Delayed a half-hour by lightning storms, the New York Jets’ preseason finale in East Rutherford was dominated by reserves.
Thunder and lightning on and off the MetLife Stadium turf defined the New York Jets’ 2021 preseason finale.
East Rutherford rains pushed back the opening kickoff of the Jets’ resumed summer series against the Philadelphia Eagles, as the team met annually in their respective final exhibition game since 2001 before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the proceedings last year. Two late hook-ups between James Morgan and Kenny Yeboah allowed the Jets to erase a late deficit and force a 31-31 tie on Friday night.
New York (2-0-1) and Philadelphia (0-2-1) mostly played their reserves after heavy precipitation delayed kickoff by a half-hour. Jets quarterback Zach Wilson was among the many held out.
ESM has three game balls from Friday’s unusual showdown…
With Tyler Kroft sitting out (perhaps solidifying his status as the Jets’ top tight end) and the Chris Herndon/Daniel Brown tandem struggling, Yeboah capitalized on an opportunity by becoming an eternal legend of New York summer lore. He got open over the middle for a score in the third quarter to reduce the Jets’ deficit to one before hauling in the Morgan miracle. With major questions surrounding the Jets’ veteran tight ends beyond Kroft, it’ll be interesting to see if Friday’s standout performance was enough for Yeboah to carve out a year-long role on the team through either an active roster or practice squad spot.
Jets fans who braved the rain to see the only sanctioned home game of the preseason were probably disappointed that they didn’t get to see new franchise man Zach Wilson. Johnson did what he could to make up for the loss of aerial antics and gave the Jets a quarterback quandary over the next few weeks. The Jets scored on two of Johnson’s three possessions, the first capped off by a short scoring hookup on fourth down with Lawrence Cager. Friday’s snaps were Johnson’s first of the preseason, as Mike White has taken a majority of the post-Wilson throws. White didn’t play on Friday night; it was vague as to whether was part of the Jets’ roster locks or the aftermath from taking several hits against Green Bay last weekend. Johnson certainly gave the Jets something to think about as Week 1 looms.
Thanks to Marvel, pondering the question of “What If…?” has become a national pastime of sorts. One such quandary from Jets fans could center around the hypotheticals of Ty Johnson getting the lion’s share of the rushing attempts instead of giving Frank Gore a farewell tour in green. It probably wouldn’t have shifted the Jets’ standing in…well, the standings…but run game clarity could’ve been gained. All signs currently point to veteran newcomer Tevin Coleman being the top back. Coleman has taken minimal snaps during the preseason but is still listed at the top of the Jets’ current depth chart. Many expect freshman Michael Carter (7 carries, 12 yards) to over at some point this season. But Johnson (108 yards on 28 carries behind an offensive line that was never at full strength) is making his case to be a premier back, once again taking advantage of the opportunities afforded to him like he did last season. The Jets also can’t forget Josh Adams, who wound up leading the team in rushing on Friday night as a major contributor to the Jets’ comeback effort.
Johnson previously spent part of the summer of 2015 with the New York Jets with his last regular season experience coming in the XFL.
The New York Jets were in desperate need of experience in the quarterback room. One could technically say the signing of Josh Johnson qualifies as overkill.
New York announced the signing of Johnson on Wednesday. The University of San Diego alum is one of a handful of picks left from the 2008 NFL Draft, originally chosen in the fifth round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
After a record-breaking career under Jim Harbaugh’s tutelage at USD, Johnson has embarked on a well-traveled professional journey, spending time with 16 different teams over four leagues. This marks Johnson’s second tenure with the Jets, spending just over a week with the team during the 2015 preseason.
Johnson notably went eight seasons between starts, earning his first win as a primary quarterback with Washington in 2018. More recently, Johnson spent last season on San Francisco’s practice squad. It was his third stint with the 49ers (2012, 2014), one that allowed him to spend time with current Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. He was released by San Francisco in June.
In addition to his NFL service, Johnson has also spent time on rosters in the UFL, AAF, and XFL. In the latter-most endeavor, Johnson was the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Wildcats. In a slightly ironic twist, Johnson played a major role in the most recent sporting event held in front of fans at MetLife Stadium. Johnson threw for 325 yards and two scores, though the Wildcats fell to the New York Guardians by a 17-14 final.
The Jets were in desperate need of experience in their quarterback room. New York is set to debut Zach Wilson, the second overall pick from April’s draft, as their new franchise thrower. Behind him, the Jets also have young veterans James Morgan and Mike White to compete with Johnson for the primary backup role.
In a corresponding move, the Jets released defender Brendon White, an undrafted rookie safety out of Rutgers.
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.”
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.
It’s becoming more likely that the New York Jets will go into camp with James Morgan and Mike White backing up Zach Wilson.
According to a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post, those expecting Super Bowl hero Nick Foles to don a new shade of green shouldn’t get their hopes up.
In addressing the New York Jets’ backup quarterback situation, Costello reports that the team has “had discussions” with the Chicago Bears about adding Foles as the understudy and mentor to incoming franchise man Zach Wilson. However, he acknowledges that such a deal “seems unlikely”.
Foles, who guided the Philadelphia Eagles to a championship in 2018, is projected to be Chicago’s third-string option behind first-round pick Justin Fields and incoming veteran Andy Dalton. With Wilson set to take over, he seems like a perfect candidate to not only serve as a mentor to the rookie but step up in case of an emergency. The 32-year-old Foles posted an 80.8 passer rating in nine games (seven starts) in place of Mitchell Trubisky last season.
However, Costello says that Foles’ salary is the biggest roadblock in the path to getting him in a green helmet. Foles came over from the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020 and restructured his contract to be a three-year deal worth $24 million ($17 million guaranteed). Chicago would be out $14 million in dead money if they were to release Foles, rendering a trade the only likely departure from the Windy City.
It appears more likely that the Jets will go into the season with either James Morgan or Mike White as their backup quarterback. Like Wilson, neither has thrown a pass in a regular season NFL game. Morgan was chosen in the fourth round during the 2020 draft and did not dress in no games last season. White is a 2018 fifth-round pick from Dallas who has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last two seasons.
Head coach Robert Saleh admitted that the team had discussions with former San Francisco backup Nick Mullens (who eventually signed with Philadephia), but he was interested in seeing what Morgan and White had to offer.
“It doesn’t mean that just because (a newcomer is) a veteran it’ll help the (rookie) quarterback,” Saleh said in June, per notes from the Jets. “There’s a match that has to happen, there’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen. If you just bring in a veteran that doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is.”
“I think Zach, and that entire quarterback room, is already ahead of the curve on, with how they handle their bodies and study. I don’t know if there’s much value aside from being comfortable that if something hits the fan, that you have a veteran who’s played football. It’s more of a comforting feeling, rather than trying to work your ass off to develop the quarterbacks that are already in the building.”
The Jets are slated to begin training camp activities on Tuesday.
As the New York Jets inch closer to training camp, ESM looks at the offensive roster battles to watch at every position.
Competition has always been a staple at summer camp. But if you’re headed to Florham Park, leave the archery materials at home.
The New York Jets are eight days away from descending upon One Jets Drive for their training camp activities. Once camp commences, they’ll have several positional struggles to solve before Week 1 kicks off in Carolina. ESM takes a look at each spot on the depth chart, sizing up a major battle that should be solved over camp practices and the coming trio of preseason games.
Our primer begins on offense…
Backup QB: James Morgan vs. Mike White
Barring an epic disaster, the Jets will go into Week 1 with second overall pick Zach Wilson as their quarterback. Sitting the star rookie behind a veteran for a year has become a lost art in the modern NFL, even if Kansas City’s Alex Smith-to-Patrick Mahomes transition kept the concept alive for a few more years.
The Jets, though, are apparently planning to go in the completely opposite direction: no one in their quarterback cabinet has thrown a pass in an NFL regular season game. Immediately thrusting Wilson into the starter’s role is one thing, but backing him up with two veteran questions marks is another entirely. But head coach Robert Saleh apparently doesn’t see an issue.
“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh told Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “There’s a match that has to happen. There’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen.”
That, of course, begs the question why the Jets didn’t go after someone like fellow former 49ers Nick Mullens, but it’s probably redundant at this point. Until further notice, the backup job comes to Morgan and White.
Morgan probably has the inside edge, if only due to his status as a Joe Douglas draft pick. Chosen in the fourth round of 2020’s virtual draft, the Florida International hasn’t even worn a game jersey yet due to the cancellation of last summer’s preseason. White entered the NFL as a fifth-round pick of the Cowboys in 2018 and has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last three years. By going with someone inexperienced, it’s clear the Jets aren’t going with the “mentor” route for their backup quarterback. The winner will be judged on late summer showings and their performance in preseason games could be particularly intriguing.
Spell RB: Ty Johnson vs. La’Mical Perine vs. Josh Adams
The primary rushing duties could become a battle as the season goes on. Veteran newcomer Tevin Coleman will probably at least start as the top option before giving way to rookie arrival Michael Carter. It’s fair to assume that Coleman, who worked with new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, has the early edge though Carter has reportedly impressed New York brass during his first spring sessions.
In training camp, however, there are more immediate, desperate matters to attend to, namely answering the question of who will be the third back.
Behind the Coleman and Carter tandem lies a trio of young projects that could’ve gained more clarity had Adam Gase not become obsessed with a Frank Gore farewell tour. Though injuries and a late placement on the COVID-19 list turned Perine’s rookie season into a wash but Johnson and Adams, spare parts from Detroit and Philadelphia respectively, impressed when called upon, uniting for 411 yards on 83 carries, good for an average of nearly five yards an attempt.
The battle between this trio isn’t a matter of playing time, but will determine roster spots. Even though he’s a Douglas draft pick (also chosen in the fourth round), Perine could be in the wrong place at the wrong time. His north/south style may not fit in LaFleur’s preferred systems that value agility and athleticism, creating a wrong place at the wrong time situation. Meanwhile, the re-signed Adams has worked with Douglas before, sharing a single season with the Eagles.
Top Slot WR: Jamison Crowder vs. Elijah Moore
Over the past two seasons, Jamison Crowder has been far and away the Jets’ most consistent offensive weapon. Through that endeavor, he has become one of the NFL’s most reliable slot options. But does the fact he’s been a reliable weapon in woebegone New York say more about Crowder or just how dire the Jets’ situation has become?
Douglas and Co. spent the offseason upgrading their receiving corps and that included the slot depth chart. Drafting Moore with the second pick of the draft’s second day was seen as a steal by many and he seemingly arrived at the perfect time. The Jets were due some sizable cap savings upon Crowder’s release or trade and they could’ve easily had Moore take over. Instead, they restructured the final year of Crowder’s deal to focus on guaranteed money and will keep both of them in tow for Wilson’s first deal.
Crowder faces a bit of an uphill battle to get his snaps back, as he missed almost all spring activities during his contract dispute. There should still be an opportunity for him amongst the Jets’ revamped receiving corps but it’ll be tough to hold off the rise of a touted rookie.
Starting TE: Chris Herndon vs. Tyler Kroft
Entering his fourth year in New York, Herndon is a rare relic in green. Nothing, however, has lived up to the production of his rookie season (502 yards on 39 receptions) as the more recent stages of his career have been beset by a suspension, injuries, and inconsistency.
Though Herndon somewhat began to resemble his rookie self in the latter stages of last season, the Jets sent him a message this offseason. While they avoided the pricier options on the free agent market (i.e. Jonnu Smith, Hunter Henry), they added goal line option Tyler Kroft from Buffalo and re-upped with Daniel Brown. During minicamp, Herndon saw his first team reps go to Kroft and Ryan Griffin. Connor Hughes of The Athletic claimed that Herndon “struggled” to adjust to the new offensive playbook, playing a role in his demotion.
It’s been a while since Kroft was the primary option at tight end, last doing so in Cincinnati during the 2017 campaign. The Rutgers alum re-established himself as a reliable short-yardage and red zone target last season in Buffalo. Time will tell if the Jets turn over the full-time tight end reins to Kroft, or even give Griffin, Brown, or undrafted rookie Kenny Yeboah (11 touchdowns over the last two seasons at Temple and Ole Miss). But If Kroft’s signing even merely lights a fire under Herndon, it will have been well worth it.
Offensive Line: RG Greg Van Roten vs. Newcomers
A Long Island native (Rockville Centre, to be precise), Van Roten was destined to make a difference in New York. While he endured a bit of an up-and-down season in terms of production, he partook in literally every snap over the Jets’ first 11 games and emerged as a leader and voice of reason when the team’s 2020 affairs became particularly dire.
With the Jets’ left side fortified with Mekhi Becton and Alijah Vera-Tucker, the focus turns to the right. Morgan Moses is a reliable one-year solution on the outside, while Van Roten appears to have a good grip on the interior. But the Jets brought in some interesting depth options, including the New York Islanders’ most celebrated new fan, Dan Feeney. Incumbent top left guard Alex Lewis is also set to move over to the right side, while one also can’t forget Cameron Clark, a 2020 fourth-rounder who spent last season preparing to make the transition from tackle to guard.
But Van Roten, who has shockingly tallied only a single accepted penalty in his NFL career, believes that the arrival of Saleh and LaFleur should help provide stability.
“They hire Saleh and it just feels like a weight has been lifted and hope has come back into the building,” Van Roten said, per team reporter Jack Bell. “All we ask for is a fresh start in this league and no one is happier than the Jets. Now we’re on page one, so let’s write this year’s chapter.”
Which offensive training camp battles will you keep an eye on? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.
This New York Jets season comes with the aura of having nothing to lose. But 2021 could mean everything for these offensive cases.
“When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.”
Bob Dylan’s line in the final verse of his signature hit “Like A Rolling Stone” might well apply to the 2021 New York Jets as a whole. Burdened with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought and trapped in a division with an apparent Western New York juggernaut, no one would blame the Jets for going through a gap year of sorts in an AFC packed with established contenders.
But for these five green individual cases…one at each offensive position…the 2021 season could be mean everything when it comes to preserving not only their metropolitan careers but their NFL status as a whole…
Quarterback James Morgan
Little more needs to be written about James Morgan’s rookie year…or lack thereof. The fourth-round pick out of Florida International didn’t even get to wear his game jersey last season, as he was not only a healthy scratch for every game last season, but he didn’t even have the luxury of a preseason.
With a shortened exhibition slate on the horizon, it’s likely that Morgan will finally get a chance to show what he’s got. The Jets appear to be sticking with Morgan and Mike White…and their grand total of zero NFL regular season snaps between them…for their backup battle behind Zach Wilson. White, a 2018 fifth-round pick in Dallas, at least has a couple of preseason under his belt from his time with the Cowboys.
Morgan’s season-long benching, even when the Jets had literally nothing to lose, became more puzzling with each passing contest. Gabriel Davis, L’Jarius Sneed, and DeeJay Dallas were all among those who went within the ensuing 20 packers after Morgan went 125th overall. The coming preseason will be anything but irrelevant for Morgan.
Running Back La’Mical Perine
It was silly enough not to at least dress Morgan for the latter portions of the Jets’ season. But if that was negligence, the Jets’ malpractice at running back was downright criminal. By this point, even the most casual Jets fan knows about the Frank Gore farewell tour Adam Gase produced after Le’Veon Bell’s release. That endeavor wiped out free research and development for the Jets’ trio of young rushing projects, a group headed by Perine.
The NFL career of Perine, chosen five picks before Morgan, is slowly falling victim to the faultless crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Gase’s uncanny dedication to Gore wasn’t even the start: he missed the start of the season due to a leg injury suffered late in training camp. Just when he looked like he was building a rhythm (opening Week 11’s visit to Los Angeles with 33 yards on eight carries, one of which was a score), he endured another ankle injury that kept him out of the next four games. He returned for the penultimate game of the season but missed the finale due to placement on the COVID-19 list.
That trend appears to be continuing as his sophomore season gets underway. Perine was drafted to be a north-south option, which clashes with the agility preferred in Mike LaFleur’s system. His fellow young projects (Ty Johnson and Josh Adams) are also back while the Jets added North Carolina product Michael Carter in the most recent fourth round. Gase and Gore are gone but Perine nonetheless finds himself in a precarious position.
Wide Receiver Denzel Mims
It’s truly unfortunate that injuries are held against athletes, particularly those on the gridiron, when judging their careers. Entrants like Ki-Jana Carter, Robert Griffin III, Sam Bradford, and Steve Emtman are often considered busts if for no reason other than committing the apparently mortal sin of getting hurt while playing football.
Mims is teetering on such an unjust fate. He missed the first six games of his rookie campaign after injuring both of his hamstrings before Week 1 and was thus struggled to sustain freshman momentum. A New York offense in various states of disarray certainly didn’t help his case. Hints of Mims’ big-play potential briefly emerged, but that didn’t stop the Jets from spending big offseason bucks to build their receiving corps. Mims is now suddenly trapped behind the hype of Elijah Moore and Corey Davis.
More struggles awaited Mims as preparation for 2021 got underway, as he missed time with an illness and spent minicamp on the second team. The drafting of Mims (and, of course, the performance of first-rounder Mekhi Becton) was supposed to make up for the fact that the Jets passed on elite receiving talent (including future Rookie of the Year Justin Jefferson) during the 2020 draft’s first round. With the receivers’ room looking vastly different, Mims must separate himself from the pack.
Tight End Chris Herndon
It was a little surprising (yet ultimately financially sensible in the long run) to see that the Jets didn’t break open the bank for some stronger competition at tight end to raise the heat on Herndon. Injuries and a suspension have prevented him from capitalizing on a strong debut season but the Jets passed on expensive names like Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry (both newly minted Patriots). Goal-line option Tyler Kroft, the re-signing Daniel Brown, and rookie free agent Kenny Yeboah served as consolation prizes (along with the returning Ryan Griffin and Trevon Wesco).
But minicamp saw Herndon lose valuable starting reps to Kroft, setting up an intriguing battle once training camp begins. Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Herndon has struggled with his new playbook, causing him to lose valuable ground on the depth chart.
To his credit, Herndon is going the extra mile to rectify his mistakes prior to his vastly important fourth season, as he is reportedly attending the Tight End University summit in Nashville. It will mean nothing, however, unless his work starts to make itself apparent on the field.
Offensive Lineman George Fant
Several Jets blockers might be at their New York breaking points in 2021. Potential outs lie in the contracts of Fant, Greg Van Roten, and Connor McGovern, outs that would lead to over $20 million cap savings.
Fant is a late addition to this and is in a particularly prickly situation after the team signed Morgan Moses last week. Moses, coming off a career-best season in Washington, is projected to take over the right tackle spot, which would relegate Fant to the second team. Set to turn 29 this month, that could hinder Fant’s chances of securing another long-term deal.
But a new opportunity awaits: Fant could prove himself to be a reliable depth option and veteran mentor, which could convince the Jets or another team to offer him that presumably desired stability. To do so, Fant could look to pull out all the stops. For example, is it possible we could see him lineup as a tight end, as he did in Seattle? LaFleur’s offense in San Francisco previously used a veteran blocker in such a role, employing the services of Joe Staley.
ESM looks back on a fateful offseason for the New York Jets, starting with the big changes at quarterback.
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. We start off at the quarterback spot…
How It Started
The Jets’ offseason centered around a puzzling conundrum: the NFL future of Sam Darnold. Conventional stats (as well as the fact they held the second overall pick in the draft) more or less implored the Jets to move on: Darnold ranked 40th in competition rate (59.8) and 41st in passer rating (78.5) amongst 42 quarterbacks (min. 500 attempts). Yet, there was a tantalizing case to prolong his New York career, a major temptation to answer a question Jets fans have asked and continued to ask…what would Darnold look like in a system that wasn’t overseen by Adam Gase?
For all the offensive malarkey the Jets had gone through in the Gase era, Darnold has still provided momentary flashes of brilliance that eeked through the endless layers of green gridiron gloom. Some felt that Darnold had the necessary skills to survive in the NFL, he just needed the proper support staff. There was only so much Darnold could’ve done while working in a Gase system and his top options being first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and current lacrosse stars pulled out of New England’s antique pile (Chris Hogan). In March, the Jets added Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, a pair of consistently reliable talents looking to make a bigger impact. Had Darnold been kept aroud for the eventual drafting of Elijah Moore, it would’ve been the most talented receiver class Darnold ever had to work with.
Darnold’s support problems were not limited to his receiving arsenal. The crucial developmental stages of his NFL career were staged in the midst of constant rumors surrounding Le’Veon Bell, who was a discount version in everything but his price tag ($52.5 million). That big contract and several other factors (i.e. general negligence) delayed any plans to bolster the offensive line. Darnold, after all, went through three different primary centers over his first three NFL seasons. To their credit, the Jets seemed to finally be seeing the light in the late stages of Darnold’s tenure, passing on elite receiving talent to draft Louisville blocker Mekhi Becton and later trade up with Minnesota for Alijah Vera-Tucker.
As for the backup quarterback spot, the Jets had the right idea when it came to Joe Flacco. The cheap deal signed late in the offseason (one-year, $1.5 million) and Flacco’s own words made it clear that he wasn’t meant to be any long-term backup solution. It was a contract that gave Darnold a year under Flacco’s watch while the one-time Super Bowl MVP (who truly sought a new area to take over the QB1 role) had a chance to prove to new suitors that he could still be a serviceable NFL option after enduring a neck injury during his previous stop in Denver.
How It’s Going
Ultimately, the Jets sent Darnold south, trading him to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for three draft picks, one of which was a second-round choice to be used next season. Even before Darnold was shipped off to Charlotte, the Jets spent the offseason in the thick of the quarterback discussion. Not only were they present at all major rookie quarterback showcases, but they were said to be in the thick of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes before assault allegations ended that conversation.
Those factors all but assured that the Jets were going to use their premier pick on a non-Trevor Lawrence quarterback, eventually revealed to be Zach Wilson when the league converged on Cleveland in April. With the selection of Wilson out of BYU, general manager Joe Douglas has officially etched his signature onto his New York mosaic. He now has his own head coach (Robert Saleh) and quarterback running the show after working with the used parts of the Mike Maccagnan era’s final days.
As expected, Flacco moved during the offseason, joining a curious passing situation in Philadelphia that has been implied to give him a chance to compete for the starter’s spot. Despite several serviceable backup candidates emerging (i.e. Brian Hoyer, Nick Mullens), the Jets curiously opted to stick with their current backup situation of James Morgan and Mike White.
Are They Better Off?
One could have, and probably still can, make the case for Darnold staying in New York. The temptation to see him with a new support staff could’ve allowed the Jets to either use the second overall pick on one of their many other areas of need or even trade it to further reinforce those positions.
Ultimately, though, trading the Darnold was the best move for all parties. There’s no use in comparing Darnold and Wilson right now, especially when the latter has yet to throw an NFL pass (Lord knows the post-Week 1 discourse following the Jets and Panthers’ meeting in Charlotte will be arduous enough). But wondering whether Darnold’s issue was simply a coaching thing was a question the Jets couldn’t afford to answer anymore, especially when holding a draft choice that allowed them the pick of the non-Lawrence litter in Cleveland.
For Darnold, this move works on a personal level as well. He can now try to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career in relative obscurity in Carolina, a stark contrast to the constant tabloid attention in New York and the meme makers that pounce on the slightest green controversy on the internet (let’s face it, if the “I’m seeing ghosts” thing happened anywhere else, it’d be forgotten in a week). Time will tell if Wilson is the long-sought answer under center after decades of false prophets, but the Jets at least deserve some props for knowing when to cut ties and go back to the drawing board.
The Jets’ backup situation remains rather curious, however. As it stands, the Jets’ trio of quarterbacks has zero NFL regular season passes between them. New York is obviously pinning its future hopes and dreams on Wilson’s development. Holding minicamp with Wilson as the primary man more or less guarantees that the Jets aren’t practicing the “Kansas City model” a la Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes.
But that shouldn’t mean that Wilson immediately must become the most experienced quarterback in the room. Even if one claims that adding a veteran to mentor the rookie (Chicago’s Nick Foles, perhaps?) is a passing cliche at this point, the Jets should at least bring on some insurance in case of an emergency. The team was 0-10 in the three-year Darnold era when backup quarterbacks had to step in. There’s no evidence that White or Morgan (who didn’t even dress for a game in his rookie year) are capable of breaking that trend if the unthinkable happened to Wilson. The playoffs remain a tall ask, but that doesn’t mean the Jets should punt on 2021 contests.
The Jets were right to kick off a new era of football, efficiently hitting the fast-forward button in their franchise timeline. But that doesn’t mean he should have to do this alone, especially in his own position room.
Final Offseason Grade: C+
Did the Jets make the right move in drafting Wilson? Or should they have stuck with Sam? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags
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.
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.
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.
Draft weekend is over, but the New York Jets still have several needs to fill before they take to the practice field.
The New York Jets’ work in Cleveland is done. Nine names were added during last weekend’s NFL Draft proceedings and several others have been penciled in through rookie free agency.
But the Jets’ work is nowhere near complete.
That, unfortunately, is the macabre cloud that hangs over anything the Jets do until they start winning games again. The team has earned positive reviews for their draft weekend proceedings, one headlined by the offensive additions of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. But it means nothing until they at least get back into the “in the hunt” column in those NFL postseason charts that emerge on game broadcasts circa the holiday season. General manager Joe Douglas has made it clear that he has a vision, but the on-field execution awaits.
The time is ripe for making further additions, as Monday marks the end of any compensatory pick matters when it comes to free agents. What else do the Jets need in the post-Mr. Irrelevant era of the offseason? ESM investigates…
The Jets’ current quarterback group (Zach Wilson/James Morgan/Mike White) has a grand total of zero NFL regular season passes among them. It’s great that Wilson is there as the anchor, the latest name to fill the star-crossed role of franchise quarterback. But the Jets needs to bring someone in as both a veteran mentor and someone to have in case of an emergency. They had the right idea in the final year of the Sam Darnold era through signing Joe Flacco, but he’s in Philadelphia now. Darnold attributed the success of his rookie season to working with Josh McCown and it would behoove the Jets to find a similar solution.
Alex Smith might’ve been the most attractive option in both of those regards, but he opted for retirement. Nick Mullens, he of 16 starts over three seasons under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, is also available, but, at 26, he might not be able to provide the veteran mentorship Wilson needs in his debut season. The best current option might be Brian Hoyer, who was brought in for a visit in April. Hoyer, set to enter his 13th NFL season, spent last season in New England, his third stint with the Patriots, and credits his mentorship skills from working with Tom Brady.
“I learned so much and whenever I had a question for him, he was there to give me an answer,” Hoyer said in 2017 prior to a pre-LaFleur stint in San Francisco, per Chris Biderman of Niners Wire. “For me, the best way to be a mentor…was just watch somebody do it and do it the right way. And then when they ask you questions, you give them straight-up honest answers.”
Experienced Defensive Help
Anyone complaining about the lack of defensive additions over the first two days of the draft was roundly silenced when the Jets spent all but one of their Saturday selections on defenders. But the Jets are already packed to the brim with young projects at the top of their defensive depth chart, particularly in their secondary. Rookies Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols are set to join Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry. The franchise-tagged Marcus Maye is set to work next to sophomore Ashtyn Davis. New York even found some solid pass rushing additions through the undrafted front, including Hamilcar Rashed Jr. out of Oregon State. There’s certainly plenty to be inspired when it comes to the defensive haul, but there’s no guarantee any of them can be day one starters.
The team could use some veteran help and the current free agent bank has plenty of options. Steven Nelson, one of the stronger man-to-man coverage guys, is still around after two seasons in Pittsburgh. Inviting in Richard Sherman, who endlessly praised the hire of Robert Saleh, for at least an interview would almost be a no-brainer. The Jets could also bring back Brian Poole as a reliable nickel prescience, one that remains on the open market after injury issues last season.
The Jets emerged from the weekend with several building blocks to groom and develop. But if they’re looking to contend in the immediate future…the playoffs still seem like a pipe dream but a decent opportunity to reenter NFL relevancy…they’ll have to add some veteran defenders that can come in and contribute immediately.
The Jets must be careful with their blocking moving forward. It’s great to see they’re anchoring Wilson’s blind side with back-to-back first rounders, as Vera-Tucker will presumably be working alongside Mekhi Becton. But they took only one lineman in the weekend’s proceedings, going with box score contributors after moving up to take Vera-Tucker. Undrafted yields like New Mexico’s Teton Saltes could make some headway but some veteran finds would turn the pressure up on an offensive line that’s set to retain three starting members from a unit that ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ annual offensive line standings.
It’s a hole the Jets have slightly dug themselves into, curiously opting to add veteran depth options (like Dan Feeney and Corey Levin) before the draft rather than after it as other elite talents came and went. Many of the names left on the free agent front are up there in age but can serve as stopgaps or provide some extra training camp heat. Former Green Bay Packer Rick Wagner could work on the right side while the Jets solve their center woes by putting Connor McGovern up against another veteran like Joe Looney this summer until they can find a more permanent solution for Wilson. Center was among the biggest problems during the Sam Darnold era, so any form of consistency they can with the newcomer, even if it’s only temporary, can start steering this ship in the right direction.
Sam Darnold might be here to stay, but, even if the New York Jets are ready to roll with him, their passing questions still persist.
When one analyzes the offseason of a two-win team that’s welcoming in an almost-entirely new coaching regime, it’s hard to truly lament any losses from the prior group. Sure, departures Henry Anderson and Breshad Perriman provided occasional flashes of brilliance, but one look at the 2020 New York Jets would be enough to convince fans that change was coming and should’ve given them ample time to say their goodbyes.
But one of the most recent losses may sting the new edition in unexpected ways.
The Philadelphia Eagles announced on Tuesday that former Jets thrower Joe Flacco will don a new shade of green through a one-year deal. It is widely expected that the Super Bowl XLVII MVP will backup sophomore Jalen Hurts, or at least compete for the role against Nate Sudfeld and Khalil Tate.
On paper, the Flacco departure shouldn’t affect the Jets drastically. The Audubon, NJ native’s lasting metropolitan legacy was likely to appear on endless lists and attempts at Twitter procrastination when fans pejoratively reference a legend of the game’s time in unfamiliar colors (other Jets examples in this phenomenon would include Chris Johnson, Derrick Mason, and Ronnie Lott). Additionally, if incoming receiver Corey Davis is to be believed, Sam Darnold will be the Jets’ starting quarterback come September, eliminating any semblance of a New York quarterback controversy…for now.
Flacco’s departure, however, may be the Jets’ most impactful loss yet.
The importance of a backup quarterback can no longer be denied in the modern NFL. Injuries remain a part of the game and teams have become especially cautious when it comes to high-profile quarterbacks. In each of the last two seasons, for example, only 13 throwers started all 16 of their team’s games. We’ve witnessed backup throwers start…and win…playoff games. The most recent Wild Card Saturday saw John Wolford and Taylor Heinicke line up under center and the football world is only three years removed from watching Nick Foles shock the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Tennessee built a contending squad after a strong safety net, Ryan Tannehill, became their primary option.
Trivial as it seems, this area must be addressed. In New York, the Jets have not had a quarterback start every game in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick went the whole way in 2015. Darnold has yet to start to a full season and the Jets are 0-10 in his absence, with those games being overseen by Flacco, Josh McCown, Trevor Siemian, and Luke Falk.
While Davis appears confident that Darnold is the Jets’ man for the future, his comments don’t clarify over whether he’ll be the official starting quarterback. National mock drafts continue to place a non-Trevor Lawrence thrower next to the Jets’ slot at No. 2. But it’s hard to imagine the Jets, already cursed with social media notoriety, creating controversy and conflict where there doesn’t have to be. They have enough issues, which include working with a new coaching staff. When there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel of perpetual rebuilding, it needs to be approaching as cleanly as possible.
Thus, if Davis’ words are to be taken literally, it appears Darnold is the top man. But the backup situation must be addressed and undoubtedly moved up a few pegs on the team’s active offseason priority list (which already needs blocking, secondary, and kicking questions answered).
The current situation
If the Jets stick with Darnold and he’s lost to another medical absence, uncertainty looms in the bottom half of the depth chart. The primary understudy role would probably be a toss-up between James Morgan and Mike White…who have a combined zero NFL regular season passes between them.
The case of Morgan, a mid-major standout from Florida International, is particularly perplexing. His fourth-round drafting made little sense for a team that wound up filling the backup quarterback hole with Flacco shortly after draft weekend. Even as the Jets’ stakes quickly dwindled, to the point they had literally nothing to lose except the top draft pick, Morgan couldn’t even earn a mere activation. New York instead opted to use White, a fifth-round pick in Dallas in 2018, as Flacco’s backup while Darnold recovered. The situation becomes even more bizarre when one looks at the names passed (pun itentended) to add Morgan instead; among them were instant day three contributors like Gabriel Davis and DeeJay Dallas.
It’s hard to fully blame for the predicament. He hasn’t even had the luxury of throwing a down in Jets game jersey thanks to the cancellation of the 2020 preseason. Morgan could well prove himself worth of NFL time sooner or later, but the Jets must, at the very least, create a competition for the spot, especially if they’re keeping Darnold.
What the Jets need in a backup
Mentorship: What Darnold needs at this point in time of his NFL career is stability and guidance. The closest he’s looked to having his NFL act together came at the end of his rookie season, when he put up a 99.1 passer rating (64 percent completion rate, 6 touchdowns, 1 interception). Darnold credited the surge in production to “watching Josh (McCown)” while he was injured. Having a de facto coach who also wears a jersey could be big for Darnold as he enters the all-important fourth year on an NFL roster.
Experience: Abstaining from drafting another quarterback if Darnold is kept would limit potentially negative attention. But if the Jets want someone to keep them afloat if Darnold is lost once again, they would be much better trusting someone used to the weight of NFL starterhood rather than entrusting an emergency situation to a day three choice. Several ex-starters who would probably be better suited for backup duties remain on the free agent market, including Blaine Gabbert from the Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay and San Francisco passer Nick Mullens, who has worked with incoming coaches Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur.
That Championship Feeling: The Jets would be wise to seek someone whose has experienced the passing highs the NFL has had to offer. For example, Blake Bortles, most recently a member of the Los Angeles Rams, was starting in an AFC title game three seasons ago. Enough can’t be written about Alex Smith’s inspiring NFL journey. These throwers, amongst others, can provide the Jets some assurance and security in case the unthinkable happens to Darnold yet again, while providing him some off-the-field skills to learn as well.