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

mekhi becton, jets

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

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

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

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

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

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

Offensive Line

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

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

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

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

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

Linebacker

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

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

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

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

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

Safety

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

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

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

Punter

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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

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

You made it, Gang Green Nation.

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti: Corner the Cornerbacks 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

new york jets, zach wilson

Brendan Carpenter: Attack With Zach

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

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

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

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

Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Dylan Price: Bring the Boom to Big Blue

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Robert Saleh lays out expectations for New York Jets cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

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

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

It’s not hard to find the affected areas.

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

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

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

Head coach Robert Saleh isn’t worried.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York Jets, Bryce Hall

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

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

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

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our focus on the defense continues by looking back on the cornerback position…

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

How It Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

How It’s Going

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

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

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

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

Are They Better Off?

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

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

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

Final Offseason Grade: C

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

New York Jets positional preview 2021: Secondary

What does the post-Jamal Adams era look like for a New York Jets secondary riddled with free agents? ESM investigates.

The Position: Secondary
On the Roster: Bless Austin, Corey Ballentine, Javelin Guidry, Bryce Hall, Lamar Jackson, Elijah Campbell, Sauqan Hampton, Ashtyn Davis, J.T. Hassell
Free Agents: Marcus Maye, Brian Poole, Arthur Maulet, Bradley McDougald, Matthias Farley, Bennett Jackson, Kyron Brown
Reserve/Future: Zane Lewis

The Jamal Adams roller-coaster finally returned to the loading station for the last time over the summer, as the disgruntled defender was dealt to Seattle. As far as the Jets are concerned they won’t have to think about Adams again, at least for the time being, until the Seahawks visit MetLife Stadium in 2024. The Jets even netted a solid consolation prize in a pair of Seattle first-round picks.

But, a question lingered, almost forgotten in the hullabaloo Adams caused on his way out: what would become of the secondary he left behind?

Leadership duties turned over to Adams’ fellow SEC alum and 2017 draftee Marcus Maye, who took full advantage of a new year in the spotlight. Maye set new career-bests in almost every major defensive category and ensured the Jets at least appeared in the SportsCenter Top 10 with a pair of jaw-dropping interceptions. His efforts were rewarded with the 2020 Curtis Martin Team MVP Award.

But Maye is set to be a free agent this spring and the situation behind him is quite murky. Injuries prevented some of the Jets’ defensive youngsters from taking the next step in their development, though some (like fifth-round rookie cornerback Bryce Hall) managed to make the most of their opportunities.

It’s great to see the Jets managed to make something of an ugly situation, vis a vis Adams’ departure. But it’s going to mean nothing if they can’t settle their own affairs on the homefront.

Free Agents-to-be

Kyron Brown

Brown, who partook in three games (one start) in 2019, spent all of last season on the Physically Unable to Perform list. As an exclusive rights free agent, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him get a camp opportunity.

Matthias Farley

Farley may be brought back for not only defensive veteran leadership, but for his work on the Jets’ special teams. He held special teams captaincy last season and led the Jets with seven tackles on kickoffs and punt returns.

Bennett Jackson 

The versatile Hazlet, NJ native has partaken in ten games over the past two seasons with the Jets and Ravens after a nearly half-decade absence from regular season action. His versatility, having played both cornerback and safety, could warrant him a new opportunity in green.

Arthur Maulet

Another defender who made his mark on special teams, Maulet possibly earned some brownie points with Jets brass when he did a serviceable job at safety over the final games. It’s possible Maulet could return on a third one-year deal.

Marcus Maye

Shortly after his hiring, new Jets head coach Robert Saleh sang of Maye’s praises.

“I know he’s got a tremendous reputation in the locker room,” Saleh said, per notes from the Jets. “From my understanding, he’s a very, very, very talented young man. And within our scheme, safeties are, obviously, they’re important to everybody, but with how we do things, it sounds like he’d be a very versatile piece.”

In terms of the Jets’ own free agents, Maye would likely be at the top of the list of terms of potential returnees. He probably isn’t worth the Eddie Jackson-numbers that Adams was seeking just yet, but the Jets’ plethora of cap space could make him an intriguing candidate for the franchise tag (circa $10-12 million).

Bradley McDougald

In 2020, McDougald became the answer to a New York sports trivia question, as he’s thus far the only yield from the Adams trade with a name. Unfortunately for McDougald, he failed to make an impact in the secondary was one of those afflicted by injuries (seven games). There’s no doubt that McDougald is talented, and the Jets could bring him back on an affordable short-term deal, though he’d probably have to battle for reps with Ashtyn Davis.

Brian Poole

One of the more pleasant surprises of the 2019 season, Poole was brought back on a second one-year deal and posted solid numbers before the injury bug cost him seven games. Through his time in Atlanta and New York, Poole has developed a strong reputation as a reliable slot defender. He’s more than earned another one-year deal, but, set to turn 29 in October, he might be seeking more long-term stability this time around.

Will They Draft?

It’s probably not a question of if, but when the Jets address their secondary on draft weekend. It also feels like these issues can be addressed as early as one of their Seattle picks at No. 23. Top prospect Patrick Surtain Jr. will likely be gone by then, but former receiver Caleb Farley out of Virginia Tech could be around, as well as more of Maye’s fellow SEC options like Jaycee Horn (South Carolina) and Tyson Campbell (Georgia).

Veteran Possibilities

Richard Sherman, San Francisco

The big difference between the hiring of Adam Gase and the modern arrival of Saleh is the difference in who was praising the moves. When Gase was brought in, it was mostly hot-take artists who felt like Gase was an outside-the-box hire. When Saleh came to town, it was the players who were responding positively to the move. No one’s praises have been louder than Sherman’s from afar, as Saleh has worked with him in their shared NFC West stops in Seattle and San Francisco. Sherman told Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer that Saleh would ” turn that entire culture around” and he personally congratulated the Jets on Twitter after the move was announced.

This, of course, raises the question…if Sherman is such a big Saleh fan, would be willing to join him in his first head coaching endeavor? Sherman would be a great fit, as the regaining of his trademark brand of smashmouth football, as well as his championship experience, would be perfect for this team to pick up.

Jason Verrett, San Francisco 

The more Niners the merrier, it would appear, as Saleh comes over from the Bay Area and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich represented the team as a player for a decade. That concept will probably only increase as players will seek to gain traction and stability in Saleh’s new schemes. Verrett would a comparable option to Sherman, though he’s younger and potentially more affordable.

Xavier Woods, Dallas

While there’s plenty of talent available in this secondary free agent class, many of them are expensive names that are either past or nearing the end of their prime. Woods is nearing the end of his rookie deal after four serviceable seasons in Dallas, but he struggled in coverage in the Cowboys’ beleaguered secondary. While the Jets truly can’t afford to help someone else pen a redemption story, as they’ve spent a decade trying to write their own to no avail, they could make an exception for Woods and his flashes of potential.

Outlook

Already in a tenuous spot, the Jets need to do something to bolster their secondary in the post-Adams age. Bringing back Maye, even if it’s through a franchise tag deal that would allow them a year of relatively consequence-free football to see if he fits in Saleh’s system, would be a vital first step in achieving that goal. Adding Maye back would also combat the issues of a free agent class relatively deep in experience while giving the youngsters whom the Jets have high hopes for (Austin, Davis, Hall, etc.) a familiar face to work with.

Signing Maye probably isn’t going to become the ultimate difference between the postseason and another trip home in January. But, if they miss out on him, the Jets better have one heck of a backup plan.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags