New teammates Connor McGovern and Shaq Lawson appear to have resolved their differences over a pint…of Gatorade.
McGovern, set to enter his second season as the New York Jets’ primary center, is all too familiar with Lawson, the newest metropolitan pass rusher. The pair wore different colors during a fateful encounter in November 2019, when Lawson’s Buffalo Bills demolished McGovern and the Denver Broncos in a 20-3 shellacking in Orchard Park. Lawson played a major role in the victory, earning two sacks in part of a Buffalo defensive effort that allowed only 134 yards on the chilly afternoon.
After the game, cameras from WROC-TV captured Lawson confronting McGovern during the postgame scrum on the field.
“You remember my name, I had two sacks on your a**!” Lawson tells McGovern before being ushered away by then-teammate and McGovern’s fellow Missouri alum Mitch Morse. “I got two sacks on your a**, you remember me now!”
The Jets confirmed on Monday that they acquired Lawson from the Houston Texans in exchange for a sixth-round pick that originally belonged to San Francisco (obtained through a trade for linebacker Jordan Willis). McGovern was naturally asked about the transaction when he spoke after the Jets’ week-opening practice.
Fortunately for the Jets, McGovern said that the situation was resolved long before Lawson’s NFL passport was stamped with the Jets’ green oval. There was a prime opportunity to do so, as their new destinations…McGovern as a Jets and Lawson as a Miami Dolphin…gave them a prime opportunity to make amends.
“We played each other twice last year. It was all cordial,” McGovern said on Monday, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I’ve played him since then and nothing. It was just playing any other opponent. It’s game time. Everybody’s in the moment and what have you.”
“We talked after the last two times we played each other. That video is from two years ago,” he continued. “The last two times we played each other. It was fine. I think we actually laughed about it when we played down in Miami last year.”
McGovern had far more positive affairs to speak of on Monday, as he enthusiastically expressed his anticipation for the coming season. He’s particularly excited about working with the new schemes implemented by offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, believing he’s a perfect fit for what the former 49ers overseer is trying to accomplish.
“Personally, I feel like I’m confident in saying I’m built for this scheme,” McGovern said, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “I feel like I’ve had a really good camp, playing at some of the highest levels I’ve played at. Definitely a step up from last year, a huge step up from last year, and even another step up from two years ago. I’m looking to have, personally, a good year and I think this will be a phenomenal year for the Jets and especially the Jets offensive line.”
McGovern was part of the Jets’ blocking reformation last offseason, one of the rare metropolitan acquisitions guaranteed a second year under his contract. The former Bronco endured a roller-coaster season though he was the only New York blocker to appear in all 16 games. No Jet, in fact, played more snaps in 2020 than McGovern’s 969 during the woebegone 2020 campaign.
The center admitted that he “didn’t play as well as (he) wanted in 2020”, per Greenberg. But the hiring of Robert Saleh helped him regain his confidence going into the new season, describing the Jets’ new boss as a “leader of men”.
“He doesn’t think that Xs and Os win football games. He knows players win football games,” McGovern said of Saleh, per Al Iannazzone of Newsday. “He’s the kind of guy that’s going to motivate everybody. He makes it simple enough where we can play fast and play incredibly effective but not so simple that it’s easy to beat. He’s a head coach that I’ve always wanted to play for.”
McGovern is once again expected to take a starting role on the offensive line when the Jets open their regular season on Sept. 12 against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
The continued renovations to the offensive line got off to a slow start, but the New York Jets recovered with a big gain on draft day.
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. This next segment centers on the revamped blocking program…
By this point, everyone knows that Jets general manager Joe Douglas is at least trying to make things right on the offensive line after the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. That plan was rather obvious last offseason when the Jets spent a majority of their offseason capital on blocking help.
New York missed out on top names like Jack Conklin and Joe Thuney but dispensed over $34 million guaranteed to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. With their first-round pick, the Jets passed on premier receiving talents to draft Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton instead. It marked the first time the Jets used their opening pick on a blocker since the iconic D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold pairing in 2006.
When the Jets took the field for Week 1 action in Buffalo, it was completely different from the five that opened the prior campaign at the Meadowlands in 2019. But despite Douglas’ financial enthusiasm, the splurge did not have the intended effect. The Jets’ line ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ final unit grades, marred by inconsistency. Advanced stats dictated the Jets averaged only 2.5 seconds before allowing pressure and quarterback Sam Darnold was dropped on 8.3 percent of his dropbacks, the third-worst rate in the league (behind Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones).
The Jets did enjoy a huge silver lining in the form of Becton, who lived up to his first-round billing and then some, offering the Jets serenity in passing on names big box score names like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs, and Jerry Jeudy.
How It’s Going
Gifted with a cap space surplus, many expected the Jets to hit the ground running. But New York got off to another slow start on the free agency front, watching their top targets and revered blocking names like Thuney and Corey Linsley sign elsewhere.
This time around, the Jets instead opted to spend the early portions upgrading their box score weaponry through receiving and rushing help. Depth-based consolation prizes awaited in Dan Feeney and Corey Levin from the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England practice squad respectively. Levin hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2019 while Feeney was an average blocker whose profile was amplified through a lively, larger-than-life personality that quickly won over Jets and Islanders fans alike.
Douglas and the Jets changed the narrative on draft night, boldly sending away draft picks (one of which was obtained in Jamal Adams’ Seattle deal) up north to Minnesota to draft USC blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker. Known primarily as a Trojan guard, Vera-Tucker spent the shortened 2020 season as a tackle, showcasing his versatility. It was a costly endeavor…the Jets had no Friday picks beyond Elijah Moore at 34th overall…but Douglas’ dedication to this renovation can’t be denied. Vera-Tucker is expected to take over the primary left guard role previously occupied by Alex Lewis, who struggled last season in starting duties but is nonetheless back as a depth option.
The Jets enjoyed an extra boost to the line in the late stages of the offseason, negotiating a one-year deal for Morgan Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, shortly after minicamp. Moses has been one of the most effective blockers in the league and is coming off a career-best campaign. He brings the championship feeling desired by the Jets in other acquisitions, having played a strong role in Washington’s run to the division title last season. His reliability, having started every game since 2015, made him an attractive late gem as well.
Along for the ride is newly minted offensive line coach John Benton, who will also serve as the run game coordinator. Benton reprises the former role he held for four seasons alongside Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur in San Francisco.
Are They Better Off?
Maybe Jets fans have been so desperate for any semblance of doing the right thing. But Douglas’ dedication to the unit from the minute he took office has been refreshing. The struggles of last year’s haul did nothing to deter his quest to build a wall in front of his new passing and rushing units.
Douglas faced a bit of an uphill battle in luring free agents to New York. Even though players both domestically and abroad were hyped by Robert Saleh’s hiring, asking marquee free agents to join up with a two-win squad was going to be a bit difficult. It was tough, though, for the Jets to watch Thuney sign a long-term deal in Kansas City without much of a fight.
Having said that, Douglas put his draft money where his mouth was in the latter stages of the offseason, trading some of his valuable draft capital to find a mid-first round gem. At the literal last minute, he was able to convince the serviceable Moses to sign up for the year.
The gestures are great. But no it’s about the success translating on the field.
Douglas’ appreciated offensive line makeover began when he traded a late pick to Baltimore for Lewis and convinced Carolina Pro Bowler Matt Kalil to come out of retirement. It was great to see him take initiative…but now it’s time for results. Getting that desired effect may have been a bit easier if Douglas was able to add an elite name.
Final Offseason Grade: B-
How important will a revamped offensive line be to the Jets’ success? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags
Two years ago, a man named Joe opened a campaign that ran on change and reform. Today, he’s at the helm of one of the most renowned, yet volatile, systems in the world and trying to get his constituents back on track in the face of an ongoing crisis.
On this day two years ago, Joe Douglas became general manager of the New York Jets.
Douglas inherited a ghastly gridiron crunch from Mike Maccagnan after the latter’s shocking post-draft firing in 2019. The Jets were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought and hadn’t had a winning record since 2015, the first year of Maccagnan’s star-crossed term.
Two years later, however, much hasn’t changed in terms of on-field numbers. Douglas has overseen a mere nine wins over two seasons (besting only Detroit, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati) and saw the franchise plunge to new single-season lows last season through a 2-14 ledger. Even though they bested the single win of Rich Kotite’s doomed group in 1996, the Jets endured a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak to open the year, leading Douglas to start almost entirely from scratch in 2021. The playoff drought has been extended to a decade, the longest active streak in the NFL after Cleveland and Tampa Bay each earned postseason invites last winter.
In his brief time, Douglas has made several transactions that will affect the Jets’ future fortunes and perhaps his own metropolitan future. ESM looks back at the most impactful moves to date, for better and worse…
Better: The Drafting of Mekhi Becton
For his first draft pick at the helm of the Jets, Douglas opted to select Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice in the 2020 proceedings. There was no shortage of talent in the middle stages of the virtual draft’s opening night, as Henry Ruggs, Tristan Wirfs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson all heard their names called with the next eleven selections after Becton.
Analysis: For the time being, the draft of Becton is Douglas’ magnum opus. He made the selection in a thankless position: for every one fan/analyst/scout who wanted a blocker, there was another likely upset that Douglas passed on the plethora of receiving talent available in the slot. But after Becton served as a rare silver lining in Adam Gase’s dirge, Douglas publicly declared that he would base future decisions around Becton.
“I think he’s a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in November, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “We’re excited about working with him every day because you talk about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart. He’s tough as nails and has rare size and athleticism. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be so we’ve made it our mission to bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”
The selection of Becton also snapped a dangerous streak in Jets history: he was the first opening-round offensive lineman chosen by the Jets since the legendary pairing of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006, ending a period of blocking negligence exacerbated not only by Maccagnan but by Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik before him. Additionally, shrewd maneuvering by Douglas allowed the Jets to pick up a big-play receiver anyway, using a second-round choice on Baylor’s Denzel Mims.
Worse: The Veteran Building Block(er)s
Douglas’ blocking renovations didn’t begin with Becton. In the month before he scribbled Becton’s name onto a draft card, Douglas bestowed over $17 million in 2020 cap space to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. When he took office during the summer of 2019, among his first moves were trading a late pick to Baltimore for Alex Lewis and convincing All-Pro Ryan Kalil to postpone his retirement.
Analysis: Douglas had the right idea: he wanted to stock up on blockers to help his pre-packaged franchise quarterback Sam Darnold out. Alas, the moves he made only hastened the end of the Darnold era.
Part of the issues stems from Douglas signing the wrong names. Jack Conklin was reportedly interested in coming aboard (and Le’Veon Bell pleaded for the Jets to sign his fellow Michigan State alum on Twitter), but he instead embarked on an All-Pro season in Cleveland. Worse yet, the consolation prizes caused the Jets to neglect other areas of need, namely the weaponry necessary for Darnold to succeed. Luring Amari Cooper over from Dallas was probably always a pipe dream, but they missed out on serviceable parts like Emmanuel Sanders. They also made little effort to retain Robby Anderson, who went on to post career-best numbers in Carolina.
In the absence of marquee blocking signing, the Jets were forced to make do with washouts from first rounds past (Breshad Perriman) as well as former Patriots without the Belichick touch (Chris Hogan). The tough luck created a football situation where no good Douglas deed went unpunished.
Too Soon: The Jamal Adams Trade
Once it became clear that Adams, the face of the franchise during the Maccagnan era, wanted out of New York it was on Douglas to somehow salvage the situation. Adams didn’t make things easier by telling metropolitan horror stories any chance he could. Despite Adams’ tales, Douglas eventually worked out a deal with Seattle in August 2020. The deal netted two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and veteran cornerback Bradley McDougald.
Analysis: It’s hard to fully analyze the Adams trade as there are still lingering aftershocks in the 2022 draft; the Jets own Seattle’s first-round choice while the Seahawks own a metropolitan fourth-round pick.
As of this moment, a lot of the Adams fallout has shifted toward the Jets’ favor. While McDougald partook in only seven games and doesn’t appear to be heading back (continuing a disturbingly common trend of Douglas’ veteran acquisitions not panning out), the Jets used the Seattle capital to bolster their offensive line, trading the 2021 first-rounder to Minnesota that led to a move up the draft board for Alijah Vera-Tucker. The fact that Adams’ cantankerousness followed him to the Pacific Northwest…he has yet to sign a long-term deal…only further shifts the current lead in the Jets’ direction.
There’s no use in grading the trade when several major names from it haven’t played a single regular season down yet. But the fact that Douglas turned a disgruntled superstar into a landmark blocker and a first-round pick to be named later is an inspiring sign. The same philosophy could apply to the trade that sent Darnold to Carolina, a deal that saw Douglas land a second-round choice (in 2022) for a quarterback that has yet to post a passer rating above 85 or throw more than 20 touchdown passes.
Better: Franchise Tagging Marcus Maye
Both the SEC and the earlier days of the 2017 draft are still represented in the Jets’ secondary through the prescience of Marcus Maye. The Florida alum was bestowed the franchise tag in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, a move that makes him the 10th-highest-paid safety in the league in 2021 (over $10.6 million guaranteed).
Analysis: After the Adams debacle, Douglas had to carefully navigate the situation with Maye. The Florida alum was close with Adams and was one of the few name-brand talents leftover once Adams and Anderson donned new helmets. For all intents and purposes, things have gone well in the early going. Maye, who at the very least made sure the Jets appeared in the SportsCenter Top 10, earned a sizable new contract while Douglas and Co. bought some time for Maye to further consider New York and set the table for an affordable long-term deal.
While Maye appears to be holding out of offseason activities, possibly until he gets that longer contract, the conversations surround him inspire hope and optimism, unlike last year’s melancholy Adams situation.
“Marcus Maye fits every system and he’ll be just fine,” new head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I think these kids have earned the right to ask for whatever they can, especially when they do things the right way like he has. Joe and his staff are working relentlessly to get something done. We go with it and we support him all around the organization.”
Worse: Putting Up with Adam Gase
Douglas took over the Jets at an interesting, if not contemptuous, point on the Jets timeline. His immediate predecessor was not Maccagnan, but rather Adam Gase, who more or less won a battle of wills to remain in New York. Gase was granted interim general managing duties after Maccagnan was let go and was maintained as the head coach upon Douglas’ arrival. He would last two seasons at the helm before Douglas dismissed him, paving the way for Saleh’s hire.
Analysis: The Jets were able to mask a 1-7 start in Gase’s first year at the helm by winning six of their final eight games (mostly against competition equally, if not more, doomed). But an even more brutal start in year two…one that saw the Jets lose their first six games by multiple possessions…should’ve been all the evidence that Gase wasn’t going to be the one to lead New York to the promised land.
Sure, it had been a while since the Jets executed an in-season firing (with Charley Winner getting ousted for Ken Shipp in 1975), but early firings have become more common in today’s NFL. A playoff berth in year one couldn’t save Ben McAdoo with New York’s blue squad. Steve Wilks was granted only one year in Arizona once it became clear they could get Kliff Kingsbury. It’s not like Douglas wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on others; the Jets instituted an early-season fire sale that bid farewell to Bell, Steve McLendon, and Avery Williamson. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was likewise given the boot after his infamous blitz against Las Vegas cost the Jets their first win of 2020.
To make matters worse, once Gase couldn’t even take advantage of the macabre gift of consequence-free football that could’ve been used as research and development for the future. For example, he chose to give Frank Gore a retirement tour instead of giving young projects like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams a chance. Letting Gase finish out the season helped offseason questions linger and kept the Jets on a path of uncertainty.
Too Soon: The San Francisco Treats
With the eventual purge of Gase and his coaching staff (save for the apparently immortal Brant Boyer) and the drafting of Zach Wilson, Douglas now officially has his signature on this team. The process will now be overseen on a day-to-day basis by a staff headed by Saleh and fellow former 49er Mike LaFleur, who is tasked with awakening an anemic New York offense.
Analysis: It’s foolhardy to grade any transaction without a single down of evidence, so the jury is obviously still out on Saleh. It’s an interesting approach for the Jets to take, for the Jets to go with a defensive-minded boss in an NFL landscape that increasingly favorites the offense (whether it’s inadvertent or not). It’s also somewhat surprising to see them hire a first-time head coach for a team full of unproven misfit toys. Time will tell how the gambit, similar to the Todd Bowles hire in 2015, plays out.
Having said that, the ultimate difference between the Gase and Saleh hires is who is praising the hire. When Gase arrived, it was praised mostly by the hot take artists like Colin “2020 AFC championship tickets at MetLife Stadium” Cowherd. This time, however, the Jets’ hire has been praised by on-field talent both domestically and abroad.
Much like the hire on this day two days ago…a hire where Douglas was plucked from a Philadelphia squad still celebrating its Super Bowl…Jets fans are filled with hope. But hope can only take you so far…it’s time to perform and find results, through, and in spite of, these moves.
No matter who plays quarterback for the New York Jets in 2021, they’re going to need someone blocking for them.
The Position: Offensive Line On the Roster: Greg Van Roten, Conor McDermott, Connor McGovern, Jimmy Murray, Mekhi Becton, Cameron Clark, Chuma Edoga, George Fant, Alex Lewis Free Agents: Pat Elflein, Josh Andrews Reserve/Future: N/A
If Joe Douglas made one thing clear upon taking the New York Jets’ general manager spot, it was that he was going to work on an offensive line that Mike Maccagnan mostly neglected.
Save for choosing Chuma Edoga with what became the final day two pick of his tenure, Maccagan avoided building the line with his early selections. Prior to Maccagan using one of his final picks on Chuma Edoga in 2019’s third round, Brian Winters was the last blocker chosen within the draft’s first three sessions in 2013. The last premiere choices were the legendary D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold haul during the 2006 selections.
Once Douglas got to work in the late stages of summer 2019, he quickly let everyone know that the Jets were under management by getting to work on the line. He sent a late draft pick to Baltimore to bring in Alex Lewis and convinced Carolina mainstay Ryan Kalil to delay his retirement. While the results have been mixed…the Kalil experiment blew up and Lewis has been in and out of the starting lineup…Douglas had a plan to build the offense up.
He kept things up last season, as Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten, and George Fant joined the team through free agency. During his first draft, Douglas bypassed name-brand receivers like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson to take Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton. The veterans struggled, but Douglas appears to have chosen a keeper in Becton, who served as a rare silver lining during his debut campaign. Douglas didn’t stop there, taking Charlotte football’s longest-tenured player Cameron Clarke with the last of three fourth-round picks.
Becton appears to be a long-term asset in New York, but many of the deals have opt-outs after a single year. In fact, the only free agent in the entire 2020 free agency class with a dedication beyond last season is Connor McGovern. Some cap saving moves…the release of George Fant would save the team over $5 million, for example…may lead the Jets to a complete retooling of their blocking for the second straight season…with the exception of Becton at the blind side, of course.
Questions plague the Jets’ quarterback situation, as many question whether Sam Darnold will get a fourth year in the franchise thrower role. But no matter who’s throwing, the quarterback’s endeavors will be meaningless if he has no protection. There’s a long way to go to finish building the wall.
Andrews was a career-long depth man who earned a Super Bowl ring with Douglas while serving on Philadelphia’s practice squad. He was initially part of the final training camp cuts, but he returned to partake in all but one game. He even started four, including the final three when Van Roten went down, the first starts of his career.
Watch Pat Elflein just obliterate the defender & PUT HIM DOWN!
I was excited when we signed him, was a favorite OL of mine in the 2017 #NFLDraft
He should be brought back next season, shouldn’t be too expensive #Jets#TakeFlight
Bid farewell from Minnesota in November, Elflein was a bit of a peace offering for Adam Gase when the departed head coach Adam Gase butted heads. Since Lewis has been a rare consistent prescience in the Jets’ blocking corps, it’s likely that Elflein will likely ship off in search of new opportunities.
Notes from 4 games of Rashawn Slater are done. Watched Stanford, OSU, Indiana, Illinois.
Positives: +Gets to the 2nd level extremely well +Good movement skills +Strong Hands +Strong base/anchor +Great footwork, reset +Powerful, smart run blocker +Good eyes/patience +Great Puller pic.twitter.com/xq2qzuinUm
It’s a very strong possibility. Douglas knows the importance of picking a lineman and likely won’t hesitate to use an early pick to find either an immediate contributor or a depth option that could raise the heat on any returnees. If the Jets resolve their quarterback situation prior to the draft, many have pegged Oregon standout Penei Sewell to at No. 2. Sewell skipped the entire 2020 campaign but his breakthrough sophomore showing a season prior will not be soon forgotten. But with Sewell lining in the same blindspot as Becton, the Jets will likely seek help on the right side. Thus, choosing Texas’ Sam Cosmi or the versatile Rashawn Slater of Northwestern with the Seattle pick at No. 23 or their regularly scheduled second-round choice at No. 34 seems a lot more realistic.
Lewis has been serviceable at left guard, but if Thuney presents himself, the Jets would likely be in the running. The Jets targeted Thuney during the last free agency period, but the Patriots put the franchise tag on him. It’s likely that Thuney is going to look for some long-term stability this time around, and the Jets certainly have the cap space to afford such a premier blocking talent.
Over the past few tumultuous seasons of Washington football, Scherff has been a rare consistent silver lining…when he plays, that is. The four-time Pro Bowler hasn’t played a full season since his sophomore season back in 2016 but has been a dominant prescience in the nation’s capital. Bringing him in would be the true definition of a high-risk/high-reward situation.
Signed to a relatively cheap one-year deal as a depth option, Williams came up big for the Bills when injuries hit their blocking corps, namely Cody Ford. He partook in over 95 percent of Buffalo’s offensive snaps and became a generally reliable piece alongside fellow free agent Jon Feliciano on the right side. A former All-Pro, Williams will likely seek a bigger contract this time around, but he can be looked upon as not only a solid contributor but as a provider of veteran guidance the Jets desperately need.
A poor offensive line can sink even the most potent of offenses. Look no further than what happened to the Kansas City Chiefs during Sunday’s Super Bowl festivities. With Eric Fisher out, Patrick Mahomes was left running for his life constantly thanks to a relentless Tampa Bay rush ordered by Todd Bowles. The onslaught undoubtedly played a factor in the Chiefs’ eventual 31-9 defeat. New York, of course, is miles further from returning to the Super Bowl, so far away that the journey is probably going to take several years. The process should with building up the blocking. Draft Becton was a good start, and it certainly seems like the Louisville product is here to stay. But there’s a long, long way to go when it comes to protecting the quarterback on a reliable basis. Not matter who’s under center, the Jets need to bolster the wall in front of him. Douglas has gotten off to a good start in filling this dire need. Further change is undoubtedly coming, but whether it’s through the draft or free agency remains to be seen.
The New York Jets committed a mortal football sin on Sunday: a win in Los Angeles. But Gang Green has nothing to apologize for.
Christmas morning came about five days early for New York Jets fans.
Week 15 action saw two of their wildest fantasies become a reality, a pair of gifts that would generate a reaction forever immortalized in home movies. The early window of Sunday action saw the New England Patriots’ postseason streak finally end in a loss in Miami. On the other side of the country, the Jets perhaps prompted toasts of Zima amongst members of the 2008 Detroit Lions and 2017 Cleveland Browns. Their 23-20 win over the Los Angeles Rams…a team in legitimate contention for an NFL postseason spot…ended a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak and helped the Jets avoid 16-game imperfection.
For Jets fans, topping a team that could well be playing into February after watching the Patriots get erased from the playoff picture could’ve created rare tidings of comfort and joy. It was a feeling of watching your worst enemy have his gift of a PlayStation 5 taken away, but not before you get to use it for a couple of hours.
But, this being the year 2020 A.D., the sweetest of Sunday feelings, denied to the green New York fandom until the penultimate week of this cursed 366-day process, was viewed as the worst thing that could happen to an already star-crossed franchise.
The Jets’ victory in Los Angeles proved to be, in the eyes of some fans, an early Festivus miracle, as their feat of strength set off an airing of grievances unlike any other. Their triumph came at a price, the charge being lost real estate on the draft board in Cleveland. New York’s name now appears in the second slot, behind only the Jacksonville Jaguars, their compatriot in the brotherhood of 1-13 ledgers. Creating the imperfect, unholy trinity with the Lions and Browns has been no concern to the Jaguars, who have lost 13 in a row after winning on opening day. Their latest defeat was a listless 40-14 showing in Baltimore and they certainly won’t be favored in their final contests against Chicago and Indianapolis, each of whom harbors playoff dreams (the latter game could help the Colts win the AFC South). Jacksonville holds the tiebreaker with a worse strength of schedule.
The fear amongst Jets fans is that Jacksonville now has the inside track for Trevor Lawrence, who perhaps broke the hearts of two green teams in the span of a weekend. Saturday saw the Clemson quarterback solidify his status as the consensus top pick, torching Notre Dame for 412 total yards and three scores in a 34-10 victory in the ACC title game. Jets fans were willing to accept inclusion on the list of winless teams in NFL history in exchange for the glory of Lawrence. Now, Lawrence appears bound for Jacksonville, a five hour drive from Miami, where many believe he and the Tigers will be on January 11 for college football’s national title game.
But…it’s shocking it needs to be said, but hey, it’s 2020…what’s done is done. There’s no use crying over spilled Gatorade. The Jets won a game…and that’s perfectly all right.
To their macabre credit, the Jets rarely seemed to buy into the concept. Sure, there have been incidents where they might’ve been better off staying home…the brutal visits to Indianapolis, Miami, and Seattle come to mind…but one can look at the Jets’ 2020 schedule and find instances where, on paper, they should’ve come out with a win. Nothing more needs to be said about the ill-advised final blitz against Las Vegas, but they had control for a majority of prime time contests against Denver and New England. Even their first visit to SoFi Stadium could’ve gone worse, as they played the Chargers to a 34-28 decision.
Members of the modern Jets have been clear where their priorities lie. Spoiler alert, they’re not on the draft board.
“I don’t put my body through this, I don’t think anybody on the Jets puts their body through it, to lose,” offensive lineman McGovern said prior to the departure to Los Angeles, per Greg Joyce of the New York Post. “It might be easy for somebody sitting on the couch, eating pizza, chips, and dip, to say they should keep losing, but if they’ve ever strapped the pads on, that sounds like an impossible thing for me to do. I’m going to do whatever I can to win.”
Mekhi Becton, a rare Jet who has a spot on this roster beyond 2020, advocated that those rooting for losses should turn in their New York fan credentials.
“You ain’t really a fan if you didn’t want us to win, honestly,” Becton told Jeane Coakley of SNY. “I mean that in the nicest way possible. I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way. But I mean, if you wanted us to lose, you’re not a real fan, honestly.”
Even before the losses began to pile up, the Jets were made up of players who needed to prove their worth to build a long-term NFL future. That was apparent in general manager Joe Douglas’ free agent haul this offseason, where all but one signee (McGovern) was granted a contract worth one year or contained an affordable exit after 2020. To ask these players to toss away their final chances to impress, not only for the Jets but for the 31 other NFL squads as well, for the sake of a “reward” they maybe not even be around to witness is out of touch. For these players, these final hours could be the difference between another NFL paycheck or waiting for the XFL to come back in 2022.
Some of those holdovers are carving spots for themselves on a future roster. Midseason acquisition Ty Johnson earned the first 100-yard rushing game from a Jets rusher against Las Vegas and scored a touchdown on the opening drive against the Rams. Neville Hewitt is working his way toward another New York contract with 122 tackles. One can even point at Sam Darnold’s case as to why the Jets shouldn’t be tanking. He has, from at least a team standpoint, consequence-free opportunities to convince the Jets that he deserves to maintain his hold on the position.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that people will go to great lengths to keep their livelihoods when they’re on the line. The Jets shouldn’t be faulted for doing so in a relatively harmless fashion.
Hold that Tiger
Lawrence mastery on Saturday might’ve been just enough for even the staunchest Jets supporter to consider wearing blue, cream, and yellow in support of the Rams the next day. There’s no doubt that whoever is getting Lawrence is getting an incredible talent on and off the field. His prowess on the gridiron speaks for itself and he became a strong voice of unity and leadership elsewhere. Along with Sugar Bowl opponent and likely fellow first-rounder Justin Fields of Ohio State, Lawrence was an advocate for both societal equality and safely finding a way to play the 2020 college football amidst the ongoing health crisis.
But for all his magic, for all his powers…even Lawrence is not a be-all, end-all, fix-all solution to the New York Jets franchise.
Sure, there’s plenty of time for the Jets to tidy up and make their organization attractive to a sought-after newcomer, be a rookie like Lawrence or a veteran free agent like Allen Robinson or JuJu Smith-Schuster. But it’s going to take a lot of work. The Le’Veon Bell case perhaps set the Jets’ transactional affairs back further than they could’ve imagined. What high-ticket free agent is going to look at the way the Bell situation played out, becoming a saga plagued by infighting amongst the team’s decisionmakers and leading to the post-draft firing of a general manager, and look to replicate that? The Jets certainly have a strong budget to work with (just below $73 million and potentially counting if they cut pricey veterans like Henry Anderson and George Fant), but they’ll need to do a better job building relationships.
At the very least, Douglas has made it clear that he has a plan, leaving traces of his blueprints across his transactions, even if they haven’t fully played out. When the quarterback needed blocking, Douglas traded for Alex Lewis and convinced Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. With Darnold low on weapons, Douglas signed Breshad Perriman and found a day two gem in Denzel Mims in the draft. Noe everything has panned out on the field…Kalil failed to play up to his Pro Bowl form and Perriman has been inconsistent…but it at least showed that Douglas knew how to chase down a need position.
There’s definitely hope on the horizon. Mims has shown flashes of brilliance despite bouts with injury and Becton has been everything the Jets could’ve asked for. But this group, particularly the offensive line, is very much a work in progress. Putting Lawrence behind the current blocking unit would be only asking for trouble. There’s time to improve between now and the spring, but, if things stay the way they are, the Lawrence era probably wouldn’t be that much different from Darnold’s.
But, contrary to popular belief amongst the pro-tank crowd, the draft does not begin and end once Lawrence’s name is called. At least 224 men will be added to NFL rosters in Cleveland, and the Jets will be choosing quite often. Cincinnati’s shocking win on Monday night over Pittsburgh, perhaps another victory seen as ill-advised by those who wish to tank, ensured that the Jets would choose no later than second overall come April. There’s plenty of other needs that can be immediately satisfied with the No. 2 pick, even if Lawrence is donning a Jaguars cap and jersey. The non-Lawrence quarterback would be well protected with the combined efforts of Penei Sewell or Rashawn Slater. He can throw to Ja’Marr Chase or Devonta Smith. The yearly couple against Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa would be easier to bear pass rushers Kwity Paye or Jayson Oweh if they trade down. Others from those positions (i.e. Azeez Ojulari, Wyatt Davis, or Terrace Marshall) could be available when the Jets choose later on day one with Seattle’s pick, obtained from the Jamal Adams trade.
It’s fair to mourn the loss of Lawrence in the early going…and even more so when rewatching the film from Charlotte on Saturday…but it’s a potential loss they can overcome with the right brand of drafting and scouting ingenuity.
Change is Still Coming
The Jets might’ve been on the right side of the scoreboard after Sunday’s affair, but there were still plenty of reminders as to why they’re long eliminated from the NFL playoff picture. Inspiring and fun as the win may be…former Super Bowl offensive coordinator and Jets head coach Adam Gase remarked per The Post that “I don’t think I’ve seen a group more excited after a game than what I saw (Sunday) when talking about the postgame reaction…it’d be silly to believe that it’ll serve as the deciding factor as to whether some veterans stay or go.
From a playcalling standpoint, for example, there’s no reason to waste consequence-free games on giving the ball to Frank Gore 23 times a game while Johnson carried it only thrice (returning rookie La’Mical Perine didn’t get any). There was a chance for the Jets to build on a 13-0 lead going into the halftime break, but opted for short runs that allowed Los Angeles to get the ball back and add a triple. The defense took a notable step backward when an injured Quinnen Williams was forced to leave the game, giving up three consecutive scoring drives in the second half.
Another asterisk came in the form of the opponent. Rams rusher Cam Akers, fresh off a career-best 171-yard performance against New England, was affected by an ankle injury they stripped him of his true impact (though two long Akers runs, including a touchdown, were called back due to penalties in the second half). Even if the Jets did buy into tanking, Los Angeles almost wouldn’t allow it. Five of the first six Rams possessions ended in a punt, one of which was blocked by J.T. Hassell. The outlier in that group resulted in a Bryce Hall interception.
So, unless Johnson or Gore helped you win your fantasy football semifinal, only true football die-hards are going to remember this win. Change is still coming with to the Jets. Previews of the purge have been plentiful…just ask Bell, Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, Pierre Desir, or Gregg Williams…but it should begin in earnest this offseason. If the Jets are truly on the fence about Gase, a December win against an opponent that was clearly not operating at top speed shouldn’t be enough to sway the pendulum back in his favor.
Douglas has a plan, picks, and prosperity through cap space. One win, even at the cost of one potential quarterback, shouldn’t be the force of destruction that upends it all.
It’s rare enough that the Jets earn a thrilling December victory in this day and age. If you’re a fan, you should feel no reservation toward celebrating it.
As the season looms, I decided to take a deep dive into each position group within the organization and grade each group. This offseason, New York Jets GM Joe Douglas devoted both financial resources and draft capital towards improving one of the worst offensive lines in the league. Now, the Jets enter 2020 with a diverse group of both young talent, productive starters, and vets looking to establish themselves. With a lot of high potential guys, stable vets, and some key talent, let’s take a closer look at how this line grades out.
LT: Mekhi Becton
The mountain of a man joined the Jets as the 11th pick in this year’s draft. As part of the core group of top linemen, Becton is already considered to be a potential star. His unique combination of size and athleticism makes him a weapon in the run game. Not only that, but he’s a solid pass blocker. His lack of advancement in terms of detecting pass rush moves is worrisome, but it remains to be seen how ready he is to handle the top pass rushers in the game.
LG: Alex Lewis
Lewis was an aggressive and vocal leader in that offensive line room last year. Now he’s carved out a role on the roster and as a starter. Right now, his health for Sunday is questionable. In the short term, Lewis is classified as an average starter, but a strong season could earn him a long term role in the green and white.
C: Connor McGovern
The prized signing of the offensive line and my favorite new addition is the key man up front. McGovern is one of the most underrated centers in the game. McGovern is one of the least penalized linemen in football and one of the highest quality centers. His veteran presence and skill will add stability at the center of the line and contribute to the cohesiveness of the entire unit.
RG: Greg VanRoten
A lifelong Jet fan will be a starter from day one. VanRoten is just like Lewis. Both want to be here. Are fighting for a job next year and are quality linemen, but not superb. VanRoten is a poor pass blocker and a solid run blocker. If he can just hold his own as a pass blocker and provide stability, that will be a big asset. In the end, my hopes are mid-level for VanRoten this season.
RT: George Fant
Fant is not a crazy talented right tackle. He’s not going to be the reason this unit takes a big step up. However, Fant is built more like a tight end than a lineman. His athleticism is the best of any lineman on this team. His ability to fit into Adam Gase’s scheme and be a lead blocker is something that is a plus for the team. Still, Fant is unproven and the most worrisome of all the starting linemen, and I’m intrigued to see if he develops throughout the season or if the Jets turn elsewhere.
This bench is not one that is loaded with talent. Instead, it’s loaded with guys who have the potential to come in and be an average filler if need be. They’re cheap and young linemen who provide a lot of versatility. Two guys to watch in this bunch are Clark and Edoga. Edoga was a starter in the past and could slot in for Fant if he struggles. The rookie, Clark has the potential to be a long term fixture on this line if given a shot.
This line is still not proven or where it needs to be yet. The lack of in-game reps together is worrisome. Still, the talent is there and the competitive fire. This is a group that could outperform this grade. If they can be improved, they could be the reason this offense takes a massive jump. If they don’t, they could once again be the detriment of the team.
Brian Winters has been a veteran piece for the New York Jets for the longest time. This offseason has fogged up the future of Winters. With new additions across the board, the offensive line has undergone an extensive overhaul. As the offseason programs and now the preseason get hindered by COVID-19, continuity has become all the more imperative to success. With that said, all of a sudden, Brian Winters has just received a significant bump in his stock.
The Long Tenured Jet Is Efficient
Winters hasn’t been the most successful guard, but he’s been efficient at times. Despite battling injuries last season, he finished with a PFF rating of 62.4. That’s pretty underwhelming on the surface, but if you take a look back at his production from 2018, he was near the top half of offensive lineman in a few categories.
He allowed five sacks, which wasn’t great but could’ve been much worse over a 16 game span. He only had six penalties, which isn’t very bad. The very important stat, 1,001 snaps played, which was 17th best in all of football for linemen. Winters wasn’t spectacular. Nor has he ever been, but he’s efficient.
Why His Role Could Expand
With the lack of a preseason, Winters could make the roster and earn meaningful reps after all. Initially, it seemed as though Winters could be a cut candidate in the preseason. Now, with the lack of preseason, that eliminates the opportunity for the new pieces to gel in-game on the offensive line. With the lack of time to build chemistry, this could give Winters a leg up over his competitions, Greg Van Roten and Cameron Clark. Ultimately, Winters can provide a veteran leadership role for the rookies and new additions. As well as bring continuity on the overhauled line with the changing circumstances of the season.
The New York Jets committed to the rebuild of their offensive line this off-season, which was a problem that general manager Joe Douglas had no choice but to address.
The Jets ranked 31st overall in offensive line efficiency, which attested to their struggles at the quarterback position. Their adjusted sack rate was 9.8% on the season, as they turned over nearly every starting position on the line.
Ultimately, the Jets need their offensive line to mesh quickly and hit the ground running in 2020. They cannot afford to have an inexperienced unit without chemistry. The Jets made five moves in free agency to shore up the line.
They re-signed left guard Alex Lewis, left tackle George Fant, center Conor McGovern, guard Greg Van Roten, and center/guard Josh Andrews. They spent a relatively modest $40 million on all of the players acquired. In addition, they drafted Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.
Becton will likely slide in at left tackle, and Fant will move over to the right side. Overall, the Jets added nearly 2000 pounds to their offense of line. Interestingly, Andrews, Fant, and Van Roten were all undrafted free agents. Lewis and McGovern were later round picks. Becton is the highest of the bunch being drafted in the first round. A majority of their starters are overachievers at the NFL-level.
The new players added have 78 career starts, most of which are by McGovern over the last three seasons (36).
Overall, this unit has the potential to be solid, but they are also in a position to fall apart quickly. The majority of their players have minimal experience as starters or are average at best. McGovern made the transition to center years ago, and he solidified himself as one of the better options of the position given his new deal with the Jets. He was by far the best acquisition in terms of ready-talent. Van Roten is unpredictable, Fant is a solid run blocker but problematic in the passing game, and Lewis/Andrews are reserve options.
I believe a lot of the Jets’ success in 2020 relies on Becton, who will slide into a tough position with minimal experience against premium level talent at the collegiate level. Coming out of Louisville, Becton has faced off against some solid players, but his size might be an issue for him in the NFL. Stronger and faster pass rushers could expose his size and balance. However, he has exceptionally nimble feet for a player that’s 364 pounds. If he can adjust to the NFL quickly and protect Sam Darnold’s blindside, the Jets will be in decent shape moving forward.
You probably read that headline and thought, “Sheesh, how many more offensive linemen can this team sign?”. Quite frankly, Joe Douglas has spent loads of resources between draft picks and money towards fixing the offensive line. Although he’s done a great job, the New York Jets could add another offensive lineman who would turn the line into an above-average line. That lineman is the newly released 3-time pro bowler, Larry Warford.
Who is Larry Warford?
Larry Warford was a third-round pick by the New Orleans Saints during the 2013 draft. At 28 years old, Warford has started on the Saints offensive line since his inception into the NFL. He’s only missed a handful of games in that time, and he’s received three Pro Bowl nods in the last three years. Warford is a durable and talented guard. Had he hit the market at the start of free agency, he’d have been a hot commodity. Now, with the addition of Saints’ first-rounder Cesar Ruiz to pair with their other young offensive linemen, the Saints felt that Warford and his $12.9 million dollar cap hit (2nd highest next to Drew Brees) were not worth it anymore. Warford now faces a likely extensive market.
The New York Jets Should Target Him
As I previously mentioned, although the Jets overhauled their offensive line, you never say no to a Pro Bowler. The tackles and center position may be solidified, and the Jets may have established competition at guard, but Warford is an instant game-changer. His durability and leadership would make him an asset. If you release Brian Winters and allow Alex Lewis, Cameron Clark, and Greg Van Roten to compete for the other guard spot, then Warford can be a starter on the line.
The fact is, the Jets need to continue to improve and establish completion at a position that is still not all the way improved. Adding a Pro Bowler in his prime would take the Jets’ offensive line to another level.
Connor McGovern was ranked as one of the top free-agent offensive linemen on the market, and now he’s on the New York Jets. Despite missing out on Graham Glasgow, the Jets remained steadfast in their mission for a new center. The Jets were rumored to have interest in Steven Wisniewski, a long time Eagle with connections to Joe Douglas. However, they went after McGovern and signed him to anchor the center spot for the future.
McGovern signed a three year 27 million dollar deal to join the Jets with 16 million guaranteed. He will get A LOT more guaranteed money than Fant and much more job security within the parameters. McGovern got a very similar deal to that of Matt Paradis, a guy, the Jets, struck out on a year ago.
McGovern, as previously mentioned, becomes the anchor of the center spot. He also becomes the best center this team has had since Nick Mangold. He is 26 years old (turns 27 in April) and will be a Jet for the foreseeable future. Boy, is he talented. McGovern played 1,019 snaps last year and was flagged zero times and only gave up a single sack. The guy is a beast. PFF graded him as one of the better young centers in all of football. Production-wise he is efficient, and he becomes a great young piece.
What’s Next For The Line
The Jets woke up and added McGovern and resigned Alex Lewis. The interior of the line could be entirely sured up with the addition of G Greg Van Roten from Carolina. He’d give them a very good interior line and allow the Jets to focus on the tackle spot and other areas in the draft.