New York Jets: Why everyone wins the Sam Darnold trade (for now)

It’s hard to assess a trade five months before a single down is played, but the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers came out looking good.

Despite Jerry Seinfeld’s best efforts, there’s probably is no such thing as a “mutual breakup”.

But the New York Jets and Sam Darnold might’ve come as close as one can, especially when it comes to severing the relationship between an NFL squad and its franchise quarterback.

Darnold confirmed as much in his first statements as a Panther on Monday, a week after he was dealt from New York for a trio of draft picks. While Darnold ruefully stated that he throught he was destined to be the Jets’ quarterback for a long time, he’s ready to embrace a new opportunity in Charlotte.

“I imagined I was going to be the franchise quarterback of the New York Jets for a long time…once you realize that the team that drafted you is moving on, it stings a little bit,” Darnold said, per Carolina reporter Darin Gantt. “Getting that news that you’re going to be traded, of a team saying, ‘Hey, we didn’t want you,” for whatever reason, is hard. But right now, I feel great about it.”

How did each side find something to celebrate? ESM investigates…

zach wilson, new york jets
. Mandatory Credit: George Frey/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports

Grounded Controversy

Through social media schadenfreude, the Jets are a team whose simplest mistakes are turned into memes within minutes. That concept has hit a fever pitch during their decade-long playoff drought (an NFL-worst), but there may well be light at the end of their tunnel of rebuilding. Rare optimism can be found at One Jets Drive after the hire of Robert Saleh, whose arrival has spawned positive reviews both domestically and abroad.

But the good vibes bring forth a perilous responsibility: it must be surrounded by as little controversy as possible. Holding a quarterback competition would be an unwelcome distraction during. Once the games do get underway, it’s widely expected that fans will be back at MetLife Stadium. The last thing the Jets needed was spectators, no matter the capacity limit, screeching for Darnold’s backup every time he threw an incomplete pass.

But, having traded Darnold, the Jets have a clear-cut plan. Their quarterback controversy will end no later than the evening of April 29, when they choose second in the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland. General manager Joe Douglas more or less confirmed as much when speaking after the deal was done.

“There was…a discussion about us taking a quarterback at pick number two and having Sam here for the season…ultimately, we felt that that wouldn’t be the best situation for Sam, the rookie quarterback, Coach Saleh and his staff, and the locker room,” Douglas said, per notes from the Jets. “We felt like this was the best decision for the entire organization moving forward, in hitting the reset button.”

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Darnold Gets Stability 

On paper, Carolina isn’t too far removed from the Jets in terms of where they are on the NFL barometer. They won only five games last season and are seeking stability under a first-time NFL head coach in Matt Rhule. But one look at the Carolina ledger shows that they provide a more stable offensive situation than Darnold ever had in New York.

Darnold’s burden is immediately lightened through a run game headlined by Christian McCaffrey rather than a disgruntled Le’Veon Bell and a tandem of projects. The biggest sign of Panther progress was perhaps shown through McCaffrey’s absence: despite enjoying only three games with the 2019 All-Pro in the backfield, Carolina remained competitive. All but three of their 11 losses came by one possession while Robby Anderson, Darnold’s favorite New York target in his first two seasons, tallied a career-best 1,096 yards despite relative turmoil at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater was inconsistent in his first full-time starting gig since enduring a contact-free camp injury in 2015 and was relieved by XFL star P.J. Walker.

The coaching staff is also a welcome sight to any offensive player seeking his NFL fortune. Head coach Matt Rhule turned downtrodden college programs at Temple and Baylor into offensive blockbusters while offensive coordinator Joe Brady over saw the rise of Joe Burrow as the passing game coordinator during the LSU Tigers’ dominant national title run in 2019. Darnold took the time to appreciate the culture that Carolina is building during his opening statements.

“The culture that’s being set here is amazing,” Darnold said in Gantt’s report. “That’s probably the part that intrigues me the most about this.”

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

A Fine Addition to the New York Collection

While the immediate yield from the Darnold trade isn’t flashy…the Jets earned the 226th overall pick in the coming Cleveland selections…it’s pretty impressive on Douglas’ end that he was able to net a second-round pick (coming in 2022) for an injury-prone quarterback with a 13-25 ledger as a starter, even if the circumstances weren’t the greatest.

“With the premium picks, your first, second, third-round picks, those are the picture you’re looking to become starters on your team,” Douglas remarked through the Jets. “So, those ultimately end up being the picks that you spend the most time talking about.”

As a young Queens webslinger was told, however, with great power comes great responsibility. Quantity doesn’t automatically equal quality, and that axiom rings especially true in the NFL Draft. The Jets learned that lesson the hard way during the 2014 proceedings through John Idzik’s doomed dozen and it’s a nightmare that Douglas doesn’t take lightly.

“We have a lot of opportunity in front of us, 21 picks in the next two drafts, including 10 in the first three rounds,” Douglas said in Jets notes. “But with that opportunity, we know we have to make the most of it and hit on these picks.”

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Joe’s Jets

Douglas presents himself as a guy who’s not interested in looking for excuses. But he’d have a good few in the holster.

He joined the Jets under unusual circumstances, placed in charge weeks before training camp opened after Mike Maccagnan’s post-draft firing. His first years with the organization have been handicapped by decisions he had no jurisdiction over (namely the Adam Gase hire).

Now, Douglas’ signings are getting closer to becoming the majority after several Maccagnan/Gase staples were shipped elsewhere. He has a handpicked head coach in Saleh and he’s about to have a handpicked franchise quarterback.

It’s official: Douglas is the captain now. For better or worse, this was a step the Jets needed to move toward. There are no more excuses, there are no more “wait untils”. Douglas’ era can officially begin and he can thus be judged appropriately.

“I think you feel pressure every day you walk into the building,” Douglas said in Jets notes. “You want to do this job to the best of your ability. You want to take the information that you have at hand and make the best possible decisions that you can make.”

Jets fans and the football-loving public at large are about to find out if they’re truly the right moves to end the perpetual rebuild…a rebuild Douglas now officially owns.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

One question will define Sam Darnold’s New York Jets tenure

As the Sam Darnold era ends, a lingering question will haunt New York Jets fans as he prepares to move to Charlotte.

With respect to the countless devotees of movies, books, television shows, etc., across the world, no one writes more fan fiction than football fans. Rather than “Once upon a time…”, football fables often begin with a question: “What if…?”.

The question is endlessly asked before, during, and after every NFL season. What if that star prospect falls? What if they went for it on fourth down? What if that quarterback retires?

What if the New York Jets hired someone…anyone…other than Adam Gase to oversee Sam Darnold’s developmental years as head coach?

It’s a question whose answers reside months, even years, away. Both Gase and Darnold are now distant memories in the New York archives, the former fired and the latter bound for Charlotte in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. The Jets only have numbers to show for it in the immediate aftermath. Dealing Darnold netted them the 226th overall pick in the coming draft, as well as a second and fourth-round choice in the spring of 2022.

(Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)

In the immediate aftermath, it’s easy to call the Jets’ Darnold deal with Carolina a win for both sides on paper. Darnold gains welcome stability in Carolina (reuniting with fellow ex-Jet Robby Anderson and working with All-Pro rusher Christian McCaffrey) while the Jets make some fine additions to their draft collection. But the Jets will forever look back on their Darnold with a sense of regret and what might’ve been. The chorus of “what if” echoes as the countdown to what’ll likely be the beginning of the Zach Wilson or Justin Fields era.

It starts with the hiring of Gase, a supposed offensive guru brought in to oversee Darnold’s vital post-rookie campaigns. Todd Bowles’ tenure had undoubtedly run its course, but its final stages were full of hope through Darnold’s final four games. It was a stretch that saw Darnold earn a come-from-behind victory in Buffalo (topping fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen in their first meeting) and go head-to-head and blow-for-blow with Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive weeks. The latter tilt, a Festivus showdown with the Green Bay Packers, was an overtime thriller that saw Darnold earn career-bests in passer rating (128.4) and passing yardage (341).

When Bowles was let go, the Jets needed someone with a strong developmental mind, someone who could nurture Darnold’s potential and build on the promise shown over the final stretch. CEO/Chairman Christopher Johnson knew just how vital the search would be when he spoke after dismissing the current defensive coordinator of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I think the Jets are a really good spot for a coach to end up,” Johnson said at the time. “So I think that we have a competitive advantage there. But we’re not going to sit down and wait for people to come to us, we’re going to search hard and fast. We want to get this done.”

It got done through the arrival of Gase, fresh off three years of Miami mediocrity. From the get-go, there probably should’ve been something off about the new boss, one who never truly fostered a young quarterback. Peyton Manning put the best numbers of his career under Gase, but the most adamant football denier could probably oversee an offense with Peyton Manning and still average 21 points a game.

Gase helped get the Chicago Bears’ offense back on track as coordinator in 2015, but Jay Cutler, despite a career-best passer rating, was in his 11th season and headed toward his polarizing career’s final stanzas. Even if Gase’s work with Cutler counted for something, it was more or less undone when the pair reunited for a fruitless season in South Beach two years later. In terms of youth, Ryan Tannehill endured what seemed like an endless stream of “make-or-break” campaigns before being mercifully shipped to Tennessee after Gase’s Floridan ousting. By now, little more needs to be written about Tannehill’s success sans Gase.

Yet, the Jets insisted Gase was their man, sticking with him after a dreadful 0-4 start. After his infamous bout with mononucleosis…a happening only amplified by social media schadenfreude that amplifies the Jets’ simplest errors…Darnold helped right to ship to the tune of a 7-9 ledger. Further fleeting flashes of brilliance emerged, such as Darnold’s return from illness, a 338-yard, two-score showing in a triumph over Dallas, the Jets’ first win of the year. Further silliness came through Darnold’s failed Ghostbusters tenure, but to have him post a winning record (7-6) despite endless silliness surrounding him was a promising sign.

Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

But seeds for a destructive 2020 season…for reasons far beyond limitations set up by the ongoing health crisis…were starting to take root. Anderson, Darnold’s favorite target during his opening years, absconded for Carolina after “(losing) his love of football“. Every week, it felt like Gase had to ensure the public that he wasn’t dealing with a full-on mutiny.

As the season moved on, the Jets continuously eschewed the notion of firing Gase in-season. Johnson even broke out the guru comparisons after a listless opening day loss in Buffalo by calling Gase “a brilliant offensive mind” after the Jets pulled off the statistical anomaly of earning under 300 yards in Orchard Park. The sub-300 tally, in fact, occurred 11 times during the 2020 campaign…a downright jaw-dropping occurrence in an NFL that worships offense.

All the while, the Jets gave up on several accomplished names before deciding Gase was expendable. A mini-fire sale ensued that saw accomplished defenders Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, and Pierre Desir sent away. Le’Veon Bell, a constant co-combatant in Gase headlines, was outright released while the eyes of the nation were centered on a rare Tuesday night game.

Darnold sank further into oblivion, forced into situations that even the greatest, most established quarterbacks would have trouble salvaging. One couldn’t even argue that the Jets were showing promise in these losses. All but one of their first eight defeats came by multiple possessions, exacerbated by the struggle to gain yardage. Unlike their blue MetLife Stadium co-tenants (the Giants losing five of their first eight in single possession games), there was nothing to get excited for from a Jets perspective.

For the record, it’s not only the Gase hire that Darnold had to put up with. His rookie season was spent behind an offensive built through the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. When the 2020 season kicked off, Darnold had only a single receiver left from his rookie campaign (tight end Chris Herndon, who has struggled to maintain rookie momentum) and his offensive line had undergone yet another makeover. The fact such flashes of brilliance were achieved despite playing in the far reaches of the football netherworld perhaps says something about Darnold, who has a prime opportunity to put his career back on track in Charlotte.

It could’ve happened in New York. The offensive line still needs work, but the Jets upgraded their weaponry this offseason, bringing in capable targets (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) that can compete with returnees (Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims) for top receiving honors. A multi-faceted rushing talent like Tevin Coleman can take some of the pressure off of whoever the quarterback will be.

But the Jets are trying to pen their own redemption story. They don’t have the time to co-author someone else’s.

In short, the Gase era left the Jets no other choice. His firing brought in a new regime, one praised not by the hot take artists but by players themselves, both domestically and abroad. For Robert Saleh to fully implement his vision and the Jets holding the ever valuable second overall pick of the NFL draft…the original of aerial franchise saviors like Donovan McNabb and Roman Gabriel…Darnold simply had to go.

Still, that won’t stop the eternal discussions, the fabled chapters that Jets fans will write for months before a single down is played and in the years after that, both supporting what Darnold could’ve done and celebrating his release.

The question will still be asked…what if?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Four areas the New York Jets must still address in April

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

The New York Jets undoubtedly improved this offseason, but there are several areas of need to address as the calendar flips to April.

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team this offseason. Whether that’s a result of the Adam Gase era giving them nowhere to go but up or it leads to actual results on the field remains to be seen, but the Jets have laid down a solid foundation for the Robert Saleh era. Optimism reigns for an already star-crossed franchise coming off a two-win season through the signings of names like Tevin Coleman, Corey Davis, and Carl Lawson.

“There’s a lot of optimism, especially coming off a bad season, so I’m looking forward to working. I love the process,” Lawson said in video provided by the Jets. He compared the situation to franchise mode on the Madden NFL video game franchise. “I play Madden because I love building teams. I love franchise mode. Franchise mode hasn’t changed on Madden in like 15 years, but I’m never going to stop loving it because I get to build, I get to grow, I get to improve.”

Yet, as the calendar flips to April and the free agency frenzy mostly pacified, the Jets have several areas of need that have yet to be satisfied. Competing in the crowded AFC will probably be difficult with even the perfect offseason, but the Saleh era can get off to an optimally smooth start if the following areas are satisfied, preferably sooner rather than later…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Offensive Line

Solving the offensive line issues was probably at the top of the Jets’ offseason to-do list, the necessity even outweighing the quarterback quandary. No matter who’s throwing the ball, he’s going to need protection.

Joe Douglas has shown he’s willing to make up for the blocking negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. His drafting of Mekhi Becton was a strong start, but his free agency signings failed to pan out. Several are set to return for another season, but the Jets missed out on the big targets (Joe Thuney, Corey Linsley, Matt Feiler), adding only interior man Dan Feeney from the Los Angeles Chargers. Another addition, tight end Tyler Kroft, has gained positive reviews for his blocking, but nothing that should dramatically change the Jets’ protection affairs.

An interesting gambit for the Jets would be to draft top blocking prospect Penei Sewell with the second overall choice and letting Sam Darnold work behind a revamped line, but the Jets’ due diligence at incoming rookie passing class hints that they’re headed toward that direction. But at least one of their early picks, namely the 23rd and 34th overall selections, should be used on a blocker if only to raise the heat on some of the incumbents. Veteran help from abroad, like Kansas City’s Austin Reiter, should also be considered. Reiter, set to turn 30 in November, was the Chiefs’ starting center in each of the last two Super Bowls.

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

Cornerback

After the spending frenzy in March, the Jets appear to have a plan in place when it comes to their safeties. Marcus Maye was granted the franchise tag, which basically serves as a $10 million “prove it” deal. On the strong side, the post-Jamal Adams era continues. Ashtyn Davis will get a de facto second rookie season after injuries marred his original and the Jets have brought in a strong mentor and veteran prescience in LaMarcus Joyner to help out. Elsewhere on defense, front seven newcomers Lawson and Jarrad Davis have experiences in the 4-3 scheme that Robert Saleh is reportedly hoping to implement.

But the cornerback depth is definitely concerning. Youngsters Bless Austin and Bryce Hall have shown flashes of brilliance in their infantile NFL careers, but they’ll probably need further development before fully embracing the starting roles. Newly signed Justin Hardee is listed as a corner but primarily works on special teams. The Jets also have a decision to make on one of their free agents, Brian Poole.

The 23rd pick, obtained from Seattle for Adams, can potentially be used on the top cornerbacks on the draft, namely Caleb Farley, Patrick Surtain, or Jaycee Horn.

New York Jets, Sam Darnold, James Morgan

Backup Quarterback

The Jets have not had a quarterback start every game in a season since Ryan Fitzpatrick went all 16 in 2015. If Darnold stays, the Jets should be ready for the unthinkable again, as he has yet to play a full NFL season. Should the rookie arrive, some see Darnold as a safety blanket. But if Zach Wilson or Justin Fields make their entrance, Darnold still shouldn’t stay. There doesn’t need to be a quarterback controversy and the USC alum isn’t at the “veteran mentor” stage.

When Darnold got hurt last season, the Philadelphia-bound Joe Flacco did a serviceable job in relief. But with the Super Bowl XLVII MVP donning a new shade of green, they need to be prepared in case of an emergency. The draft can’t be an option, as the Jets have far too many needs to fill with their surplus and the fourth-round choice of James Morgan in last year’s proceedings remains puzzling. If they want a safety net that can win games, Saleh and Mike LaFleur’s Bay Area comrade Nick Mullens could be an option, while veteran mentors are available through Alex Smith, Brian Hoyer, or Blake Bortles.

Oct 1, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets kicker Sam Ficken (9) celebrates his field goal with teammates during the first half against the Denver Broncos at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Kicker

Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded to Seattle, the Jets have gone through six different kickers over the last two seasons. When you’re a team like the Jets, a team that struggles to get into the end zone, you need a reliable kicker to ensure visits to opposing territory end with at least some points. There appears to be a competition in place between two of those names (Sam Ficken and Chase McLaughlin), but the Jets need reliability and would be smart to showcase new talent.

The Jets haven’t used a draft pick on a kicker since Mike Nugent in the second round of the 2005 selections. There’s certainly no need to go that early this time around, but the selection of punter Braden Mann with their final pick last year shows the Jets won’t hesitate to address their special teams on draft weekend. Evan McPherson (Florida) and Jorge Borregales (Miami) are the top boots this time around.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The ghosts of the Adam Gase era still haunt the New York Jets

New York Jets, Adam Gase

The Adam Gase era lasted two seasons, but the burden left behind creates an uphill battle for the New York Jets.

At what point does a new football regime officially “own” its respective organization’s ledger? The unspoken accords of college football appear to dictate that if his team isn’t performing by his third season at the helm, he’s to seek employment elsewhere. The leash is even shorter in the NFL with patience wearing especially thin in the New York/New Jersey area.

Both the Jets and Giants bid two of their respective head coaches farewell after two seasons of futility. The blue representative, Pat Shurmur, quickly found work as the offensive coordinator in Denver, while Adam Gase’s redemption story has yet to be greenlit.

The January firing of Gase has allowed the tenure of general manager Joe Douglas to officially begin. Douglas wasn’t the one who hired Gase…that general manager, Mike Maccagnan, was let go before Gase ever wore a New York headset. Thus, the former Philadelphia Eagles executive has a bit of a restart button through the hiring of Robert Saleh, a hire that received positive reviews both domestically and abroad. The pair have admitted that it will take some time, but that they are committed to getting the Jets back in contention.

But, through little fault of their own…particularly Saleh and his clean green slate…the new unit remains sidelined by the ghosts of the Gase era.

As star-crossed as the Jets’ fortunes have been, few coaches reached the levels of futility seen during the Gase era. Among those that lasted two full seasons on the Jets’ sidelines, only Rich Kotite’s cursed squads posted a lower win percentage (9-23 vs 4-28). Gase’s group even managed to best Kotite’s dubiousness in some aspects. For example, the 2020 Jets lost their first 13 games…even Kotite’s notorious 1996 team (1-15) managed to secure a win by Halloween.

The Jets have managed to keep busy with the NFL’s legal tampering period well underway. Over the past 48 hours, the Jets have upgraded their defense, their offensive weaponry, and their special teams. Each of their acquisitions makes the Jets a better team. Sure, part of the reason for that is because there’s little room to truly fall further, but a plethora of cap space has created shrewd deals that have yielded a rising talent in the front-seven (Carl Lawson), an affordable audition for a former first-round linebacker with 4-3 experience (Jarrad Davis), a reliable weapon for the quarterback, be it Sam Darnold or otherwise (Corey Davis), and a defender to help pin opponents deep on punt coverage (Justin Hardee).

Yet, it’s not like Jets fans soothed themselves in 2020 with dreams of adding Jarrad Davis. With a plethora of cap space, the time seemed right to make a truly big splash, one that could welcome fans back to MetLife Stadium with open, hopeful arms. Even if it wasn’t the type of addition that tore up box scores, the Jets could’ve used the money to bolster their blocking, a long-gestating and neglected endeavor that got off to a strong start through the drafting of Mekhi Becton. Even Patrick Mahomes was neutralized when key pieces of his protection were lost prior to the Super Bowl.

But that’s when the reminders of the Gase era began to rise and create further losses for the Jets.

Jets fans have no doubt kept track of Joe Thuney’s career over the last two years. The team expressed interest in him when he was up for free agency last season, but the interior blocker was franchise tagged by his New England employers before anyone else could make a move. Thurst onto the open market this time around, Thuney was indeed lured away from the Patriots…through a five-year, $80 million contract from Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. Former Green Bay Packer Corey Linsley switching shades of green could’ve helped the Jets resolve a center situation that has been in limbo since Nick Mangold’s retirement. The defending All-Pro, however, will instead hit the west coast and join the Los Angeles Chargers.

These early developments…the operative term being early…should be viewed with a bit of an asterisk. There’s plenty of time for the Jets to recover and earn themselves a stronger grade, all while acknowledging that an instant fix before the offseason lets out probably isn’t going to happen. But the Gase era has left this team in a precarious position.

Name-brand recognition through a city alone isn’t a selling point in this day and age. The NBA’s New York Knicks have spent the past decade learning this lesson the hard way. The Jets were a bit of a tough sell as it was; they’re the current owners of the longest postseason drought in the NFL and social media has amplified every little green mistake into viral disasters.

But it isn’t just the on-field woes from the Gase era that have the Jets reeling. What elite free agent is going to look at the way Gase handled things and declare “I want in on that”?

Every week, Gase had to be armed with two gameplans: one for the opponent and one for whichever superstar was feeling disgruntled. The usual suspects were Le’Veon Bell and Jamal Adams, a talented pair who have long abandoned their Jets equipment. Before the 2020 season began, Bell had to publicly insist that he and Gase “like(d) each other“. Less than a month later, Bell was bound for Kansas City. The lasting effects of the Gase era can well be witnessed through comments by Marcus Maye’s agent. Apparently disgruntled with the way the Adams situation was handled, Burkhart went on a mini-rant that has gotten only a quick passing reference since Maye was franchise tagged earlier this month. The comments showed just showed how a sense of mistrust has risen throughout the organization since Gase arrived in 2019.

The fact of the matter is that Douglas can bestow a big contract and evaluate talent with better resources than anyone in football. But the damage left behind in the wake of the Gase era has put the Jets in an even tougher situation. That might not fully be on Gase, but, as the most public face behind this most recent stretch of struggling, he’ll ultimately be the face behind it…even if he’s not the one who winds up suffering from it.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

BREAKING: Jets sign DE Carl Lawson to 3 year deal

For the first time in years, the Jets have signed a legitimate edge rusher. Per Ian Rapoport of NFL Network, the New York Jets have signed Carl Lawson to a three-year deal worth 45 million. Lawson, a fourth-round pick in 2017, has spent the past four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, earning 20 sacks in that time span.

What it means for the Jets:

Carl Lawson ranked amongst the top pass rushers in the league over the past few seasons. With a pass rush productivity rank of 8.5 by Pro Football Focus, Lawson ranked as the ninth-best. Lawson also had 32 QB Hits in 2020, which was second-best in all of the NFL. He has 83 in his career, which ranks in the top 15 in all of football. Lawson had his best year in 2017 with 8.5 sacks.

The 25-year-old is viewed around the league as one of the best-untapped edge rushers in the game. Reports have come out that the Bengals did not let Lawson use all the moves in his arsenal either. If Lawson is let loose under Robert Saleh, then the opposing quarterback better hope it isn’t all gas and no brakes, or he is going to the turf. Lawson has the potential to be the Jets’ first legitimate pass rusher in over a decade, and the young player will likely be a massive piece of the defense over the next three years.  The Jets now have added a talented receiver and proven disruptor to the fold, and it looks like they are not slowing down soon.

New York Jets: 8 Robert Saleh/Joe Douglas quotes (and what they mean)

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

Firmly established in their roles with the New York Jets, Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas addressed the offseason ahead.

With their traditional media meetings at the NFL Scouting Combine kiboshed by the ongoing health crisis, Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas, the respective head coach and general manager of the New York Jets took to Zoom on Wednesday to discuss the team’s upcoming offseason. The activities officially got underway with the release of three-year defender Henry Anderson on Tuesday night.

ESM highlights X quotes from Douglas and Saleh, and ponders their meaning, as the teandem’s fateful first offseason together looms large on metropolian calendars…

(Quotes via notes provided by the Jets)

“In terms of Marcus, we have had productive conversations with his representatives. Similar to the last question I answered, our stance on Marcus hasn’t changed as well. Marcus is a valuable member of this organization, someone that started his career here, who’s been a pro’s pro. Smart. He’s been reliable and he’s provided outstanding leadership. Our plan hasn’t changed. We are in the process of working to have Marcus be here long term.”-Douglas on Marcus Maye

What It Could Mean: The release of Anderson attracted the attention of Erik Burkhardt, the co-head of Select Sports Group, LLC and agent to Marcus Maye, by far the Jets’ most prized free agent this offseason. When ESPN’s Field Yates noted the Jets’ $8 million expansion (through Anderson’s release) to their already-healthy cap space situation allowed them “the resources to try and acquire..(a)ny player available”, Burkhardt brought up the Jamal Adams saga and strongly hinted that Maye would follow in his fellow safety’s footsteps.

Douglas’ quote, however, should put Jets fans at ease, at least those who wish to see Maye re-don New York green next season. He further addressed Burkhardt’s comments, passing them off as “business”. With Maye a prime target for the franchise tag, the capital earned through Anderson’s release could pay off a majority of the one-year such a disgnation would offer him (circa $10-11 million).

“With regards to the roster, the one thing that’s very, very clear is the character of the individuals that put uniforms on for this Jets organization, they’re fantastic. They’re made of the right stuff. They’ve got the right mindset, they’re good young men who strive to get better. Obviously with every situation, when you study the roster and you try to make things fit with regards to what you do schematically, there’s always discussions to be had. Those are the things that we’ve been working on over the last month and we’ll continue to work on all the way up until the draft.”-Saleh on the current Jets roster

What It Could Mean: It feels like Anderson won’t be the first veteran to go, as the Jets have several other cap casualties that could find new homes fairly soon. Particularly intriguing is the case of Jamison Crowder, the team’s most consistent offensive weapon over the last two season, who would save over $10 million upon his removal. Beyond Maye, 25 other players are up for free agency, and there’s probably not a tight cause to keep any of them.

But Saleh’s words after roster analysis seem to indicate that he likes what he sees from the roster, particularly the younger pieces. Plenty of Adam Gase’s former proteges (including Ryan Tannehill and Kenyan Drake) have gone on to enjoy breakouts elsewhere. Saleh’s quote indicates that perhaps he’s not interested in a complete fire sale, but rather sees the talent that Gase left behind as clay ready for the molding.

“I feel like we’re well positioned. I feel like this isn’t going to hurt us in terms of free agents. Like I said, I feel like our evaluations, especially with the coaching staff, that’s been the main thing that we’ve been focusing on. For the remainder of this week, we’re going to be on the phone with the agents of our own current players that are hitting for agency. I really don’t feel like that’s going to affect our free agent plans or player free agent plans as it pertains to us.”-Douglas on how the Sam Darnold rumors affect the rest of the team moving forward

What It Could Mean: The only certainty of the Jets’ current quarterback quandary is that it will be over by April 29, opening day of the NFL Draft. While many have clamored for Douglas to settle the passing situation as soon as possible, Douglas indicated at several times that he is in no rush to settle the situation. One in favor of haste could argue that potential free agents would be scared away by the uncertainty under center, but Doglas appears willing to let the evaluation process, both on the free agency and draft fronts, play out. All in all, Douglas was relatively bureaucratic when it came to the Darnold conversation on Wednesday, praising his talents and contributions to the team thus far while re-confirming that he would indeed accept calls about his availability.

“There’s always comfort and familiarity. It’s almost human nature to gravitate to people you’ve worked with and people you’ve been around, but there’s still a process at which you go to. There’s a fit, there’s a value. There are all those different things, a lot of moving parts that go into it. While yeah, it’d be great, it’s not the main determining factor on whether or not we can get those people into the building, those players.”-Saleh on if he’ll target former 49ers in free agency

What It Could Mean: Don’t expect a San Francisco rebranding.

Countless offseason previews have situated former 49ers into the 2021 Jets’ roster. A popular choice has been Richard Sherman, who has been vocaly supportive of Saleh’s hire and has credited him with helping him refind his game in San Francisco. But with their cap space surplus, the Jets can’t afford to spend all that money in a single source. If they can bring some of Saleh’s former pupils over, it’s obvious they won’t complain, but they’re not just going try to assembles a San Francisco-style Avengers and call it a day.

“Joe’s made it very clear that he wants collaborative communication. He wants us to be all in this together, scouts, coaching staff, everybody within the organization speaking the same language and having a great amount of communication with regards to everything that happens in this building. Free agency and the meetings that we had, he alluded to it earlier were unbelievable. Got a lot accomplished over the course of that week. We’re going to continue to do that. There’s the old saying, “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” I think Joe believes that, and he’s been practicing and preaching that since the day we walked into this building.”-Saleh 

“I would say both Woody and Christopher, they want to win. They want to create the best culture and support system for that to happen. They’ve both been very supportive of the processes that we’ve had in place and continue to have moving forward. It’s been great having Woody back. I feel like the communication has been outstanding. The number one thing is that they both want to win.”-Douglas

What It Could Mean: In this instance, Douglas and Saleh each gave a look at what the communication has been like in the post-Gase era, one defined by endless rumors of in-fighting and power struggles. Eager to move on, the Jets have created a collaborative workspace, one where Woody Johnson, back on the right side of the Atlantic Ocean, has seamlessly reconfigured (all while delighting fans with his new found prowess for being a Twitter historian). Christopher Johnson said several years back that he would not be up for hiring a coach that demanded “total control” but Saleh sounds satifised with his role in the current organization.

“We’re better positioned than we were this time last year. I would say that our philosophy and stance has not changed however. I think our goal and our plan is to be, like I said earlier, a team that really builds this through the draft and hitting on draft picks, obviously using free agency to supplement our roster. If the opportunity and the value meet, that’s going to be the point where we’re going to be aggressive and get someone that we feel good about, helping this team not only on the field, but with the culture and inside the building. While we are positioned better, I think our philosophy has stayed the same.”-Douglas on the draft

What It Could Mean: Every armchair/desk chair/beanbag chair general managers in the tri-state area has the Jets sharing some of their expanded draft capital, almost always in an attempt to land Deshaun Watson or Russell Wilson. But the general manager of the Jets doesn’t sound quiet ready to part with his picks just yet. Sure, it wouldn’t be shocking in the slightest to see the Jets make a deal, and any potential Watson/Wilson offering would more than likely include either the second overall choice or the pick obtained in the Adams trade from Seattle. But Douglas’ words indicate that he won’t be as trigger happy as Jets fans may expect him to be.

“We’re going to get better. We’re going to win championships here. To give you a timeline, I wish I knew, I’d go to Vegas. But we’re excited about the opportunity that we have in front of us. We’re excited about what Joe and his staff have been able to accomplish since they’ve gotten here. Now it’s just a matter of being able to piece the whole thing together and have fun doing it.”-Saleh on 2021 expectations

What It Could Mean: It’s not exactly Joe Namath’s guarantee, but Saleh’s promises of championships…with an s…should be enough to make any Jets fan run through a brick wall. But, as he iterated in his opening statements…patience will be the key.

One way or another, the 2021 offseason is going to be one to remember, for better or worse. It’s a year where the decade truly begins for the Jets. But Saleh, while hopeful, is realistic. There’s a major chance to take a step forward, but the time to judge will come September. For now, it’s time to get to work and for the fans to enjoy the ride…the football gods know they’ve paid the token.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Should the New York Jets pursue star New England offensive lineman in free agency?

New England Patriots, Joe Thuney

Heading into last offseason, one of the hottest commodities projected to hit the market was two-time Super Bowl champion and all-pro offensive guard Joe Thuney. The New York Jets and Miami Dolphins were reportedly set to back up the brinks truck to Thuney in hopes he would anchor his offensive line. Then, the Patriots threw a wrench in those plans by tagging Thuney. Now, Thuney will reportedly be allowed to seek a new home this offseason. With Mekhi Becton as the solidified anchor of the offensive line at left tackle, here is why Joe Thuney can give the Jets one of the best tackle/guard combos in football.

Who is Joe Thuney?

Joe Thuney grew up in Ohio and was one of four children. Thuney was not a stranger to success early in life, he was a member of two state championship football teams, he was named offensive lineman of the year in the Greater Catholic League, and was class president in his senior year of high school. Thuney was well-liked on and off the gridiron, and this led to an opportunity to play at NC State. At NC State, Thuney played all over the offensive line taking snaps at center, both tackle spots, and guard during his time with the program. Thuney graduated NC State in three years and received All American honors.

After a successful beginning to his football career, Thuney was selected with the 78th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the New England Patriots. In five seasons, Thuney has played every single game, not only that, but he has been a team-first guy being adaptable this past season and making the switch to tackle with Marcus Cannon opting out and creating a void. Thuney has been both a depiction of stability and success, winning two rings during his tenure with the Pats.

Why The Jets?

Thuney will command a monster deal this offseason. As one of the most reliable and consistent linemen in the game, he will be paid as such. Now, Joe Douglas has been rather set in his evaluations of certain players in the past, but offensive linemen have been his most focused entity in his brief tenure as general manager to this point. The potential of having two beasts on the offensive line for the long-term future in Thuney and Becton is something the well-traveled exec may not be able to pass up. Not only that, but as we saw just a few weeks ago with Patrick Mahomes, if you don’t have protection, the entire rhythm of the game plan is thrown out the window.

On a relatively young team, Thuney would slot in as a leader and building block for the future. We are talking about a durable, smart, and versatile piece that fits the mold of everything Douglas seems to look for in the guys he wants to fill out his roster with. Add all that into the fact that he is successful no matter the stop. Thuney could be used anywhere on the line, but the idea of Becton and Thuney anchoring the left side could be too much to pass up. No matter where you put him on the line, Thuney would be a massive addition to the team and someone the Jets should not let slip away.

New York Jets: 9 quotes from Robert Saleh (and what they could mean)

New York Jets, Robert Saleh

Robert Saleh made his first appearance as the New York Jets’ head coach on Thursday. ESM has the big takeaways.

A new era officially dawned for the New York Jets on Thursday, as Robert Saleh made his first public appearance as the head coach of the New York Jets. Saleh appeared alongside Jets CEO and chairman Christopher Johnson and general manager Joe Douglas to make his first statements as New York’s green football boss.

“When we met with Robert (Saleh), I was struck by his presence,” Johnson said, per video provided by the Jets. “He displayed an ability to engage with us in a virtual interview. He also clearly communicated a vision of this team that aligns with ours. When we met in person, it validated everything we believed following our initial meeting. Robert has shown through his journey here that he is a leader, one that will engage the entire team and will partner with Joe (Douglas) to continue building the culture of a winning organization.”

What can we gather and glean from Saleh’s first statements at the helm? ESM has the big takeaways from his first showing under the New York spotlight…

“For our organization, get used to the mantra, “All gas, no brake.” When we talk about, “All gas, no break,” we’re not talking about effort on the field, we’re talking about the process at which we do things. We’re talking about the way we prepare, the way we wake up every single morning, the way we rehab, the way we communicate, the way we speak to one another. 

What It Could Mean: Had it not been for Dan Campbell’s propensity for devouring kneecaps in Detroit, Saleh’s “All gas no brake” mantra could’ve been the quote of the day. These words from Saleh show he has little interest in a lengthy rebuild. It’s a tough love mindset that exudes a sense of intensity without taking to the extreme, almost absurd, lengths Campbell went to in his opening presser with the Lions. Saleh appears to be searching for intense competitors high in character and intensity, but without the baggage of say, a Gregg Williams. That process has begun with surrounding himself with familiar faces from his days in San Francisco, including Mike LaFleur and Miles Austin, each of whom will help oversee the offense.

To our fans, we embrace your passion, we embrace your expectations. We cannot wait to go on this journey with you. Please understand, we understand that we have a lot of work to do. But make no mistake that our goal is to win championships. And so again, I cannot wait to get through this journey with all of y’all. It’s going to be an exciting time, and I promise that you’re going to love what y’all see.

What It Could Mean: In other words…be patient. We’re only at the start of the NFL offseason…heck, it technically hasn’t begun yet with three games to go on the playoff docket…but it’s difficult to imagine the Jets will be able to make enough changes to re-enter the AFC playoff picture in 2021. Saleh’s gentle welcome back to the fans, however, is a decent sign of goodwill and will likely attract a few who might’ve been on the fence about his hire.

“When you look at the plan and what we have in place with regards to scheme, offense, defense, special teams and the mindset at which we’re going to do it, there’s an investment that’s going to be made to one another – coaches to players, players to coaches, organization to everybody – and there’s an investment that’s going to be reciprocated. But understanding that the all gas, no brake mentality that we’re going to have with how we wake up in the morning, how we rehab, how we prepare for meetings, how we take the practice field, how we’re deliberate in everything we do will lead to the results that you’ll see on Sunday. It will take time, but everything we do is going to be designed to win championships in the future.”

What It Could Mean: The Adam Gase era was likely the furthest thing from Saleh’s mind on Thursday, but it doesn’t take much stretching to see this as a bit of a jab at the environment his predecessor created in New York. Enough has been written about the phenomenon of Gase’s former proteges going on to find success away from his watch, but his negative effects were highlighted with former Jets receiver Robby Anderson admitted he was “was losing (his) love for football” in New York without mentioning Gase’s name. Gase’s strained relationships with Jamal Adams and Le’Veon Bell were also frequent talking points and led to each star’s respective departure. Saleh seems to have relative open-door endeavors in mind, seeking to make sure each player is used to the best of his abilities with a matter of respect involved. The theme of reciprocation was a strong buzzword in Saleh’s debut, as he brought it up in three separate discourses.

“What I can tell you with regards to Sam (Darnold) is that he’s got an unbelievable arm talent. There’s a reason why he was the number three pick in the draft. He’s fearless in the pocket, he’s got a natural throwing motion, he’s mobile, he’s extremely intelligent and he’s tough as nails. His reputation in the locker room is unquestioned, so just that in general, there’s a reason why he was the third pick in the draft and you can see all those qualities on tape and around the building and the way people speak about him.”

What It Could Mean: It was perhaps too much to ask for Saleh to have a concrete answer about Sam Darnold’s future on Thursday, as he said things were “premature” when it came to such an effort. But there seemed to be a hint of moving on to his comments, especially in his references to game-planning for Darnold and hyping his status as the third overall pick of the 2018 draft. It’s early in the process, but the non-commitment, necessary as it may be in a debut press conference, is only going to fuel speculation.

“With regards to a collaboration mindset, with regards to our communication with Joe and his staff – whether or not, who has control, all those different titles, what’s been made clear is that Joe and his staff want to be collaborative and they want to communicate at all levels. So, every conversation that’s had obviously with the staff and with Joe’s staff, there’s going to be a lot of discussions, there’s going to be a lot of different things are talked about. So, obviously Joe will always have final say, but I really see it in the way he’s communicating. I think when you communicate at the level that we have here, who has final say is irrelevant.”

What It Could Mean: In another, likely unintentional, jab at Gase, Saleh has dedicated himself to a working relationship with both Douglas and Johnson. This would contrast the brief, icy relationship Gase had with Mike Maccagnan, as their power struggle led to the latter’s post-draft firing in 2019. It’s safe to say that Saleh is looking for smoother relations this time around. He has also made it clear that while it appears that Douglas will have the final say in roster decisions, a system has been presented to him where having the final say would prove merely symbolic.

“I do believe that there’s a lot of talent on this roster. How those different pieces fit to the schemes that we’re about to deploy is going to be decided here in the coming weeks, but like I said, there’s a collaborative effort being made, obviously starting with Christopher Johnson and how he wants things to be run.”

What It Could Mean: While there’s no doubt that change is coming to the New York Jets, the fact that Saleh pointed out that he likes some of the names on the current ledger is intriguing. After all, one of the most common complaints of the Gase era was that he was unable to help holdovers from Bowles’ tenure reach the next level of their developments. The Jets’ defense is full of strong potential, including safety Marcus Maye, who took on a strong leadership role after Adams was shipped to Seattle. Those seeking to take that next step could be inspired to stay since Saleh appears to allow for some turnover from the team’s prior incarnation.

“I’m not going to be handling play calling duties on defense, got the utmost respect and confidence in Jeff Ulbrich to be able to do that…This is an organization that has to work locked in arms and work together and to ensure that the messaging and the way we want things done all the way across the board is there and maintaining that connection throughout, whether it’s offense, defense, special teams, business to football, somehow, some way, everyone’s got to find their connection to the player and with the mindset that we’re going to get these guys better every single day. And to be able to have that focus and ensure that the entire organization is moving in the direction that we want, I won’t be calling plays.”

What It Could Mean: The Jets announced the hiring of former San Francisco linebacker Jeff Ulbrich as defensive coordinator shortly before Saleh took to the podium. He got one of the brightest burning questions out of the way fast, announcing that Ulbrich will be calling plays on defense. It’s a bit of an early risk…the Atlanta Falcons let up over 398 yards a game in Ulbrich’s first and only seasons as a coordinator…but it shows that Saleh is willing to be hands-on in every facet of the game. That’s especially promising considering the prior season showed that nearly every major position is in desperate need of guidance.

“I’m going to be like me. And that was a challenge that Pete (Carroll) gave us when we were young assistance, was it’s easy to pick from different people and try to emulate what different people are, but in moments of adversity, your true character will always reveal itself. And so, the challenge was to identify with yourself and be who you are first because then when adversity hits, your authenticity will shine. And so, to tell you who you’re going to get, you’re going to get me. And this entire organization and what we’re going to try to get done is to be designed to win championships.”

What It Could Mean: Jets history has maintained an antiquated sense of “finding the next ____________”. They’ve been searching for the next Joe Namath ever since the legendary thrower fulfilled his promise at the Orange Bowl in Super Bowl III. Any slot receiver from a small school blessed with a catch has to endure Wayne Chrebet comparisons. Adams got out of New Jersey just before the Darrelle Revis analogies popped up. Saleh, however, is seeking to start completely fresh. He certainly thanked those that helped him get to where he is now…Carroll, Kyle Shanahan, Kris Richard, among others…but he’s not interested in being a new, say, Bill Parcells or Weeb Eubank. He wants to be the first Robert Saleh, a unique coach that leaves his own mark on New York. Saleh even mentioned in an earlier response that the perception of the Jets was “unfair, clearly”. Time will tell if Saleh can make that mark.

 “Players really want two things from a coach, I’ve always felt this way, one, they want to know that you care about their wellbeing, everyone says it’s a business, I get it, but it’s not, this is a personal investment to people. And the most important people are the ones who strap up on game day and step between the lines. And obviously, can you help them make plays on Sundays so they can get paid as much as possible and that is the goal of every single coach and everybody who has some type of impact on the players or has a connection to the players and that is going to be the goal of this entire organization, is to make sure we do everything we can to connect to their wellbeing and to help them make plays on Sunday so they get paid as much as possible. When you look at the connection part with these players, there’s an investment that has to be made, you got to sell everything you can, you got to give them everything you can and when you do, like I said, the reciprocation happens and when it does, it becomes personal, and that’s all you can ask for, to get this to a personal level where everybody’s has everybody’s back and everybody feels accountable to one another.”

What It Could Mean: The year 2020 was a year of reflection and reckoning, and the sports world was no exception to the phenomenon. Participants made it clear that they were human, not emotionless athletic machines, a realization many should’ve probably realized long ago. It’s great to see that Saleh understand such a concept. This is a coach that appears to truly care for his players in the early going, and that’s only going to make the Jets a better team. New York is a team that desperately needs unity after the Gase era left so many hurt feelings. When Bowles was let go after 2018, there was a true sense that players were not only losing a teacher but a friend as well. When Gase was hired, the strongest cheerleaders were perhaps the hot take artists like Colin Cowherd. But with Saleh, the tones of player appreciation have been on display ever since he was first connected to the Jets. Richard Sherman, one of his pupils in San Francisco, immediately sang his praises, as did Quinnen Williams. Getting these strong vibes of camaraderie back into the organization would go a long way, and it appears Saleh has started that process

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Breaking down 3 confirmed head coaching candidates (part 2)

In the first part of the New York Jets’ confirmed coaching target breakdowns, I highlighted some of the top offensive coordinators reportedly being targeted for the job. This time, here are the three rumored defensive coordinator candidates and what they bring to the table.

Matt Eberflus, Indianapolis Colts Defensive Coordinator

Matt Eberflus is a rising coaching candidate in the league, and for good reason. The well-traveled coach began his coaching career as a student assistant at Toledo in 1992, he then spent eight years coaching at Toledo, holding the positions of graduate assistant, recruiting coordinator, outside linebackers coach, and defensive backs coach. Due to his success at Toledo, Eberflus was named defensive coordinator of Missouri in 2001, where he coached until 2008. He then signed on for two seasons as the linebackers coach of the Browns before he entered into the most crucial years in his coaching development. From 2011 to 2015, Eberflus coached under Rod Marinelli, super bowl champion coach. Marinelli taught Eberflus the Tampa 2 style defense, which has proved to be his staying power since then. Marinelli mentored Eberflus and developed him into a disciple, which led to him ultimately landing his current gig.

Eberflus was initially brought on to the Colts staff by the short-lived coach, Josh McDaniels. When he decided to return to New England and Frank Reich was hired, the team looked to Marinelli for his advisement on someone who could instill the Tampa 2 defense in Indy, and he let them know that guy was already on the staff. So, Eberflus kept his job, and in the time since, he has become an esteemed coach. The Indy defense has become a top one in all of football, but the way Eberflus has gotten the most out of his players is the true shining piece of his resume. Darius Leonard was not supposed to be a star in this league, he was out for most of his rookie camp, and he was a little known second-rounder. Now, Leonard is one of the best linebackers in football. The team also acquired Deforest Buckner this offseason, and he has had a monster season in the defense.

Eberflus’ only indictment is that he may not be that CEO type coach rumored to be the target. Eberflus does not have experience as a head coach, and just like most coordinators, there is no hardcore proof he could have success. Still, Eberflus is well connected in the league and could likely build a good staff and be a good leader. Eberflus is a true wildcard candidate; depending on his staff, he could be a solid hire.

Brandon Staley, Los Angeles Rams Defensive Coordinator

A year ago, Brandon Staley was a rather unknown coach, now, he has a shot to be a head coach rather quickly. Staley has bounced around the college ranks, starting in 2006 at Northern Illinois. From there, Staley went to various schools including, St. Thomas, Hutchinson Community, and Tennessee. Then, Staley got his shot as a D3 defensive coordinator at John Carrol University. From there, he went to James Madison and back to John Carrol. Then, he drew the eye of Vic Fangio and had been on his staff in both Chicago and Denver before getting his shot as a defensive coordinator this season in Los Angeles.

Brandon Staley succeeded esteemed defensive coordinator Wade Phillips after his retirement last season. He inherited a defense with two of the best players in the NFL, Jalen Ramsey, and Aaron Donald. Donald brings a ferocious ability to get into the backfield unmatched by anyone in the league. Ramsey is one of the best lockdown corners in the game and didn’t have a single game this season where he allowed more than 20 yards. Despite that, the talent they had was present in both Phillip’s time and Staley’s. So, in analyzing their defensive jump from the middle of the league to first, that makes what Staley was able to do all the more impressive.

Staley has earned quite a reputation quickly. He has drawn comparisons to the man that hired him, Sean McVay, and been labeled as the defensive carbon copy. Staley would be the younger, more flashier hire than Eberflus, but both are unproven. Staley has not been in the league long, meaning his staff hires could leave something to be desired. Staley is a bold choice, but the Jets have gone the successful defensive coordinator route once in the past 8 years, and it didn’t bode well, will they make the same choice again?

Robert Saleh, San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator

Robert Saleh is a football guy. The former college tight end began his coaching career in 2002 with Michigan State. He then coached at Central Michigan and Georgia before going to the pros. Then, in 2005, Saleh was hired as an intern with the Texans, and he climbed through the ranks to the position of assistant linebackers coach before heading to Seattle. In Seattle, Saleh got to learn under Pete Carroll and coach on a Super Bowl championship-winning staff. Saleh coached there until receiving a shot to coach the linebackers in Jacksonville, where they had a large amount of success in his time there. His success across the board drew enough attention from Kyle Shanahan to earn him the defensive coordinator job in 2017. Since then, Saleh has become a household name.

Last season, the San Francisco 49ers went to the Super Bowl behind one of the most talented defensive lines I have seen in the past decade. Their defense was ranked in the top tier of the league overall, and although they were unable to pull off a win in the big game, they still showed major growth in 2019. This set them up as one of the most heavily feared defenses heading into this season, but when Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Richard Sherman, Javon Kinlaw, and Kwon Alexander are among the big names who missed multiple games, if not the entire season. The team was banged up but still managed to finish as a top defenses again, taking only a small step back.

Robert Saleh is that CEO type of coach Joe Douglas should target. Saleh is the middle ground of Staley and Eberflus. He has the connections of Eberflus and the youth of Staley. Saleh brings juice and energy to the defense. One rumored connection is with Mike McDaniel, a rising offensive mind in San Francisco, who some believe could follow him as an OC wherever he choses to go. He is so intense that he runs the stadium stairs in order to get mentally prepared before games. Saleh is a fantastic coach and near the top of my board for prospective coaches. Saleh is a hot commodity, though, and there is a hometown connection with the Lions that could prove to be too much for the Jets to overcome.

New York Jets: Breaking down 3 confirmed head coaching candidates

New York Jets, Eric Bieniemy

Here we go, New York Jets fans! The coaching search has begun, and the Jets will look to hire their next head coach. The Adam Gase era is in the past, and the team will now look at guys who can lead the Jets for, hopefully, the next decade. Here are three of the most popular confirmed candidates so far, a summary of their background and how they could impact the team.

Brian Daboll OC Bills

Brian Daboll has an extensive coaching background. He has had the privilege to learn under two of the greatest coaches in all of football history at Alabama with Nick Saban and in New England with Bill Belichick. His history includes multiple roles on both sides of the role, but predominantly as an offensive coach.  The 45-year-old has been a coach in football since 1997 and in the pros since 2000. With over 20 years of knowledge, he has hit his stride in Buffalo. Daboll has transformed the Bills offense and completely shaped Josh Allen. When he inherited Allen, he was a raw player who still missed simple throws and needs grooming. Now, Allen looks like a top-five quarterback.

Daboll is a football guy. He is well-liked and well respected, and with the mentors he has had, he obviously knows the game well. Daboll is a hot commodity on the coaching market, and landing him will be tough if he is who the Jets end up liking most. Daboll seems to fit the leadership and culture-changing mold on the surface due to the impact he has had on the Bills offense, but with no past as a head coach, you have to wonder how he will do leading a roster of 53 men. Daboll is likely a front runner for multiple jobs, and it will be interesting to see if the Jets can get him in for at least one interview and potentially make a run at him.

Arthur Smith OC Titans

Arthur Smith did not have to be an NFL coach. The former college guard could have easily taken a role in the family business, FedEx. Smith’s father owns FedEx, but rather than pursue money, Smith pursued a passion and is doing a good job at it. Smith started coaching in 2006 as a grad assistant at his alma mater, UNC. He then carried that into jobs as a defensive assistant for the Washington Football Team and Ole Miss.

Since 2011,  Smith has been a coach on the Titans. Despite four regime changes, Smith has been the constant. Smith is highly respected and has taken his time moving up the ranks, learning, and not rushing anything. Then, when he saw Matt LaFleur heading to Green Bay, he jumped on an opportunity and approached Mike Vrabel about a promotion from Tight Ends Coach to Offensive Coordinator. Since then, the Titans offense hasn’t looked back. Ryan Tannehill is playing the best football of his career and has gone from a backup QB to a top 10 one. Not only that, but Derrick Henry is finally being used as the beast he is.

Arthur Smith is a go-getter and someone who is well-liked by his players. He commands respect and is a leader. As a former offensive lineman, he is sure to be someone who clicks with Joe Douglas. Smith has no previous head coaching experience, but his impact has been more apparent than that of Daboll on the offense. Smith is a highly respected coach and has been requested to interview for every opening. If the Jets can get a shot at him and he prefers to come here, I firmly believe he is a favorite to land this gig.

Eric Bieniemy OC Chiefs

Rounding out our list of most popular coaching candidates confirmed for an interview is perhaps the most popular one: Chiefs Offensive Coordinator and Super Bowl Champion coach Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy has been a coach in the NFL since 2001, after taking two years off. He is a former pro running back and finished third place in the 1990n Heisman race. He has been an offensive coach and coordinator in both the college and pro ranks and has been a fixture on Andy Reid’s staff since 2013. Bieniemy is well-liked by his players and is highly regarded by Andy Reid. Bieniemy has reportedly played a key role in play-calling and in maintaining the offense.

Bieniemy is another real football guy. As another former player, there will be that admiration between him and Douglas. Here is the thing, I think their philosophies will lead to a massive disconnect. Where Smith and Daboll are more traditional football guys (Smith more than Daboll because of his playing days), Bieniemy is more modern. I think that Bieniemy will be a player first coach based on his reputation with the Chiefs and not the leader/CEO type the Jets need.

There are character issues with Bieniemy; he has faced harassment and assault allegations at multiple points in his playing and coaching career. He has also had a few issues driving, including a DUI in 2001. However, this was all 20 years ago, and Bieniemy strikes me as a guy who has turned over a new leaf. Still, there was a reason the Jets didn’t bring him back for a second interview a few years ago, and part of me wonders if it was due to the aforementioned character concerns. Nonetheless, Bieniemy has proved he deserves a shot as a head coach on the field, and if he interviews well and can explain his past, I think he ends up with a head coaching job; I just don’t think it will be for the Jets.