New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Quarterbacks

new york jets, zach wilson

ESM looks back on a fateful offseason for the New York Jets, starting with the big changes at quarterback.

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

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. We start off at the quarterback spot…

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) throws on the run against the New England Patriots during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The Jets’ offseason centered around a puzzling conundrum: the NFL future of Sam Darnold. Conventional stats (as well as the fact they held the second overall pick in the draft) more or less implored the Jets to move on: Darnold ranked 40th in competition rate (59.8) and 41st in passer rating (78.5) amongst 42 quarterbacks (min. 500 attempts). Yet, there was a tantalizing case to prolong his New York career, a major temptation to answer a question Jets fans have asked and continued to ask…what would Darnold look like in a system that wasn’t overseen by Adam Gase?

For all the offensive malarkey the Jets had gone through in the Gase era, Darnold has still provided momentary flashes of brilliance that eeked through the endless layers of green gridiron gloom. Some felt that Darnold had the necessary skills to survive in the NFL, he just needed the proper support staff. There was only so much Darnold could’ve done while working in a Gase system and his top options being first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman) and current lacrosse stars pulled out of New England’s antique pile (Chris Hogan). In March, the Jets added Corey Davis and Keelan Cole, a pair of consistently reliable talents looking to make a bigger impact. Had Darnold been kept aroud for the eventual drafting of Elijah Moore, it would’ve been the most talented receiver class Darnold ever had to work with.

Darnold’s support problems were not limited to his receiving arsenal. The crucial developmental stages of his NFL career were staged in the midst of constant rumors surrounding Le’Veon Bell, who was a discount version in everything but his price tag ($52.5 million). That big contract and several other factors (i.e. general negligence) delayed any plans to bolster the offensive line. Darnold, after all, went through three different primary centers over his first three NFL seasons. To their credit, the Jets seemed to finally be seeing the light in the late stages of Darnold’s tenure, passing on elite receiving talent to draft Louisville blocker Mekhi Becton and later trade up with Minnesota for Alijah Vera-Tucker.

As for the backup quarterback spot, the Jets had the right idea when it came to Joe Flacco. The cheap deal signed late in the offseason (one-year, $1.5 million) and Flacco’s own words made it clear that he wasn’t meant to be any long-term backup solution. It was a contract that gave Darnold a year under Flacco’s watch while the one-time Super Bowl MVP (who truly sought a new area to take over the QB1 role) had a chance to prove to new suitors that he could still be a serviceable NFL option after enduring a neck injury during his previous stop in Denver.

new york jets, zach wilson

How It’s Going

Ultimately, the Jets sent Darnold south, trading him to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for three draft picks, one of which was a second-round choice to be used next season. Even before Darnold was shipped off to Charlotte, the Jets spent the offseason in the thick of the quarterback discussion. Not only were they present at all major rookie quarterback showcases, but they were said to be in the thick of the Deshaun Watson sweepstakes before assault allegations ended that conversation.

Those factors all but assured that the Jets were going to use their premier pick on a non-Trevor Lawrence quarterback, eventually revealed to be Zach Wilson when the league converged on Cleveland in April. With the selection of Wilson out of BYU, general manager Joe Douglas has officially etched his signature onto his New York mosaic. He now has his own head coach (Robert Saleh) and quarterback running the show after working with the used parts of the Mike Maccagnan era’s final days.

As expected, Flacco moved during the offseason, joining a curious passing situation in Philadelphia that has been implied to give him a chance to compete for the starter’s spot. Despite several serviceable backup candidates emerging (i.e. Brian Hoyer, Nick Mullens), the Jets curiously opted to stick with their current backup situation of James Morgan and Mike White.

Dec 24, 2019; Honolulu, Hawaii, USA; Brigham Young Cougars quarterback Zach Wilson (1) celebrates with teammates after running in a touchdown against the Hawaii Warriors in the second half of the Hawaii Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marco Garcia-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

One could have, and probably still can, make the case for Darnold staying in New York. The temptation to see him with a new support staff could’ve allowed the Jets to either use the second overall pick on one of their many other areas of need or even trade it to further reinforce those positions.

Ultimately, though, trading the Darnold was the best move for all parties. There’s no use in comparing Darnold and Wilson right now, especially when the latter has yet to throw an NFL pass (Lord knows the post-Week 1 discourse following the Jets and Panthers’ meeting in Charlotte will be arduous enough). But wondering whether Darnold’s issue was simply a coaching thing was a question the Jets couldn’t afford to answer anymore, especially when holding a draft choice that allowed them the pick of the non-Lawrence litter in Cleveland.

For Darnold, this move works on a personal level as well. He can now try to reclaim the narrative on his NFL career in relative obscurity in Carolina, a stark contrast to the constant tabloid attention in New York and the meme makers that pounce on the slightest green controversy on the internet (let’s face it, if the “I’m seeing ghosts” thing happened anywhere else, it’d be forgotten in a week). Time will tell if Wilson is the long-sought answer under center after decades of false prophets, but the Jets at least deserve some props for knowing when to cut ties and go back to the drawing board.

The Jets’ backup situation remains rather curious, however. As it stands, the Jets’ trio of quarterbacks has zero NFL regular season passes between them. New York is obviously pinning its future hopes and dreams on Wilson’s development. Holding minicamp with Wilson as the primary man more or less guarantees that the Jets aren’t practicing the “Kansas City model” a la Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes.

But that shouldn’t mean that Wilson immediately must become the most experienced quarterback in the room. Even if one claims that adding a veteran to mentor the rookie (Chicago’s Nick Foles, perhaps?) is a passing cliche at this point, the Jets should at least bring on some insurance in case of an emergency. The team was 0-10 in the three-year Darnold era when backup quarterbacks had to step in. There’s no evidence that White or Morgan (who didn’t even dress for a game in his rookie year) are capable of breaking that trend if the unthinkable happened to Wilson. The playoffs remain a tall ask, but that doesn’t mean the Jets should punt on 2021 contests.

The Jets were right to kick off a new era of football, efficiently hitting the fast-forward button in their franchise timeline. But that doesn’t mean he should have to do this alone, especially in his own position room.

Final Offseason Grade: C+

Did the Jets make the right move in drafting Wilson? Or should they have stuck with Sam? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Jamison Crowder contract hints at Robert Saleh effect

New York Jets, Jamison Crowder

Crowder couldn’t be blamed if he wanted to move on, but his return to the New York Jets shows further hints at excitement for the Saleh era.

Upon ceasing the Adam Gase era, the New York Jets did everything short of the process Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet used to outright forget each other’s existence in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The team spent this spring on a relative purge of the Gase era, starting fresh at several major outlets, including the almighty quarterback position.

Even the return of the most potent weapon on the team, the rare offensive silver lining, was highly in question.

No one in their right football mind could’ve found fault in a divorce between the Jets and Jamison Crowder. While Crowder (1,532 yards, 12 touchdowns) was the closest thing the Jets had to a consistent offensive highlight-maker, but that status probably said more about the state of the Jets than it did about Crowder. For his part, Crowder used the last two years to become one of the more reliable slot receivers in the league. But, set to turn 28 on Thursday, Crowder hasn’t reaped the true glory that the NFL has to offer. His career has been spent mostly in the football doldrums of Washington and Florham Park, his postseason endeavors limited to a single Wild Card weekend showing with former after the 2015 season.

Crowder’s co-workers are drastically changed as well, deskmates that could put a dent in the sizable numbers he has gotten used to. Instead of first-round also-ran Breshad Perriman and current lacrosse star Chris Hogan, Crowder now shares a playbook with Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, each accoladed in their respective veteran and rookie fields. Topping that with another veteran arrival boasting slot experience (Keelan Cole), the $10 million in cap savings due to the Jets upon his trade or release, and the fact that the final year of Crowder’s contract had no guaranteed money left, an amicable parting seemed like the best way to go.

Instead, Crowder is coming back to help author a new chapter of the Jets’ rebuild.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network revealed on Monday that Crowder will be back in New York on a restructured deal. While official numbers have not been disclosed, ESPN’s Rich Cimini hinted that the Jets were seeking to convince Crowder to take “at least a 50 percent pay cut” on his $10 million salary. The extra money put toward the Jets’ $27 million in available cap space (third-best in the NFL behind Jacksonville and Denver) could possibly go toward blocking upgrades, as New York is rumored to be assessing Morgan Moses’ post-Washington situation.

Dec 27, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder (82) is tackled by Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy and fair to avoid sentimentalities and chalk up the gambit to a mere business decision. Crowder presumably gets a guaranteed salary and gets to view the 2021 season as a chance to make a highlight tape that will presumably end up on the desks of the other 31 NFL general managers as soon as the final seconds ticks off of the Jets’ Week 17…erm, 18…contest. One can also argue that moving elsewhere this late in the postseason would have severely limited Crowder’s potential destinations.

But as the Jets’ rebuild edges closer to immortality, it’s hard not to view Crowder’s re-upping, if only for a short while, as yet another sign of how much Robert Saleh has changed the culture in his short time at the New York helm.

Even Jets fans might be tired of hearing about the Saleh effect, especially considering we’re still about three months away from playing meaningful downs. Part of the Saleh allure, even if his worshippers don’t want to admit it, is indeed recency bias. Things became so garish under Gase that anything short of Rich Kotite’s return would’ve been seen as an upgrade. Observing the Saleh effect also doesn’t mean one views the new Jets’ boss as infallible. One would think, for example, that his reputation could’ve secured a stronger secondary lineup.

If Saleh’s prescience did play a role, though, it’s fair to assess the work he’s doing in combating the “Same Old Jets” moniker.

Even if things worked out in relatively favorable fashion, the Le’Veon Bell debacle should’ve set the Jets’ free agency endeavors back at least a few years. What self-respecting free agent was going to look at what Bell went through…rumors of in-fighting, mismanagement…and say “Yeah, I want in on that”? One could easily cast the blame of the Bell trouble entirely on Gase, but that doesn’t erase nearly five decades of football follies that gain extra attention, if only because there’s a Jets logo on it.

Had the Butt Fumble, for example, happened anywhere else, the sensation probably would’ve died down in a month. But because Mark Sanchez’s infamous turnover happened with a green oval on his helmet, it became a non-perishable. Joe Douglas deserves some credit in freshening up the free agency welcome wagon as well. When things didn’t work out, he sent some valuable pieces off to more attractive situations that also fit their on-field needs (i.e. sending Steve McClendon to the eventual Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay). But, from the moment he took the job, Douglas was fighting decades of jokes, many of them exaggerated, made at the Jets’ expense, one that painted (and frankly continues to paint) Florham Park as a football underworld.

Jan 3, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh against the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets stigma could’ve steered free agents, including Crowder, away. Even with so many improvements, asking the Jets to reach the playoffs is still going to be a tall task. Crowder would’ve been well within his rights to demand a trade to a contender or take his chances on the late offseason free agency market. After all, his skills as a reliable slot prescience could well complement a team at the cusp of a playoff spot or seeking to move further in the postseason.

Those unwilling to embrace the Saleh effect could further argue that, since Crowder has re-upped on a mere one-year deal and the prescience of young, lauded projects like Moore, he won’t be around to fully reap what the new guard is sowing. But, much like anointing Saleh (and/or Zach Wilson, for that matter) as the savior of green metropolitan football, it’s probably a bit too early to have any in-depth conversations about the future. If the Jets flash some hope beyond the expected improvement from a rock-bottom campaign and Crowder becomes further absorbed into the rebooted unit, a further commitment could be possible.

The most noticeable difference in Crowder’s New York career, at least from a leadership perspective, this time around is that of Saleh. The new head coach’s hire has earned vocal praise from players both domestically and abroad. Crowder’s decision to not only stay but return to a team eager to atone for a two-win campaign is, in part, another such statement.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Three reasons why the New York Jets will be fine without Julio Jones

New York Giants, Julio Jones

Some were disappointed that the New York Jets removed themselves from the Jones sweepstakes, but adding the former Falcon wasn’t their fight.

Julio Jones will sing a new tune in the Music City. The accoladed receiver has shed his Atlanta Falcon wings and has moved on to Tennessee, where he joins a Titans squad already blessed with the offensive talents of Derrick Henry and AJ Brown. Thus ends a saga that ignited with a fateful phone call on live television by Fox Sports’ Shannon Sharpe.

In the aftermath, the eventual price for Jones has been hotly debated. Tennessee sent over two mid-round picks, one each over the next two drafts, the highest being a second-round choice in next year’s selections. It seems like a relatively low charge for one of the most accomplished receivers in recent NFL memory, one that gains some context when a hamstring injury suffered last season is taken into account.

Still, as Jones prepared to don Titans blue, fans of the 31 outliers are left with the lingering inquiry of “what if?” and “why not”?

At first glance, many New York Jets fans have every right to ask those questions. After all, if that was all it took for Jones to leave his Atlanta-based nest, the Jets could’ve spared the necessary parts to bring him in. They have an extra pick in both the first and second rounds of next year’s draft stemming from the Jamal Adams and Sam Darnold departures. One could even argue that adding Jamison Crowder (and getting back over $10 million in cap space with Jones) to the mix might’ve sweetened the deal.

But the Jets are more than capable of surviving the lack of Jones in their lives, as consolation lies all around them…

The Jones Privilege

Adding Jones has given the Titans the dreaded title of “offseason champions”, as amateurs and experts alike will probably list them as their Super Bowl champions. They likely inherit the title from the Arizona Cardinals, who were burdened with expectations after acquiring DeAndre Hopkins in a one-sided trade with Houston. Arizona began the year 6-3 but dropped five of their final seven in missing out on the playoff entirely.

Time will tell exactly how Tennessee handles the pressure, but it’s hard to be too cynical about their chances, at least on paper. The Titans are, after all, only two years removed from an appearance in the AFC title game and are coming off their first division title since 2008. They’re tied for the seventh-best record in the NFL over the last two seasons. During his unscheduled on-air conversation with Sharpe, Jones insisted he wanted to be dealt to a contender, ruling out Undisputed co-host Skip Bayless’ Dallas Cowboys…and, by process of elimination, the Jets.

Acquiring Jones is a first-world problem of sorts, a privilege bestowed to those who are the proverbial “one move away” from the Super Bowl. The Jets are a few moves away from merely fighting for a wild-card berth, never mind The Big Game. Even if they undoubtedly got better this offseason…if only because there was nowhere to go but up after the Adam Gase era…emerging from a crowded AFC pool packed to the brim with established contenders seems like a tall ask. There’s thus no use in taking the uncertainties of post-injury Jones, who turned 32 in February, not to mention the financial obligations that come with it (over a $63 million cap hit over the next three seasons).

No Co-Authorship

One of the primary focuses of this New York offseason has been establishing a new identity, leaving a signature on a new exhibit. Through the hiring of new head coach Robert Saleh, the Jets have managed to do that. The former San Francisco defensive coordinator’s mantra of “all gas, no brake” has already been quoted ad nauseam by Jets fans and Saleh’s entry has been complemented by the arrival of several touted entries who are looking to take the next steps in their respective careers (i.e. Zach Wilson, Corey Davis, and Sheldon Rankins, all of who were chosen in the first round of their respective drafts).

But if one brings Jones into the conversation, suddenly a new identity emerges. Through no fault of Jones, this latest, most hopeful iteration of the Jets’ rebuild gets boiled down to the “Julio Jones Era” and would’ve rendered a great deal of offseason work meaningless.

There’s no doubt that Jones is fully capable of responding to this challenge and will seek to silence any doubters, particularly his former employers that thought he was “only” worth a second-round choice at best. But the Jets are seeking to scribe their own NFL story and identity, as well as write a comeback story that’s a decade in the making. They don’t have the time or resources to worry about ghostwriting someone else’s.

Good Reception

Obviously, in a perfect world, the Jets snag Jones, and he, at the very least, provides some entertainment during another year of rebuilding where progress won’t always show up on the scoreboard.

But if this year is truly the latest stanza of a seemingly eternal rebuild, the Jets must do what they failed to work during last year’s nightmare: take advantage of a bittersweet and gift and turn things into a year of development.

Simply put, anyone who’s watched a minute of NFL football over the last decade knows what Jones is capable of. If this hamstring issue is the first step of the twilight of his career, it’s better for that discovery to be made on a contender rather than a team in desperate need of answers. Once it became clear that the Jets weren’t going to do anything in 2020, Gase and Co. had a prime opportunity to audition a rushing triumvirate of La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams. They instead decided to give Frank Gore a retirement tour, creating questions about the run game that lingered into the offseason.

The Jets have a group of receivers that, while talented, have yet to show they can handle the duties and burdens that comes with the status of a top target. Corey Davis worked behind Brown in Tennessee. Crowder has been a reliable slot option. There are high hopes for second-round brothers Elijah Moore and Denzel Mims. The receiving depth chart is packed to the brim with potential, but the Jets need more proven certainty to truly contend in the modern league. Rather than going with an option like Jones, who isn’t going to immediately shift the team’s fortunes in a lucrative direction, the Jets should instead focus on developing the attractive alternatives that are already in tow.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Analyzing the fateful moves of Joe Douglas’ tenure (so far)

Today in 2019, the New York Jets named Joe Douglas their general manager. ESM looks back on his most impactful moves, for better or worse.

Two years ago, a man named Joe opened a campaign that ran on change and reform. Today, he’s at the helm of one of the most renowned, yet volatile, systems in the world and trying to get his constituents back on track in the face of an ongoing crisis.

On this day two years ago, Joe Douglas became general manager of the New York Jets.

Douglas inherited a ghastly gridiron crunch from Mike Maccagnan after the latter’s shocking post-draft firing in 2019. The Jets were in the midst of an eight-year playoff drought and hadn’t had a winning record since 2015, the first year of Maccagnan’s star-crossed term.

Two years later, however, much hasn’t changed in terms of on-field numbers. Douglas has overseen a mere nine wins over two seasons (besting only Detroit, Jacksonville, and Cincinnati) and saw the franchise plunge to new single-season lows last season through a 2-14 ledger. Even though they bested the single win of Rich Kotite’s doomed group in 1996, the Jets endured a franchise-worst 13-game losing streak to open the year, leading Douglas to start almost entirely from scratch in 2021. The playoff drought has been extended to a decade, the longest active streak in the NFL after Cleveland and Tampa Bay each earned postseason invites last winter.

In his brief time, Douglas has made several transactions that will affect the Jets’ future fortunes and perhaps his own metropolitan future. ESM looks back at the most impactful moves to date, for better and worse…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

Better: The Drafting of Mekhi Becton

For his first draft pick at the helm of the Jets, Douglas opted to select Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall choice in the 2020 proceedings. There was no shortage of talent in the middle stages of the virtual draft’s opening night, as Henry Ruggs, Tristan Wirfs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson all heard their names called with the next eleven selections after Becton.

Analysis: For the time being, the draft of Becton is Douglas’ magnum opus. He made the selection in a thankless position: for every one fan/analyst/scout who wanted a blocker, there was another likely upset that Douglas passed on the plethora of receiving talent available in the slot. But after Becton served as a rare silver lining in Adam Gase’s dirge, Douglas publicly declared that he would base future decisions around Becton.

“I think he’s a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in November, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “We’re excited about working with him every day because you talk about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart. He’s tough as nails and has rare size and athleticism. There’s a lot of desire from him to want to be the best player that he can be so we’ve made it our mission to bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”

The selection of Becton also snapped a dangerous streak in Jets history: he was the first opening-round offensive lineman chosen by the Jets since the legendary pairing of D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold in 2006, ending a period of blocking negligence exacerbated not only by Maccagnan but by Mike Tannenbaum and John Idzik before him. Additionally, shrewd maneuvering by Douglas allowed the Jets to pick up a big-play receiver anyway, using a second-round choice on Baylor’s Denzel Mims.

LANDOVER, MD – NOVEMBER 17: Alex Lewis #71 of the New York Jets looks on prior to the game against the Washington Redskins at FedExField on November 17, 2019 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images)

Worse: The Veteran Building Block(er)s 

Douglas’ blocking renovations didn’t begin with Becton. In the month before he scribbled Becton’s name onto a draft card, Douglas bestowed over $17 million in 2020 cap space to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. When he took office during the summer of 2019, among his first moves were trading a late pick to Baltimore for Alex Lewis and convincing All-Pro Ryan Kalil to postpone his retirement.

Analysis: Douglas had the right idea: he wanted to stock up on blockers to help his pre-packaged franchise quarterback Sam Darnold out. Alas, the moves he made only hastened the end of the Darnold era.

Part of the issues stems from Douglas signing the wrong names. Jack Conklin was reportedly interested in coming aboard (and Le’Veon Bell pleaded for the Jets to sign his fellow Michigan State alum on Twitter), but he instead embarked on an All-Pro season in Cleveland. Worse yet, the consolation prizes caused the Jets to neglect other areas of need, namely the weaponry necessary for Darnold to succeed. Luring Amari Cooper over from Dallas was probably always a pipe dream, but they missed out on serviceable parts like Emmanuel Sanders. They also made little effort to retain Robby Anderson, who went on to post career-best numbers in Carolina.

In the absence of marquee blocking signing, the Jets were forced to make do with washouts from first rounds past (Breshad Perriman) as well as former Patriots without the Belichick touch (Chris Hogan). The tough luck created a football situation where no good Douglas deed went unpunished.

New York Jets, Jamal Adams
Dec 29, 2019; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New York Jets strong safety Jamal Adams (33) warms up prior to the game against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The Jamal Adams Trade

Once it became clear that Adams, the face of the franchise during the Maccagnan era, wanted out of New York it was on Douglas to somehow salvage the situation. Adams didn’t make things easier by telling metropolitan horror stories any chance he could. Despite Adams’ tales, Douglas eventually worked out a deal with Seattle in August 2020. The deal netted two first-round picks, a third-round pick, and veteran cornerback Bradley McDougald.

Analysis: It’s hard to fully analyze the Adams trade as there are still lingering aftershocks in the 2022 draft; the Jets own Seattle’s first-round choice while the Seahawks own a metropolitan fourth-round pick.

As of this moment, a lot of the Adams fallout has shifted toward the Jets’ favor. While McDougald partook in only seven games and doesn’t appear to be heading back (continuing a disturbingly common trend of Douglas’ veteran acquisitions not panning out), the Jets used the Seattle capital to bolster their offensive line, trading the 2021 first-rounder to Minnesota that led to a move up the draft board for Alijah Vera-Tucker. The fact that Adams’ cantankerousness followed him to the Pacific Northwest…he has yet to sign a long-term deal…only further shifts the current lead in the Jets’ direction.

There’s no use in grading the trade when several major names from it haven’t played a single regular season down yet. But the fact that Douglas turned a disgruntled superstar into a landmark blocker and a first-round pick to be named later is an inspiring sign. The same philosophy could apply to the trade that sent Darnold to Carolina, a deal that saw Douglas land a second-round choice (in 2022) for a quarterback that has yet to post a passer rating above 85 or throw more than 20 touchdown passes.

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – OCTOBER 13: Safety Marcus Maye #20 of the New York Jets celebrates a stop against the Dallas Cowboys in the first half at MetLife Stadium on October 13, 2019 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

Better: Franchise Tagging Marcus Maye

Both the SEC and the earlier days of the 2017 draft are still represented in the Jets’ secondary through the prescience of Marcus Maye. The Florida alum was bestowed the franchise tag in the early stages of the 2021 offseason, a move that makes him the 10th-highest-paid safety in the league in 2021 (over $10.6 million guaranteed).

Analysis: After the Adams debacle, Douglas had to carefully navigate the situation with Maye. The Florida alum was close with Adams and was one of the few name-brand talents leftover once Adams and Anderson donned new helmets. For all intents and purposes, things have gone well in the early going. Maye, who at the very least made sure the Jets appeared in the SportsCenter Top 10, earned a sizable new contract while Douglas and Co. bought some time for Maye to further consider New York and set the table for an affordable long-term deal.

While Maye appears to be holding out of offseason activities, possibly until he gets that longer contract, the conversations surround him inspire hope and optimism, unlike last year’s melancholy Adams situation.

“Marcus Maye fits every system and he’ll be just fine,” new head coach Robert Saleh said in a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I think these kids have earned the right to ask for whatever they can, especially when they do things the right way like he has. Joe and his staff are working relentlessly to get something done. We go with it and we support him all around the organization.”

New York Jets, Adam Gase
Oct 18, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets head coach Adam Gase looks at a play card during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Worse: Putting Up with Adam Gase

Douglas took over the Jets at an interesting, if not contemptuous, point on the Jets timeline. His immediate predecessor was not Maccagnan, but rather Adam Gase, who more or less won a battle of wills to remain in New York. Gase was granted interim general managing duties after Maccagnan was let go and was maintained as the head coach upon Douglas’ arrival. He would last two seasons at the helm before Douglas dismissed him, paving the way for Saleh’s hire.

Analysis: The Jets were able to mask a 1-7 start in Gase’s first year at the helm by winning six of their final eight games (mostly against competition equally, if not more, doomed). But an even more brutal start in year two…one that saw the Jets lose their first six games by multiple possessions…should’ve been all the evidence that Gase wasn’t going to be the one to lead New York to the promised land.

Sure, it had been a while since the Jets executed an in-season firing (with Charley Winner getting ousted for Ken Shipp in 1975), but early firings have become more common in today’s NFL. A playoff berth in year one couldn’t save Ben McAdoo with New York’s blue squad. Steve Wilks was granted only one year in Arizona once it became clear they could get Kliff Kingsbury. It’s not like Douglas wasn’t afraid to pull the plug on others; the Jets instituted an early-season fire sale that bid farewell to Bell, Steve McLendon, and Avery Williamson. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was likewise given the boot after his infamous blitz against Las Vegas cost the Jets their first win of 2020.

To make matters worse, once Gase couldn’t even take advantage of the macabre gift of consequence-free football that could’ve been used as research and development for the future. For example, he chose to give Frank Gore a retirement tour instead of giving young projects like La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams a chance. Letting Gase finish out the season helped offseason questions linger and kept the Jets on a path of uncertainty.

Jan 3, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh against the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Too Soon: The San Francisco Treats

With the eventual purge of Gase and his coaching staff (save for the apparently immortal Brant Boyer) and the drafting of Zach Wilson, Douglas now officially has his signature on this team. The process will now be overseen on a day-to-day basis by a staff headed by Saleh and fellow former 49er Mike LaFleur, who is tasked with awakening an anemic New York offense.

Analysis: It’s foolhardy to grade any transaction without a single down of evidence, so the jury is obviously still out on Saleh. It’s an interesting approach for the Jets to take, for the Jets to go with a defensive-minded boss in an NFL landscape that increasingly favorites the offense (whether it’s inadvertent or not). It’s also somewhat surprising to see them hire a first-time head coach for a team full of unproven misfit toys. Time will tell how the gambit, similar to the Todd Bowles hire in 2015, plays out.

Having said that, the ultimate difference between the Gase and Saleh hires is who is praising the hire. When Gase arrived, it was praised mostly by the hot take artists like Colin “2020 AFC championship tickets at MetLife Stadium” Cowherd. This time, however, the Jets’ hire has been praised by on-field talent both domestically and abroad.

Much like the hire on this day two days ago…a hire where Douglas was plucked from a Philadelphia squad still celebrating its Super Bowl…Jets fans are filled with hope. But hope can only take you so far…it’s time to perform and find results, through, and in spite of, these moves.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets invade metropolitan postseason proceedings

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

The New York Jets proved to be good luck charms for fellow metropolitan professionals competing in the weekend’s postseason fare.

The New York Jets need some help in toppling a New England-based opponent, having dropped ten consecutive contests against the Patriots. Fortunately, the team was able to do conduct some offseason research over the weekend.

The respective championship quests of both the Brooklyn Nets and New York Islanders enjoyed a bit of a boost with Jets players in attendance on Saturday night. Each team is in the second round of their league’s postseason proceedings and both of them have had to deal with opponents of Massachusetts origins.

Offensive representatives once again descended upon Nassau Coliseum to watch the Islanders’ 4-1 triumph over the Boston Bruins in Game 4 of the NHL’s East Division title series, knotting the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Much like their prior visit to Uniondale, offensive lineman Dan Feeney stole the show by celebrating Islander goals by raucously finishing off his beer.

Feeney was joined by several of his new offensive teammates, including fellow metropolitan newcomers Zach Wilson and Michael Carter. The scorers were once again clad in customized Islander jerseys bearing the names and numerals they’ll wear on the gridiron.

The players appear to be far more effective talismans for an Islanders team seeking its first Stanley Cup hoist since 1983; head coach Robert Saleh took in Game 3 of the series on Thursday night, but Boston prevailed in a 2-1 overtime decision.

An hour away in Brooklyn, Joe Douglas was on the scene for the Nets’ second-round opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. The showdown against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Co. was set up through a 4-1 series victory over the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference’s quarterfinal round.

Jets/Nets fan @jaregss and his group were lucky enough to snap a photo with Douglas on their way out of the arena, with the Jets’ general manager clad in a shirt paying tribute to renowned wrestler Bret “Hitman” Hart. Many Nets fans, hungry for their first NBA title, were more than happy to welcome the Jets’ general manager to the cause.

Brooklyn dealt an appropriate blow to the Bucks in the first game of the series, as they overcame the medically-induced absence of James Harden to earn a 115-107 victory.

The Jets’ new friends both return to postseason action on Monday night. The Islanders ship back to Boston for a pivotal fifth game in the quarterfinal round (6:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) while the Nets look to take a two-game lead in the Borough of Churches (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The case for (and against) Julio Jones

New York Giants, Julio Jones

Accoladed receiver Julio Jones wants out of Atlanta; should the New York Jets inquire for his services? ESM investigates…

Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones is ready to recolor his wings. A shade of green could well be in the cards.

Jones declared he was “out of” Atlanta during a candid, impromptu phone call shared by Fox Sports host Shannon Sharpe during Monday’s edition of Undisputed on FS1. There’s been no confirmation over whether Jones knew he was on air but, in perhaps an attempt to interrupt the rare lull on the NFL calendar, hypothetical trades involving the fantasy football godsend have resurfaced. Jones

The accoladed receiver’s de facto trade request serves to end his decade-long tenure in Atlanta. Several teams will undoubtedly embark on a full assault for his services and the crowded resume that comes with it.

Should the New York Jets be among them? ESM investigates…

For: Fantasy Football

Jones has been a staple of the early portions of fantasy football drafts for years. When’s the last time Jets fans were able to choose their favorite players with legitimate dreams of a fantasy title in mind. The last realistic options were probably Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker prior to the star-crossed 2015 campaign.

Now, the Jets shouldn’t base their entire lineup around who wins fantasy football championships; if that were the case, they might as well made a move for Derek Carr. But the fact they haven’t had any fantasy stars in recent years is rather telling about where they are as a franchise. Where are the reliable big play targets? Who does the rookie quarterback turn to in the clutch? Who will teams double cover on the last drive of the game?

This offseason, the Jets used the free agency process to stock up on weaponry for the new franchise quarterback, who turned out to be Zach Wilson. The current depth chart-toppers (Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole, and rookie Elijah Moore) are undoubtedly upgrades from last season, but they have yet to prove themselves as consistent, reliable top options. Bringing in Jones would make him one of the Jets’ top playmakers of the past decade, and he might not even have to play a single down to prove that. Plus, the confidence Wilson would have with Jones there to greet him could prove invaluable not only in 2021 but for years to come.

Against: Julio’s Woes

The sophomoric nature of the internet and social media have perhaps made the Jets unwilling to take risks or make high-profile moves. Any move they make is going to be accompanied by satirical scrutiny that’s threatens everything they’re trying to work with in the latest stage of their perpetual rebuild.

Jones, through almost entirely no fault of his own, is going to bring some baggage with him. He’s no doubt keen to stick it to a Falcons that has apparently given up on him, and the Jets do have a high-profile matchup with the Dirty Birds that apparently did him dirty (Atlanta will “host” the Jets in London in October). Jones is also trying to emerge from one of the NFL’s most unfair stigmas: returning from an injury. Hamstring issues limited him to nine games in 2020, but he still managed to tally a respectable 771 yards.

These factors make Jones a perfect candidate, perhaps even the favorite, for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. Alas, that’s a quest the Jets truly can’t concern themselves with at this point. They have their own comeback/redemption story to write. It’s part of the reason Sam Darnold was let go. Sure, it was entirely possible that a green-clad Darnold could’ve benefitted from the coaching staff shake-up, but the Jets were at a point where they couldn’t base their immediate future on that “if”. The same could apply to Jones and his current endeavors.

For: They Can Help

Coming off three straight losing seasons (including a brutal 4-12 campaign that cost long-tenured Dan Quinn his job), the Falcons need a de facto bailout. As it stands, they’re currently of three teams with under $1 million in cap space (joining Chicago and New Orleans). Even so, they’re obviously going to want a decent return if they’re sending away one of the most prolific names in team history. Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports projects that any potential suitor would have to send at least a second-round pick.

The Jets have expendable assets to help the Falcons out. They own five picks in the first three rounds of next spring’s draft and could even include someone like Crowder (who becomes over $10 million in cap savings upon his departure). If the Falcons are going to trade Jones, something has to capture their fancy, make the deal truly worth their while. The Jets are one of the rare teams with both present and future assets Atlanta potentially covets.

Against: Anything But One Move Away

The Jets have improved by leaps and bounds this offseason, if only because there was little room to plummet further after 2020. Even so, making the playoffs is still going to be a tough ask. They’re trapped in a division with the defending AFC finalists and the other sections are packed with established contenders.

There’s no doubt that Jones can carry the load of a top receiver on a contender. He’s been part of a fairly consistent Atlanta team, but his prescience alone isn’t enough to secure a playoff berth. If he’s serious about moving, he’s likely going to choose a more established destination, not one where a majority of the starting lineup is undergoing a makeover.

Additionally, whoever trades for Jones is going to literally pay a hefty price. His 2021 cap hit exceeds $23 million, with $15 million guaranteed (per Over The Cap). The Jets are one of 11 teams that can handle Jones’ guaranteed salary with their current cap space, but there are other needs that need to be fulfilled before Week 1 kicks off. They’re in desperate need of a backup quarterback (preferably one that can double as a mentor for Wilson) and could certainly use another upgrade in their blocking and secondary areas. Jones, a 32-year-old due over $37 million over the next three seasons, is a luxurious acquisition that doesn’t fit the Jets’ current landscape.

The Verdict: Stay the Course 

If this was a year or two into the Robert Saleh era, adding Jones would be a lot more feasible. There would be time to showcase what Saleh and his staff are building, a few contests to develop momentum in what the Jets hope is their last extensive renovation for a long time.

Recent history suggests that maybe the Jets would be a bit better off in bypassing redemption-seeking superstars, at least for the time being. New York is still picking at the wounds left behind in the wake of the Le’Veon Bell era. The ghost of Bell shouldn’t haunt the Jets forever, but things are still a bit too fresh to justify and work through the growing pains of a superstar seeking to prove to himself and the football world that he’s still capable of an NFL workload.

If the Jets were on the cusp of the contention red zone, they would be right to go all out. But, right now, they’ve picked up a few first downs, but probably haven’t even reached midfield in the stadium of NFL fortune. If they were closer to the Super Bowl, investing a substantial sum into a 32-year-old receiver…one who has taken quite the pen to the NFL record books…would be a relative risk worth taking. But when progress would be possibly defined as an appearance in the “In the Hunt” column seen on the networks’ playoff charts come the holidays, adding Jones is not something you can do and would be an endeavor that would merely leave everyone bitter.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets schedule: Why Week 2 looms particularly large

National eyes have turned to the New York Jets’ opening matchup in Charlotte, but the home opener against New England will be a true test.

For all its flaws, the NFL status as a genius marketing behemoth cannot be denied.

Its draft is no longer two days in April expanding into a year-round process, a major tenet of which involves a lot of Indianapolis-based spandex and bench presses. Preseason games whose box scores are immediately scorched when the clock hits all zeroes get ratings are given national priority alongside late-season baseball games.

Perhaps the most obvious sign of the NFL’s stranglehold on the American imagination is the release of its annual schedule. The question of “who” yields no surprises…14 of a given team’s 17 opponents are predetermined years in advance and 17 are solidified by the end of final week action…but the question of “when”, the mere attachment of times and dates to these matchups, causes We the People to lose our collective minds. Playoff races in basketball and hockey are cast aside on national highlights show to debate whether the Chicago Bears deserved the Thanksgiving treatment.

Despite the relative lack of surprises, the New York Jets did learn some intriguing info. Though bereft of prime time games, save for a November Thursday night’s excursion to Indianapolis, the Jets will nonetheless study abroad in London, facing off with Atlanta in October. But the matchup everyone’s talking about comes in the Jets’ Week 1 visit to Charlotte to battle the Carolina Panthers.

By now, everyone knows what’s at stake at Bank of America Stadium come September 12: the hope of the Jets’ present and future meets the ghost of all-too-recent football past in the form of Sam Darnold (and Robby Anderson, among others). Despite the combatants carrying over a combined six wins from 2020, many have pegged the interconference showdown as one of the most anticipated get-togethers of opening weekend.

Opening with Carolina works from a Jets perspective in the sense that they can remove Darnold from their list of early “distractions” and carry on with the rest of what’s sure to be a developmental year. But, to that end, their home opener in Week 2 may loom even larger.

For their 2021 home opener, the Jets will welcome the New England Patriots into East Rutherford for the first of their yearly pair. What happens for those precious three hours at MetLife Stadium could well set a permanent tone for what the Jets’ leadership triumvirate of Joe Douglas, Woody Johnson, and Robert Saleh are trying to build.

Put aside the fact that three Presidents of the United States have held office and 11 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have been released since the Jets have emerged victorious from a showdown with the Patriots. Zach Wilson’s presumed home opener will mean everything to a Jets team that must do everything in its power to get started on the right note.

It might feel like an eternity since the Jets had a winning record, but one only has to flashback to September 2018. A 48-17 win over the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football had the fanbase buzzing. The fact that Sam Darnold’s first NFL pass was a pick-six was offset by a strong defensive effort (five turnovers) and the run game run up 179 on the ground. Darnold even made up for his early gaffe with two touchdown tosses in the dominant effort.

However, things came to a crashing halt in the MetLife Stadium opener against Miami. Facing off against future boss Adam Gase, the Jets surrendered the first 20 points before making things somewhat respectable late in a 20-12 loss. It was a sloppy game whose final score was nowhere near indicative of just how one-sided it was.

Now, the Darnold/Gase era didn’t falter solely because they lost to the Dolphins in Week 2 of the former’s rookie campaign. But, in hindsight, it served as perfect foreshadowing of the struggles to come: they turned the ball over three times, saw their rushing protection fall to 41 yards on 17 attempts, and allowed Darnold to get sacked three times. Penalties were prevalent, with the Jets losing 50 yards on seven infractions. Three resulted in Miami’s first downs and a particularly embarrassing sequence

The Jets are still trying to pick up the pieces to this day. That loss signaled the beginning of the end of the Todd Bowles era, mustering a mere three wins after that before he was let go at the end of his third season at the helm. It placed the Jets on a collision course with the disastrous Gase era, a period whose strongest yield was probably the fact it led the hiring of a sound football mind like Saleh, whose arrival has garnered praise both domestically and abroad.

Miami was merely a microcosm of what was to come under Darnold, as it highlighted the issues that would plague his star-crossed New York career. Of the ten starting men that suited up for the Jets that afternoon, only one other (Chris Herndon) was on the team in 2020. The Dolphins were credited with only three sacks of Darnold, but he was nonetheless forced to run for his life, to the tune of five other quarterback takedowns.

Negligence on both the offensive line (featuring only one player chosen within the first day of the draft, the former Seattle Seahawk James Carpenter) and run game (Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell) was a hint of things to come. Current management has seen to counter these issues, using first-round choices (Mehki Becton/Alijah Vera-Tucker) to protect Wilson and bolstering the run game with a stopgap rusher who has been a vital cog in Super Bowl runs (Tevin Coleman).

This season’s home opener is also going to take on a special meaning. Improvements have been discussed ad nauseam but MetLife Stadium will be packed to the brim with fans for a Jets game for the first time since December 2019. We, the football-loving people, have been through a lot over the past year-plus. Fans of the Jets and 13 other NFL teams were denied the simple pleasure of spending Sunday in a parking lot, surrounded by 80,000 of their new best friends. With restrictions loosening across the country, it feels (knock on wood) like it’s only a matter of time before all 30 NFL facilities get the go-ahead to pack the house. No matter the result that day, the first spelling of Jets will be downright emotional.

A brilliant tone can be set for the team moving forward, or another distressing sign of things to come could emerge. What the Jets do in these early hours will mean the world.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets land durable Duke safety Michael Carter

No, you’re not seeing double, the New York Jets selected Michael Carter Jr, but this one plays on the other side of the football. The Duke corner is 5 foot 9 1/2 and 186 pounds. The 4 year player at Duke did everything the right way. Carter waited in the wings, but quickly earned starting reps. His growth in his Sophomore season earned him the Willis Aldridge Award for best defensive back in the Blue Devils program. He then repeated as the winner in his junior year as well. Carter played the most snaps on the team in that season while taking reps at kick returner as well.

Carter has versatility and athleticism that will allow him to take reps at safety if needed, but more than likely slot in nicely as a corner for a team with minimal depth at the position. Carter runs a 4.30 40 yard dash and can keep up with some of the best burners at the next level. He also adds a dimension to Brant Boyer’s special teams unit given he could compete for the returner role.

Carter has had production at the defensive back position posting 41 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 2 INTs and 8 passes defended last season. He also ranked in the top 10 in the ACC in passes defended and was a third-team All-Acc recipient.

Off the gridiron Carter is exceptional as well. Continuing the trend of high character additions, Carter was team captain his senior season and well regarded by the entire Blue Devil team. He’s got maturity and leadership traits that you long for in a developmental player. Carter may earn reps early due to a lack of depth, but his potential at slot corner (a position the Jets don’t have an answer at right now) is very tantalizing.

New York Jets select shifty UNC running back Michael Carter, what to know

jets, michael carter

The New York Jets have selected RB Michael Carter from the University of North Carolina with the 107th pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. After drafting QB Zach Wilson from Bringham Young University, IOL Alijah Vera Tucker, and certified weapon from Ole Miss Elijah Moore. Now, the plan to put Zach Wilson in the best position possible continues. The Jets drafted a talented back in Carter.

In High School, Carter ran for over 2,500 yards in his senior season. The explosiveness carried over to Chapel Hill as he had 3,404 yards in his time with the Tarheels. That number puts him in the record books with the fourth best total in the school’s history. His burst and athleticism is evident in all facets of his game.

Last season on the ground, he rushed for a whopping 8.0 yards per carry, which was fifth in the NCAA last season. He also had 684 yards before contact, which was fourth best in the college ranks last year. On top of that, he had 267 yards receiving and 11 total scores last season. Oh yeah, and he did this alongside fellow draft pick and now Bronco running back Javonte Williams.

His talent is apparent, and he’s an even better guy off the field. He was voted team captain, and despite the fact he and Williams could’ve been at odds competing for reps, he was happy taking whatever role possible to benefit the team. Carter projects as a top-tier change of pace back at the next level, and he will slot in with Tevin Coleman, La’Mical Perine, and Ty Johnson as the backfield committee looks set heading into the 2021-22 season. This should allow the pressure on Zach Wilson to continue to ease while providing Mike LaFleur even more weapons in his first season as Offensive Coordinator.

New York Jets select Elijah Moore with 34th overall pick

New York Jets

With the second overall pick on Friday, the New York Jets chose Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore, a consensus All-American.

If the 34th overall pick is the New York Jets’ only selection on Friday, they made the most of it in the form of Ole Miss receiver Elijah Moore, the 34th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft.

Moore, 21, is coming off an illustrious career in Oxford, earning 2,441 yards on 189 catches (good for fourth in each respective category in school history), scoring 16 touchdowns. He earned consensus All-American honors and first-team All-SEC honors in his senior year.

Moore was welcomed in by former Laveranues Coles, who announced his selection to the crowd gathered in Cleveland. Before revealing his name, Coles called him a “future Pro Bowler”, predicting he would follow in his 2003 footsteps.

Despite playing in only eight games, Moore earned 1,193 yards on 86 receptions in his junior season before opting to join the 2021 draft class. Though his size (5’9) scared some teams off, he earned positive reviews for his separation and route-running.

“He’s not very big, but he’s stronger than his measurables might suggest and he’s shown a fearlessness to make the catch despite impending punishment,” NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein said of the former Rebel, comparing him to Antonio Brown. “Moore has the short-area quickness to snap off crisp routes underneath for separation and the play speed to challenge over the top as well as work the deep middle. He has soft, sure hands and above-average ball skills with a great feel for spatial awareness to hit the sweet spots when working against zone.”

Moore joins a talented and young receiver class that includes incumbents Denzel Mims and Jamison Crowder and veteran free agent newcomers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole.

Barring any trades, the Jets’ next pick will come in the fourth round, the second selection, and 108th overall.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags