New York Jets make yet another change at kicker, release vet Sam Ficken

New York Jets

The New York Jets have turned to former Oklahoma State Cowboy Matt Ammendola to solve their long-running kicking woes.

The New York Jets have added yet another kicker to their roster, announcing the signing of Matt Ammendola going into the weekend. In a corresponding move, the team released veteran leg Sam Ficken.

Ammendola joins the Jets after four seasons at Oklahoma State (2016-19), successfully converting 77 percent of his triple attempts (60-of-78). He led the Big 12 in scoring (139 points) during his sophomore season in 2017. In his final year, he earned at least 10 points in half of his 14 games. The Pennsylvania native departed OSU second in program history in successful field goals since the turn of the century. Ammendola previously spent time in the Carolina organization, signed in March and released in May.

The Jets’ search for a consistent kicker since the departure of Pro Bowler of Jason Myers after the 2018 season continues with this transaction. No matter who suits up for the Jets in their August 14 preseason opener against the New York Giants, he will become the seventh different kicker (including preseason contests) since Myers inked a four-year deal in Seattle. Ammendola is set to compete for the top kicker spot with Chris Naggar, an undrafted rookie out of Southern Methodist.

Ficken was one of the latest names added to that special teams mix, spending parts of each of the last two seasons as the Jets’ primary leg. He got off to a strong start last season, converting each of his first nine three-point attempts over the five games before a groin injury marred the latter parts of his year. Over four other games, Ficken was only 6-of-9 from three and 4-of-6 on extra points. He was released prior to the Jets’ season final in New England but was signed to a reserve/future contract shortly after.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Signing QB Blake Bortles must be the New York Jets’ next move

blake bortles

As the start of the Zach Wilson era hits a bit of a snag, Aaron Rodgers’ arrival allows the New York Jets to right a glaring wrong.

As Moonrise Kingdom, Meatballs, and the never-ending Friday the 13th franchise taught us…what’s summer camp without a little chaos?

The New York Jets’ proceedings, which began Tuesday morning on One Jets Drive contain an aura of slight spookiness. Touted franchise quarterback/savior Zach Wilson has yet to report to the team, the only player on the Jets’ roster who has yet to arrive in Florham Park. Wilson, the second overall pick of last spring’s NFL Draft, is one of two first-round picks that have yet to sign with the team that drafted him, joining fellow thrower Trey Lance in San Francisco. The BYU alum’s Instagram story hinted that he is still in his home state of California as the Jets’ first camp practice looms on Wednesday.

Per ESPN’s Rich Cimini, contract offsets appear to be the point of contention between Wilson and Gang Green. Offsets offer a team relative insurance if they cut a high-profile draft pick prior to the end of his original four-year deal. A similar discussion temporarily delayed the start of the Sam Darnold era, as the previous franchise quarterback missed New York’s first three practices before inking his deal.

Head coach Robert Saleh doesn’t seem too concerned about the Wilson situation. Per notes from the Jets, he referred to the Wilson contract talks purely as “business” and that the quarterback is “intelligent” enough to make up for any lost time.

“(General manager Joe Douglas) has a great handle on everything and when it gets done, it gets done,” Saleh said. “He’s got a tremendous drive so when he does get here, I know somehow someway he’ll make up for it.”

The Wilson situation, however, does give the Jets an opportunity to reflect on a rare offseason failure: with Wilson stationed on the other side of the country, the fact that the Jets’ other two rostered quarterbacks (James Morgan and Mike White) have zero NFL regular season passes between them looms larger than ever.

Saleh has never been one to panic over the backup quarterback controversy and continued to keep his cool on Tuesday. He even hinted that quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese, who broke Boomer Esiason’s passing records at East Islip High School on Long Island, has a “live arm” and could be called upon in practice in lieu of a veteran backup.

“I do believe that (Morgan and White) got better as camp went on, the two backups, and so we’ll see where they’re at come tomorrow and today for that matter, and we’ll progress through and make a decision as we see fit,” Saleh said when asked if the Jets would seek veteran help. “I got a lot of faith in Joe. So, we’ll see what happens here in the next couple of hours.”

Saleh’s introductory camp comments were made in the midst of the football landscape’s reshaping: nearly a thousand miles away in Wisconsin, Aaron Rodgers channeled his inner Dwight Schrute in a shirt depicting another character from The Office, Brian Baumgartner’s Kevin Malone. Rodgers temporarily lifted his shun of the Green Bay Packers and signed on for what appears one last ride in yellow and green. It sent a slight ripple throughout the football world, as the team released backup throwers Blake Bortles and Jake Dolegala.

The release of the former can help the Jets right one of the few wrongs they’ve endured this offseason.

Saleh has made it clear throughout the offseason that he’s not going to add a veteran quarterback for the sake of adding one, reasoning that teaching the Jets’ new offensive to an experienced newcomer would be no different from counseling a rookie (which makes their passing on former San Francisco understudy Nick Mullens all the more puzzling).

But the ongoing Wilson situation shows just how fragile the Jets’ current setup at quarterback is. They’re currently trapped with a questionable fourth-round pick and a 2018 day three pick that has been on and off the New York practice squad. Bortles can help a developing team like the Jets in several ways.

Even taking away the relatively cliched idea of a mentorship role…one that he briefly filled for Jared Goff with the LA Rams…Bortles can prove beneficial to New York’s future. Though it’s safe to say that Bortles hasn’t lived up to his third overall pick billing with Jacksonville (the first quarterback chosen in the 2014 proceedings), the 29-year-old has been serviceable enough to build a lengthy NFL career. Since 2014, Bortles has thrown 103 touchdown passes, one of 24 NFL passers to do so in that span despite minimal playing time over the last two seasons. In comparison, the Jets as a team have thrown only 137 in the last seven seasons, dead last in the league. If Wilson is befallen by an emergency…contract, injury, or otherwise…there are far worse options to install.

When Bortles’ five-year term in Jacksonville ended, then-head coach Doug Marrone didn’t buy into the idea that the Central Florida alum was a bust, despite the divorce. Instead, Marrone saw a leader who defined toughness in more ways than one.

“We as coaches always use that term and people think it’s physicality of how you play the game,” Marrone said in a Bortles retrospective penned by Gene Frenette of Jacksonville.com. “Everyone can see the physical toughness, the shots he’s taken, really putting himself out there. We see and appreciate that.”

“The stuff you can’t see is the mental toughness,” Marrone continued. “What I remember from Blake is how he handled himself, standing up there and answering all the questions. Quarterbacks can deflect a lot of issues that occur on the field. Blake didn’t do that. He took a tremendous amount of accountability, maybe more than should have been on his plate.”

Bortles’ one shining moment at the NFL level stands to be his 2017 campaign, when he helped guide the Jaguars to an improbable conference title game appearance (and, arguably, a stolen Super Bowl showing). Signing him would keep up with the theme of big game experience the Jets have created this offseason.

Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is slated to be their top rusher. Another ring bearer, former Philadelphia Eagles Vinny Curry, should help mentor a young front seven. The team already added one of Bortles’ 2017 teammates, receiver Keelan Cole. Fellow newcomers Corey Davis, Sheldon Rankins, and Tyler Kroft have all likewise competed in a conference title game over the last three seasons. That experience can help a team desperate for any sense of direction or positive reinforcement move forward in their quest to a postseason drought that has reached double digits.

The Jets are coming toward the end of an intriguing offseason that can be remarkably classified as macabre yet hopeful: the 2020 season was garish that almost any adjustment would’ve qualified as an improvement. Yet, there are legitimate upgrades on this roster that will help them in both immediately and in the future. Failing to add a backup quarterback was a rare shortcoming that could’ve been avoided.

Rodgers’ return sent ripples throughout the football world and offered the Jets a rare gift. They must do their best to take advantage.

How important is it for the Jets to add a veteran QB like Bortles to the fold? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and keep the conversation going.

New York Jets add defensive lineman Jeremiah Valoaga

New York Jets

Valoaga, a fifth-year veteran, joins the New York Jets after previously working with Robert Saleh during the 2019 season.

The New York Jets announced the signing of veteran defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga on Tuesday night.

Valoaga, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV in 2017, spent the last two seasons with the Raiders franchise in both their Oakland and Las Vegas incarnations, though he did not play last season after opting out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He previously worked with Jets head coach and former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh during a shared season (2019) in the Bay Area and enjoyed a lucrative preseason, leading the team in sacks during the summer exhibition quartet (4.5).

The Oxnard, CA native has become an NFL veteran despite some struggles with academics in college, but he recovered and eventually earned a rookie contract from the Detroit Lions. He also spent most of the 2018 season on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. Over 13 regular season games with Detroit and San Francisco, Valoaga has earned seven tackles, including one sack.

Valoaga was one of several roster moves the Jets made as they descended upon One Jets Drive for training camp on Tuesday. He takes over a roster spot from blocker George Fant, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. His arrival should help the Jets bide time on the defensive line until Quinnen Williams, Kyle Phillips, and Vinny Curry are activated. Williams and Phillips landed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list over the weekend, while Curry is in the Active/Non-Football Injury group.

Elsewhere, the Jets got three of their defenders back. Safety Marcus Maye and Valoaga’s new fellow lineman Foley Fatukasi were activated from the NFI list while another front seven attendee, final draft pick Jonathan Marshall, came off the PUP group.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Long-term talks stall between Marcus Maye, New York Jets (Report)

According to Ian Rapoport, there appears to be no long-term agreement in the near future between Maye and the New York Jets.

Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, no long-term contract deal is expected between the New York Jets and safety Marcus Maye.

According to Rapoport, the Jets “not responded to his last proposal and that offer has been pulled off the table”. The safety was franchise tagged by the Jets in March, signing the one-year tender worth just over $10.6 million two weeks later. Maye’s tag makes him with sixth-highest safety for the 2021 season, tied with Marcus Williams of New Orleans. He will play on that tag unless a long-term can be reached by Thursday.

Both sides have equal footing in the argument for Maye’s long-term deal. Maye has been labeled one of the better safeties in the NFL, boasting an 82.1 Pro Football Focus grade in 2020 (fourth-best amongst safeties). The Jets, on the other hand, may be reluctant to offer a safety that’s set to turn 29 next March a long-term deal.

Shortly after the NFL Draft ended in May, general manager Joe Douglas said that re-upping with Maye was a “priority” after the selections.

“It’s still a priority to keep Marcus here long term,” Douglas said, per Max Goodmanof SI.com. “We have had productive texts back and forth with his agent and we’re hoping to really dive into this now that now that the draft’s over.”

In that same month, head coach Robert Saleh said he understood Maye’s side of the story, but reiterated that Douglas and the front office were working “relentlessly” on a long-term deal.

“I think these kids have earned the right to ask for whatever they can, especially when they do things the right way like (Maye) has,” Saleh said, per Adam Maya of NFL.com. “We had a really nice discussion and obviously him and his agent are working with Joe on trying to get his deal done, and hopefully that happens soon.”

Maye skipped organized team activities but attended the Jets’ minicamp proceedings in June. He’s coming off a season that saw him earn a career-best 88 tackles (4 for a loss, including a pair of sacks) and 11 pass breakups.

Will this reported stall between Maye and the Jets affect the team moving forward

New York Jets release undrafted rookie Jordyn Peters

New York Jets

The New York Jets released Peters, a UDFA out of Auburn, after they officially announced the signing of Morgan Moses.

The New York Jets announced the release of safety Jordyn Peters while confirming the previously reported addition of offensive lineman Morgan Moses. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the one-year deal has a base of $3.6 million and can be worth up to $5.3 million if/when incentives kick in.

New York released Peters to make room for Moses on the 90-man roster. Peters was signed as an undrafted free agent out of Auburn and was noted for his ability to contribute on special teams after blocking four punts during his three-year tenure with the Tigers. In that time, he also earned 101 tackles, two sacks, and an interception. He earned a career-best 42 tackles last season during 2020’s shortened season.

Peters was expected to contend for a roster spot through both his special teams work and experience at strong safety. That positional battle, dominated by youth, is headlined by sophomore Ashtyn Davis and incoming veteran free agent LaMarcus Joyner.

Moses is projected to be the Jets’ new primary right tackle, a spot previously occupied by George Fant. Previously of the Washington Football Team, Moses has started and partaken in every game since 2015. His arrival is part of an offensive line reclamation project that also welcomed in Aljah Vera-Tucker this offseason. Moses is also excepted to take on the role of a veteran mentor for both Vera-Tucker and Mekhi Becton.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Tight ends

New York Jets, Chris Herndon

The New York Jets added a goal-line target, but will they regret their failure to add competition for Chris Herndon?

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. In part four, we analyze the Jets’ tight ends…

Sep 20, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA;New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon (89) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams (24) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The 2020 season marked Chris Herndon’s third official year on an NFL roster. It was, technically speaking, only his second professional campaign as injuries and a suspension limited him to 18 snaps the year before, robbing him of a true sophomore season.

Yet, Herndon was a New York antique by Sam Darnold’s service standards: the 2018 fourth-round pick out of Miami was the only player on the Jets’ most recent opening day roster that caught passes during the departed franchise quarterback’s rookie season.

One could wax poetic about what that fact says about New York management in the new decade, but looking back toward that rookie season shows what Herndon is capable of. Despite working with a rookie Darnold and aging backup Josh McCown, Herndon led all rookie tight ends with 39 receptions and was second in the same group in yardage (502, 50 behind Baltimore’s Mark Andrews).

Alas, a suspension for a substance abuse policy violation and hamstring woes made his 2019 season a wash, and he failed to recapture the glory upon his reinsertion into the lineup last year, earning only 287 yards on 31 receptions. The early stages of his season were defined by a series of brutal drops, but things got better once things got truly dire for the Jets. Over the final three games (during which the Jets amassed a 2-1 mark), Herndon put up 145 yards on 14 receptions (17 targets). He also scored in each of the Jets’ final two games.

To his credit, Herndon blamed no one but himself for his struggles, even as some tried to pin his issues on his usage in Adam Gase’s systems.

“I feel like I’ve been used fairly,” Herndon said in October, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “It’s a team game. I can’t sit after every game and be upset and mad and try to point fingers. This time last year I wasn’t even on the field, so at this point, I’m honestly just thankful to be out there.”

The tight end group as a whole failed to make much of a dent in the Jets’ offensive woes. Veterans Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown united for 117 yards on 11 receptions. Meanwhile, injury issues prematurely ended the Trevon Wesco experiment at fullback.

Nov 24, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft (81) warms up prior to a game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

The Jets apparently have enough trust in Herndon to pocket their wallet, especially when looking at the foreign market. New England, for example, spent over $56 million combined in guaranteed money on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The Jets mostly kept things small, re-signing Brown to another year at just over $1 million and adding rookie free agent Kenny Yeboah after the draft.

Their big arrival in the tight end room is former divisional rival Tyler Kroft, as the former Buffalo Bill was added on an affordable one-year deal ($2 million). The Rutgers alum has developed a sizable NFL career as a goal-line option, which will undoubtedly help an offense that earned touchdowns on a league-worst 42 percent of its red-zone possessions last season. But is Kroft suitable competition for the primary role? He hasn’t been the starting tight end since 2017 in Cincinnati.

But minicamp offered an interesting twist: according to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Herndon worked primarily with the second-team group during the spring sessions. Kroft and Griffin earned the top reps, and even Yeboah reportedly took some snaps. Herndon has indirectly responded by, per Jordy Fee-Pratt of SI.com, voluntarily partaking in Tight End University, a Nashville-based tight end summit hosted by George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Greg Olsen.

It’s interesting to see the Jets work in non-Herndon names at the tight end spot. But are they working in the right names? One would probably feel more comfortable with such experimentation if they added a veteran name like newly minted Seahawk Gerald Everett.

Nov 17, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; New York Jets tight end Daniel Brown (87) celebrates with Jets tight end Ryan Griffin (84) after catching a touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Again, the Jets’ unwillingness to shell out the big bucks for a tight end probably says more about deep of a hole they dug themselves in other spots (i.e. wide receivers) than it does about their full trust in Herndon. New York, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, made an attempt to add Smith but dropped out of the bidding for financial reasons (Smith later earned a four-year, $50 million deal from the Patriots).

But the new staff has made it clear that they have plans for Herndon…he just has to earn his opportunity to partake.

As training camp ended, new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (who previously worked with the elite Kittle in San Francisco) was asked about Herndon’s prospects going into the 2021 campaign. LaFleur offered sympathy for Herndon, as his system will be the third in three seasons for the fourth-round pick (who is a rare leftover from Todd Bowles’ final season). A summer of opportunity awaits.

“It was documented last year just how he came on towards the back half and had a good rookie year that put him on the scene,” LaFleur said, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a talented dude…He missed a little bit of time with some things but it’ll be huge for him when he gets back and rehears this system, talk to him again, and gets in there with pads and we’re out there in those unscripted periods where he has a chance to go out there and make those plays.”

Elsewhere, the signing of Kroft should improve the goal-line situation while Yeboah (11 touchdown receptions over his last two college seasons) could prove to be a diamond in the rough. But since the uncertainty that lingered in the form of Herndon has only amplified, it’s hard to give the Jets a truly strong grade for this offseason’s adjustments, at least for the time being.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Should the Jets have added more competition for Herndon? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Wide receivers

Not only are the New York Jets’ receivers the most upgraded green groups, but they may also be one of the most improved units in the NFL.

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 season. 

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Part three centers on the revamped receiving corps…

Dec 27, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Breshad Perriman (19) attempts to catch the ball as Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) defends during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The Jets’ situation at receiver wasn’t exactly the corps’ fault. Rather, the relative state of neglect more or less served as a condemnation of the Mike Maccagnan era, as the reluctance to add blocking put them in such a dire hole in the catching front.

After letting Robby Anderson walk to Carolina with relatively little resistance, the Jets were in dire straights at receiver. In terms of veterans, they elected to use most of their offseason budget on blocking help. While the veteran blocking assistance (George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten) was mostly unproven, it filled a hole that desperately needed to be addressed.

But the proposed solutions on the offensive line handicapped the Jets’ options in terms of help at receiver in the post-Anderson era. Granted, the free agent offerings at receiver weren’t exactly lighting up scoreboards…Anderson, frankly, was arguably the best option…but the Jets were forced to rely on consolation prizes in the form of first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and antiques from New England (Chris Hogan). They would join 2019 returnees Jamison Crowder and Braxton Berrios on the top of the depth chart.

The receiving negligence was again made apparent on draft day, when the Jets chose to draft a lineman with the 11th overall pick instead of one of the elite first-round catching talents. Sure, Mekhi Becton’s debut soothed the blow of missing out on Justin Jefferson, Henry Ruggs, CeeDee Lamb, and Jerry Jeudy, but that was of little consolation to the Sam Darnold era. Day two of the virtual draft offered another consolation prize, as Baylor-based big-play threat Denzel Mims fell to the 58th overall selection. However, Mims spent most of his first Florham Park summer on the injured list, though he was able to flash some late potential. Despite partaking in only nine games, Mims was 15th amongst rookies in receiving yards (357) and the seventh-ranked freshman catcher (min. 20 receptions) in average gain (15.5).

New York Giants, Corey Davis
Sep 14, 2020; Denver, Colorado, USA; Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis (84) in the third quarter against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

No matter if Darnold came back or if the Jets opted to start a new franchise quarterback era, the Jets were going to make sure their primary passer had a strong posse.

Blessed with a cap space surplus, the Jets wasted no time in upgrading their receiving corps. It was understandable that they’d miss out on the big-name targets. Opting out of the Julio Jones sweepstakes was for the best and it was going to be hard to lure top guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster to an ongoing rebuild. While the Jets emerged from the offseason without a true No. 1 target, they have several players who have established potential to fill that role.

The additions were headlined by the arrival of Corey Davis, a key contributor in the Tennessee Titans’ recent playoff runs. While he lost top receiver duties to A.J. Brown, Davis is coming off a career-best season (984 yards on 65 receptions, five of which went for touchdowns), one that could’ve ended in quadruple digits in yardage had he not dealt with placement on the COVID-19 list. Davis also knows how to perform in the postseason, or at least on a winning team, an uncannily common theme in the Jets’ free agents signings (Tevin Coleman, Sheldon Rankins, the recently reportedly signed Morgan Moses). The same goes for Keelan Cole, a slot option that earned over 2,000 yards over the last four seasons despite constant quarterback turnover in Jacksonville.

In the draft, the Jets were once again blessed with a big-play receiving talent landing in their grasp. The team had a first-round grade on Ole Miss catcher Elijah Moore and was overjoyed when he fell to the 34th overall choice. He’s now on pace to top the depth chart after the strong minicamp showing.

“His work ethic is off the charts,” Jets head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “His mindset is off the charts. We’re excited to continue working with him so we can see him get better…He’s a dynamic young man.”

While Perriman opted to follow his father’s footsteps in Detroit and Hogan traded in his receiving gloves for a lacrosse stick, the Jets do welcome back both Crowder and Mims to their proceedings. Medical misfortune has befallen Mims once again…a non-COVID illness kept him out of minicamp…but the Jets maintain high hopes for him.

“He’s eager, he’s a really cool dude to work with,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said of Mims in a report from Max Goodman of SI.com. “But he’s just gonna have to get out there. And again, it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.”

The Crowder situation was even more interesting. A reliable slot prescience, Crowder was, by far, the most potent and consistent weapon of the two-year Adam Gase era. That, however, probably says more about the futility of the Gase era than it does about Crowder. With the Jets due about $10 million in cap space upon Crowder’s removal, dishing him off to a contender would’ve made sense, but the team instead opted to rework the last year of a three-year deal inked in 2019. Crowder’s now getting about $5 million guaranteed as opposed to $10 million with no assurances.

Jamison Crowder, New York Jets

Are They Better Off?

Not only is the receiving group the most improved unit on the Jets, but it may also be one of the most improved units in the whole NFL.

Time and time again, especially in this era of prioritized offense, we’re told that a receiver is only as good as his quarterback. It’s hard to argue that when you wonder what Larry Fitzgerald’s numbers could’ve been if not for the Arizona quarterback carousel from the football underworld after Kurt Warner’s retirement.

But the right offensive arsenal can do wonders for an incoming quarterback, especially a rookie quarterback preparing to take his first NFL snaps. What the Jets have assembled for Zach Wilson is, on paper, better than anything Darnold ever had to work with. There’s no clear-cut No. 1 man on the current depth chart. Even the touted Moore shouldn’t be crowned before putting on his game jersey. The way this season appears to be shaping out, however, the receiving situation couldn’t be better.

Even though the Jets got a lot better as a team this offseason…if only because there wasn’t much further to plummet after last year…making the playoffs is still going to be a lot to ask for. This receiving corps is perfect in a season of development. It’s more or less a 17-game audition to hold a major role in the potential good days ahead. This time around, those auditioning actually have sizable resumes to display.

Final Offseason Grade: A

How important was it for the Jets to upgrade their receiving corps? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: 3 aftershocks from the Morgan Moses signing

morgan moses, new york jets

The New York Jets had a late offseason surprise going into the weekend. How does it affect the team moving forward? ESM investigates.

With Independence Day weekend looming, the New York Jets had early fireworks to share.

Per a Friday report from Rich Cimini of ESPN, the Jets are set to sign Morgan Moses to a one-year deal. Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, was released due to salary cap reasons after seven seasons in the nation’s capital.

“Morgan is a fantastic player. He’s played at a very high level,” head coach Robert Saleh said recently, per Cimini. “We’re not going to shy away from adding good football players.”

What does it mean? ESM investigates…

Another Brick in the Wall

General manager Joe Douglas continues to make up for the offensive line negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. While Douglas has earned rave reviews for the relative risk of picking Mekhi Becton at 11th overall and his willingness to use offseason capital on blocking, his veteran acquisitions haven’t exactly panned out. It’s great, for example, that he was able to convince Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement during his first weeks in office, but at some point, these moves have to start paying on-field dividends rather than ones of morale. Douglas has identified the problem. Now he needs the solution.

The 30-year-old Moses only boosts the Jets’ offensive potential as they continue to construct the wall in front of Zach Wilson and his young running backs. This veteran blocking signing, or at least the timing of it, has a different aura to it.

Unlike the aging Kalil or last year’s relatively unproven class developed out of necessity (George Fant, Connor McGovern, Greg Van Roten), Moses appears to still be working through his prime and is someone who serves as an automatic life of the blocking party. There are no Pro Bowl or All-Pro nominations to his name just yet, but Moses’ Pro Football Focus grade (80.6, including an 85.9 in rush protection) was sixth-best amongst right tackles.

Moses has also had little issue staying healthy (having started in every Washington game since 2015) and fulfills the championship feeling trait that the Jets have worked on this offseason (Corey Davis, Tevin Coleman, Sheldon Rankins). To that end, Moses was part of Washington’s unexpected division title effort.

George Fant Becomes a Depth Star

Fant was one of the more prominent arrivals of the Jets’ 2020 free agent class. But he figures to be the odd man out with a player of Moses’ caliber set to join the lineup.

At first glance, Fant could become a late cap casualty or draft capital fodder. The Jets, for example, would save $7.8 million if they trade the former Seattle Seahawk. But if the versatile Fant is a backup right tackle, the Jets are in a relatively decent spot. With experience in several blocking roles, Fant can serviceably step in in case of an emergency. If anyone knows about the value of having a deep squad, it’s Douglas, one of the architects behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ improbable Super Bowl run back in 2017 (which makes the lack of an experienced backup for Wilson all the more puzzling, but that’s another conversation).

Though Fant got off to a slow start, he gradually improved throughout the season. Fant likely endeared himself to new Jets management by expressing his anticipation of working in new coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system toward the end of minicamp proceedings. He’s particularly impressed by LaFleur’s tendencies to focus on outside-zone or wide formations.

“This system is really built for me,” Fant said in a report from team writer Ethan Greenberg. “This is the most excited I’ve been going into a season so far. Being in Seattle for all those years, we kind of ran something similar. But seeing the 49ers and how they were running a wide zone when I was in Seattle, I already kind of had an idea of what they were going to do. Very excited to work with them, get in this system and really show what I’m capable of.”

A Master and An Apprentice(s)

Once again, Douglas’ line renovations deserve some praise in the early going. Becton appears to a legitimate lasting force on the line while Douglas boldly traded up with Minnesota to take Alijah Vera-Tucker, sacrificing any day two capital beyond the second pick of the second round.

But, much like the incoming quarterback, it shouldn’t be fully on the shoulders of Becton and Vera-Tucker to completely clean up the Jets’ blocking woes, especially at such a young age. Having a veteran option like Moses in tow should provide some relief and give them a strong mentor to learn from. When Trent Williams left Washington for San Francisco, Moses became the elder statesman in burgundy blocking. Under Moses’ watch, Washington’s line finished sixth in the final PFF rankings, up from 29th in the preseason edition. Moses was even said to take Washington’s then-franchise quarterback Dwayne Haskins under his wing before the team moved on to eternal placeholder Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Between his experience, talent, and championship knowledge, Moses arrives at a perfect time from a Jets standpoint. Sure, his green makeover probably doesn’t turn the Jets into playoff contenders, but he’s something a Jets team desperately trying to end a perpetual rebuild desperately needed The hard part…fulfilling the potential brought about by this addition and proving Douglas correct…starts in training camp.

How much an impact will Moses have on the 2021 Jets? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Running backs

jets, michael carter

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

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

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

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

How It Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

How It’s Going

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are They Better Off?

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

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

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

Final Offseason Grade: B+

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

The New York Jets can’t ignore the (backup) quarterback problem much longer

Robert Saleh doesn’t seem too worried about it, but the New York Jets’ backup quarterback situation creates an eerie offensive aura.

Rejoice, New York and New Jersey, for it’s officially summer in the metropolitan area.

Don’t turn your calendar to June 21 just yet. It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t run to the ice cream truck for a Choco Taco. Summer in the city is often welcomed not by the beach, blockbusters, and burgers…but rather a New York Jets quarterback controversy.

Now, rest assured, Jets fans, you who have been granted legitimate hope in the form of Zach Wilson. The second overall pick of April’s draft is the latest (and, the Jets certainly hope, last for a while) name chosen to lead Gang Green into the 21st century. Time will tell if he lives up to his status as the long-awaited passing prophet absent since Joe Namath hung up his helmet adorned with a green oval, but there’s no doubt that he is the man the Jets envision starting in three, five, ten years from now.

This time around, however, the problem lies behind Wilson.

As New York commences their minicamp proceedings this week, three quarterbacks reside on the current passing ledgers. Wilson is far and away the top option, with James Morgan and Mike White sitting behind him. There’s not much in common between the three, with the glaring exception that they all have the same number of regular season passes in the National Football League: zero.

The goose egg is a startling contrast to the last few attempts the Jets have made in providing insurance, both mentally and physically, to their would-be backup quarterback. Todd Bowles’ tenure began with Ryan Fitzpatrick set to mentor Geno Smith before an infamous training camp altercation thrust the bearded Harvard alum into the starter’s role (and deeper into the hearts of the American football fan). After being used as a stopgap the year before, Josh McCown was re-signed with the purpose of being the Yoda to Sam Darnold’s Luke Skywalker. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco took over the role last season, though it was clear to the Jets that there was no saving Darnold from the Adam Gase era, leading to Wilson’s selection. Years beforehand, Mark Sanchez earned some of his final football hours thanks to the late-career efforts of fellow two-time AFC finalist Mark Brunell.

New York Jets, Mark Sanchez
NY Jets quarterback #6 Mark Sanchez runs off the field with Mark Brunell after the Jets win 17-16. The New York Jets defeated the Indianapolis Cols 17-16 in an AFC Wild-card game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN, January 8, 2011. ***** ALL NEW YORK NEWSPAPERS OUT —- ALL NEW YORK NEWSPAPERS OUT ***** (Photo by Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Mar

 

Flacco switched his shades of green in the offseason, moving on to Philadelphia to mentor (and possibly compete with) another young hopeful, Jalen Hurts. For the three weeks between the Darnold trade and the draft’s opening night, Morgan and White were the only quarterbacks on the roster before Wilson heard his name called in Cleveland.

Yet, Jets coach Robert Saleh doesn’t sound overly enthused about bringing in a backup any time soon. Speaking after the Jets’ minicamp proceedings on Monday, Saleh seemed to hint that bringing one in at this point in time wouldn’t have much of a purpose at this point in time.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “Aside from helping him with rehab…and study habits, which I think Zach and that entire quarterback room is already ahead of the curve on how they handle their bodies and study, I don’t know if there’s much value aside from being comfortable that if the crap hits the fan you have a veteran who has played football. It’s more of a comforting feeling rather than working your ass off to develop the quarterbacks who are already in the building.”

The role of the backup quarterback may well be the most underrated job in professional sports. Sometimes, the role proves to be bizarrely rewarding. Fitzpatrick, for example, has built a 17-year NFL career through quasi-Winston Wolf endeavors, solving starting quarterback problems in various locales. He’s spending the 2021 season in Washington, which is still buzzing from the antics of Taylor Heinicke, the Old Dominion legend who viral for playing respectably during the NFC Wild Card playoffs against Tampa Bay last winter. Charlie Whitehurst, he of a Christ-like physical appearance and nearly 400 pass attempts over 11 NFL seasons, earned a cult following as “Clipboard Jesus”.

In these modern NFL Sundays, dominated by the social media behemoth of Twitter, it doesn’t take much for overzealous fans, even facetious supporters looking for engagements, to start calling for the backup’s name. Once he’s in, the primary directive is simple: do not be the reason your team fails to prevail. For instance, Heinicke (26-of-44, 306 yards, 46 rushing yards, 2 total scores, 1 interception) was far from the primary reason that Washington fell to the eventual Super Bowl champions, and it convinced the Football Team to bring him back on a two-year deal. The same couldn’t be said about, say, 2019’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who failed to keep up the same offensive production with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges after Ben Roethlisberger went down.

But when a rookie quarterback, an anointed franchise man, joins the fold, the backup takes on double duty: serving as a mentor or even holding down the fort while the freshman gets his NFL legs.

The latter concept is an endangered species. Kansas City’s gambit…remaining in immediate contention with effective incumbent Alex Smith before turning the reigns over to future champion Patrick Mahomes…probably bought it some time. The Los Angeles Chargers were set to roll with such a strategy before a medical emergency forced the chosen veteran, Tyrod Taylor, to vacate the starter’s role in favor of eventual Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. Miami partially employed it, but never truly committed to Tua Tagovailoa last season. When thrust into a surprise playoff run, they turned to, who else, Fitzpatrick.

Right now, neither of the understudies on the Jets’ roster seems capable of fulfilling those roles. The fourth-round selection of Morgan was bizarre when it happened (especially when Gabriel Davis went to Buffalo three picks later) and was made even more puzzling when the Florida International alum couldn’t even earn a dressing during a meaningless two-win season. White, a fifth-round pick in Dallas back in 2018, at least has the benefit of a couple of preseasons under his belt, but those numbers (68.5 passer rating over eight contests) aren’t inspiring.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 08: Nick Foles #9 of the Chicago Bears passes under pressure from Devin White #45 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field on October 08, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Bucs 20-19. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Jets have actually had ample opportunities to address the area this offseason, but have curiously passed on each one. Brian Hoyer, another thrower who has extended his career through sizable backup endeavors, was brought in for a workout but he chose to continue his third tenure in New England. Nick Mullens, a former pupil of the Jets’ new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur back in San Francisco, seemed like another prime candidate before he joined Flacco and Hurts in Philadelphia. The free agent market is relatively shriveled at this point, with the best option perhaps being a trade with Chicago, inquiring about Nick Foles. Flacco’s fellow Super Bowl MVP is a popular entry in the backup quarterback Mount Rushmore who won the 52nd alongside current Jets general manager Joe Douglas, the latter then residing in the Eagles’ front office. He’s expendable in Chicago through the arrivals of veteran Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields.

Between Saleh’s words and the logistics and protocols involved with a new entry, it’s probably not wise to assume that Jets (who have a decent amount of extra draft picks to barter with) will be welcoming Foles to their minicamp proceedings this week. But they’d be better off trying to solve the situation sooner rather than later.

As the Darnold era quickly proved, the Jets can hope all they want that a certain prospect will pan out, but they need to have both guidance and insurance working with the rookie. Darnold would routinely mention that his best days came under the watch of McCown, years after Mark Sanchez built a strong relationship with Brunell. Otherwise relatively quiet on the football timeline, the early summer months can be a perfect time for Wilson to work with a mentor. By neglecting this area for so long, they’ve wasted some valuable time in Wilson’s development.

One can have the highest hopes and dreams for Wilson, and it’s abundantly clear that the Jets have such fantasies in store for him. However, when the prized rookie comes in and is somehow tied for the title of the most experienced man in the room…that’s a controversy.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags