New York Jets down to 85 players after roster moves

New York Jets

The New York Jets made the mandated cutdown to 85 players on Tuesday through three waivings and an IR placement.

The New York Jets announced the waivings of defensive lineman Michael Dwumfour, safety Bennett Jackson, and running back Austin Walter on Tuesday. With offensive lineman Cameron Clark also placed on injured reserve, the Jets made the NFL’s mandated cutdown to 85 players on training camp rosters by 4 p.m. ET.

Dwumfour had a solid showing in the Jets’ preseason victory over the New York Giants on Saturday night. The undrafted rookie out of Rutgers recovered a red zone fumble forced by fellow freshman Hamsah Nasirildeen and later united with another first-year, Jonathan Marshall, for a sack at the end of the first half. However, he was unable to make an impact in the latter stages after leaving the game due to a calf injury.

Jackson played six games with the Jets over the past two seasons, earning two tackles in that span. He entered the league as a sixth-round pick of the Giants in 2014.

Walter spent a good portion of Saturday’s second half in the Jets’ backfield. The former XFL participant and San Francisco practice squad representative lost three yards on four carries (fumbling one that was recovered by Corey Levin) though he jumped on a Mike White fumble and later gained a first down on an eight-yard aerial hookup with James Morgan, one that was granted an extra yard for a new set of downs through head coach Robert Saleh’s first unofficial challenge.

The wait continues for Clark’s NFL debut, as he did not dress in any regular season games after the Jets chose him in the fourth round of 2020’s virtual draft. Clark suffered a scary injury during August 3’s practice, one that was diagnosed as a spinal cord contusion. Despite his placement on the IR, the Charlotte alum is expected to make a full recovery.

New York (1-0) continues its preseason slate on Saturday night, as they head to Green Bay to battle the Packers in both joint practices and an exhibition contest (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets add defensive lineman Jeremiah Valoaga

New York Jets

Valoaga, a fifth-year veteran, joins the New York Jets after previously working with Robert Saleh during the 2019 season.

The New York Jets announced the signing of veteran defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga on Tuesday night.

Valoaga, who entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of UNLV in 2017, spent the last two seasons with the Raiders franchise in both their Oakland and Las Vegas incarnations, though he did not play last season after opting out in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. He previously worked with Jets head coach and former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh during a shared season (2019) in the Bay Area and enjoyed a lucrative preseason, leading the team in sacks during the summer exhibition quartet (4.5).

The Oxnard, CA native has become an NFL veteran despite some struggles with academics in college, but he recovered and eventually earned a rookie contract from the Detroit Lions. He also spent most of the 2018 season on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. Over 13 regular season games with Detroit and San Francisco, Valoaga has earned seven tackles, including one sack.

Valoaga was one of several roster moves the Jets made as they descended upon One Jets Drive for training camp on Tuesday. He takes over a roster spot from blocker George Fant, who was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. His arrival should help the Jets bide time on the defensive line until Quinnen Williams, Kyle Phillips, and Vinny Curry are activated. Williams and Phillips landed on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform list over the weekend, while Curry is in the Active/Non-Football Injury group.

Elsewhere, the Jets got three of their defenders back. Safety Marcus Maye and Valoaga’s new fellow lineman Foley Fatukasi were activated from the NFI list while another front seven attendee, final draft pick Jonathan Marshall, came off the PUP group.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets coach Greg Knapp in “critical condition” after bicycle accident

New York Jets

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh has put out a statement following a bicycle accident that has left Knapp hospitalized.

New York Jets assistant coach Greg Knapp is in critical condition after he was hit by a motorist in California while riding his bike on Saturday. The news was first reported by Mike Klisof KUSA’s 9News in Denver.

A report from ESPN’s Rich Cimini claims that the incident occurred near Knapp’s home in Danville and that drug or alcohol did not play a role in the incident.

The 58-year-old Knapp was named the Jets’ passing game coordinator in January, preparing to work with a quarterback room headline by second overall pick Zach Wilson. Knapp’s family has released a statement through the Jets, as has Saleh.

“Greg is an amazing father and husband whose passion for life can be felt in all his interactions with people,” the Knapp family, consisting of Knapp’s wife Charlotte and their three children, said. “He is our rock and biggest supporter, pushing us to all strive to better ourselves each day with constant love and inspiration. While many know him for his achievements as a coach, his impact as a father and husband is far greater.”

“Greg is such an amazing individual it is hard to imagine the challenge facing him and his family,” Saleh added. “Greg’s fun nature, kind disposition, and wealth of knowledge has allowed him to make genuine connections with all of our coaches, players, and staff since he has been here.”

Knapp has been involved in NFL coaching since 1997. He is perhaps best known for his endeavors with the Denver Broncos, assisting in Peyton Manning’s strongest career numbers in 2013 and winning a Super Bowl two years later. Immediately prior to his New York hire, Knapp was the Atlanta Falcons’ quarterbacks coach.

ESM send its thoughts and prayers to the Knapp family and wishes him a full recovery.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Adjusted PFR sack numbers give the New York Jets a unique milestone

Mark Gastineau, jets

The 1981 New York Jets (unofficially) hold a unique mark in NFL history after Pro Football Reference unveiled adjusted sack totals.

Three decades later, the New York Sack Exchange is still cashing in.

Noted research and statistics service Pro Football Reference announced this week that the site will tally sacks accumulated prior to the 1982 season, when quarterback takedowns became an official stat. Thanks to historians John Turney and Nick Webster, PFR now has sack numbers dating back to 1960 season, accumulated through any evidence possible, including film, box scores, and documented play-by-play logs.

Through these pre-1982 tallies will be listed unofficial, PFR hopes to give “fans to gain a deeper appreciation of some of football’s biggest stars in the 1960s and 1970s”, whose defenders’ “greatness and impact can now be more readily quantified”.

Fans of the New York Jets will be particularly enthused by the new findings. For example, with the addition of 33.5 sacks earned over his first three seasons, Mark Gastineau now has triple digits in sacks (107.5 compared to 74). Joe Klecko (+54 after the adjustment) is another major beneficiary, as he and Gastineau each pass Shaun Ellis for the most sacks in franchise history. Others who move up include Gerry Philbin (65) and Verlon Briggs (58.5), each of whom played prior to 1982 and enter the top five.

The PFR adjustment also gives the 1981 Jets one of the most unique and difficult milestones in the NFL ledger: thanks to Klecko (20.5) and Gastineau (20), they become the only team in league history to feature two teammates with at least 20 sacks in a single season.

Beyond the Jets, Deacon Jones (1961-74) is one of the biggest beneficiaries of the new documentation. With 173.5 takedowns, all before the sack became an official stat, Jones has tallied the third-most sacks in NFL history. Bruce Smith (200) and Reggie White (198) remain the all-time leaders, while Jack Youngblood (+24.5), Alan Page (148.5), and Lawrence Taylor (+9.5) all enter the top ten.

Both sides of the New York football argument may have qualms with the reveal, however. Though Taylor moves up, neither Michael Strahan (who falls from 6th to 10th after the unofficial adjustments) or Gastineau (who recently called for his 1984 single-season sack record back after Strahan controversially broke it in 2001) technically hold the NFL’s single-season sack record. The honor now belongs to Al Baker, who was determined to have tallied 23 during his rookie year with Detroit in 1978.

“For some reason, and I’m not kidding you, without any prompting, tears just started running down my eyes,” Baker told Dan Hanzus, Gregg Rosenthal and Patrick Claybon on the latest Around The NFL podcast upon learning the news. “My wife was inside, I opened up the patio doors, and my wife, first thing she said was, ‘What’s wrong?’ and I said, nothing’s wrong and I said come look at this…We hugged and then I lost about an hour and a half, two hours. My daughter called. It was really emotional for my family. I guess at 6-foot-8, 290 pounds, that doesn’t sound really tough, but, we were all crying.”

What are your favorite New York Jets memories from the 1980s? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

Buffalo Bills’ Orchard Park stadium gets another new name

The establishment formerly known as Ralph Wilson Stadium undergoes another name change, as the Buffalo Bills reached a naming rights deal.

The Buffalo Bills added a little more blue to their repertoire this week.

The team announced the selling of naming rights to Bills Stadium this week through a partnership with Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York. Orchard Park’s football palace will now be officially known as Highmark Stadium. 

“We are proud to welcome Highmark to the Buffalo Bills family and we are thrilled to partner with them on a new naming rights deal for our stadium,” Bills Owner/President Kim Pegula said in a statement on the team website. “We are confident that Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York is committed to maintaining their status as a healthcare and philanthropic leader in our region.”

“We look forward to many years of working together with their team creating great memories at not only NFL football games but at many other health and wellness events and community celebrations.”

Though financial details have not been disclosed, Ben Fischer and Terry Lefton of Sports Business Journal report that it is a ten-year deal.

Highmark Stadium has hosted Bills football since 1973 and has gone under several different monikers. Its original status as Rich Stadium (1973-97), named after Buffalo-based Rich Products, was one of the earliest examples of stadium naming rights in American sports.

The stadium’s most famous identity arrived in 1998 when it was named Ralph Wilson Stadium after the then-Bills owner. Many fans continue to refer to the stadium as “The Ralph” and have expressed their plans to do so on social media upon the new name announcement. Another Buffalo business, the New Era Cap Company, purchased naming rights in 2016 but backed out of their agreement in July 2020. The stadium was thus known as Bills Stadium last season during Buffalo’s run to the AFC title game.

Other notable events to take place on the stadium’s turf include the inaugural NHL Winter Classic in 2008 and Erie County high school football playoffs.

With the naming rights in Orchard Park sold once more, Paul Brown Stadium (Cincinnati) and Soldier Field (Chicago) are the only two NFL stadiums without an official corporate sponsor name. The Kansas City Chiefs’ dwelling is now officially as GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium after inking a deal in March.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Todd McShay’s mock draft has New York Jets taking a QB/LB

New York Jets

Todd McShay’s third mock draft has the New York Jets addressing both sides of the ball through their first-round pair.

The latest projections from ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay has the New York Jets addressing their issues on both sides of the ball. In his third mock draft, the Jets would pick BYU quarterback Zach Wilson with the second overall pick while using the latter pick on Georgia linebacker Azeez Ojulari with the 23rd choice obtained from Seattle.

With the selection of Wilson, McShay noted in his analysis that he not fully decided on whether the Jets should let Sam Darnold go. He simply believes that no matter who owns the No. 2 pick, which could be shifted in a trade, the holders will choose Wilson.

“The logic here stands from my last mock draft: I expect Wilson to be the No. 2 overall pick, whether or not it is the Jets making it,” McShay says in his analysis available to ESPN+ subscribers. “Projecting this pick isn’t necessarily suggesting they should or will move on from Sam Darnold, but if they do, Wilson is the obvious next move. If they don’t, watch for a QB-needy team to trade up to take him here. Wilson is creative and can extend plays, he can hit the deep ball and his toughness in the pocket stands out.”

With the pick owned through the Jamal Adams trade, McShay has the Jets addressing their edge rushing situation. Ojulari led the SEC with 9.5 sacks last season and earned the defensive MVP award in January’s Peach Bowl with three quarterback takedowns in Georgia’s 24-21 victory over Cincinnati on New Year’s Day.

“They need someone who can get home on the QB besides Quinnen Williams,” McShay says. “Ojulari is a pass-rush specialist of sorts, showing good speed, bend, and first-step quickness.”

McShay notes that conventional wisdom dictates that the Jets should probably try to land an offensive weapon for their new quarterback, but he says that there are other avenues to replenish those areas.

“As for the lack of playmakers on offense to support Wilson, keep an eye on free agency this month and then Day 2 at the draft,” he said. “Numerous high-end receivers and running backs will be available.”

In McShay’s previous mock, he had the Jets indeed stocking up on offensive talent, using the 23rd choice on Clemson rusher Travis Etienne.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Sam Darnold wants to be a New Yorker “for life”

As his potential final hours as the New York Jets’ franchise QB await, Sam Darnold announced his hope to remain clad in green for the future.

As the New York Jets’ “endeavor for Trevor” (Lawrence) draws to a merciful end, the awkward question becomes the green fate of Sam Darnold.

The macabre silver lining of this brutal Jets season is the fact that their winless ledger has given them the inside track for the top overall pick in next spring’s draft. Many Jets fans have openly advocated for the Jets to lose so as to etch their place in the first slot. But the potential arrival of Lawrence, the national champion from Clemson, or another potential new franchise option (like Justin Fields of Ohio State) would likely mean the end of the line for Darnold, the Jets’ primary quarterback for the last three seasons.

Darnold’s regression has been one of the darkest lowlights of the Jets’ woebegone season. He is on pace to set career-lows in nearly every major passing category, partly thanks to missing four games due to an ankle injury suffered in an October loss to Denver. His passer rating of 67.3 is the lowest in the NFL amongst quarterbacks with at least 224 pass attempts, accompanying tallies of 1,560 yards, 5 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions. Darnold has also been sacked 28 times this season and has only been united with his top receiving trio (Breshad Perriman, Denzel Mims, Jamison Crowder) for three games this season.

Yet, the third overall pick of the 2018 draft wants to stick around.

In his Monday availability, reeling from the aftermath of a 40-3 defeat at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks, Darnold made it clear that this trying season has done nothing to damper his enthusiasm when it came to his current settings.

“I love it here, all the people around here, I love living here. I’ve always said it, I want to be a Jet for life,” Darnold said, per notes from the Jets. “That decision isn’t necessarily up to me, but that’s how I feel.”

Darnold, 23, was questioned about his role in the Jets’ long-term plans or even if a change of scenery would do him some good. He reiterated that he plans to take things “one day at a time”, but hopes the Jets have the confidence in him to help raise the team from the gridiron abyss.

“I believe in myself as a quarterback and as a player in this league,” he continued. “Obviously, that decision isn’t up to me, but I’m always going to believe in myself and have the utmost confidence in myself to be able to go out there and play good football on Sundays.”

“I’m not worried about speculation or what others are saying outside of our locker room. For me, I’m just worried about playing good football down this stretch and really taking it one day at a time and one game at a time.”

Darnold’s next chance to impress and potentially keep his role in New York comes on Sunday, as the Jets (0-13) return to the west coast to battle the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium (4:05 p.m. ET, Fox).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR makes early adjustments to 2021 schedule

The early portions of NASCAR’s 2021 schedule will have a strong Floridian feel, as the second weekend of the season will remain at Daytona.

For many, Florida in February is but a pipe dream. For NASCAR, it’s a new reality.

The auto racing circuit announced a pair of schedule shifts on Tuesday afternoon. Following the season-opening Daytona 500 for the premier Cup Series on February 14, the series will remain at the iconic Daytona International Speedway to run its second weekend of events at the venue’s road course on February 19-21. Each of the circuit’s trio of national series (Cup, Xfinity, Camping World Truck) will race on the road course for the second straight year. The second event of the season was originally a doubleheader between the Xfinity and Cup Series for Homestead-Miami Speedway, which will now move to the weekend of February 27-28.

Lost from the schedule is the annual trek to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, which has annually hosted a Cup Series event since 1997. A NASCAR statement states that moving from Fontana was necessary due to “challenges resulting from the ongoing pandemic and the need for significant advance planning”. The venue was set to host its final events on its traditional two-mile D-shaped oval, before undergoing renovations that turn it into a half-mile short track. These refurbishments have likewise been put on hold. Alex Bowman is the defending winner of the Cup Series’ 400-mile race at the track, while Harrison Burton took the Xfinity portion (300 miles).

NASCAR visited the Daytona road course for the first time in August due to Watkins Glen International’s date being lost due to health protocols in New York State. The course is 3.61 miles in its NASCAR incarnation and each of the national series partook. Daytona’s road course was recently announced to be hosting the Busch Clash exhibition, a season-opening showcase that is open to playoff drivers, race winners, stage winners, and pole sitters from on-track qualifying. The race will be held on Tuesday, February 9, five days before “The Great American Race”.

This shift will only add to a Cup Series-record in races on a road course in 2021, as the season is scheduled to visit seven such venues. In addition to the recurring visits in Daytona, Watkins Glen, Sonoma, and Charlotte, the Cup Series will also visit road courses at Indianapolis, Road America, and the Circuit of the Americas.

Homestead-Miami Speedway is a 1.5-mile oval in Homestead, a 40-minute drive from Magic City. The track hosted NASCAR’s season finales from 2002 through 2019, with that date since shifted to Phoenix. Denny Hamlin is the defending winner at the track, taking home the Dixie Vodka 400 in June.

The news of another road course should be welcomed warmly by defending Cup Series champion Chase Elliott. He and his No. 9 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet team have won each of the last four races held at such tracks, including the inaugural visit to Daytona (the Go Bowling 325) in August.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

 

Buffalo Bills LB A.J. Klein named AFC Defensive Player of the Week

The linebacker becomes the third member of the Buffalo Bills to earn a Player of the Week Award this season.

Buffalo Bills linebacker A.J. Klein had to hold out for a little bit, but a special honor awaited him at the end of Week 12’s NFL action.

The defender earned the AFC’s Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in the Bills’ 27-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. Klein led all defenders with 14 tackles (3 for a loss), 1.5 sacks, and a pass breakup. His most notable contribution of the afternoon came in the early stages of the fourth quarter, when he forced Chargers running back Joshua Kelly into a three-yard loss on a crucial third-and-one in the Buffalo red zone. The takedown forced Los Angeles into a field goal that kept the lead at a manageable 24-17 margin.

Klein, 29, is in his first year with the Bills, having signed a three-year deal with the team over the offseason after seven years with Carolina and New Orleans. He struggled in the early portions of the season, but has since come up huge with Matt Milano sidelined due to injuries. Klein previously came up big in Buffalo’s statement win over Seattle, when he earned five tackles, two sacks, and a forced fumble.

“I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff. I go out and do what I need to do and try to perform to the best of my ability,” Klein said of outside criticism after the Seattle win, per Mike Sherry of The Post Crescent. “It’s a good feeling when you go out and perform like this. Big plays cover probably some mistakes from earlier in the first half, but I know I can play football.”

“I have all the confidence in myself and I really don’t pay attention to any outward or outside noise. That’s one thing in this league you can’t do. You just have to focus on yourself, focus on the process and get the job done on Sundays.”

In a report from Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier praised the improvement that Klein has shown in subbing for Milano.

“We didn’t know if A.J. could do some of the things that we ask Matt to do. But as we’ve gotten more comfortable with him and he’s gotten more comfortable in our system, we’ve seen him play some much improved football,” Frazier said. “That’s a credit to A.J. just sticking with it and making himself available and then when his number is called, making those plays that are there for him to make.”

Klein becomes the third Buffalo representative to take home a Player of the Week award, joining QB Josh Allen (Weeks 2, 9) and fellow defender Jerry Hughes (Week 7). Receiver Tyreek Hill of Kansas City took home the week’s offensive honor, while New England kicker Nick Folk earned the top mark for specialists.

The Bills return to action on Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers in Glendale Arizona (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

NASCAR: Michael Jordan, Denny Hamlin’s team has a name

Denny Hemlin

The new NASCAR team’s name pays tribute to both Jordan and Hamlin’s iconic numerals, as Bubba Wallace will drive their first vehicle.

Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin unveiled the name of their new NASCAR Cup Series race team on Thursday, as their new venture will bear the name 23XI Racing. The name pays tribute to the number Jordan wore for a majority of his NBA career, while Hamlin’s No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is represented via Roman numerals. Jordan’s number will also grace the track, as Bubba Wallace will drive the No. 23 Toyota when the team makes its debut next season.

“Michael and I have a shared vision for this team,” Hamlin said in a statement on the team website. “It’s exciting to see it reflected in the team name and on the race car with the iconic number 23 that Michael made famous.”

Jordan first wore No. 23 during his days at Laney High School (NC), encouraged to do by splitting the number his older brother Larry wore (45) in half. He could go on to keep the number for his collegiate and professional career with the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards, with the exception of his return from a year-long retirement in 1995, when he took the aforementioned 45.

No. 23 has had a less cherished past in the history of the NASCAR Cup Series. No car bearing the number has finished in a Cup Series race’s top ten since Kenny Wallace did so with Bill Davis Racing at the Bristol event in August 2003. Al Keller was the last driver to win a race in such a car, his victory coming back in 1954. Notable drivers to previously represent the number include Michael Waltrip and current playoff driver Alex Bowman, who ran the numbers in his first season of full-time Cup Series racing with the low-budget BK Racing.

Hamlin’s No. 11 has a more cherished place in NASCAR history, as, in terms of wins, it’s the most successful number on the Cup Series circuit (224). Names like Hamlin, Ned Jarrett, Junior Johnson, Mario Andretti, Buddy Baker, A.J. Foyt, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte, and Bill Elliott have all contributed to that tally. Hamlin has earned seven wins this season and continues to compete for the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series title. The No. 43 is second in that tally with 199 wins, all earned by Richard Petty. Wallace will run his final races in the car over the next three before joining Hamlin and Jordan’s endeavor. Petty’s race team announced this week that Erik Jones, currently Hamlin’s teammate at JGR, will succeed him the No. 43 next season.

The NASCAR Cup Series continues its trek toward the title at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN). Hamlin will start seventh, while Wallace will start the race in 18th.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags