Marcus Maye addresses trade rumors, commits to New York Jets

Set to return to the field on Sunday, New York Jets Marcus Maye addressed several happenings from an eventful time on the injury report.

This New York Jets rollercoaster drama involving a star safety appears destined for a happy ending, at least in the immediate future.

Thursday saw safety Marcus Maye speak publicly for the first time since the team announced that he injured his ankle during the Week 3 loss in Denver. The ailment has kept Maye out for the last two games but he’s set to return for the Jets’ return to action on Sunday afternoon in New England (1 p.m. ET, CBS). It’s New York’s first game since taking their mandated week off during Week 6 action.

Much has transpired while Maye recovered: when his initial diagnosis of a three-to-four week injury was announced, Maye’s agent Erik Burkhardt curiously noted that his client would be healthy by the trade deadline on Nov. 2. A February arrest for DUI was also made public, one that Maye failed to inform the Jets about in a violation of league rules.

Maye spent Thursday expressing remorse and setting the record straight. While he was unable and/or unwilling to divulge details of his conversations with the coaching staff stemming from his arrest, he apologized and said he addressed the issue with his teammates.

Time will tell what the future holds for Maye both on and off the field. His immediate prospects, however, won’t involve a change of address if he has anything to say about it.

In Thursday’s statements, Maye clarified that he never asked for a trade. As long as the NFL allows him to do so…discipline could arrive for his failure to report his arrest…he plans to do so in a New York Jets uniform.

“They know I want to be here. They know I’m 100 percent with my guys and teammates and things like that,” Maye said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “I feel like they know I’m 100 percent with those guys every time I step on the field.”

“Every time I’m in this building, I’m 100 percent. Every time I’m on the field, I’m 100 percent. I’m going to be with my guys no matter what.”

Maye brushed off the Burkhardt tweet by merely claiming he doesn’t “have control over (Burkhardt’s) phone”. The defender has been the subject of hypothetical deadline deals, as the holder of a $10.6 million franchise tag has been public about his desires to be one of the NFL’s highest-paid safeties. It’s eerily reminiscent of the Jamal Adams saga, one that ended with Adams burning every New York-based bridge he had before the Jets traded him to Seattle in the latter stages of the 2020 offseason. The primary yield was a pair of first-round draft picks, one of which was traded to Minnesota for the right to draft primary left guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

Maye admits that he has no control over the rumors but vowed to hand what he can handle as the Jets return to the game field.

“My duty is to play football the best as I can,” Maye said, per notes from the Jets.

To that end, Maye expressed no ill will toward the team when they bestowed a four-year extension (accompanied by a guaranteed $30 million) to fellow defender John Franklin-Myers. He instead celebrated the pass rusher’s windfall and hopes to resume talks toward his own when this season ends.

“He deserves it, he earned it, he worked hard for it. That’s my guy. I’m happy for him,” Maye said. “We’re all in different situations…I can’t control what happens to him. But I’m definitely happy for him.”

With extracurriculars set to be sidelined upon Maye’s return, the Jets (1-4) are overjoyed to be welcoming him back as a matchup with a divisional rival’s rookie sensation, Mac Jones, looms large. Through six weeks, the Jets are the only team in the NFL that has yet to earn an interception. Turnovers as a whole have been hard to come by: the Jets earned four fumble recoveries in their five pre-bye contests but half of those came in their most recent showing, a loss in London to the Atlanta Falcons.

New York management is confident that Maye’s rearrival can help further bolster what has otherwise been a pleasantly surprising defensive effort in the early going.

“He heightens everybody just with his awareness and his communication skills,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said of Maye, per team notes. “Although it’s the first year in the system for him, for this particular system, there’s a lot of carry over stuff that he’s done. The veteran presence, it will be big for us back there.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Three things the New York Jets did right in their pre-bye slate

John Franklin-Myers, jets

The 2021 New York Jets’ early victories go beyond the single tally they’ve earned on the scoreboard so far.

Fresh off a visit to London that was anything but a vacation, the 2021 New York Jets embark on a new holiday: their bye week.

The Jets (1-4) are one of four teams that will take Week 6 off, setting off the NFL’s bye week slates and countless roster adjustments in fantasy football. New York returns to action on Oct. 24 against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Traditional pessimism has surrounded the one-win Jets: rookie quarterback Zach Wilson has thrown a league-worst nine interceptions, the usage…or lack thereof…of young guns Denzel Mims and Elijah Moore has stirred debate, and the playoffs already seem to be a pipe dream. At one win, the Jets have little hope in catching the mighty Buffalo Bills at the top of the AFC East and are two games behind the wild card logjam currently headlined by Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Denver.

ESM, however, has sifted through the gridiron malarkey to find three silver linings over the first five games…

Coupling the Q Train

It didn’t take long for Quincy Williams to erase the crude, mere moniker of “Quinnen’s brother”.

The third-year linebacker was one of the Jets’ final preseason additions, coming aboard after he was among Jacksonville’s last camp cuts. He was almost immediately thrust into a starting role after fellow newcomer Jarrad Davis was injured during a postseason contest.

Despite missing opening weekend, Quincy currently ranks second on the team in tackles (31) behind only the reawakened C.J. Mosley. He has gone semi-viral for some punishing hits, three of which have forced fumbles (tied for the league lead with Terrance Mitchell of Houston).

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich believes that Quincy Williams needs a little bit of professional grooming and nurturing before he becomes an NFL mainstay. Having said that, Ulbrich is happy that he’s doing so in New York.

“I really look at him as a guy who could be one of the top ‘backers in the NFL, if he wants to be and he’s committed to it and he stays healthy,” Ulbrich said of the elder Williams after he tallied 12 tackles (two for a loss with one sack) against Tennessee, per notes from the Jets. “Is he perfect? Not close. He has so much more room to grow. But we’re just excited by what he can become.”

Ulbrich believes that reuniting Williams with his brother, recreating a pairing seen at Wenonah High Schoo in Birmingham, could lead to a sense of accountability that helps him reach unprecedented levels. The pair united for 3.5 takedowns of Ryan Tannehill in the aforementioned win over the Titans, becoming the first fraternal duo to record sacks in the same NFL game.

“He has speed, he has aggressiveness, he’s got explosiveness that’s different and unique and really uncommon in a lot of ways,” Ulbrich continued. “So now it’s just harnessing it within the scheme and fine-tuning it and cleaning up the details and tightening up his technique.”

Locking up JFT to the NYJ

A common criticism of the Joe Douglas era has been the general manager’s relative failure to lock up the Jets’ defensive assets long-term: further reminiscence on Jamal Adams’ final days in green is unnecessary but the Jets may have a Marcus Maye situation to deal with sooner rather than later.

But Douglas has appeared to have found another diamond in the camp-cut rough in John Franklin-Myers, who’s working through his third year in green after the Los Angeles Rams bid him farewell in the summer of 2019.

Franklin-Myers hinted at bigger contributions when he took on a larger role in 2020 after the Jets purged some of their defensive veterans after an in-season fire sale. He has since picked up the pass-rushing slack after touted acquisition Carl Lawson was lost for the season. Perhaps most famous for earning a sack of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, Franklin-Myers has been a consistent backfield invader and currently ranks as the Jets’ best-graded player on Pro Football Focus. These efforts and more have earned the Stephen F. Austin alum a contract extension that will keep him in green through 2025 and comes with over $30 million guaranteed.

Franklin-Myers’ windfall further establishes a new defensive outline for the Jets’ defense, one that is now poised to win through the time-honored green tradition of pressuring the quarterback. Lawson’s season-long medical absence has now done nothing to derail that plan.

“JFM is a stud,” head coach Robert Saleh said shortly before the Jets’ British excursion, per notes from the team. “We felt he could be a really great fit for our system and what we ask out of our defensive line and he has done nothing but work, work, work. He’s been a tremendous leader and then you see his play on the football field. He’s absolutely dominant at times.”

Debate can be staged over the talent from abroad that Douglas has called upon. Veteran members of the renovated offensive line, for example, have yet to make a true difference. But Douglas has assembled a strong group of young leaders in perusing other team’s summer bargain bins: Quincy Williams and Franklin-Myers have united with Shaq Lawson to produce respectable results on defense while former Detroit draft pick Ty Johnson has been a consistent contributor on offense over the last two seasons.

Welcoming the Trojan Horse

It’s still not fair to fully assess the Adams trade; Call it a cop-out, but grading a deal whose pieces have still not been fully revealed is foolhardy.

Having said that, it’s certainly acceptable to say the needle of the trade is starting to inch toward the Jets: Adams has become the face of the 2-3 Seahawks’ defensive woes, troubles that are allowing an NFL-worst 451 yards per game. His coverage has weakened and he has yet to tally a sack after setting the NFL record for defensive backs last season. Such struggles currently position Seattle’s 2022 first-round pick (the last asset due to be sent to the Jets) in the 12th position, and that’s before they lost franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to a lengthy injury, which passes the offensive reins to former Jets savior Geno Smith.

The yields of the Adams trade could well become trivia answers amongst Jets fans for years to come. While one (cornerback Bradley McDougald) is already gone, New York has seemed to have made the most out of the first of two imported opening-round draft picks, having traded the original Seattle selection to Minnesota in a ride up the draft board. New York then used the 14th overall pick to take interior blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker out of USC.

Vera-Tucker missed most of the summer preparation with an injury but hasn’t lost a step in the early going. NFL Network/Fox Sports analyst Brian Baldinger offered a particularly glowing review of Vera-Tucker’s showing against Atlanta, claiming he “dances like Fred Astaire”. PFF graded Vera-Tucker’s British business trip as the best performance from a Sunday offensive lineman. This all becomes before Vera-Tucker has been able to spend extensive time alongside Mekhi Becton, who has been out since kickoff weekend.

The Jets’ offensive endeavors in the pre-bye slate have left much to be desired. But Douglas’ long-gestating plan to build the wall in front of the fledgling New York backfield is slowly paying off.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

The New York Jets’ defense passed its first test

rob saleh, jets

The New York Jets’ makeshift defense, faced with lost pressure and Saturday draft picks in big roles, put out a respectable effort in Week 1.

It wouldn’t have been a New York Jets opener with a reminder that the team often serves as living, gridiron-based proof of the existence of Murphy’s Law. Thus, it was only natural that ex-bastions of New York hope contributed to the team’s Sunday demise.

Quarterback Sam Darnold and receiver Robby Anderson served ice cold revenge on a sweltering late summer afternoon, accounting for all but three tallies of a 16-point quarter that made up the majority of the Jets’ 19-14 defeat at the hands of the Carolina Panthers. Darnold, Gang Green’s most recent false prophet under center, ended the frame with a five-yard scoring run with 35 seconds remaining after previously tossing a 57-yard six-pointer to Anderson, a rare source of green metropolitan offensive power during the prior decade, one who claimed that the Jets were making him “(lose) his love” for football.

(Photo by James Dombrowski)

Anderson’s lucrative grab was his only catch of the afternoon, but Darnold tallied 234 aerial yards in the first half…needing only a single game to eclipse his highest such tally in New York. He and Darnold’s collaborative heroics provided fresh material for a football landscape that finds the slightest Jets mistakes to be a guaranteed punchline. The coming week will undoubtedly be filled with thoughtpieces and hypotheticals from both fans and commentators alike about whether the Jets made the right decision in letting Darnold and Anderson move on. Those theories will be callously pushed forth by Zach Wilson’s rollercoaster afternoon (20-of-37, 258 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) partly brought upon by a porous offensive line effort that led to six sacks and “a little whiplash” for the second overall pick of April’s draft.

But despite the endless “what if?”-based questions that Sunday produced, the Jets earned an undeniable victory: putting forth a strong defensive effort that can’t be erased by two entries in the scoring summary.

Youth in revolt on offense generated enough hype to mask the Jets’ defensive inefficiencies, ones that were the unavoidable consequence of having so much to work on after last year’s garish campaign gave the Jets so much to work on that it was guaranteed some roster area was going to be neglected. Even the quickest look at the depth chart would yield the area most affected: having spent most of the offseason transactional periods trying to surround their new quarterback with a potent welcome wagon and pressure artists with experience in the 4-3, the cornerback depth chart became a hodgepodge of young journeymen and acquisitions made during Saturday of draft weekend.

The football gods indulged in their beloved tradition of toying with the Jets, centering their cruel divine intervention on defense. Two of the high-profile defensive additions (Jarrad Davis and Carl Lawson) were bitten by the injury bug, the latter’s ailment erasing his 2021 season entirely. Qunnien Williams, fresh off a breakout campaign, missed nearly all of the offseason preparation after hurting his foot during a workout at the team’s Florham Park facility.

Suddenly, the issues in the secondary couldn’t be ignored: the franchise-tagged Marcus Maye was/is believed to be capable of holding down the fort at safety but the headliner at corner was 2020 fifth-rounder Bryce Hall, he of eight NFL games that showed promise but didn’t turn him into a seasoned professional veteran. Rutgers-based project Bless Austin was projected to be the man next to Hall as he entered his third season but the Jets bid him farewell less than two weeks before Sunday’s kickoff. The Queens native has already been scooped up by Seattle, creating a reunion with Jamal Adams.

Austin’s position on the depth chart was literally left blank on the depth chart shown on the team’s official website. Three names currently sit in the spot, all of them chosen on the most recent Saturday of draft weekend. Sixth-round choice Brandin Echols was there alongside undrafted Isaiah Dunn while fifth-rounder Jason Pinnock was inactive. It was part of defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich referred to as a “committee“-like approach to Sunday’s contest.

Such struggles set a dangerous stage: Carolina was already welcoming back two four-digit yardage receivers (Anderson and D.J. Moore) and was also anticipating the return of Christian McCaffrey after an injury-plagued 2020. Much like how Wilson was blessed with a better cabinet than anything the Jets had to offer in the last three seasons, Darnold was also provided his best arsenal after three years in offensive purgatory in New York. To put things in perspective: out of the 45 touchdowns Darnold threw over the past three seasons as a Jet, 26 were bestowed to receivers that are already no longer employed by the Jets. Now, he had a chance to work with potent weapons rather than aerial washouts.

Yet, the Jets defense held strong for as long as they could. Two plays will define their afternoon…and, perhaps, their season, in the eyes of the common fan, but it’s not fair to deny what this fledgling unit was able to accomplish in Charlotte.

There were countless opportunities for the Jets to break on Sunday: Carolina shook off Matt Ammendola’s unexpected punting heroics to drive into the Jets’ red zone, but the defense forced them into a situation that to an aborted Darnold fumble that gave New York the ball back. When the offense failed to take advantage of the opportunity (Wilson’s first professional interception to Shaq Thompson), they cracked down in the red zone, forcing Darnold into a pair of incompletions that yielded a mere field goal. Darnold’s history and the late scores could’ve blown the game open, but they never allowed the deficit to balloon past two possessions. The makeshift secondary did its job in its professional debut.

Pressure was understandably at a premium with Lawson missing for the year, but it came at the most opportune time. Faced with a two-yard third down, John Franklin-Myers broke through for a big sack that provided the best start possible for the second half. It was a 30-minute stretch that saw Carolina run only nine plays past the Jets’ 35, including none in the third quarter. Darnold threw for only 45 yards in the second half, 17 coming on a single throw to Ian Thomas on a drive that led to a mere punt. Carolina’s most lucrative drives came through strong starting field position: another drive that ended in a field goal began at their won 37 while two final runs from McCaffrey after an onside kick helped the Panthers seal the deal.

The Jets (0-1) were eventually done in by typical antics from McCaffrey, who sent a dire warning to the rest of the league through 187 yards of offense in his anticipated return. But there was no denying the strides the Jets made under Ulbrich and head coach Robert Saleh, he of San Franciso’s defensive prowess over the past four seasons. Last year proved he’s more than capable of adapting to tough situations brought about by medical issues. He picked up where he left off against the Panthers, even if the proof didn’t linger on the scoreboard.

“We had a great red zone stand where we got the takeaway. In the second half, I thought they came out and stood up to the challenge,” Saleh said of the defensive effort per team contributor Randy Lange. “The challenge at halftime was just keep getting our offense the ball, keep giving them opportunities and they’ll flip it. I thought the guys showed resolve. I thought (Ulbrich) did a great job with his halftime adjustments. And I thought the offense responded and made a game out of it.”

Linebacker C.J. Mosley is used to victorious defensive efforts, having worked with Baltimore’s strong units during the latter parts of the last decade. Mosley was granted captaincy honors by his teammates, bestowed the task of leading this brave new defense into the future. Despite some late cramping issues, Mosley finished Sunday’s contest with four tackles.

Sunday provided a major personal victory for Mosley, who finished a Jets game for the first time in his three years under contract. But he was prouder of the victories earned as a unit, ones that could potentially change opinions on the Jets’ defense moving forward.

“I loved every second of it,” Mosley said in Lange’s report. “I was just happy to be out there, happy to have that ‘C’ on my chest, happy to be out there leading the defense, happy to be running around doing what I love. It wasn’t the results that we wanted as a unit or as a defense, but it was the first game, we’ve got a lot to improve and we’ve got to get ready for next week.”

The Jets’ revamped defense will make its East Rutherford debut next weekend against the New England Patriots (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: LB C.J. Mosley feeling confident after return to MetLife

Donning a New York Jets jersey for the first time since October 2019, C.J. Mosley couldn’t hide his confidence.

It had been over 500 days since New York Jets fans got to see their team play a sanctioned football game at MetLife Stadium in person. Perhaps only an on-field attendee, Jets linebacker  C.J. Mosley, had to wait longer.

Mosley put on his New York uniform on Saturday night to partake in the Jets’ 12-7 preseason victory over the New York Giants. It was the first time his game day equipment had been worn since a Monday night game against New England in October 2019. Mosley helped the Jets’ strong defensive effort, one that held the Giants to 163 yards on the night, get off to a strong start.

Working next to newcomers Jarrad Davis and Hamsah Nasirildeen on the premier unit, Mosley rejected a Mike Glennon pass intended for Darius Slayton. Two plays later, Bryce Huff earned a seven-yard sack to force the Giants into a three-and-out after just 61 seconds of game time. The Jets (1-0) would get the ball at their own 36 after a punt and tallied a 30-yard field goal to go up 3-0 after the opening drives.

Mosley also appeared on the Giants’ second offensive possession, where he picked up two tackles, though one was erased by a Jets penalty. The Giants picked up two first downs, but the Jets limited the damage to 32 yards on seven plays, the last of which was a punt.

Despite relatively minimal work, it was hard for Mosley to hide his enthusiasm in the aftermath. The linebacker issued a foreboding warning to future visitors of East Rutherford that underestimate the Jets’ defense.

“If people come with that same mentality, they’re going to get their (butts) blown out,” Mosley said of those who expect the idea of “Same Old Jets” to continue this year, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “That’s 100 percent, whether we’re at MetLife or anywhere else. If they think there’s anything old about this Jets team, it’s not going to end well for them.”

Mosley will be working alongside several touted newcomers this season. The Jets made their pass rush a priority despite several young breakouts headlined by Quinnen Williams. Pressure artist Carl Lawson comes in from Cincinnati while Sheldon Rankins arrives from New Orleans. The revamped unit was on full display against the Giants, as the Jets took down Glennon and Clayton Thorson five times. Their last takedown becoming a safety when another sixth-rounder (Jonathan Marshall) took down Thorson in the end zone. Huff had two sacks on the night while undrafted rookies Hamilcar Rashed and Michael Dwuomfour also got involved in the tally.

Mosley is a bit of a stranger to New York himself. Signed to a five-year, $85 million deal during the 2019 offseason, Mosley was the last big ticket arrival of the Mike Maccagnan era. He has partaken in only two games since then, besieged by medical calamities of both a football and non-gridiron variety. The former Baltimore Raven and four-time Pro Bowler has appeared in only two Jets games over the last two seasons. Groin issues limited him to two games in 2019 while he opted out of last season’s proceedings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Thrown into action in the preseason opener, Mosley was going to take full advantage of any game snaps, even if they came in an exhibition contest. Mundane gameday tasks like getting to East Rutherford and even hooking up with the team during the pregame took on a whole new meaning after nearly two full years away from the field.

“You can never take this game for granted. Any time you step on the field you want to try and give it your all and take advantage of every opportunity you get,” Mosley said, according to team reporter Jack Bell. “Driving to the team hotel, that’s something I haven’t done in a long time. Going to the meetings at night, waking up in the morning and getting back to my routine. There was even a little traffic to getting to the stadium. I’m embracing everything.”

Time will tell if Mosley is a fit in what head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are trying to build through their reintroduction of the 4-3 set. Fate has given him every reason to believe that his New York tenure is cursed, but he’s defying the conventional metropolitan pessimism.

“(We have) an explosive D-line that’s going to get after it, especially when we get teams in second-and-long and third-and-long,” Mosley said, per Dennis Waszak of the Associated Press. “Even third-and-short, we’re going to get our defensive line trying to get after the opponent’s quarterback. I think we’re going to be a defense that’s going to make you try to throw over the top and we’re going to make you try to run the ball on us because if you don’t, it’s going to be a long day for your quarterbacks.”

“We’ve just got to make sure that we hold each other accountable every day when we go to practice, make sure we try to stay as healthy as possible…have the same mindset, same goal to win every game.”

Mosley and the Jets will return to preseason action on Saturday night, when they battle the Green Bay Packers on Saturday late afternoon at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets CB Bless Austin has big plans as a primary defender

Granted one of the New York Jets’ primary cornerback roles, Austin promised to live up to the great expectations placed upon him.

If you tried to turn Bless Austin’s football career into a movie, a Hollywood studio would probably reject. Not only is Austin’s NFL journey in its infantile stages, but the screenplay could be criticized for being too on the nose.

Fortunately, Austin has been watching his fair share of film as is.

Speaking after the Jets’ training camp activities on Monday, Austin is penciled in as one of the Jets’ primary cornerbacks as their preseason opener looms this weekend. As Austin prepares for extended duties, he’s taken in head coach Robert Saleh’s San Francisco filmography, with 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley serving as his muse. Austin also admitted to taking a look at Saleh’s former division rival Jalen Ramsey out in Los Angeles.

It’s part of a personal goal of Austin’s that is anything but modest: to become one of the NFL’s best defenders.

“I think I’m the real deal. (There’s) no secret in that,” Austin said in a report from Dennis Waszak Jr. of the Associated Press. “Of course, I make mistakes, but there’s also a lot of plays I’ve made on that field that other corners in this league aren’t making.”

Born in Queens and starring at Campus Magnet in Cambria Heights (formerly known as Andrew Jackson High School), Austin stayed in the tri-state area, moving on to Rutgers during some of their earliest days in the Big Ten. He immediately made an impact with 14 pass breakups in his sophomore season but injuries ate away at his latter two seasons.

Austin nonetheless found redemption from a familiar source: a New Jersey-based club with New York branding.

The Jets chose Austin with their final pick of the 2019 draft (196th overall) after partaking in only five games in his last pair of collegiate campaigns. Entering his third professional season, Austin is now an elder statesman in Gang Green’s secondary: he’s the longest-tenured Jet in the team’s cornerback room and might be the most experienced at the position overall: special teams ace Justin Hardee is the only listed such defender who has been in the league longer.

Through his first two NFL season, Austin has developed a reputation as a physical defender, but his coverage needs work. A brutal coverage grade of 47.4, bestowed by Pro Football Focus, ranked 112th among 136 qualified cornerbacks. PFF has refused to let up, calling the Austin-headlined New York cornerback group one of the weakest units in the league back in April.

With the Jets woefully undermanned in terms of experience in the secondary, some have clamored for the Jets to search for veteran help from abroad. C.J. Henderson, a top ten a pick a year ago, could be up for grabs with the Jaguars reportedly ready to put him on the trading block.

New York Jets, Bless Austin
(Photo: Getty)

The cornerback, however, won’t hear of it. He’s not only confident in his own abilities but he also spoke glowingly of his new co-worker in the secondary.

Austin is set to work next to Bryce Hall, another day three choice with something to prove. The Virginia alum was projected to be a first-round pick after his junior season but a devastating ankle injury relegated him to the fifth round of the 2020 draft, where the Jets scooped him up. Hall showed promise over eight NFL contests after the Jets’ in-season fire sale purged several veteran corners, even earning his first professional interception in the team’s first win of the season over the Rams.

Austin unveiled a dire warning to those disregarding he and Hall simply because of their star-crossed collegiate careers: do so at your own risk. That notice might extend to the Jets’ front office, which has rarely used the calendar as an excuse for inaction on the free agent front.

“The front office and the coaching staff does a great job of communicating to us where their head is at,” Austin said, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “A lot of people forget me and Bryce were highly rated dudes coming out of college. We just fell short to injury. 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.”

“I don’t pay attention to outside noise. I’m between the white lines and I know what I’m about. Other people in the league know what I’m about as well.”

The Jets’ revamped receivers, headlined by the arrivals of Corey Davis, Elijah Moore, and Keelan Cole, have given Austin a formidable challenge as he enters a year that could well determine the course of the rest of NFL career. It’s a challenge where he can’t “go through the motions and think I’m gonna have a successful day”, according to DJ Bien-Aime II of the New York Daily News.

But, true to the warning he bestowed to the Jets’ front office and the lingers free agent market, Austin is apparently impressing the right people as game day approaches.

“He’s got a dog’s mentality, from a football sense,” Saleh himself said of Austin’s summer endeavors, per notes from the Jets. “He is absolutely fearless, he’s very strong at the line of scrimmage, at least from the time I’ve gotten here, doesn’t look like he’s really bothered by the play before, he can move on. It’s just those attributes, the length, the strength, he’s fast enough, it’s just a matter of working the technique and understanding where you work in the defense. He’s shown everything that we want, it’s just a matter of trying to get better and see what he looks like once we get with other opponents.”

“Bless (is) long, strong, aggressive, tough,” defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich added in those same quotes. “He’ll challenge you. He wants to play at the line of scrimmage, he wants to get his hands on you, he wants to disrupt. He’s a proven tackler, he’s tough, he’ll show up in the run game to support.”

The Jets open the preseason on Saturday night against the New York Giants in a battle for MetLife Stadium (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 opponent report: Denver Broncos

Week 3 sees the New York Jets made a trip to the Rockies to battle the Denver Broncos, who are also facing a lengthy playoff drought.

The Opponent: Denver Broncos
The Dates: Week 3, September 26, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS
The Series: Denver leads 21-16-1 (last meeting: 2020, 37-28 DEN)

Much like Elaine Benes’ heartbreaking revelation that she was turning into her incompetent friend George Costanza, the Denver Broncos may be coming to a similar epiphany of depression: they’re slowly transforming into the New York Jets.

Denver’s extended Super Bowl hangover…they haven’t reached the NFL postseason since their triumph over Carolina in Super Bowl 50…is only at five years compared to the Jets’ five-plus decades. That postseason drought, however, is tied for second-worst in the league (Arizona and Cincinnati are likewise shamed) behind only the Jets’ decade-long disappearance. What’s particularly troubling in Denver is the fact that their post-Super Bowl rut has stationed them at the bottom of the NFL’s standings. An active streak of four straight losing seasons is their longest such since a nine-year tally mostly accumulated during their AFL days. The 23 wins gained in that span best only four other teams.

The Broncos are a franchise in flux, cursed with both a quarterback controversy and a dominant thrower stationed in a divisional rival’s camp (Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City) with no end to his reign in sight. Head coach Vic Fangio is entering his third season, the proverbial make-or-break campaign, with only a dozen wins under his belt. A once-proud defense is struggling to regain its footing.

Their matchup against the Jets is the conclusion of an intriguing September slate. The Broncos have a prime opportunity to start 3-0 as a Week 2 matchup in Jacksonville is sandwiched by showdowns against the reeling New York franchises. Gang Green’s visit will serve as their 2021 home opener.

Denver and New York will square off for the second straight season. A Thursday night get-together, won by Denver in a 37-28 final, was overshadowed by late extracurriculars said to be exacerbated by ousted defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Skinny on the Broncos

Quarterbacks old and new have taken center stage in Denver’s endeavors of the new decade. Life after Peyton Manning proved to be too much for franchise legend John Elway, who stepped out of the general manager role over this offseason, passing the affair over to George Paton, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings’ front office.

Paton raised the heat on incumbent franchise thrower Drew Lock by acquiring brief Jet Teddy Bridgewater for a day three pick. Bridgewater is by far one of the most inspiring stories in recent NFL memory: last season saw him return to the brotherhood of NFL starting quarterbacks in Carolina after suffering a devastating non-contact injury in Vikings camp in 2016. Paton is very familiar with Bridgewater’s work, as he was the assistant general manager when Minnesota made him a first-round pick in 2014.

Lock is in a precarious position as he, like Fangio, enters his third season in the Rockies with a lot to prove. He tied for the league lead in interception with Carson Wentz (15) last season and is threatening to become the latest failed franchise project in the post-Manning era (joining washouts like Brock Osweiler, Paxton Lynch, and Trevor Siemian). The Missouri alum ended the year on a strong note, posting a 92.1 passer rating over his last four games, but the upcoming preseason slate will be crucial for him to prove can still be a long-term solution for an NFL franchise.

The ultimate shame about Denver’s quarterback issues is that they have a strong, skilled arsenal to work with. Courtland Sutton missed all but two games in 2020 due to a torn ACL, but the Broncos enjoyed promising showings from Tim Patrick, Jerry Jeudy, and tight end Noah Fant. Elsewhere in the backfield, the team lost Phillip Lindsay to Houston but is set to welcome back accomplished veteran Melvin Gordon.

Defensively, the team is set to welcome back franchise face Von Miller, who returns from a devastating peroneal tendon injury that kept him out of the 2020 season entirely.  Bradley Chubb rose to the occasion in Miller’s absence, earning his first Pro Bowl nomination and approval on his fifth-year option. The Jets felt Chubb’s wrath firsthand, as Sam Darnold was victimized for 2.5 sacks in the aforementioned Thursday night get-together.

New York Giants, Patrick Surtain
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

What’s New in Denver?

The Broncos had an early draft pick to work with, choosing to use the ninth overall pick on Alabama defender Patrick Surtain II. His arrival was part of an expensive renovation project in the Denver secondary, as the Broncos bestowed over $65 million in guaranteed money to Justin Simmons, Kyle Fuller, Kareem Jackson, and Ronald Darby.

At $61 million over four seasons, Simmons (Pro Football Focus’ top-ranked safety in 2021 and earner of 16 interceptions since his 2016 entry) is now the highest-paid safety in football. Once Fuller was let go from Chicago, reuniting with Fangio, his former defensive coordinator with the Bears, was a de facto no-brainer. Fuller was added on a one-year deal worth nearly $10 million, it’s clear that Denver expects a lot of him in this prove-it year.

After Surtain’s selection, the Broncos also added Javonte Williams in the second round. The North Carolina alum shared the Tar Heels’ rushing duties with fellow rookie and current Jet Michael Carter. With Gordon in the latter part of his two-year deal, Denver could begin a transition plan that would make Williams their ground man of the future.

How to Beat Them

-Corral the QB

The Jets’ pass rush has a brilliant opportunity to show how far they’ve come from the depths of the 2020 season. That nationally televised loss against the Broncos let America know just how far the Jets had fallen. They failed to take down Denver third-stringer Brett Rypien at any point during the night, letting up a whopping 37 points and 359 yards of offense.

Listing pressure on the quarterback as a key to victory is a football cliche, perhaps the football equivalent of “pucks deep“. But when you’re facing a team that’s dealing with uncertainty in the most important role in football, dealing with a battle that could well extend into the regular season, the pressure becomes more important than ever. The Jets spent this offseason further bolstering a pass rush that was one of the rare silver linings of a 2020 season. If there’s any unit on their current depth chart that can be considered “elite”, that’s it.

Week 3 could also be a breakout for the New York pass rush because of Denver’s issues on the offensive line. Ja’Wuan James opted out of the 2020 season and was later released after suffering a torn Achilles in May. Another former Bear, Bobby Massie, is expected to take over. Division III standout Quinn Meinerz should also raise a little heat on incumbent center Lloyd Cushenberry. Granted an opportunity to build long-term momentum, the Jets must take advantage.

-Neutralize the Weaponry

Denver has stockpiled several offensive weapons that the quarterback, be it Bridgewater, Lock, or someone from the 2022 draft class, could work wonders with. The Jets found out about the group’s potential the hard way last fall: going up against Rypien, an undrafted second-year man making his first NFL start, Patrick tallied 113 yards on six clutch receptions, while Jeudy literally stole his first NFL touchdown from Pierre Desir.

The showdown against Denver will be one of the Jets’ biggest challenges in the early going, especially with Sutton’s potential return to the lineup. But with so many areas to improve after the horrors of 2020, it was almost a guarantee that one or more areas of the roster were going to be neglected. That turned out to be the secondary, which is set to see Bless Austin and Bryce Hall headlined at cornerback. Projected top strong safety Ashtyn Davis is already out for Week 1, while rookies and undrafted journeymen are expected to receive major snaps.

This visit against Denver presents a major opportunity for Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich to show their impact. Whether the Jets capitalize remains, as always, the question.

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 offseason recap 2021: Linebackers

new york jets, jarrad davis

Packed to the brim with potential, the New York Jets’ completely revamped linebacker corps must start producing on the field.

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. The second half of the front seven segments features the linebackers…

C.J. Mosley, New York Jets
USA Today

How It Started

A lot of attention and hullabaloo has been dedicated to the Jets’ constant turnover at quarterback, but a similar discussion could be had at linebacker. The Jets have had several marquee names to fill the slots. They used their 2016 first-rounder on Darron Lee (passing on names like Will Fuller, Jaylon Smith, Chris Jones, and Xavien Howard). Breakout defenders either turned out to be flukes (Jordan Jenkins) or went elsewhere (Tarell Basham). A de facto in-season firesale saw another casualty (Avery Williamson).

Medical absences have taken a particularly dangerous toll and it puts the Jets in an awkward position when it comes to C.J. Mosley. The former Baltimore Raven is in a bit of an awkward spot. He’s not only a rare leftover from the Mike Maccagnan era, but the prior general manager left a lasting legacy via a huge contract. Through the guaranteed clauses in his five-year, $85 million deal, Mosley has made $21.5 million thus far…for two games in green so far.

Mosley’s medical woes shouldn’t be held against him. Football is a physical, violent game and Mosley was one of many who weren’t comfortable playing amidst the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He had every right sitting out last season. The timing was just rather unfortunate from a Jets standpoint, as he was expected to provide some stability and winning pedigree to the Jets’ beleaguered defensive corps. Blake Cashman is another one beset by medical absences. He rose up in Mosley’s absence but is entering a huge third season after three major shoulder surgeries.

In an appearance on a team podcast hosted by Eric Allen and Ethan Greenberg, Mosley had no doubt that he was ready to make major contributions to the Jets’ road back to respectability, comparing his de facto two-year absence to the brief retirement of Rob Gronkowski. The tight end was a major part of Tampa Bay’s Super Bowl endeavor after taking a year off.

“Yeah, I don’t have any doubts in myself…I’m here, so we’ll let the play do the talking,” Mosley said. “I’m happy to be back in the building with my teammates, to be around the locker room and the new energy. What we’re doing now is building a great foundation, setting this team on course to stack up wins and get to where we want to go.”

The Jets have completely started over, as all of their primary linebackers from last season have moved on. Jenkins failed to expand on an eight-sack season in 2019 and moved on to Houston with reliable depth option Neville Hewitt. Basham, coming off a career-best season on the outside, earned a two-year with the Cowboys while Harvey Langi returned to New England.

Arkansas running back Trelon Smith (22) stiff arms Auburn defensive back Jamien Sherwood (20) at Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. Auburn defeated Arkansas 30-28.

How It’s Going

Head coach Robert Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are noted practitioners of the 4-3 defense, which the Jets haven’t run since the Rex Ryan days. Free agent newcomer Jarrad Davis will be one of the most vital pieces of this transition…and, by association, one of the Jets’ most fateful additions as they prepared to pen what feels like the most hopeful chapters of their never-ending rebuild.

Davis is about to embark on the textbook definition of a make-or-break season. He inked a fully guaranteed one-year, $5.5 million deal with the Jets after four seasons in Detroit, who made him a first-round pick in 2017. His career began on a strong note: he earned All-Rookie honors and eight sacks over his first two seasons, but the past two seasons have been a struggle.

Problems in coverage have been particularly worrisome. Over the past three seasons, quarterbacks have earned a 113.8 passer rating when targeting Davis’ assignments. Davis’ hasn’t been a complete disaster…he’s still capable of raising pressure…but it wasn’t enough for Detroit to pick up his fifth-year option. how he performs on this prove-it deal could well determine the path for the rest of his career.

The downfall of Davis could be traced back to the respective departures of Lions head coach Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin following his rookie season. Austin ran the 4-3 in Detroit (and later Cincinnati, who refused to draft defensive scheme fits), picking up where Davis had left off from his college days at Florida under then-defensive coordinator (and current Georgia Tech head coach) Geoff Collins. His speed, on display through a sub-4.6 40 time could also be huge as the Jets seek to bolster their pass rush (fellow free agent Del’Shawn Phillips should also help check that box). Through his experience in the 4-3, Davis has a prime opportunity to not only reclaim the narrative on his NFL career but showcase his leadership skills.

In addition to the returns of Mosley and Cashman (each of whom may face make-or-break campaigns through no fault of their own), the Jets made a pair of interesting selections in the latter stages of the draft. Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen were each listed as safties, but the Jets almost immediately announced their intentions to turn them into linebackers. Sherwood, an Auburn alum, is a bit undersized for a linebacker but makes up for it with a wide wingspan and good coverage near the line of scrimmage. Florida State’s Nasirildeen could’ve been chosen during the first two days if not for a torn ACL from his junior season that limited him to two games last year. He gained a reputation as an aggressive hitter during his time in Tallahassee. An undefeated addition could wind up being undrafted outside rookie Hamilcar Rashed, who is two years removed a 14-sack season at Oregon State.

new york giants, jarrad davis

Are They Better Off?

On paper, there is a lot of potential in the Jets’ linebacking corps. But like many other areas on the team, it’s time to start capitalizing. There’s no use in holding Mosley and Cashman’s medical pasts against them. But if they’re ready to go, it’s completely fair to start asking them to contribute.

When it comes to the newcomers, they’re looking at the group with an eye on the future. Even if Davis fails to live up to his first-round billing, he could help the younger pieces learn the finer points of the 4-3 that figures to factor into their long-term future. The immediate action after the draftings of Sherwood and Nasirildeen shows that they have a plan for this group.

As we discussed in the defensive line portion, having a strong front seven and the pass rush that comes with it is going to be vital with a yearly pair of matchups with Josh Allen ahead for the next decade. Through these additions, the Jets bolstered both their pressure (Davis, Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins) and coverage (Sherwood and Nasrilideen). The names aren’t flash by any stretch, but the hopeful, hopefully game-changing, chapter of a perpetual rebuild has to start somewhere.

This linebacker group has both immediate intrigue (will Mosley and Cashman overcome their painful pasts?) and hope for the future. (Davis, Sherwood, Nasrilideen). They’ll certainly never be boring come Sundays.

Final Offseason Grade: B

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: A player at each position in a make-or-break year (Defense)

No one’s expecting much from the 2021 New York Jets, who thus have little to lose. These defenders, however, would beg to differ.

The symptoms of dealing with the New York Jets’ endless search for a franchise quarterback have often been treated with a healthy dose of defense.

Mark Sanchez’s early struggles were offset by the disruptive weather patterns on (Darrelle) Revis Island while the early days of Joe Klecko helped them survive the Richard Todd era. More recently, Jamal Adams gave Jets fans a reason to stay tuned during the first two years of Sam Darnold’s reign before a highly publicized divorce that saw Gang Green earn two first-round assets in the settlement.

This offseason brought about an interesting irony: the Jets appear to have their new franchise man in Zach Wilson under a defensive-minded head coach in Robert Saleh. While they surrounded Wilson with plenty of talented, developmental pieces through both free agency and the draft, the defense is a relatively muddled hodgepodge of veterans both arriving and returning. After all, the Jets waited until the fifth round of the draft to address the defense, using the 146th overall pick on Auburn secondary man turned linebacker Jamien Sherwood.

Though New York has relatively little to lose in 2021 as a team…few expect them to rise out of the AFC East cellar…the defense is full of veterans looking to prove themselves, justifying their metropolitan existence for the potential good times ahead. ESM has a player from each position group to keep an eye on in that regard…

  • For offensive players in a make-or-break situation, click HERE

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 13: Defensive Lineman Kyle Phillips #98 of the New York Jets makes a stop call against the Dallas Cowboys in the second half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Defensive Line: Kyle Phillips

Phillips was one of the green breakout stars of the 2019 season. During the Jets’ second half mirage…a long-forgotten 6-2 stretch earned mostly against teams in even more dire straits…the undrafted Phillips was particularly impressive as a run-stepper.

Pro Football Focus graded him 17th amongst edge rushers in run defense and Phillips earned further notoriety when he picked up a crucial sack in a win over Pittsburgh in the Jets’ home finale (to date, their last game with fans at MetLife Stadium). His pass rushing skills left much to be desired, but the Jets were very satisfied with the value found in the rookie free agency pile.

Unfortunately, Phillips was unable to capitalize on his rookie success, as he partook in only six games last season due to an ankle injury. In his place, the Jets’ front seven enjoyed a few breakout years amidst the chaos of Adam Gase’s last stands. Most of the attention went to Quinnen Williams but John Franklin-Myers held down the fort in Phillips’ absence.

Phillips is an interesting situation, but the arrival of Saleh and his 4-3 tendencies should provide some stability. While Phillips moved around a lot in Gregg Williams’ 3-4 looks, he should be seen in his traditional role on the line at end more often. But with the Jets bringing in veterans Vinny Curry and Ronald Blair through free agency, immediately getting his primary duties back is no guarantee.

Nov 17, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions middle linebacker Jarrad Davis (40) runs off the field after recovering a fumble during the first quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Linebacker: Jarrad Davis

Conventional wisdom says that the New York linebacker most desperately facing a make-or-break season is C.J. Mosley, who has appeared in two games over his first two New York seasons due to medical absences. The former Baltimore Raven already faces a tall task as one of the final marquee signings of the Mike Maccagnan era. But even if this year doesn’t work out for Mosley (who nets the Jets $13 million if they trade him after this season), his previous resume (four All-Pro nominations) shouldn’t make it hard for him to find another job elsewhere.

Davis, the Detroit Lions’ 2017 first-round pick (21st overall) doesn’t have quite that luxury just yet. His NFL career got off to a decent start under the reliable watch of Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin but fell apart amidst the toxicity of the Matt Patricia era. A one-year “prove-it” deal bestowed by the Jets has given him a chance to get his career back on track…and the 4-3 gives him the perfect opportunity to do so.

Davis’ best showings have come in the 4-3, first under Geoff Collins as a Florida Gator before working in Austin’s system in the Motor City. It provides a chance to not only post some strong stats but showcase his leadership skills, as his experience in Saleh’s preferred set can be used as a safety blanket. But if he struggles this time around, it will probably become difficult to extend his NFL career further.

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

Cornerback: Bless Austin

For all intents and purposes, Queens native and Rutgers alum Bless Austin was born to succeed as a New York Jet. He overcame injury issues in Piscataway (limiting him to five games in his last two seasons as a Scarlet Knight) to become an NFL draft pick and did well for himself when some veterans ahead of him weren’t up to snuff. He partook in 11 games last season, the most since a sophomore season that saw him finish second in the Big Ten in pass breakups.

Over his first two NFL seasons, Austin has developed a reputation as a strong hitter but has struggled in coverage. Those issues could prove especially deadly in year one of Saleh and new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich’s watch, as the duo have been known to run zone schemes. Austin has fared slightly better in man sets, but hasn’t shown anything to suggest he’s ready for full-time starting duties at the NFL level.

The Jets were in such a macabre situation after last season that they had to sacrifice some areas in their 2021 renovations. Cornerbacks are by far the most exposed group. Free agent arrival Justin Hardee is expected to contribute more on special teams while returnees Corey Ballentine and Bennett Jackson are low on experience. The Jets did spend a majority of the draft’s final day on secondary help, bringing in Jason Pinnock, Michael Carter II, and Brandin Echols, not to mention the undrafted Isaiah Dunn.

Austin is currently set to be the top man next to Bryce Hall. While the second-year Hall has time to develop, Austin is facing a more desperate situation with younger prospects behind him.

Cole Beasley of Buffalo and Marcus Maye of the Jets make contact after Beasley made a catch in the second half as the Buffalo Bills met the New York Jets at Metlife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey on October 25, 2020.
The Buffalo Bills Vs The New York Jets At Metlife Stadium In East Rutherford New Jersey On October 25, 2020

Safety Marcus Maye

Once the necessary Adams divorce was finalized, Maye was tasked with not only being a defensive leader but for keeping the ensuing season at least somewhat tolerable. Maye did that and then some, enjoying a strong season that at least kept the Jets in the SportsCenter Top 10. The 2020 campaign also ended with his name on the Curtis Martin Team MVP Award.

The issue with accolades, especially club-based honors, in a two-win season is the question of whether the award says more about the honoree or the team. It seems like Maye has the talent and skillset to remain an NFL staple for the foreseeable future. Pro Football Focus’ Sam Monson in fact ranked Maye as the seventh-best safety in football entering 2021…three spots ahead of Pacific Northwest-dwelling friend and former teammate.

Jets management apparently still isn’t convinced that Maye, one of only two Maccagnan draft choices slated to start on defense this (Austin is the other), is the future. Long-term contract talks appear to have broken down and there have been no developments with the deadline eight days away. In the meantime, Maye’s desire for a big payday has been temporarily satisfied through a franchise tag granting him just over $10 million, making him the sixth-best paid safety this season (tied with Marcus Williams in New Orleans).

A big season thus lies ahead for Maye, who will be looking to prove to both the Jets and their 31 brothers that he can be a vital contributor on a respectable NFL squad. If he carries on the promise of last season and makes MVP endeavors the new normal, he won’t have to worry about the desired money and stability for a long time. But if he falters, his price tag could take a slashing.

Who else is facing a make-or-break season? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets sign former Jeff Ulbrich disciple Sharrod Neasman

New York Jets

The 29-year-old safety previously worked with the New York Jets’ incoming defensive coordinator during a shared stint in Atlanta.

The New York Jets announced the signing of former Atlanta Falcons free safety Sharrod Neasman on Thursday afternoon. They also placed undrafted offensive lineman Parker Ferguson on injured reserve in a corresponding move.

Neasman, 29, reunites with Jeff Ulbrich, the newly minted Jets defensive coordinator who held the same position in Atlanta last season. The Florida Atlantic alum joined the Falcons as an undrafted free agent in 2016 and wound up partaking in the team’s postseason run to Super Bowl LI. He wound up earning a special teams tackle in the historic loss to New England.

After two seasons with the Falcons, Neasman joined up with the New Orleans Saints during the 2018 offseason but did not make the team. Atlanta brought him back mid-season and he went on to post a career-best 44 tackles (two for a loss) and four pass breakups. Last season, Neasman earned the first two starts of his NFL career last season (subbing for an injured Ricardo Allen), as well as his first professional sack. In a coincidence that should delight all Jets fans, his first quarterback takedown came against Tom Brady.

At FAU, Neasman earned five interceptions over his latter two seasons, including one in a respectable effort against then-No. 8 Florida toward the end of the 2015 season.

In addition to his duties as a rotational safety, Neasman should also help contribute on special teams coverage teams. Bolstering the coverage has been a common theme in the Jets’ offseason newcomers, which also include Neasman’s fellow former NFC South competitor Justin Hardee.

To make room for Neasman on the 90-man roster, Ferguson was moved to the injured reserve. He earned All-Mountain West honors at the end of last season after a strong season at Air Force.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags