The Big Ten Conference has officially shut down activities in the fall, including football. It will attempt to run a spring season.
Due to the ongoing health crisis, the Big Ten Conference has officially postponed its fall sports slate, which includes the upcoming football season. Conference officials confirmed the delay in a statement released on Tuesday and the plan is to push things back to the spring semesters.
“The mental and physical health and welfare of our student-athletes has been at the center of every decision we have made regarding the ability to proceed forward,” said Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren said in a statement. “As time progressed and after hours of discussion with our Big Ten Task Force for Emerging Infectious Diseases and the Big Ten Sports Medicine Committee, it became abundantly clear that there was too much uncertainty regarding potential medical risks to allow our student-athletes to compete this fall.”
Other sports affected by the postponement include soccer, cross country, field hockey, and women’s volleyball.
The Big Ten was the first of the “Power 5” conferences to officially call off autumn activities, though the Pac-12 followed them shortly after.
This delay pushes back the return of Greg Schiano to the Rutgers Scarlet Knights football program. Schiano, who led Rutgers to a program-best 11 wins during the 2006 season, was brought back after Chris Ash was fired last fall. Conference officials unveiled a plan to play only conference games earlier this summer, with Rutgers poised to open on September 5 against Nebraska. Players have also expressed a desire to play, accompanying the social trend “#WeWantToPlay” with desires to create a stable, healthy environment, as well as a players’ association.
Several players from the fallen conference have expressed their displeasure with the news, including Ohio State quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender Justin Fields.
With the latest release of the NFL Top 100 players for 2020 list, the players voted on the best of the best names in the sport. New York sports did not exactly shine, with Saquon Barkley being the only New York football player to be deemed worthy by his peers to make the list at all, ranking him at 31.
The Giants and Jets both had top 10 draft positions back in April’s draft, which both teams used to bolster the offense and defense with young talent. With the future of football in 2020 being questionable at this particular moment in time, we can only look forward to the future. Here are five players that have the potential to break into the Top 100 list for 2021:
QB Daniel Jones
Throughout the twilight of Eli Manning’s career, the selection of a franchise quarterback became inevitable. Drafted at sixth overall in 2019, Daniel Jones has given hope and optimism to the team and its fanbase. Jones silenced all of the naysayers that called him overdrafted, not a franchise quarterback or not an “elite prospect” in 2019. If you need more confirmation that Jones has the potential to be a star in the NFL, just go back to his debut week three against the Buccaneers. Bucs up 28-10 at halftime, Jones finishes the game with 336 yards going 23-36 including four total TD’s including the go-ahead rushing score on fourth and goal with 1:16 remaining in the game.
The former Duke QB is a mobile, gunslinging signal caller who absolutely has top 100 potential. With the selection of Georgia OT Andrew Thomas fourth overall in the 2020 Draft, Jones will see extra protection, allowing him two produce more efficiently. If Jones can manage to clean up the fumbling issue, we should see him take a huge step forward in 2020.
WR Darius Slayton
Slayton was looking like the steal of the draft, at least offensively. A fifth round pick, Slayton and Jones developed a connection that looks like the beginning a very mutually beneficial relationship. In 14 games he racked up 48 receptions for 740 yards including eight touchdowns. He averaged 8.8 yards per target and a 57.1% catch rate.
Competing with a new offensive scheme, coordinator and head coach, the Giants are poised for a major shift on offense. Jason Garrett at OC opens up a whole new field of opportunities for the offense. With a full year behind him and Jones going into year two, keep an eye out for Slayton when could sneak into the Top 100 in his sophomore campaign.
S Xavier McKinney
The first rookie on this list, the Giants managed to snag the Alabama ball hawk safety in the second round. Draft Analyst Charlie Casserly praised the safety in a tweet in May: “Xavier McKinney DS @Giants 2nd rd pick. A complete Safety. Can play FS, SS & LB on 3rd down. Good instincts. Plays the run and can cover m/m. I had him rated in the 1st rd.”
The emergence of elite safety talent in this league has become widespread. The latest deal for Jamal Adams could have very well reset the market for the position. Many analysts likened McKinney’s potential to that of fellow Crimson Tide safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has established himself as a top five player at the position. McKinney and Jabrill Peppers creates one of the most potentially dynamic safety duos in the league. McKinney is poised to be the new leader of that defense in an offensively loaded division.
TE Evan Engram
It seems like every year Engram is poised to have his “breakout year.” A career so far that has been plagued by injuries, Engram’s progress has been hindered by his struggles to stay on the field. A waning Eli Manning and a putrid offensive line as well as subpar coaching, Engram has been through more than what most players endure in his three year tenure with the Giants.
Nevertheless, a healthy Evan Engram is one of the most electrifying and athletic tight ends in the league. Quick speed and elite hands make Engram an absolute force in the receiving game. In just 34 games, he’s racked up 153 receptions, 1,766 yards and 12 touchdowns. If he manages to stay healthy and remain on the field, Engram is a huge piece of the offense, and someone who can explode at a moments notice.
RB Saquon Barkley (Will move up on the list)
Making the list at 31 this year, there is zero chance he will fall out of the top 100 for 2021, barring injury (knock on wood). Barkley’s success depends on factors similar to Daniel Jones. A revamped offensive line, new offensive scheme and completely new coaching staff are all things that are going to make or break the success of the team.
We can go on and on listing the reasons why Barkley will move up on the list and cement himself as the best running back in football. Andrew Thomas will open up holes and clear lanes for Barkley, as well as give Jones more time to throw him the ball, as we all know his effectiveness as a pass catcher. A full 16 game season for Saquon will easily open up the opportunity for a 2,000+ scrimmage yards season.
Saying it right now: Saquon Barkley will crack the top 15 players list for 2021. You heard it here first. Hopefully some of his teammates will join him on the list as well.
Third time’s the charm? Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s new endeavor could bring the XFL back to the metropolitan area…again.
Fans of the prematurely axed XFL are loving the smell of what The Rock is cooking.
On Monday, Dwayne Johnson announced that he and businesswoman and film producer Dany Garcia have united with RedBird Capital LLC to purchase the XFL, the football brainchild of WWE chairman Vince McMahon. Johnson, a WWE wrestler, and star of several blockbuster films and franchises, is set to oversee the third attempt of the star-crossed league. He made several guest appearances during the league’s first, professional wrestling-styled incarnation that ran for a single season in 2001.
McMahon later revived the league, aiming for a more traditional football experience. The reboot’s 12-week season kicked off in February but was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. Bankruptcy and employee layoffs followed, and Johnson, Garcia, and their partners made their $15 million purchase shortly before a bankruptcy auction was set to be held.
“With gratitude & passion, I’ve built a career with my own two hands and will apply these callouses to our (XFL) brand,” Johnson said in a statement on Twitter. “Excited to create something special for the fans!”
The more recent attempt at the XFL had little in common with the previous incarnation, though a franchise in the New York City metropolitan area was rare middle ground in the Venn diagram. East Rutherford, NJ has played host to both versions, with the New York/New Jersey Hitmen at Giants Stadium in 2001 and the New York Guardians residing at MetLife Stadium for two games. The fate of the XFL’s eight active teams is ambiguous, but it stands to reason that Johnson’s version would also include New York in the proceedings, either through the Guardians or a replacement.
How can the XFL and New York survive in yet another relationship? ESM investigates…
Red Bulls Give You Wings
It’s fair to say that the cathedrals of New York football are disappearing. Giants Stadium stood for over three decades, hosting the Giants, Jets, and plenty of startups in between (i.e. the Hitmen, the New Jersey Generals, the New York Sentinels). Fallen baseball locales in The Bronx and Queens likewise hosted the NFL. Giants, Jets, and their garish recent ledgers aside, the biggest football event in the metropolitan area would probably be the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium. It’s safe to say that the annual matchup between mid-tier invitees from the ACC and Big Ten pales in comparison to the games hosted at its predecessor, which often hosted games of utmost national importance.
The Guardians were the first non-NFL team to call MetLife Stadium home. Setting up headquarters on Route 3 was understandable. It’s the New York area’s current hub of pigskin activity. But side effects included the optics of a mostly empty stadium. The last XFL incarnation drew its share of fans, but backdrops of empty seats are never ideal, even by necessity (which is why you see modern MLB games play with cardboard cutouts. That’s why any potential metropolitan reboot of XFL football should stay in North Jersey but migrate to Harrison.
Red Bull Arena has played host to the titular New York Red Bulls of MLS since 2010 and was set to welcome the NWSL’s Sky Blue FC this year before their season was shortened to a Utah-based tournament earlier this summer. The stadium has earned mostly positive reviews from MLS supporters and media. In a 2018 ranking of the league’s stadiums (then numbered at 21), Jamie Goldberg of The Oregonian placed RBA in sixth place, remarking that there “is no bad view in the house and the proximity to the field creates an amazing experience for fans in the lower bowl”. A report from Ben Fischer of Sports Business Journal indicated that the Guardians were looking into playing at RBA in 2021, though sources with the team denied this was the case while the season was ongoing.
The perfect case study for a different kind of football in Harrison comes in the case of the DC Defenders. Though several larger outdoor venues were available in the capital area, the Defenders played their home games at Audi Field, the newly formed home of the D.C. United soccer club. The Defenders were able to create a decent homefield advantage in the confined settings of about 20,000, earning one of the most loyal fan followings in the XFL, perhaps evidenced by the massive “beer snake” created during their final showing in March. New York can create a similar advantage in the more confined settings out in Harrison.
One thing that could truly make this potential incarnation of New York XFL football standout is perhaps focusing on a new aspect of the metropolitan area: New Jersey. If one were to simply say “New York”, you’re presented with a plethora of teams, several of whom (including the two football teams that bear the title) play in the Garden, not Empire, State.
Embracing the team’s Jersey roots, should they make a return to play, would truly work in the XFL’s favor and help them work the best of both worlds: they could make an impact in an essential media market while also standing out in cramped sports scene. A “New York” squad not only had to compete with their NFL counterparts but also the ongoing seasons of the area’s NBA and NHL squads. Meanwhile, only one Jersey-branded remains in the four major sports, the struggling Devils of the NHL. It’s perhaps a small thing, but could a long way in terms of marketing and outreach. The Alliance of American Football appeared to have the right idea, particularly in the form of the San Antonio Commanders and Orlando Apollos. The short-lived league saw was able to situate two of their most successful teams in well-populated states that adore football and were packed to the brim with NFL squads (Texas and Florida).
The state has previously produced some of the more popular and successful attempts at alternate professional football. Antics of the USFL’s New Jersey Generals are still fondly spoken of to this day (the exploits of owner and future U.S. President Donald Trump notwithstanding). Former Giants Joe Morris, Harry Carson, and Carl Banks oversaw the New Jersey Red Dogs at the height of the Arena Football League’s popularity at the turn of the century.
Don’t Be Afraid to Think Beyond the Metropolitan Box and Embrace the Fun
One thing the powers that be at the new XFL tried to do was try to establish some local connections among the new personnel. The Guardians, for example, made longtime Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride their head coach. The Dallas Renegades went with a coach known for his victories in the area, former Oklahoma boss Bob Stoops.
But if another metropolitan squad wants to give hope to its pigskin faithful, they should focus more on building a winning team instead of turning things into a local tribute band.
At the same time, the New York XFL squad should certainly embrace the inherent sense of fun when it comes to spring football. Their predecessors in alternate professional pigskin certainly knew how to do so. This doesn’t mean you have to try and “poach” elite talent from the NFL, but the door is certainly open to hiring some new, interesting talents that can build a winning football team. If you want to truly start fresh, perhaps we could see yet another new name in New York football.
With a man like Johnson at the helm…New Jersey Scorpions, anyone?
The New York Jets bid farewell to several veterans as they prepare for training camp, including the tenured receiver Quincy Enunwa.
In addition to the release of Quincy Enunwa, the New York Jets let several veterans go as they prepare for the process of training camp.
The Jets also announced the departures of running back Trenton Cannon, offensive lineman Ben Braden, and linebacker Wyatt Ray. C.J. Mosley was also placed on the team’s COVID-19 opt-out list after the linebacker’s announcement that he would skip the 2020 season over the weekend.
With the release of Enunwa, the Jets have no receivers leftover from Sam Darnold’s rookie season of 2018. Enunwa had inked a four-year, $36 million extension shortly before that season ended, but he suffered a neck injury in last season’s opener that kept him out for the remainder of the year. He was going to miss the entirety of the upcoming campaign as well, placed on the reserve/physically unable to perform list in May. Enunwa’s 1,617 yards on 222 receptions are each good for fourth-best on the Jets since 2014. Since Enunwa’s release came after June 1, there are no cap savings or hits.
Cannon joined the Jets as a sixth-round draft pick (204th overall) in 2018 out of Division II Virginia State. He tallied 257 yards of offense over his rookie season, scoring one rushing touchdown. He appeared in four games in 2019 but was placed on injured reserve in November.
Braden will see his second tenure with the Jets end with a release. The Michigan alum joined the Jets as an undrafted free agent and spent parts of the next three seasons in their system. New York released him in September, after which he was added to the practice squad in Green Bay. Braden rejoined the Jets in November and partook in their season finale in December. He took part in three Jets games overall.
Ray had yet to partake in a regular-season NFL game. He ended his senior season (2018) at Boston College with nine sacks, good for fifth in the ACC. Ray had previously spent time on the Houston Texans’ practice squad.
With the release of Cannon, Braden, and Ray, the Jets save just over $2 million in 2020 cap space.
With these transactions, the Jets are down to 81 players on their roster. Three other players are on the COVID-19 reserve list (Bryce Hall, Ahmad Gooden, Skyheim Carter), but remain eligible to return. Training camp rosters are expected to include 80 players as the NFL prepares to navigate their season around the ongoing health crisis.
The future of the XFL is trending in the right direction, as Hollywood superstar Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson has reportedly teamed up with the investment firm RedBird Capital Partners to purchase the football league for $15 million, according to a news release issued Monday morning.
Vince McMahon’s football league was off to a solid start early in 2020, averaging nearly 2 million TV viewers per game and $20 million in gross revenues, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shut down the league five weeks in. The XFL then had to let go of nearly its entire workforce on April 10 and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on April 13. This isn’t the first time the XFL was forced to shut down, as the league’s initial launch suffered the same fate back in 2001. However, McMahon was determined to get this league going and invested $200 million in its revival back in 2018, and it probably would’ve lasted had the pandemic not come around.
This new deal has to be approved in bankruptcy court on Friday, but if all goes well, it could be finalized before the end of August. According to reports, The Rock and Dany Garcia, who is his business partner and ex-wife, and RedBird Capital Partners, led by Gerry Cardinale, are expected to be 50/50 partners in the deal.
This is a testament to how difficult it has been for alternative football leagues to survive, as the AAF (Alliance of American Football) league also didn’t make it through one season in 2019.
The XFL was supposed to hit the auction block on Monday, but The Rock and his partners were able to get a deal done before then. It is unclear when the new owners plan to relaunch the league, as the pandemic has made things difficult for sports leagues. So far, the NBA and NHL seem to be having the most success with their bubble format, so that seems to make the most sense for the XFL. Here is what The Rock had to say about the plans for his new purchase:
The acquisition of the XFL with my talented partners, Dany Garcia and Gerry Cardinale, is an investment for me that’s rooted deeply in two things — my passion for the game and my desire to always take care of the fans. With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL, and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans, and everyone involved for the love of football.
The Rock played Division I college football for the University of Miami for four years and then became a global pro wrestling legend in McMahon’s WWE. Since he retired from his wrestling career, he has become one of the biggest and most successful actors in Hollywood.
After much tension and speculation, a deal was finally made for star safety Jamal Adams. The New York Jets traded the 24-year-old to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for safety Bradley McDougald, first-round picks in 2021 and 2022 as well as a third-round pick in 2021. Adams will fly to Seattle on Monday for a physical, but as long as he is healthy, Adams will be a Seahawk.
Watching this whole Adams-Jets drama play out over the past few weeks has made him getting dealt out of New York less surprising. Nevertheless, the destination is still interesting from a purely competitive standpoint. But what does it mean for the rest of the league?
What this move means for the Jets:
With Buffalo and Miami both trending in the right direction, and New England entering the post Tom Brady era, the AFC East has become one of the more interesting divisions. Losing one of the top defensive playmakers is usually bad news for any team, but not always. Oakland dealt Khalil Mack to Chicago and acquired two first-round picks, as well as a third and a sixth, and have built a nice young core on defense with players like Maxx Crosby, Clelin Ferrel, and Jonathan Abrams. The Jets acquired a similar haul for Adams, and can now use the draft capital they have acquired two build the team on both sides of the ball. As for the rest of the AFC, it isn’t exactly the worst thing in the world to see one of your conference opponents lose arguably a top-five defensive player in the sport. Interesting to see what the Jets do in the next two drafts.
What this means for the NFC:
In my opinion, this is where it gets interesting. The NFC is loaded with offensive teams and offensive-minded coaches. Teams like the 49ers with Kyle Shanahan, the Rams with Sean McVay, and the Saints with Sean Payton are all teams with offensive firepower and the right coaches to execute. The NFC West in particular just became perhaps the best division in the NFL. With the Rams and 49ers, both representing the conference in the Super Bowl in 2018 and 2019 respectively and the Cardinals drafting the 2019 Offensive Rookie of the Year Kyler Murray, not to mention trading for DeAndre Hopkins, one of the best receivers in the league, the division is as competitive as any other. Adams should be able to give these teams a run for their money.
What this means for Seattle:
The addition of Adams puts one of the most dynamic playmakers right up against some of the smartest minds and transcendent talents the sport has ever seen. Not only do they now have Russel Wilson, arguably the most consistently underrated quarterbacks in the league today leading the offense, but the Hawks now have their captain on defense. Since the legion of boom disbanded with the departures of players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor, the Seahawks now have a defensive force they can compete with. If the team can somehow solve their pass rusher issue, for example bringing back Jadeveon Clowney on a one year deal, the trio of Clowney, Bobby Wagner, and Adams would strike fear into any opponent. Making the playoffs every year since Wilson was drafted in 2012, the team hopes that Adams is the missing piece to return to the Super Bowl.
The New York Jets’ historic trade of Jamal Adams netted them McDougald, who has built a solid NFL career out of Kansas.
For better or worse, Bradley McDougald is already a part of New York sports lore, forever the answer to the final trivia question involving Jamal Adams.
Until next April’s draft, McDougald, 29, is the only name attached to the New York Jets’ compensation for Adams, who was dealt to the Seattle Seahawks in exchange for a trio of picks, two of which reside in the first round. The safety is an experienced veteran who entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2013. After some time as a reserve in Kansas City and Tampa Bay, McDougald made a bit of a name for himself in Seattle, stepping up in the secondary when Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor dealt with injuries.
McDougald, an alum of Kansas University, celebrated his New York arrival on Twitter and was warmly welcomed by fellow green newcomer Mekhi Becton.
What should Jets fans know about the man filling Adams’ lofty cleats? ESM has you covered…
He Has More Interceptions Than Adams
Perhaps lost in the relative glory of Adams’ Jets career was the fact that he only earned two interceptions in green (one last season). While McDougald has had the advantage of far more NFL service, he has earned a respectable 10 interceptions over the last six seasons, one of only 32 NFL safeties to earn double-digit interceptions in that span. McDougald also has a multi-interception game under his belt, doing so in 2018’s season opener in Denver. The first interception in his career came against Drew Brees in a 2014 season finale. His propensity for “receptions” should come of little surprise. McDougald emerged from Dublin, Ohio as a receiver, but opted to fully transition to safety after his sophomore year in Lawrence (going both ways over his first two seasons). The only career receiving touchdown McDougald earned turned out to be a big one. It was a 20-yard score that served as the Jayhawks’ first points in an upset win over ranked Georgia Tech.
He’s Another Multi-Sport Athlete
Does Sam Darnold have a new partner in the perimeter? McDougald starred on Saturdays at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium, but he wouldn’t have been so out of place at the more renowned Allen Fieldhouse on the Jayhawks’ campus. Over at Dublin Scioto High School, McDougald was an all-district selection on the hardwood (in addition to the gridiron) while starring for the Fighting Irish. It was a basketball coach, in fact, that first discovered McDougald’s athletic potential. Elementary school mentor Robert Jefferson, affectionately referred to by McDougald as “Coach J”, remains an influential figure on the defender’s life, even setting him up on a path for life after football.
“He was a very influential person in my life,” McDougald said in a 2010 feature on Kansas’ athletics website. “If I could do for someone else what he did for me, I would be happy. I am majoring in communications, but when I graduate I want to do the Teach For America program.”
He Has a Special Source of Inspiration
Bradley plays with the strength of two McDougalds out on the field, as he plays the game in honor of his brother Brandon. The elder McDougald had his left leg amputated during a fifth grade battle with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Brandon now serves as an inspiration to his younger brother, as Bradley was happy to reveal to the Seattle Times in a January 2019 feature.
“His situation definitely changed my outlook at an early age,” Bradley McDougald expounded to Mike Vorel. “Take nothing for granted. Just go out there and enjoy it. Don’t get lost in the days. Make all the days count. All those cliché things you hear all the time, really apply them, because it really hits close to home when I have a brother who’s not able to go out there and enjoy the game that I love playing.”
“I really live through my little brother,” Brandon added. “He played football, basketball all through high school, middle school. Just being able to go to his games and see him compete at this level is just really a blessing. It’s just amazing even to live through him and see him play and be doing so well right now.”
He Came Up Big Last Postseason
McDougald was a major factor behind the Seahawks’ 17-9 win in Philadelphia during January’s NFC Wild Card playoffs. He led all defenders with 11 tackles, including a sack of Carson Wentz. His biggest plays of the afternoon came in the second half, first sharing a third-down tackle for a loss with Poona Ford in Seattle territory (leading to one of Philadelphia’s three field goals) and later stopped Dallas Goedert short of a crucial first down on Philadelphia’s penultimate possession, leading to an unsuccessful fourth down try. McDougald would later earn four tackles (one for a loss) and pass breakup in Seattle’s unsuccessful Divisional playoff trek to Green Bay.
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas has made his first public comments since dealing Jamal Adams to Seattle.
The deed is done. Now, Joe Douglas speaks.
The New York Jets general manager took to the team’s social media account to release his first statements after dealing face of the franchise Jamal Adams to the Seattle Seahawks. New York received three Seattle picks, including two first-rounders, and safety Bradley McDougald.
“This trade provides us with a unique opportunity to improve our team with multiple first-round picks in each of the next two years and the flexibility to continue to build this team for the future,” Douglas said. “Adding Bradley McDougald’s consistency and production to this year’s team was an important piece that gives us more experience on defense.”
Addressing the departure of Adams, Douglas reiterated the previous hope that the team would’ve been able to make him, as he said in February, “a Jets for life”. Adams’ tenure ends after four seasons in green.
“While we had maintained interest in Jamal Adams having a long and successful career with the Jets, we know it’s important to be prepared and willing to adjust to new offers and circumstances. As I have always said, my job is to listen to calls and this offer was one we could not ignore.”
The departed Adams was critical of Adams in the bombshell report from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, saying that Douglas created the schism that eventually sent Adams to the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s definitely mixed feelings,” Adams told Mehta. “But at the end of the day, my happiness is more important. I know my worth. I’m going to stand on my beliefs. I’m going to stand on who I am as a person. And I’m not ever going to change who I am for somebody who’s judging me. Either you accept me for who I am and you work with me and support me or you don’t. It’s okay if you don’t.
The trade of Adams is only the second deal in Jets history to net them two first-round picks, the first being the April 2000 transaction that sent another face of the franchise, receiver Keyshawn Johnson, to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Those picks were subsequently used on defender John Abraham (13th overall) and tight end Anthony Becht (27th overall).
For these five New York Jets, 2020 could provide the ultimate football reward of longevity or set their careers into a tailspin.
If and when the 2020 NFL season commences, every single one of its participants will be dealing with at least a modicum of uncertainty. The feelings perhaps increase threefold if you’re the New York Jets, a team seeing to end a playoff drought that’s approaching a decade.
New York is one of several AFC squads looking to take advantage of expanded playoff capital. Topping the perennial division winners in New England will still be a challenge and the Buffalo Bills have set themselves up to steal the throne. The Jets will be inserted into a crowded conference playoff picture, one packed to the brim with established contenders and even more up-and-comers.
For these five individual cases, however, 2020 could be a year of their own personal playoff, one that could make or break their professional careers…
RB Le’veon Bell
The role of the modern NFL running back continues to be debated. Derrick Henry, the primary energizer behind the Tennessee Titans’ AFC title game trek, had to wait until the final hour to get a deal beyond his April franchise tag. One look at the league’s rushing leaders from as recent as 2017 should tell the story perfectly. Each of the top eight rushers from that season (including leader Kareem Hunt, who was released by Kansas City after a domestic violence incident) are no longer with the team they accomplished their marks with. That includes Bell and the 1,291 yards he tallied as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
To Bell’s credit, he has openly acknowledged the disasters of 2019, which saw him fall to full-season career-lows in nearly all major rushing categories. Accompanying these acknowledgments are promises to return to his Pittsburgh form. Bell has also been a bit of a peacemaker in the Jamal Adams situation, being able to speak his mind while also providing Jets fans reassurances during a recent interview with Hot 97. It follows up a season where he dealt with trade rumors by repeatedly expressing his loyalty to green.
Soon it’ll be time to back these claims up on the field. The Jets spent a fortune on blocking this season, to help not one but two backfield saviors. Only adding to Bell’s New York plight is the fact that the Jets are set to save $9.5 million if they release him next offseason. 2020 could set Bell up for the rest of his career…for better or worse.
Perhaps under the radar because of Adams’ antics, Maye has shown flashes of strong potential. Pro Football Focus had him among the top 20 safeties last season, which served as a perfect reintroduction to football after Maye missed a good portion of 2018 with injuries. Added to Maye’s plate are looming contract negotiations. Whether it comes from the Jets or elsewhere, Maye can earn himself the big bucks with a strong outing, especially in a future free agent class that also includes Justin Simmons and Budda Baker.
WR Breshad Perriman
Almost every veteran receiver seems to have that one game in which they were untouchable. Who could forget Queens native Kevin Ogletree’s Wednesday night heroics for Dallas in the 2012 opener against the Giants or the sight of Kevin Curtis compiling 221 yards in those garish Philadelphia throwbacks? Stephone Paige is one of six players in NFL history to record 300 yards in a game…that occasion was one of only 12 times he reached triple digits in a 125-game NFL career.
Perriman was able to stretch his one shining moment into a month. The former first-round pick struggled to find a role in Baltimore but rose to the occasion for a woebegone Buccaneers team when Mike Evans missed the final portions of the season. He scored five touchdowns over the final four weeks of the season and broke triple digits in yardage in the latter trio. Brought in on one of many of Joe Douglas’ “prove-it” deals, Perriman will immediately face the challenges of a top receiver. If he succeeds in this role, his career can enjoy a Sammy Watkins-like second wind. The scary alternative potentially resides on the Jets roster in the form of Josh Doctson…a former first-round pick who will have to fight to keep his NFL dream alive in training camp.
LB Avery Williamson
A shortened, or outright canceled, preseason may hurt the Jets, but they can at least avoid scenarios like the one that saw them lose Williamson to a season-long injury during an exhibition visit to Atlanta. Despite sizable cap savings attached to his release, Williamson has been afforded a chance to win back his roster spot, despite the Jets adding Patrick Onwuasor in free agency and enjoying the ride of rookie backup Blake Cashman once Williamson was lost.
Having turned 28 in March, Williamson will not only be looking for a chance to prove he can return to form after a devastating injury but 2020 will also map out his future. If he struggles during his camp endeavors, the Jets could potentially be tantalized by $6.5 million in cap savings and reliable veteran depth in Neville Hewitt and James Burgess (each of whom was re-signed).
OL Brian Winters
Getting the vote of confidence from management often seems to spell doom for an incumbent coach, but the concept seems to hold more water when it comes to a player. Winters is the longest-tenured Jet on the roster (joining the team as a third-round pick out of Kent State in 2013) and, like Harrison, is one of the few offensive leftovers from Darnold’s arrival. Many thought the corresponding $7 million in cap space would lead to Winters’ release this offseason, but general manager Joe Douglas dispelled the notion.
“You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better teammate, a tougher guy than Brian Winters,” Douglas said in February, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I’ve heard a lot of optimism and positives about his rehab. So again, seeing him around the locker room, you know, it’s always good to see Brian. He’s got a big smile on his face and he’s an outstanding Jet.”
Those words appear to have afforded Winters, who turned 29 two weeks ago, another green opportunity. The ball’s now in his court in terms of taking advantage of it.
The New York Jets rounded out the signings of their freshman class by agreeing to terms with the Cal safety/return man.
The New York Jets have signed every member of their 2020 draft class, having confirmed the final inked contract on Thursday night. Cal-Berkeley safety Ashtyn Davis was the pick in question, but the team confirmed the official addition of April’s 68th overall pick.
“I think I can contribute anywhere they put me. I’m comfortable on the outside and inside, whatever the case may be,” Davis said in a statement on the team’s website. “After my first year of playing safety, I wanted to know every position and not just my responsibility. That way if someone went down they could put me in.”
Davis was indeed a man of many talents with the Golden Bears. Doubling as a hurdler on the track and field squad, Davis earned 166 tackles to go with seven interceptions on the gridiron. Davis also made a name for himself as a returner, averaging 22.9 yards on kickoffs. The 26.2 yards he averaged during the 2018 season were good for second in the Pac-12.
All-conference team honors awaited Davis in both his junior and senior campaigns, with first-team accolades coming in the former.
“Ashtyn brings speed, ball skills and versatility,” general manager Joe Douglas said in the same statement. “You can see him line up and cover a slot receiver and cover him in man coverage, you can see him line up as a high safety and range over to the sideline to make a play on the ball, you can see him attack the alleys in the run game, you can see him blitz.”
The pick used to draft Davis was obtained from the New York Giants in exchange for defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Davis was one of two third-round picks for the Jets, the other being Jabari Zuniga 11 picks later.
New York is set to open training camp on July 28 at Atlantic Health Jets Training Facility.