirildeen and Jamien Sherwood.

“There’s a lot of competition going on, there’s competition at the nickel, corner spots, so those are gonna be fun to watch,” Saleh told Steve Serby of the New York Post in a July Q&A. “It’s a very young group. Someone’s going to come to fruition. Bryce Hall had a really nice OTA, Bless was having a nice OTA, then he had a minor setback with an injury that kept him out. He’s good to go. Some of the rookies had a chance to showcase their skills. We’ve got a really good young nucleus of guys that are gonna compete, and we’ll see how it goes.”

new york jets, zach wilson

Brendan Carpenter: Attack With Zach

It’s a big day. Jets football is back. With all of the excitement, however, some uncertainty lingers. The future of Jets football is currently resting somewhat uncomfortably on the shoulders of Zach Wilson. That uncertainty will either be expanded or diminished when he finally steps on the field on Saturday.

Some of the goals and expectations for Wilson have been anywhere from realistic to wildly unrealistic, from fans and analysts alike. When it comes to his preseason debut, there is one goal that could both ease and excite those watching him closely: have Wilson and the primary offense put together multiple drives that get into enemy territory.

This isn’t exactly a headline-setting goal, but it’s perhaps the most crucial one. Back when the Green & White Scrimmage was the talk of the town, everyone seemed to be focusing solely on Wilson’s struggles, as expected. Through the scrimmage, he went just 11-for-24 for 112 yards and two interceptions. Additionally, his seven drives just totaled only three points. If Wilson can show that he can lead the offense into opponent territory multiple times, it’ll be a decent win regardless of the final score.

It will be a learning process for the rookie out of BYU and some sustained drives could help ease both his nerves and the unrivaled scrutiny directed his way even before he’s taken a snap.

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Price: Bring the Boom to Big Blue

The battle of MetLife won’t give us the battle between Daniel Jones and Zach Wilson that we all hoped for, but the battle still promises to be a good one.

The Gang Green faithful needs to take everything with a grain of salt, as the new era is still establishing comfort and familiarity. However, I expect the Jets pass rush to steal the show.

I foresee John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, and Carl Lawson putting on a clinic and headlining a real impressive outing. Franklin-Myers will likely open things up for everyone else and make a few plays. Lawson will likely command the most attention given his notoriety and standing as the Jets’ lead pass rusher. Still, look for Lawson to catch eyes in the first quarter of the game with a few big hits or even maybe a sack.

I’d expect Huff to likely put on the flashiest performance, as he’s had a spectacular camp. Overall though, look for the entire pass rush rotation to excel. All and all, I truly expect to come out of Saturday thoroughly impressed with the direction of the defense, specifically the pass rush.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets CB Bless Austin has big plans as a primary defender

Granted one of the New York Jets’ primary cornerback roles, Austin promised to live up to the great expectations placed upon him.

If you tried to turn Bless Austin’s football career into a movie, a Hollywood studio would probably reject. Not only is Austin’s NFL journey in its infantile stages, but the screenplay could be criticized for being too on the nose.

Fortunately, Austin has been watching his fair share of film as is.

Speaking after the Jets’ training camp activities on Monday, Austin is penciled in as one of the Jets’ primary cornerbacks as their preseason opener looms this weekend. As Austin prepares for extended duties, he’s taken in head coach Robert Saleh’s San Francisco filmography, with 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley serving as his muse. Austin also admitted to taking a look at Saleh’s former division rival Jalen Ramsey out in Los Angeles.

It’s part of a personal goal of Austin’s that is anything but modest: to become one of the NFL’s best defenders.

“I think I’m the real deal. (There’s) no secret in that,” Austin said in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “Of course, I make mistakes, but there’s also a lot of plays I’ve made on that field that other corners in this league aren’t making.”

Born in Queens and starring at Campus Magnet in Cambria Heights (formerly known as Andrew Jackson High School), Austin stayed in the tri-state area, moving on to Rutgers during some of their earliest days in the Big Ten. He immediately made an impact with 14 pass breakups in his sophomore season but injuries ate away at his latter two seasons.

Austin nonetheless found redemption from a familiar source: a New Jersey-based club with New York branding.

The Jets chose Austin with their final pick of the 2019 draft (196th overall) after partaking in only five games in his last pair of collegiate campaigns. Entering his third professional season, Austin is now an elder statesman in Gang Green’s secondary: he’s the longest-tenured Jet in the team’s cornerback room and might be the most experienced at the position overall: special teams ace Justin Hardee is the only listed such defender who has been in the league longer.

Through his first two NFL season, Austin has developed a reputation as a physical defender, but his coverage needs work. A brutal coverage grade of 47.4, bestowed by Pro Football Focus, ranked 112th among 136 qualified cornerbacks. PFF has refused to let up, calling the Austin-headlined New York cornerback group one of the weakest units in the league back in April.

With the Jets woefully undermanned in terms of experience in the secondary, some have clamored for the Jets to search for veteran help from abroad. C.J. Henderson, a top ten a pick a year ago, could be up for grabs with the Jaguars reportedly ready to put him on the trading block.

New York Jets, Bless Austin
(Photo: Getty)

The cornerback, however, won’t hear of it. He’s not only confident in his own abilities but he also spoke glowingly of his new co-worker in the secondary.

Austin is set to work next to Bryce Hall, another day three choice with something to prove. The Virginia alum was projected to be a first-round pick after his junior season but a devastating ankle injury relegated him to the fifth round of the 2020 draft, where the Jets scooped him up. Hall showed promise over eight NFL contests after the Jets’ in-season fire sale purged several veteran corners, even earning his first professional interception in the team’s first win of the season over the Rams.

Austin unveiled a dire warning to those disregarding he and Hall simply because of their star-crossed collegiate careers: do so at your own risk. That notice might extend to the Jets’ front office, which has rarely used the calendar as an excuse for inaction on the free agent front.

“The front office and the coaching staff does a great job of communicating to us where their head is at,” Austin said, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “A lot of people forget me and Bryce were highly rated dudes coming out of college. We just fell short to injury. There’s a reason why they didn’t bring a veteran cornerback in here. Not to knock any out there, but they see something in us.”

“I don’t pay attention to outside noise. I’m between the white lines and I know what I’m about. Other people in the league know what I’m about as well.”

The Jets’ revamped receivers, headlined by the arrivals of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Keelan Cole, have given Austin a formidable challenge as he enters a year that could well determine the course of the rest of NFL career. It’s a challenge where he can’t “go through the motions and think I’m gonna have a successful day”, according to DJ Bien-Aime II of the New York Daily News.

But, true to the warning he bestowed to the Jets’ front office and the lingers free agent market, Austin is apparently impressing the right people as game day approaches.

“He’s got a dog’s mentality, from a football sense,” Saleh himself said of Austin’s summer endeavors, per notes from the Jets. “He is absolutely fearless, he’s very strong at the line of scrimmage, at least from the time I’ve gotten here, doesn’t look like he’s really bothered by the play before, he can move on. It’s just those attributes, the length, the strength, he’s fast enough, it’s just a matter of working the technique and understanding where you work in the defense. He’s shown everything that we want, it’s just a matter of trying to get better and see what he looks like once we get with other opponents.”

“Bless (is) long, strong, aggressive, tough,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich added in those same quotes. “He’ll challenge you. He wants to play at the line of scrimmage, he wants to get his hands on you, he wants to disrupt. He’s a proven tackler, he’s tough, he’ll show up in the run game to support.”

The Jets open the preseason on Saturday night against the New York Giants in a battle for MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

What are realistic expectations for the 2021 New York Jets?

new york jets, zach wilson

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team over the past eight months. But are they a playoff team? ESM’s experts discuss.

The 2020 New York Jets left the franchise’s immediate and long-term future in a rare state of optimistically macabre: after the Jets sunk to the depths of the football underworld…plummeting to dubious valleys that even the cursed Rich Kotite era managed to avoid…any move the team made in the offseason could’ve been seen as an improvement.

With both the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy…not to mention every medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo…earned and bestowed, it’s officially socially acceptable to start forecasting the 2021 NFL season. The metropolitan arrivals of so many elite new faces, of both the rookie (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore) and veteran (Carl Lawson, Corey Davis) variety have gotten fans excited, as has the hiring of head coach Robert Saleh.

But the ultimate question lingers: after a two-win season and now ensnared in the NFL’s longest active playoff, just how much improvement will the Jets show in the one place it matters…the standings, namely the win column?

ESM’s Jets experts ponder this quandary as the preseason opener against the New York Giants looms on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC)…

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti

To take a page out of another New York sports decisionmaker Brian Cashman, let’s view Joe Douglas’ New York Jets from the perspective of the Death Star.

Ignoring the fact that the Star Wars-based superweapon is destroyed in each of its incarnations, Douglas does have a Death Star at his disposal. But it’s not the behemoth seen in A New Hope (and, by extension, Rogue One), nor is it the partially constructed but “fully armed and operational battle station” from Return of the Jedi. Rather, the Jets’ Death Star resembles the infantile version Vader and Palpatine look over at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

The Jets began this offseason with the hiring of head coach Saleh. In contrast to the Adam Gase hire, a transaction praised exclusively by modern hot take artists, the Saleh move was lauded by on-field participants both domestically and abroad. New York was and is by no means a football destination yet…one needs to establish a victorious on-field prescience before they become that…but the Jets were able to attract several names with championship experience, winners that were attracted to what Saleh was trying to build.

Douglas and Co. could’ve stood pat on the pass rush, a rare 2020 silver lining after the breakouts of Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. They instead bolstered the unit by bringing in rising pressure artist Lawson and NFC postseason staples Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry. Elsewhere on defense, they prepared for Saleh’s reimplementation of the 4-3 with the arrival of linebacker Jarrad Davis, whose finest defensive days came in Florida and Detroit’s similar formations.

On offense, newly minted quarterback Zach Wilson’s arsenal appears to contain more firepower than anything Sam Darnold had to work with. Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is ready to work with potential day three draft gem Michael Carter in the backfield, while the upgraded aerial attack features Davis and Moore uniting with returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. Mekhi Becton returns on the line with Alijah Vera-Tucker on Wilson’s blindside.

Yet…the playoffs remain a pipe dream.

The AFC East already appears to be under the control of a new potential dynasty in Western New York, so capturing the quartet for the first time since 2002 appears to be out of the question. The North could well send three teams to the postseason, while the West’s mighty Kansas City Chiefs show no signs of slowing down, even with the Los Angeles Chargers rising fast with Justin Herbert. Even with an extra playoff spot, it’s asking a lot for the Jets to establish themselves in the crowded conference.

Even if the AFC wasn’t packed to the brim with contenders, the Jets aren’t fully completed just yet. There were so many holes so fill, so much damage to repair from the Gase era that it was a guarantee that some area of the roster was going to be neglected. One look at the current depth chart shows that the secondary got the raw deal, as inexperienced options like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall are set to assume primary roles. On offense, there are plenty of players that can become major contributors (Carter, Moore, Davis), but they lack the experience in the primetime situations they’ve been called upon.

Until Saleh’s group proves otherwise on the field, their dire straits are more indicative of just how poorly the Gase era went. Gase might be gone, but the dark spirits of his tenure will linger over the Jets’ facilities until the fruits of Saleh’s process appear in the win column. A good season in 2021 would be to at least double the two-win tally from last season and perhaps earn an upset win over an elite opponent, a similar process to what the Chargers went through last year with Herbert.

Record Prediction: 6-11

new york jets, zach wilson
Mandatory Credit: New York Jets/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Carpenter

The New York Jets have a lot of hype leading into the season and for good reason: rookies Wilson and Moore highlight a revamped offense. Lawson adds a much-needed pass rush to a defense that needs it with unproven corners.

The Jets, however, are not a playoff team just yet. Aside from their own play, they find themselves in an increasingly brutal AFC East. Each team is improving, but, at the moment, Gang Green finds themselves behind Buffalo and, most likely, either New England or Miami…maybe even both.

Yes, the future is bright and fans should be excited. All of the excitement should be taken with a grain of salt, though. There need to be reasonable expectations for this season. So, realistically, look for this team to win about 6 games of the newly-implemented 17 game schedule.

Record Prediction: 6-11

carl lawson, new york jets
(Photo: Getty)

Dylan Price

As the Jets head into a season filled with promise, I want to make one thing clear before I begin: I do NOT expect the New York Jets to make the playoffs.

I expect the team to take a significant step up and approach the 7-9 win territory. With that said, I foresee hiccups along the way: Wilson will likely experience significant growing pains early as he leaves Brigham Young University and acclimates to the bright lights of Broadway. I firmly expect struggles from both sides of the ball early as they look to establish a new identity under a new coaching staff. Lastly, I have a bad feeling about the secondary, but guys like Hall and Michael Carter II will likely get better as the season progresses.

On a lighter note, I foresee a strong debut in green and white for Lawson, Rankins, and Davis. Lawson is a legitimate threat to finish in the top ten in sacks, while Rankins and Davis will likely be impact contributors if they can stay healthy. Finally, look for rookies, Michael Carter (the running back) and Alijah Vera-Tucker to make names for themselves early, although the story will be Moore, the budding star receiver.

Record Prediction: 7-10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Robert Saleh lays out expectations for New York Jets cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

The lack of a proven force in the New York Jets’ cornerback group didn’t stop Robert Saleh from clearly defining his expectations.

The macabre gift of the New York Jets’ 2020 season was that things became so dire that any move they made over the offseason could’ve been viewed as an improvement. But the Jets’ offseason to-do list could stretch from one end zone to the other after a disastrous two-win season. Even with a cap space surplus, some area on the modern depth chart was going to be neglected and prevent the Jets from becoming immediate contenders.

It’s not hard to find the affected areas.

With matchups against four of the top five passing units from last season looming on their upcoming schedule (Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Houston, Atlanta), the Jets’ secondary remains undermanned and inexperienced as kickoff weekend approaches. The safeties at least have a slight safety blanket (pun intended) with Marcus Maye back on a franchise tag and Lamarcus Joyner, one of only five New Yorkers who are at least 30 years old, coming over from Las Vegas.

The Jets’ front line in the secondary, the cornerback area, leaves much to be desired. Only newcomer Justin Hardee (115 defensive snaps over the past three years) has more than two seasons of NFL experience and he was primarily brought in for his special teams expertise. Four cornerbacks have no experience at all, as the Jets spent the Saturday of draft weekend adding new names to the ranks. Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols arrived in the draft’s later rounds while Isaiah Dunn was added through undrafted free agency.

At the top of the depth chart, Bless Austin and Bryce Hall…a combined 23 starts between them…are set to take starring roles. Behind them lies a hodgepodge of journeymen (Corey Ballentine, Bennett Jackson) and undrafted youngsters (Javelin Guidry, Zane Lewis, Elijah Campbell, Lamar Jackson…no, not that one, obviously).

Head coach Robert Saleh isn’t worried.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One would perhaps expect Saleh, a defensive coach in several assistant stops throughout the NFL, to assemble a more worthy group of defenders for his first year as a head coach. When that proved to be unfeasible, Saleh worked with management to come to a relative compromise of stocking up on young secondary talent on draft weekend Saturday after spending the first two days preparing for the new franchise quarterback’s arrival. So far, he’s happy with the young clay that he gets to mold in his first season at the New York helm.

Saleh doesn’t care about where they’ve been or how they were obtained. He carries one burning question for his new young talents, one he carries with him from his days as the defensive boss in San Francisco.

“Can you win on third down? That’s pretty much it. It’s that simple,” Saleh said on Thursday, per notes from the Jets. “When you’re looking at traits, we had Richard Sherman, who’s all of 6-3, long, incredibly smart, and we’ve had Jason Verrett, who’s all of 5-9, strong and wiry.”

“So they come in all shapes and sizes but the dog mentality, the ability to win in man coverage, the fearlessness to get up there in press (coverage) and win one-on-ones. That’s what matters, because at the end of the day, when it’s crunch time and you’ve got to win in football, it comes down to your ability to win in one-on-one, whether it’s man, zone, however you want to count it.”

The current starters’ respective battles with gridiron adversity are particularly inspiring to a New York team desperate to overcome relentless vibes and reminders of the “same old Jets” concept. Austin, a Queens native, enjoyed a breakout sophomore season at Rutgers but injuries limited him to only five more games in Piscataway over his last two seasons. Hall might’ve been an opening round pick in 2019, but an injury sustained during his senior year banished him to the Saturday wilderness.

To their credit, Austin and Hall have garnered positive reviews in their early camp showings. Brian Costello of the New York Post said that Hall “looks like he is ready to make a jump” in his sophomore season while Austin has been a thorn in the side of Zach Wilson early on. Saleh has been pleased with the early returns, once bringing up the size differences in analyzing each defender.

New York Jets, Bryce Hall

“Bryce is so long and big. Bless is obviously more wiry and twitchy, but they both have an incredible mindset to get up there, get in your face, use their length, use their athleticism,” Saleh said. “What we’ve been doing defensively is we teach a little bit different of a man technique, obviously, and our zones. So try to get them the reps they need to be able to blend the two is not easy and it does take time, but these guys have gotten better every day.”

Just because Austin and Hall have the early edge, however, doesn’t mean that Saleh is going to simply hand the primary duties for them. Saleh has been proud to work the rookie defenders into the rotation, namely calling out Echols and Dunn for “(earning) the right to get a little peek at getting some run with the ones”. He’s also excited for the ongoing nickel group, which appears to consist of Campbell, Carter, and Guidry.

Saleh had a prime opportunity to add in some veteran talent. Both Sherman and Verrett, his former Bay Area proteges, were available on the free agent market, but he opted for a young revolution that can allow for the Jets’ new staff, headlined by Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to shape their new secondary in their image. Saleh compared the feeling to a roller-coaster on the Garden State Parkway.

“When you’re dealing with young guys, the excitement is like when you’re driving on the freeway and you’re on (empty), you’re like, ‘When’s it going to happen?’ It’s like a roller coaster, but at the same time, you see an unbelievable amount of growth happen from play-in and play-out, and day-in and day-out,” Saleh said. “I’ve seen teams win, I’ve seen teams have growth, you see everything. I’ve seen veteran teams lose, it’s a matter of gaining confidence, gelling, having the ball bounce your way and really getting confidence, and this group is a very confident group, it’s a very young, confident group.”

“They’re having a lot of success here in training camp and when they get to go against Green Bay, and Philadelphia, the Giants, and they get to test themselves against other players, I think that’s where you’ll start to see the identity of this team kind of take shape.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

The New York Jets opted to wait until the latter stages of the NFL Draft to address their issues at cornerback.

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 focus on the defense continues by looking back on the cornerback position…

Sep 20, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) throws a pass during the first quarter as New York Jets cornerback Blessuan Austin (31) defends at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

Over the past two seasons…a pair of campaigns that could be informally referred to as the post-Trumaine Johnson era when it came to the cornerback depth chart…the Jets have tried to solve their cornerback issues in two different ways. First, they tried throwing veterans at the problem, but former Colts like Pierre Desir and Nate Hairston failed to resolve them. Both Desir and Hairston were part of the Jets’ autumn exodus of 2020, turning the primary corner slots over to younger talents.

To that end, the Jets have turned to the services of day three picks like Bless Austin and Bryce Hall. Austin was, for all intents and purposes, born to play metropolitan football as a Queens native and Rutgers alum. He’s been more than capable of playing an elite level, evidenced by the fact he was second in the Big Ten in pass breakups (14) during his sophomore season, though injuries have stunted his development. Over his first two NFL seasons, Austin has developed a reputation as a strong, aggressive hitter but he has struggled in coverage. Quarterbacks have tallied a 96.1 rating when targeting his receivers over his first two campaigns. Austin’s football story is one of the more inspiring in recent Jets memory, but he’s facing a make-or-break year in terms of on-field production.

Fellow projected starter Bryce Hall has a bit of a longer leash to work with. The Virginia alum was projected to be a top ten pick in 2019 by CBS Sports, but saw his stock fall after a season-ending ankle injury in his senior season. His personal plummet could work to the Jets’ benefit. Hall missed the first eight games of last season but provided a spark of hope for the future in the midst of a lost campaign by earning 36 tackles and an interception (a jaw-dropping one-handed takeaway in the Jets’ first win over the year against the Rams) over the second half of the year.

“He’s got length, he’s got a great brain and he’s got a thirst for the knowledge of the game,” new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Hall, per notes from the Jets. “That’s where eventually he’ll set himself apart I think because he’s just so detailed and he’s a guy that’s like got the callus on his finger from taking notes in practice.”

After the departures of Desir and Hairston, the Jets also employed the services of undrafted depth options like Javelin Guidry and Lamar Jackson. The former was particularly strong in slot coverage and could well play his way into another term with the team this summer. Former New York Giants draft pick Corey Ballentine arrived in November but made a far greater impact as a returner than a defender.

Sep 8, 2018; Evanston, IL, USA; Duke Blue Devils safety Michael Carter II (26) tackles Northwestern Wildcats running back Jeremy Larkin (28) in the first half at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

One would assume a defensive-minded head coach like Robert Saleh would try to bolster the cornerback group. Saleh, if anyone, would know the benefits of acquiring veteran help in the secondary from his days in the Bay Area. For example, San Francisco foe-turned-friend Richard Sherman became a valuable mentor to Emmanuel Moseley during the 49ers’ Super Bowl run in 2019.

But the Jets’ 2021 offseason, despite several bastions of hope, was doomed from the start in the sense that so many areas needed adjusting that some position group was almost guaranteed to be neglected. The cornerback slot was made to bite the proverbial bullet.

The Jets were mostly quiet on the free agency front, re-signing journeyman Bennett Jackson and adding Justin Hardee, a former New Orleans Saint better known for his efforts as a gunner than a defender. They finally addressed the cornerback spot in earnest on the final day of last spring’s NFL Draft, adding Michael Carter II in the fifth round before picking up Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols in the sixth. Carter (no relation to his fellow New York draft pick of the same name) could immediately contribute in the nickel and slot, while Pinnock and Echols are likely long-term projects whose immediate futures lie in special teams coverage. Each rookie, however, could be pressed into action if the top veteran names falter.

New York Jets, Brian Poole
Oct 27, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; New York Jets cornerback Brian Poole (34) jogs on the field before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

The 2021 Jets’ cornerback endeavors are currently the definition of youth in revolt, as Hardee is the oldest representative at 27.

Much like the damage Le’Veon Bell left behind in the running back slot, the aftermath of the Johnson disaster possibly scared the Jets from bestowing big bucks on the free agent market. The 2021 class wasn’t exactly a game changer: the most notable names were either inked to expensive short-term deals (Kyle Fuller, one year for $9.5 million in Denver) or even pricier long options (Adoree Jackson to the Giants at $39 million over three years). None of the available names (William Jackson, Levi Wallace, and Shaq Griffin also among them) were going to push the Jets over the postseason threshold, so general manager Joe Douglas might deserve some kudos for not making a panic purchase.

Having said that, it’s surprising to see the Jets hold their ground with their current, unproven corner depth chart with veteran names like Sherman (one of Saleh’s most ardent supporters) and Brian Poole (a very serviceable green slot option over the last two seasons) lingering in free agency [EDIT, 11:55 a.m. ET: Sherman has been booked on charges of “Burglary Domestic Violence” in Seattle and has been denied bail]. It’s understandable that the Jets probably wish to ring in a new era with young, mostly homegrown talent, but that doesn’t mean that they should have to go about it alone.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Will the Jets regret waiting so long to address the cornerback slot? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation

What’s next? A post-NFL Draft checklist for the New York Jets

New York Jets, Brian Poole

Draft weekend is over, but the New York Jets still have several needs to fill before they take to the practice field.

The New York Jets’ work in Cleveland is done. Nine names were added during last weekend’s NFL Draft proceedings and several others have been penciled in through rookie free agency.

But the Jets’ work is nowhere near complete.

That, unfortunately, is the macabre cloud that hangs over anything the Jets do until they start winning games again. The team has earned positive reviews for their draft weekend proceedings, one headlined by the offensive additions of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. But it means nothing until they at least get back into the “in the hunt” column in those NFL postseason charts that emerge on game broadcasts circa the holiday season. General manager Joe Douglas has made it clear that he has a vision, but the on-field execution awaits.

The time is ripe for making further additions, as Monday marks the end of any compensatory pick matters when it comes to free agents. What else do the Jets need in the post-Mr. Irrelevant era of the offseason? ESM investigates…

Backup Quarterback

The Jets’ current quarterback group (Zach Wilson/James Morgan/Mike White) has a grand total of zero NFL regular season passes among them. It’s great that Wilson is there as the anchor, the latest name to fill the star-crossed role of franchise quarterback. But the Jets needs to bring someone in as both a veteran mentor and someone to have in case of an emergency. They had the right idea in the final year of the Sam Darnold era through signing Joe Flacco, but he’s in Philadelphia now. Darnold attributed the success of his rookie season to working with Josh McCown and it would behoove the Jets to find a similar solution.

Alex Smith might’ve been the most attractive option in both of those regards, but he opted for retirement. Nick Mullens, he of 16 starts over three seasons under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, is also available, but, at 26, he might not be able to provide the veteran mentorship Wilson needs in his debut season. The best current option might be Brian Hoyer, who was brought in for a visit in April. Hoyer, set to enter his 13th NFL season, spent last season in New England, his third stint with the Patriots, and credits his mentorship skills from working with Tom Brady.

“I learned so much and whenever I had a question for him, he was there to give me an answer,” Hoyer said in 2017 prior to a pre-LaFleur stint in San Francisco, per Chris Biderman of Niners Wire. “For me, the best way to be a mentor…was just watch somebody do it and do it the right way. And then when they ask you questions, you give them straight-up honest answers.”

Experienced Defensive Help

Anyone complaining about the lack of defensive additions over the first two days of the draft was roundly silenced when the Jets spent all but one of their Saturday selections on defenders. But the Jets are already packed to the brim with young projects at the top of their defensive depth chart, particularly in their secondary. Rookies Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols are set to join Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry. The franchise-tagged Marcus Maye is set to work next to sophomore Ashtyn Davis. New York even found some solid pass rushing additions through the undrafted front, including Hamilcar Rashed Jr. out of Oregon State. There’s certainly plenty to be inspired when it comes to the defensive haul, but there’s no guarantee any of them can be day one starters.

The team could use some veteran help and the current free agent bank has plenty of options. Steven Nelson, one of the stronger man-to-man coverage guys, is still around after two seasons in Pittsburgh. Inviting in Richard Sherman, who endlessly praised the hire of Robert Saleh, for at least an interview would almost be a no-brainer. The Jets could also bring back Brian Poole as a reliable nickel prescience, one that remains on the open market after injury issues last season.

The Jets emerged from the weekend with several building blocks to groom and develop. But if they’re looking to contend in the immediate future…the playoffs still seem like a pipe dream but a decent opportunity to reenter NFL relevancy…they’ll have to add some veteran defenders that can come in and contribute immediately.

Blocking Depth

The Jets must be careful with their blocking moving forward. It’s great to see they’re anchoring Wilson’s blind side with back-to-back first rounders, as Vera-Tucker will presumably be working alongside Mekhi Becton. But they took only one lineman in the weekend’s proceedings, going with box score contributors after moving up to take Vera-Tucker. Undrafted yields like New Mexico’s Teton Saltes could make some headway but some veteran finds would turn the pressure up on an offensive line that’s set to retain three starting members from a unit that ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ annual offensive line standings.

It’s a hole the Jets have slightly dug themselves into, curiously opting to add veteran depth options (like Dan Feeney and Corey Levin) before the draft rather than after it as other elite talents came and went. Many of the names left on the free agent front are up there in age but can serve as stopgaps or provide some extra training camp heat. Former Green Bay Packer Rick Wagner could work on the right side while the Jets solve their center woes by putting Connor McGovern up against another veteran like Joe Looney this summer until they can find a more permanent solution for Wilson. Center was among the biggest problems during the Sam Darnold era, so any form of consistency they can with the newcomer, even if it’s only temporary, can start steering this ship in the right direction.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four areas the New York Jets must still address in April

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

The New York Jets undoubtedly improved this offseason, but there are several areas of need to address as the calendar flips to April.

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team this offseason. Whether that’s a result of the Adam Gase era giving them nowhere to go but up or it leads to actual results on the field remains to be seen, but the Jets have laid down a solid foundation for the Robert Saleh era. Optimism reigns for an already star-crossed franchise coming off a two-win season through the signings of names like Tevin Coleman, Corey Davis, and Carl Lawson.

“There’s a lot of optimism, especially coming off a bad season, so I’m looking forward to working. I love the process,” Lawson said in video provided by the Jets. He compared the situation to franchise mode on the Madden NFL video game franchise. “I play Madden because I love building teams. I love franchise mode. Franchise mode hasn’t changed on Madden in like 15 years, but I’m never going to stop loving it because I get to build, I get to grow, I get to improve.”

Yet, as the calendar flips to April and the free agency frenzy mostly pacified, the Jets have several areas of need that have yet to be satisfied. Competing in the crowded AFC will probably be difficult with even the perfect offseason, but the Saleh era can get off to an optimally smooth start if the following areas are satisfied, preferably sooner rather than later…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Offensive Line

Solving the offensive line issues was probably at the top of the Jets’ offseason to-do list, the necessity even outweighing the quarterback quandary. No matter who’s throwing the ball, he’s going to need protection.

Joe Douglas has shown he’s willing to make up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. His drafting of Mekhi Becton was a strong start, but his free agency signings failed to pan out. Several are set to return for another season, but the Jets missed out on the big targets (Joe Thuney, Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler), adding only interior man Dan Feeney from the Los Angeles Chargers. Another addition, tight end Tyler Kroft, has gained positive reviews for his blocking, but nothing that should dramatically change the Jets’ protection affairs.

An interesting gambit for the Jets would be to draft top blocking prospect Penei Sewell with the second overall choice and letting Sam Darnold work behind a revamped line, but the Jets’ due diligence at incoming rookie passing class hints that they’re headed toward that direction. But at least one of their early picks, namely the 23rd and 34th overall selections, should be used on a blocker if only to raise the heat on some of the incumbents. Veteran help from abroad, like Kansas City’s Austin Reiter, should also be considered. Reiter, set to turn 30 in November, was the Chiefs’ starting center in each of the last two Super Bowls.

New York Jets, Bless Austin
New York Jets, Bless Austin

Cornerback

After the spending frenzy in March, the Jets appear to have a plan in place when it comes to their safeties. Marcus Maye was granted the franchise tag, which basically serves as a $10 million “prove it” deal. On the strong side, the post-Jamal Adams era continues. Ashtyn Davis will get a de facto second rookie season after injuries marred his original and the Jets have brought in a strong mentor and veteran prescience in LaMarcus Joyner to help out. Elsewhere on defense, front seven newcomers Lawson and Jarrad Davis have experiences in the 4-3 scheme that Robert Saleh is reportedly hoping to implement.

But the cornerback depth is definitely concerning. Youngsters Bless Austin and Bryce Hall have shown flashes of brilliance in their infantile NFL careers, but they’ll probably need further development before fully embracing the starting roles. Newly signed Justin Hardee is listed as a corner but primarily works on special teams. The Jets also have a decision to make on one of their free agents, Brian Poole.

The 23rd pick, obtained from Seattle for Adams, can potentially be used on the top cornerbacks on the draft, namely Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain, or Jaycee Horn.

New York Jets, Sam Darnold, James Morgan

Backup Quarterback

The Jets have not had a quarterback start every game in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick went all 16 in 2015. If Darnold stays, the Jets should be ready for the unthinkable again, as he has yet to play a full NFL season. Should the rookie arrive, some see Darnold as a safety blanket. But if Zach Wilson or Justin Fields make their entrance, Darnold still shouldn’t stay. There doesn’t need to be a quarterback controversy and the USC alum isn’t at the “veteran mentor” stage.

When Darnold got hurt last season, the Philadelphia-bound Joe Flacco did a serviceable job in relief. But with the Super Bowl XLVII MVP donning a new shade of green, they need to be prepared in case of an emergency. The draft can’t be an option, as the Jets have far too many needs to fill with their surplus and the fourth-round choice of James Morgan in last year’s proceedings remains puzzling. If they want a safety net that can win games, Saleh and Mike LaFleur’s Bay Area comrade Nick Mullens could be an option, while veteran mentors are available through Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer, or Blake Bortles.

Oct 1, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets kicker Sam Ficken (9) celebrates his field goal with teammates during the first half against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Kicker

Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded to Seattle, the Jets have gone through six different kickers over the last two seasons. When you’re a team like the Jets, a team that struggles to get into the end zone, you need a reliable kicker to ensure visits to opposing territory end with at least some points. There appears to be a competition in place between two of those names (Sam Ficken and Chase McLaughlin), but the Jets need reliability and would be smart to showcase new talent.

The Jets haven’t used a draft pick on a kicker since Mike Nugent in the second round of the 2005 selections. There’s certainly no need to go that early this time around, but the selection of punter Braden Mann with their final pick last year shows the Jets won’t hesitate to address their special teams on draft weekend. Evan McPherson (Florida) and Jorge Borregales (Miami) are the top boots this time around.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags