New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Special Teams

A New York Jets kicking competition is set to commence under the watch of the seemingly immortal coordinator Brant Boyer.

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

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our look back on the offseason comes to an end by wrapping up with special teams…

New York Jets, Jason Myers
Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

Much has been made about the constant turnover in the Jets’ franchise quarterback role. But compared to what’s happened in the kicker’s role, that role is among the stable in football.

Since Jason Myers’ historic 2018 campaign…and after the Jets let him abscond to Seattle without much resistance…six different kickers (three alone during the 2019 preseason) have tried and failed to pick up where he left off. Lacking a reliable kicker for two straight seasons is always unacceptable, but missing one during a would-be franchise quarterback developmental years is gridiron doomsday.

Sam Ficken, to his credit, was refreshingly close to ending the trend. His three-point attempts were the one thing that was going right for the Jets over the opening portions of their 2020 season, converting each of his first nine attempts (five alone coming in a nationally televised showdown against Denver). But a groin injury suffered in October derailed his season, forcing the Jets to turn to CFL/XFL veteran Sergio Castillo before staging a meaningless finale with Chase McLaughlin.

Sixth-round pick Braden Mann was one of the busiest men in football last season. He was called upon to punt it away a league-high 82 times, but his 43.9 average was 28th in football. While the Jets would like to see him move up the stat ledger (though, ideally, he won’t be on the field as often this season), Mann did manage to go somewhat viral for some touchdown saving tackles.

In the return game, receiver Braxton Berrios has been reliable on punts. Over the last two seasons, Berrios is one of six returners (min. 30 attempts) to average at least 10 yards (fifth-best at 10.5). On kicks, Giants draft pick and cornerback Corey Ballentine was a pleasant surprise as a late arrival, averaging over 26 yards per return over the last six weeks.

Long snapper Thomas Hennessy lived up to the four-year extension he earned in the midst of the 2019 season and completed another incident-free season.

jets, michael carter

How It’s Going

Never mind cockroaches; when the apocalypse comes, Brant Boyer might be the last living thing to stick it out. The special teams coordinator was the sole survivor of the post-Adam Gase coaching purge, having also survived the erasure of Todd Bowles’ army.

“So many people called on his his behalf,” head coach Robert Saleh said of Boyer in January, per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “He’s held in such high regard.”

The Jets spent this offseason delivering Boyer some welcome back gifts. He was particularly excited about the arrival of cornerback Justin Hardee, who became one of the NFL’s most respected gunners in New Orleans. Hardee was added on a three year deal and will certainly help a punt return unit that allowed over 11 yards a return last season, the sixth-worst mark in the league. In comparison, Hardee’s Saints allowed less than three.

“I was ecstatic on that one,” Boyer said in video from the Jets. “We played 13 different gunners last year, so it was a real struggle.” Boyer was also pleased about the leadership role Hardee took in the specialists’ room. “He’s been fantastic, and what he’s done is he’s taken over a leadership role in the room, and that’s what the biggest thing we needed in our room especially losing a bunch of our core guys and things like that.”

“We just need somebody to emerge at that other gunner, so they can’t double (Hardee) every time…we’ll see what happens, which I fully expect someone will do.”

The answer to Boyer’s quandary could lie within the latter rounds of the draft. Defensive project and sixth round pick Hamsah Nasirildeen was an elite gunner during his freshman year at Florida State (seven tackles in special teams coverage) while Brandin Echols served in specialist duties during his JUCO days.

In the return game, Berrios should be retained on punts, while Ballentine could face competition on kickoffs from running backs Michael Carter (24.5 average in his junior year at North Carolina) and Ty Johnson (27.2 in his senior year at Maryland).

Ficken was waived in December but was retained on a future deal. He’ll face competition from undrafted rookie Chris Naggar (AAC Special Teams Player of the Year at Southern Methodist) to retain his role. New York Jets, Sam Ficken

Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

As the Jets try to return to relevancy, they can’t overlook their special teams group. They’re preparing to embark on yet another quarterback development adventure with Zach Wilson as the lead protagonist and special teams can make an immediate difference in terms of helping him earn wins and losses.

When the new quarterback reaches opposing territory, a reliable kicker can ensure such drives end with points, building his confidence. If Mann takes a step forward and Hardee lives up to his sterling gunner reputation, the opponent can start in dire straits, and make the defense’s job a lot easier.

Much like his work on the offensive line, it’s good to see that general manager Joe Douglas is willing to valuable offseason capital on special teams, though it’s time for the arrivals to start rewarding his faith on the field. Adding elite, proven names in the arena like Hardee and Carter losses the pressure.

Final Offseason Grade: B-

How do you think the Jets’ special teams contribute to their resurgence? Follow Geoff Magliocchetti on Twitter @GeoffJMags and keep the conversation going.

New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Safeties

Marcus Maye’s lack of a long-term deal leaves the New York Jets in a prickly situation as year two of the post-Jamal Adams era looms.

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 come to the penultimate portion of our reviews, with a look back on safeties in part nine…

(Photo: Getty)

How It Started

The Jets timeline is closing in on the one-year anniversary of the Jamal Adams trade with the Seattle Seahawks. It’s a deal that requires more time to fully grade and assess, as not all of the components have revealed themselves yet.

So far, it looks to be a push. Adams was an All-Pro with Seattle but was dealt mixed reviews otherwise and has yet to obtain the pricy long-term deal that led to his napalming of every bridge he head in New York. On the other side of the country, the one original piece with a name (Bradley McDougald) is already gone. The Jets later dealt the 2021 pieces (the 23rd and 86th selections) over to Minnesota in the opening round of the draft in April. Seattle’s last shipment is a first-rounder to be used next spring in Las Vegas.

The hullaballoo almost blinded the Jets and their fans to the fact that a 16-game season laid ahead. Adams’ attitude perhaps wasn’t missed, but his on-field intensity certainly was. The newly vacated strong side was originally occupied by McDougald before injuries forced third-round project Ashtyn Davis into the role prematurely. Undrafted free agents and spare parts from foreign practice squads had to take over when Davis, who struggled in coverage, was likewise lost for medical reasons.

Adams’ departure opened an opportunity for free safety Marcus Maye, the lone survivor from the Jets’ 2017 draft class. The second-round choice would embark on a career-best season that ended with a hoist of the Jets’ team MVP award named after Curtis Martin.

Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

Maye’s 2021 offseason saga recently reached its climax and it suggests a bit of a macabre future for the Jets’ ongoing renovations.

The two sides failed to close on a long-term contract leading Maye to play the 2021 in a bit of lame duck scenario: a franchise tag of over $10 million. While things won’t sink to the depths of the Adams saga…it’s probably too late in the offseason to make a trade anyway…watching homegrown, talented silver linings slip away is becoming a dangerous trend of Joe Douglas’ tenure.

As we previously discussed in the cornerbacks conversation, the Jets’ depth charts was in such dire straits that it was almost guaranteed some area would be neglected. The secondary was the unlucky department as there are no proven contributors locked up beyond 2021. LaMarcus Joyner, a versatile former Raider, is coming in on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. He can probably help stem the immediate bleeding, but, considering he’ll turn 31 in November, it’d be silly to fully rely on him as a long-term solution.

The safety spotlight now turns back to Davis, who has a lot to prove in his sophomore season. His will and fight can’t be denied: the former track star became one of college football’s most talked-about walk-ons after starring at Cal-Berkeley. He has earned positive reviews for his athleticism and physicality but often struggled to adapt to NFL coverages (ranking 85th amongst his safety peers, per Pro Football Focus). If Davis falters in an expanded role, the Jets may have to start from scratch.

Fifth-round choice Michael Carter II emerged from Duke as a safety, but the Jets will likely use him more often at cornerback. Behind Davis and Maye, several of the misfits who filled in are making their way back (i.e. Elijah Campbell and J.T. Hassell). The Jets also added Sharrod Neasman on a late, affordable deal (one year, $990,000) in June. Neasman’s shared Atlanta tenure with defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich could prove beneficial.

ashtyn davis, new york giants

Are They Better Off?

The conclusion of the Adams era deserves praise. Douglas was able to essentially turn a disgruntled safety that could never resist airing his grievances publicly into two premier draft choices. One was used to fortify the Jets’ anemic blocking, as the trade with the Vikings was made to select USC guard Alijah Vera-Tucker.

But while the distraction of Adams is gone, it’s time to replace the production he took with him. The Jets are laden with questions about the future at safety and a majority must be answered by the end of the 2021 season.

This season might well be the perfect time to do it. It’s a bit much to ask these Jets to make the postseason leap. At the same time, last year’s two-win nightmare was so garish that there’s little to no chance of diggings a deeper hole.

Thus, the Jets are, as a team, blessed with a season of having nothing, if anything to lose. Individuals, however, must make their case to stick around for the potential good times ahead. That applies for the secondary, particularly in a safety spot where there is no proven, consistent NFL talent locked up beyond Week 18. Essentially, this is a “prove it” season for the whole unit.

Davis bears perhaps the heaviest burden from a New York standpoint. Maye will be mostly playing for himself, showing not only the Jets but also their 31 brothers exactly why he should be paid like an elite safety. Davis, on the other hand, will likely get an opportunity to make an immediate and vital New York impact.

Adams is gone and the Jets earned an immediate cash out upon his departure. But the hard part still looms: finding the next Adams, the next hopeful to push this defense into the future.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Who will step up in the post-Adams era? Follow @GeoffJMags on Twitter and continue the conversation.

New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

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

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

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

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

How It Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

How It’s Going

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

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

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

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

Are They Better Off?

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

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

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

Final Offseason Grade: C

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

New York Jets offseason recap 2021: Linebackers

new york jets, jarrad davis

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

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

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. The second half of the front seven segments features the linebackers…

C.J. Mosley, New York Jets
USA Today

How It Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How It’s Going

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

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

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

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

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

new york giants, jarrad davis

Are They Better Off?

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

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

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

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

Final Offseason Grade: B

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Defensive line

The arrival of Robert Saleh should help stabilize a New York Jets defensive line packed with young potential.

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

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our next portion turns to the front seven, starting with the defensive line…

Oct 18, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New York Jets defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (95) reaches for Miami Dolphins running back Myles Gaskin (37) during the second half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

If you, the reader, often skipped these sections of the offseason recaps, this writer could hardly blame you. After all, reading them from a Jets fan’s perspective may be the Gang Green equivalent of watching Avengers: Infinity War and skipping to Thanos’ snap. 

But the Jets’ defensive line was a rare bright spot in 2020, featuring several breakouts from young pieces. By far the most impressive was that of Quinnen Williams, who immediately reclaimed the narrative on his NFL career after a sputtering rookie season. Williams’ greatest leaps came in the pass rush, more. than doubling his pressures (14 QB hits) and sack totals (7 after 2.5 in 2019). The third overall pick of the 2019 draft credited his resurgence to an adjusted workout and diet routine in a report from team correspondent Olivia Landis. He believes last season the precursor to something bigger.

“I didn’t want to be the player that I was my first year. I hit that goal and I wanted to say that I was on the right track for my career,” Williams said. “I feel like this is the stepping stone for me to get better and better every year.”

Williams wasn’t the only one whose introduction to the mainstream NFL conversation was washed out by the antics of the Jets’ 2020 season. Foley Fatukasi followed through on the promise shown at the end of the 2019 season while previous Super Bowl participant John Franklin-Myers had a career-best year in the interior. Together with Williams, both Fatukasi and Franklin-Myers were among Pro Football Focus’ top 35 best-graded interior defenders.

Admittedly, not everything was a breeze for the Jets’ front group. Kyle Phillips missed a majority of his sophomore season after impressing as an undrafted rookie, while the team bid farewell to veteran leader Steve McLendon through a de facto fire sale in October. McLendon was dealt to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he eventually earned a Lombardi Trophy hoist in February. The Jets are also set back to bring back Ontario-based Nathan Shepherd. Chosen in 2018’s third round out of Fort Hays State, Shepherd has yet to live up to his day two billing but reportedly “turned heads” at minicamp last month.

Oct 6, 2019; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins (98) celebrates after a sack of Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (not pictured) in the second half at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

The arrival of new head coach Robert Saleh has many projecting that the Jets will switch to a 4-3 setup, which will rely on a strong, rotating edge rush. Their defensive line additions saw them address that area, home to a long-gestating renovation project that hasn’t seen a consistently disruptive backfield invader since John Abraham’s departure.

When Saleh called tackle Sheldon Rankins about joining the cause, the former New Orleans Saint was all in.

“When he called me and expressed his interest and how much he really wanted me to be a part of this and the vision he had for me and Quinnen inside and Carl (Lawson) out on the edge, it got me fired up,” Rankins said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “It made me want to be a part of something special.”

One of the first moves the Jets made this offseason, from a roster perspective, was releasing DE Henry Anderson, who had failed to live up to the hype of a $25 million contract. Afforded an additional $8 million through Anderson’s release, the Jets surrounded their young core with veterans that should only up their pressure.

Casual observers dismissed the addition of defensive end Carl Lawson ($45 million over three years after four seasons in Cincinnati) by complaining about his pedestrian sack numbers (11.5 in the last three years after eight in his debut campaign). But Lawson has been one of the league’s most prevalent pressure artists in recent memory, his dominance on display through advanced stats. Even if Lawson wasn’t the one taking the quarterback down, played a major role in the thrower’s eventual demise. Lawson was one of only 11 defenders who reached double figures in ESPN’s “sacks created” category and, in a more conventional area, ranked sixth in QB pressures.

In addition to Rankins, the Jets also welcomed Saleh’s former San Francisco disciple Ronald Blair into the fold before using their final draft pick on DT Jonathan Marshall from Arkansas. Vinny Curry, who previously appeared on Philadelphia’s championship squad, can provide depth and veteran leadership.

carl lawson, new york jets
carl lawson, new york jets

Are They Better Off?

The Jets need to plan for a future where they’re almost guaranteed to face Josh Allen (and possibly Tua Tagovailoa) twice a year until further notice. A strong pass rush is going to be vital if they want to pull themselves out of the playoff drought mire.

General manager Joe Douglas deserves some props for his activities on the defensive front this offseason. Few could’ve blamed the Jets for becoming complacent after the breakouts of Williams, Fatukasi, and Franklin-Myers. Instead, they upped the pressure by surrounding a defensive coach with elite defensive talents that will help foster in this latest…and most hopeful…chapter of the Jets perpetual rebuild. Lawson’s contract, for example, may be steep from a financial sense, as he’s the Jets’ biggest 2021 cap hit at over $14 million. But if he follows the promises of pressure on display over the last few seasons with the Bengals, the three-year deal could wind being one of the most consequential moves in Douglas’ tenure in both a short and long-term lens.

The green glory days have been characterized by strong defensive efforts. With the frontline additions, the Jets have set themselves up handsomely for what’s sure to be a dangerous, yet ambitious, road ahead.

Final Offseason Grade: B+

Are you more confident in the Jets’ defensive line with Robert Saleh in tow? Continue the conversation Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Offensive line

alijah vera-tucker, jets

The continued renovations to the offensive line got off to a slow start, but the New York Jets recovered with a big gain on draft day.

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. This next segment centers on the revamped blocking program…

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton
Credit: Joe McManus

How It Started

By this point, everyone knows that Jets general manager Joe Douglas is at least trying to make things right on the offensive line after the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. That plan was rather obvious last offseason when the Jets spent a majority of their offseason capital on blocking help.

New York missed out on top names like Jack Conklin and Joe Thuney but dispensed over $34 million guaranteed to George Fant, Connor McGovern, and Greg Van Roten. With their first-round pick, the Jets passed on premier receiving talents to draft Louisville tackle Mekhi Becton instead. It marked the first time the Jets used their opening pick on a blocker since the iconic D’Brickashaw Ferguson/Nick Mangold pairing in 2006.

When the Jets took the field for Week 1 action in Buffalo, it was completely different from the five that opened the prior campaign at the Meadowlands in 2019. But despite Douglas’ financial enthusiasm, the splurge did not have the intended effect. The Jets’ line ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ final unit grades, marred by inconsistency. Advanced stats dictated the Jets averaged only 2.5 seconds before allowing pressure and quarterback Sam Darnold was dropped on 8.3 percent of his dropbacks, the third-worst rate in the league (behind Carson Wentz and Daniel Jones).

The Jets did enjoy a huge silver lining in the form of Becton, who lived up to his first-round billing and then some, offering the Jets serenity in passing on names big box score names like Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs, and Jerry Jeudy.

morgan moses, new york jets

How It’s Going

Gifted with a cap space surplus, many expected the Jets to hit the ground running. But New York got off to another slow start on the free agency front, watching their top targets and revered blocking names like Thuney and Corey Linsley sign elsewhere.

This time around, the Jets instead opted to spend the early portions upgrading their box score weaponry through receiving and rushing help. Depth-based consolation prizes awaited in Dan Feeney and Corey Levin from the Los Angeles Chargers and the New England practice squad respectively. Levin hasn’t appeared in a regular season game since 2019 while Feeney was an average blocker whose profile was amplified through a lively, larger-than-life personality that quickly won over Jets and Islanders fans alike.

Douglas and the Jets changed the narrative on draft night, boldly sending away draft picks (one of which was obtained in Jamal Adams’ Seattle deal) up north to Minnesota to draft USC blocker Alijah Vera-Tucker. Known primarily as a Trojan guard, Vera-Tucker spent the shortened 2020 season as a tackle, showcasing his versatility. It was a costly endeavor…the Jets had no Friday picks beyond Elijah Moore at 34th overall…but Douglas’ dedication to this renovation can’t be denied. Vera-Tucker is expected to take over the primary left guard role previously occupied by Alex Lewis, who struggled last season in starting duties but is nonetheless back as a depth option.

The Jets enjoyed an extra boost to the line in the late stages of the offseason, negotiating a one-year deal for Morgan Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team, shortly after minicamp. Moses has been one of the most effective blockers in the league and is coming off a career-best campaign. He brings the championship feeling desired by the Jets in other acquisitions, having played a strong role in Washington’s run to the division title last season. His reliability, having started every game since 2015, made him an attractive late gem as well.

Along for the ride is newly minted offensive line coach John Benton, who will also serve as the run game coordinator. Benton reprises the former role he held for four seasons alongside Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur in San Francisco.

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; The New England Patriots and the New York Jets at the line of scrimmage for the snap during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Maybe Jets fans have been so desperate for any semblance of doing the right thing. But Douglas’ dedication to the unit from the minute he took office has been refreshing. The struggles of last year’s haul did nothing to deter his quest to build a wall in front of his new passing and rushing units.

Douglas faced a bit of an uphill battle in luring free agents to New York. Even though players both domestically and abroad were hyped by Robert Saleh’s hiring, asking marquee free agents to join up with a two-win squad was going to be a bit difficult. It was tough, though, for the Jets to watch Thuney sign a long-term deal in Kansas City without much of a fight.

Having said that, Douglas put his draft money where his mouth was in the latter stages of the offseason, trading some of his valuable draft capital to find a mid-first round gem. At the literal last minute, he was able to convince the serviceable Moses to sign up for the year.

The gestures are great. But no it’s about the success translating on the field.

Douglas’ appreciated offensive line makeover began when he traded a late pick to Baltimore for Lewis and convinced Carolina Pro Bowler Matt Kalil to come out of retirement. It was great to see him take initiative…but now it’s time for results. Getting that desired effect may have been a bit easier if Douglas was able to add an elite name.

Final Offseason Grade: B-

How important will a revamped offensive line be to the Jets’ success? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Tight ends

New York Jets, Chris Herndon

The New York Jets added a goal-line target, but will they regret their failure to add competition for Chris Herndon?

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. In part four, we analyze the Jets’ tight ends…

Sep 20, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA;New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon (89) is tackled by San Francisco 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams (24) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The 2020 season marked Chris Herndon’s third official year on an NFL roster. It was, technically speaking, only his second professional campaign as injuries and a suspension limited him to 18 snaps the year before, robbing him of a true sophomore season.

Yet, Herndon was a New York antique by Sam Darnold’s service standards: the 2018 fourth-round pick out of Miami was the only player on the Jets’ most recent opening day roster that caught passes during the departed franchise quarterback’s rookie season.

One could wax poetic about what that fact says about New York management in the new decade, but looking back toward that rookie season shows what Herndon is capable of. Despite working with a rookie Darnold and aging backup Josh McCown, Herndon led all rookie tight ends with 39 receptions and was second in the same group in yardage (502, 50 behind Baltimore’s Mark Andrews).

Alas, a suspension for a substance abuse policy violation and hamstring woes made his 2019 season a wash, and he failed to recapture the glory upon his reinsertion into the lineup last year, earning only 287 yards on 31 receptions. The early stages of his season were defined by a series of brutal drops, but things got better once things got truly dire for the Jets. Over the final three games (during which the Jets amassed a 2-1 mark), Herndon put up 145 yards on 14 receptions (17 targets). He also scored in each of the Jets’ final two games.

To his credit, Herndon blamed no one but himself for his struggles, even as some tried to pin his issues on his usage in Adam Gase’s systems.

“I feel like I’ve been used fairly,” Herndon said in October, per ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “It’s a team game. I can’t sit after every game and be upset and mad and try to point fingers. This time last year I wasn’t even on the field, so at this point, I’m honestly just thankful to be out there.”

The tight end group as a whole failed to make much of a dent in the Jets’ offensive woes. Veterans Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown united for 117 yards on 11 receptions. Meanwhile, injury issues prematurely ended the Trevon Wesco experiment at fullback.

Nov 24, 2019; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills tight end Tyler Kroft (81) warms up prior to a game against the Denver Broncos at New Era Field. Mandatory Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

The Jets apparently have enough trust in Herndon to pocket their wallet, especially when looking at the foreign market. New England, for example, spent over $56 million combined in guaranteed money on Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry. The Jets mostly kept things small, re-signing Brown to another year at just over $1 million and adding rookie free agent Kenny Yeboah after the draft.

Their big arrival in the tight end room is former divisional rival Tyler Kroft, as the former Buffalo Bill was added on an affordable one-year deal ($2 million). The Rutgers alum has developed a sizable NFL career as a goal-line option, which will undoubtedly help an offense that earned touchdowns on a league-worst 42 percent of its red-zone possessions last season. But is Kroft suitable competition for the primary role? He hasn’t been the starting tight end since 2017 in Cincinnati.

But minicamp offered an interesting twist: according to Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Herndon worked primarily with the second-team group during the spring sessions. Kroft and Griffin earned the top reps, and even Yeboah reportedly took some snaps. Herndon has indirectly responded by, per Jordy Fee-Pratt of SI.com, voluntarily partaking in Tight End University, a Nashville-based tight end summit hosted by George Kittle, Travis Kelce, and Greg Olsen.

It’s interesting to see the Jets work in non-Herndon names at the tight end spot. But are they working in the right names? One would probably feel more comfortable with such experimentation if they added a veteran name like newly minted Seahawk Gerald Everett.

Nov 17, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; New York Jets tight end Daniel Brown (87) celebrates with Jets tight end Ryan Griffin (84) after catching a touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins in the first quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

Again, the Jets’ unwillingness to shell out the big bucks for a tight end probably says more about deep of a hole they dug themselves in other spots (i.e. wide receivers) than it does about their full trust in Herndon. New York, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, made an attempt to add Smith but dropped out of the bidding for financial reasons (Smith later earned a four-year, $50 million deal from the Patriots).

But the new staff has made it clear that they have plans for Herndon…he just has to earn his opportunity to partake.

As training camp ended, new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur (who previously worked with the elite Kittle in San Francisco) was asked about Herndon’s prospects going into the 2021 campaign. LaFleur offered sympathy for Herndon, as his system will be the third in three seasons for the fourth-round pick (who is a rare leftover from Todd Bowles’ final season). A summer of opportunity awaits.

“It was documented last year just how he came on towards the back half and had a good rookie year that put him on the scene,” LaFleur said, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a talented dude…He missed a little bit of time with some things but it’ll be huge for him when he gets back and rehears this system, talk to him again, and gets in there with pads and we’re out there in those unscripted periods where he has a chance to go out there and make those plays.”

Elsewhere, the signing of Kroft should improve the goal-line situation while Yeboah (11 touchdown receptions over his last two college seasons) could prove to be a diamond in the rough. But since the uncertainty that lingered in the form of Herndon has only amplified, it’s hard to give the Jets a truly strong grade for this offseason’s adjustments, at least for the time being.

Final Offseason Grade: C

Should the Jets have added more competition for Herndon? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets 2021 offseason recap: Running backs

jets, michael carter

The New York Jets’ rushing room officially moved on from the Le’Veon Bell era, opting for a more minimalist future.

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

With the offseason in the rearview mirror, ESM looks back on the green offseason that was, position-by-position. Our lookback continues with the running backs…

Sep 27, 2020; Indianapolis, Indiana, USA; New York Jets running back Frank Gore (21) runs the ball in the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

How It Started

The 2021 game plan for the Jets’ run game technically began on October 13, when they released Bell after 17 uneventful contests, or at least it should’ve. With the Jets at 0-5 and armed with three young rushing projects (La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, Josh Adams), a macabre silver lining loomed: the playoffs were fathoms away from reach but the Jets had 11 opportunities of consequence-free, game day football that could be used as blank canvases, research and development for an uncertain future. They were de facto preseason games granted after the cancellation of the summer exhibitions. Jobs and/or New York longevity could’ve been won or lost.

Instead, Adam Gase opted to give Frank Gore, likely Canton-bound as is, a de facto retirement tour.

The 37-year-old Gore wound carrying the ball 187 times…40 more carries than Perine, Johnson, and Adam combined. Gore did manage did join Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton in the 16,000-yard club but his performance did nothing to keep him out of the future “NFL Legends in Wrong Jerseys” compilations.

Part of the reason for the focus on Gore was ridiculously poor luck on Perine’s end. In addition to Gase’s negligence, the fourth-round pick from 2020’s virtual draft also dealt with an ankle injury (sustained after running for 33 yards and a touchdown on eight carries in November against the Chargers) and even placement on the COVID-19 list during the final week of the season. Perine never really got into a rookie-year rhythm as a result of the instability, earning only 232 yards on 64 carries.

To their credit, Johnson and Adams capitalized on whatever opportunities they were offered. The pair averaged nearly five yards a carry (uniting for 411 yards on 83 attempts) with their magnum opus against Las Vegas in December overshadowed by Gregg Williams’ ill-fated final blitz. Lost in the chaos was the Jets’ most lucrative rushing performance in recent memory (178 yards between the two). Johnson even managed to earn the Jets’ first triple-digit yardage game in over two calendar years. Even with Johnson and Adams maintaining the workload well, Gase’s gift to Gore forced them into a small sample size conundrum, one where the Jets couldn’t be truly sure that any part of their young trio was primary rusher material.

Oct 22, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons running back Tevin Coleman (26) runs the ball against the New York Giants in the first quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

How It’s Going

With the free agent Gore unretained, the Jets have opted for a relatively minimalist approach at running back for the immediate future, and rightfully so. Granting Bell a $52.5 million deal in an era where Super Bowl champions have won with frugal run games was one of the final mistakes of the Mike Maccagnan era, so it’s probably going to be a long time before the Jets spend big on a rusher again.

The incoming backs reflect that inconspicuousness. Tevin Coleman was brought in on a single-year deal worth $2 million, while the Jets used their first day three pick to take Michael Carter out of North Carolina.

Coleman is an interesting case. While the redemption-seeking Jets can’t afford to co-author big-budget/high-profile comeback stories…which made the decisions of trading Sam Darnold and passing on Julio Jones look all the wiser…Coleman is a player with big game knowledge and talent that slips under the radar. He’s a rare Jet with Super Bowl experience (partaking in the game’s 51st and 54th editions with Atlanta and San Francisco respectively) and knows the vision LaFleur will look to implement after their collaborations in the Bay Area.

On a personal level, the multi-talented Coleman can prove to both the Jets and the rest of the NFL that he has recovered from knee and shoulder injuries on a New York team that has very little to lose this season. At 28, Coleman perhaps has one more long-term deal in him, so it might be now or never.

Meanwhile, Carter arrived through the 107th slot on the NFL Draft board, though Joe Douglas reportedly would’ve been happy to take him in the third round (the Jets’ third-round choice had been traded to Minnesota to pick Alijah Vera-Tucker). Carter was one of the most pleasant surprises in minicamp and could well be at the top of the depth come September.

That leaves the aforementioned trio of returning young projects, at least one of whom is unlikely to be retained. The battle should be one of the most interesting debates of training camp and the Jets seem rather intrigued as well. One of their first moves this offseason was to retain Adams on a one-year deal ($1.18 million).

Dec 6, 2020; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) hands off to running back Ty Johnson (25) against the Las Vegas Raiders in the second half of an NFL game at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Are They Better Off?

The Jets’ minimalist rushing attack works in the modern NFL. Since 2010, only two top-ten rushers (Marshawn Lynch in Seattle and LeGarrette Blount in New England) have earned a Super Bowl ring at the end of their lucrative season. After drastically overpaying Bell (2019’s third-highest paid rusher behind only David Johnson and Todd Gurley), New York curbed their rushing budget. On paper, it looks like the move has paid off. Coleman’s championship experience and familiarity with LaFleur’s system can only help, while many view Carter as a day three steal.

That only leaves the puzzling situation regarding the returnees. At first glance, the odd man out appears to be Perine, whose north/south style of rushing conflicts with what LaFleur has preferred in the past. The sad part of the matter is that the Jets could’ve had some clarity on the group now, but the failure to take advantage remains one of the more underrated stains of the Gase era.

But there’s no use crying about the past at this point. The present has produced some solid finds in the rushing bargain bin that could well pave the way to an offensively upbeat New York future.

Final Offseason Grade: B+

What do you think of the Jets’ new rushing outlook? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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