New York Jets Top 10 Tuesday: Veteran breakout candidates for 2021

As the New York Jets bide time before training camp, ESM looks at some veteran faces that could be poised for a breakout.

As we’ve officially reached a rare dead period on the NFL calendar, ESM presents Top 10 Tuesday, a weekly list series that will center on the past, present, and future of the Jets in a sortable format.

We’ll begin this series by looking at ten veteran players that could rise to the occasion come up big for the Jets as they embark on a new gridiron journey…

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

10. K Sam Ficken

Since Pro Bowler Jason Myers absconded for Seattle, the Jets have been through six different kickers. That’d be unacceptable in pretty much every football realm, but such instability is unacceptable for a team with a developing offense. Confidence can be built if points can be scored in as many drives that invade opponents’ territory as possible.

Ficken, set to enter his third season in green, seemed like he was on his way toward ending the constant turnover. He converted each of his first nine field goal attempts (five alone during a Thursday night tilt against Denver) but he lost the spark after missing several games with a groin injury. This time around, Ficken will compete with undrafted free agent Chris Naggar to get his job back. He can become a vital silver lining in the Jets’ expected growing pains if he’s able to capitalize on a career-best 86 percent success rate from three.

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

9. DL Kyle Phillips

The versatile Phillips, entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Tennessee, was one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2019 season. Veteran injuries forced him into starting duties, but he made the most of his opportunity with 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Phillips was a consistent backfield invader in his rookie season, as his seven tackles for a loss were tied for fourth-best on the team and his quarterback pressures (6) were good for third amongst his fellow linemen.

Alas, an ankle injury prevented Phillips from building on the momentum from his rookie season. To make matters worse from a personal standpoint, the Jets spent the offseason bolstering their front seven with established veteran names that could leave Phillips in an awkward spot. He’ll certainly return with a vengeance in 2021 and will keep things interesting in the second halves of preseason games.

8. OL Dan Feeney

Perhaps no one in the NFL has increased their profile better than Feeney this offseason. The former Los Angeles Charger has gone viral for his goal celebrations at New York Islander playoff games, becoming the literal face of the Jets’ support for their blue and orange comrades on Long Island.

The surge in popularity has had many asking exactly what the Jets get in Feeney, who was mostly used as a depth option in Los Angeles. His experience at center could prove vital: Sam Darnold went through three different primary centers in three years and the Jets would love to establish some starting lineup stability for incoming franchise man Zach Wilson right from the start.

trevon wesco, new york jets

7. TE/FB Trevon Wesco

With Tyler Kroft arriving as an established goal-line option and strong potential behind undrafted free agent Kenny Yeboah (not to mention the return of starter Chris Herndon), the third-year, fourth-round pick faces an uphill battle to make an impact as a tight end. But he can make an offensive difference through the resurrection of the archaic fullback spot.

As we discussed last week, the days of Richie Anderson and Tony Richardson may be gone, but the Jets appear set to resume the Wesco experiment at fullback after injuries prematurely shut down the project last season. Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur previously reaped the benefits of Kyle Juszczyk’s prescience in San Francisco and believes that Wesco’s bulkier size could allow him to do things that even the All-Pro fullback wasn’t capable of.

“(Wesco) is a bigger body, he’s longer,” LaFleur explained last week, per notes from the Jets. “He’s going to be able to play a little bit more inline, so we can use him in multiple ways, whether it be 21 or your typical 12 personnel formations.”

6. LB Blake Cashman 

One has to wonder if it’s now or never for Cashman, who enters his third NFL season in an unusual spot. The fifth-round pick from 2019 filled in serviceable when C.J. Mosley got hurt two years back, but injuries of his own have limited him to only 11 games in his career so far.

It’s always tough to condemn a player for getting hurt in the NFL. After all, football is a violent game and injuries happen. When they do, players should take all the time they need to heal up properly. But the NFL has proven time and time again that it’s willing to make business decisions that aren’t anything personal. Cashman appears to be a good fit in Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s defensive landscape, so it would be a shame to see his NFL career end before it truly begins.

Dec 20, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New York Jets running back Ty Johnson (25) scores a touchdown as Los Angeles Rams strong safety Jordan Fuller (32) defends the play during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

5. RB Ty Johnson

It’s a bit of a shame that Johnson’s mini-breakout was masked by the malarkey of Adam Gase’s final days at the helm. For example, Johnson made Jets history in a December tilt against the Raiders by earning the first triple-digit yardage game for the Jets in over two full calendar years. Not only did the Jets waste the historic tally through Gregg Williams’ ill-advised final blitz, but Johnson earned only 13 carries over the next three games (as opposed to 22 in the Las Vegas debacle).

Johnson has a decent chance to shine in the Jets’ new-look, minimalist approach at running back. The present focus has turned to newcomers Michael Carter and Tevin Coleman, but don’t let Johnson’s status as a holdover from the Gase era fool you: he’s capable of making an impact at moment’s notice. His speed and experience in lining up in the slot could also pay big dividends in LaFleur’s system, giving him a bit of an edge over the more north/south-inclined La’Mical Perine.

4. WR Braxton Berrios

With so many new receivers on their way in, it’s somewhat easy to forget about Berrios, one of the leading receivers from last year’s woebegone two-win squad. He faces a bit of a battle to make the roster, but the former Patriot got his season off to a great start in minicamp, emerging as one of the most pleasant surprises. It was enough to earn special props from Wilson.

“Braxton is a smart guy, that’s one of his best attributes,” Wilson said at the end of minicamp, per notes from the Jets. “He’s a slippery player, he gets in there and runs some great routes. He’s quick, but I think the best attribute is just knowing what’s going on. He’s got a great feel for the defense, he’s got great hands. He’s just been in those spots to make plays. We’ve got a lot of good playmakers and Braxton is doing a great job.”

Berrios might also be able to make an impact on special teams. During the 2019 season, he was one of two returners (min. 20 attempts) to average over 10 yards on punts.

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

3. LB Jarrad Davis

Coming off a brutal two-win season, it was going to be hard for the Jets to convince the truly elite free agents to join their cause. Their consolation prizes include Davis, a former first-round pick that previously repped Detroit.

Davis’ career got off to a decent start, as he earned All-Rookie team honors while working in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s 4-3 system. However, Austin was let go with the rest of Jim Caldwell’s staff at the end of the 2017 season despite guiding the Lions to three winning seasons in their four campaigns. Detroit football hasn’t been the same since and Davis was an unfortunate part of the decline. He failed to adapt to Matt Patricia and Paul Pasqualoni’s set-ups and the Lions declined his fifth-year option prior to the 2020 season. Davis thus joined the Jets on a one-year, $5.5 million deal this offseason.

Davis’ finest performances have come in the 4-3 set that Saleh and Ulbrich are set to implement. He earned his first-round status through working with Geoff Collins at the University of Florida and worked well with Austin early on in Detroit. That knowledge can not only help him break out on a personal level but can also help him take on the role of a teacher of the 4-3 set.

Nov 29, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Denzel Mims (11) runs the ball ahead of Miami Dolphins defensive back Nik Needham (40) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

2. WR Denzel Mims

One thing that’s really unfortunate about Mims’ situation is that he will forever be connected to a fellow member of the green draft class of 2020. When the Jets drafted Mekhi Becton with the 11th overall pick…Joe Douglas’ first at the helm of general manager…it came at the price of passing on considerable receiving talents (i.e. Henry Ruggs, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, eventual Rookie of the Year Jerry Jeudy). But those concerns were supposedly alleviated when the Jets when Douglas and Co. were able to snag Mims out of Baylor in the early stages of the second round.

Becton’s early promise has somewhat masked the fact that Mims hasn’t been on the field much in the early going. It has mostly been a case of bad luck, as he dealt with injuries at the earliest stages of 2020 prep and was never really able to get into the swing of things. This time around, Mims missed voluntary workouts due to a (non-COVID-19) illness, causing him to lose valuable reps with Wilson. The spotlight has thus turned to another second-round pick, that of Elijah Moore.

But Jets brass and outside observers still appear to believe in Mims, who serves as a valuable big-play target. Former NFL receiver and current NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson listed Mims as one of his five receivers poised for a breakout, while LaFleur compared Mims to Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant.

“It looks like he has a wingspan like Kevin Durant. He’s got tons of range as long as that ball is anywhere around him. If the ball is anywhere in the vicinity, you expect them to get it,” LaFleur said in May, per Max Goodman of SI.com. “He’s eager, he’s a really cool dude to work with. But he’s just gonna have to get out there…it’s just going to be reps and just going and understanding the speed of the game.”

1. LB Carl Lawson

As the Jets seek to re-energize their pass rush…which becomes vital with a presumed pair of matchups against Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa in the foreseeable future…one of their biggest acquisitions was Lawson out of Cincinnati. Yet, hard-to-please fans and analysts expressed disappointment with his relatively low sack numbers. Lawson tallied 11.5 over the last two seasons, a drastic declined from the 8.5 he put up in his rookie year.

However, don’t let the relatively pedestrian numbers fool you: Lawson has been an agent of chaos in opposing backfields. According to ESPN’s Seth Walder, advanced stats indicated that Lawson was one of eleven defenders that “created” at least 10 sacks last season, even if he himself didn’t obtain it. In more conventional stats, Lawson also put up 32 overall quarterback pressures, good for second in the league behind only TJ Watt.

Ulbrich noted Lawson’s dedication to the game in some of his first statements as the Jets’ defensive boss.

“(He’s) obsessed with the game,” Ulbrich said of Lawson, per Ryan Dunleavy of the New York Post. “He wants to become the most technical pass-rusher in the league.”

Lawson admitted in Dunleavy’s report that he does want his sack numbers to return to the levels he knows he’s capable of. He believes the Jets’ bolstered interior defense, led by 2020 breakout man Quinnen Williams, can help him get there.

“I have the mindset that no matter who is around me I should win my 1-on-1,” the signer of a three-year, $45 million told Dunleavy. “That’s a great thing to have, great interior players, but the way I think of it is to produce no matter what the situation because what if everybody got hurt? Could I use that as my excuse for (fewer) sacks? No.”

What other Top 10’s do you want to see? Let Geoff know 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 season. 

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: 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: 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

What’s next? A post-NFL Draft checklist for the New York Jets

New York Jets, Brian Poole

Draft weekend is over, but the New York Jets still have several needs to fill before they take to the practice field.

The New York Jets’ work in Cleveland is done. Nine names were added during last weekend’s NFL Draft proceedings and several others have been penciled in through rookie free agency.

But the Jets’ work is nowhere near complete.

That, unfortunately, is the macabre cloud that hangs over anything the Jets do until they start winning games again. The team has earned positive reviews for their draft weekend proceedings, one headlined by the offensive additions of Zach Wilson and Alijah Vera-Tucker. But it means nothing until they at least get back into the “in the hunt” column in those NFL postseason charts that emerge on game broadcasts circa the holiday season. General manager Joe Douglas has made it clear that he has a vision, but the on-field execution awaits.

The time is ripe for making further additions, as Monday marks the end of any compensatory pick matters when it comes to free agents. What else do the Jets need in the post-Mr. Irrelevant era of the offseason? ESM investigates…

Backup Quarterback

The Jets’ current quarterback group (Zach Wilson/James Morgan/Mike White) has a grand total of zero NFL regular season passes among them. It’s great that Wilson is there as the anchor, the latest name to fill the star-crossed role of franchise quarterback. But the Jets needs to bring someone in as both a veteran mentor and someone to have in case of an emergency. They had the right idea in the final year of the Sam Darnold era through signing Joe Flacco, but he’s in Philadelphia now. Darnold attributed the success of his rookie season to working with Josh McCown and it would behoove the Jets to find a similar solution.

Alex Smith might’ve been the most attractive option in both of those regards, but he opted for retirement. Nick Mullens, he of 16 starts over three seasons under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur in San Francisco, is also available, but, at 26, he might not be able to provide the veteran mentorship Wilson needs in his debut season. The best current option might be Brian Hoyer, who was brought in for a visit in April. Hoyer, set to enter his 13th NFL season, spent last season in New England, his third stint with the Patriots, and credits his mentorship skills from working with Tom Brady.

“I learned so much and whenever I had a question for him, he was there to give me an answer,” Hoyer said in 2017 prior to a pre-LaFleur stint in San Francisco, per Chris Biderman of Niners Wire. “For me, the best way to be a mentor…was just watch somebody do it and do it the right way. And then when they ask you questions, you give them straight-up honest answers.”

Experienced Defensive Help

Anyone complaining about the lack of defensive additions over the first two days of the draft was roundly silenced when the Jets spent all but one of their Saturday selections on defenders. But the Jets are already packed to the brim with young projects at the top of their defensive depth chart, particularly in their secondary. Rookies Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols are set to join Bless Austin, Bryce Hall, and Javelin Guidry. The franchise-tagged Marcus Maye is set to work next to sophomore Ashtyn Davis. New York even found some solid pass rushing additions through the undrafted front, including Hamilcar Rashed Jr. out of Oregon State. There’s certainly plenty to be inspired when it comes to the defensive haul, but there’s no guarantee any of them can be day one starters.

The team could use some veteran help and the current free agent bank has plenty of options. Steven Nelson, one of the stronger man-to-man coverage guys, is still around after two seasons in Pittsburgh. Inviting in Richard Sherman, who endlessly praised the hire of Robert Saleh, for at least an interview would almost be a no-brainer. The Jets could also bring back Brian Poole as a reliable nickel prescience, one that remains on the open market after injury issues last season.

The Jets emerged from the weekend with several building blocks to groom and develop. But if they’re looking to contend in the immediate future…the playoffs still seem like a pipe dream but a decent opportunity to reenter NFL relevancy…they’ll have to add some veteran defenders that can come in and contribute immediately.

Blocking Depth

The Jets must be careful with their blocking moving forward. It’s great to see they’re anchoring Wilson’s blind side with back-to-back first rounders, as Vera-Tucker will presumably be working alongside Mekhi Becton. But they took only one lineman in the weekend’s proceedings, going with box score contributors after moving up to take Vera-Tucker. Undrafted yields like New Mexico’s Teton Saltes could make some headway but some veteran finds would turn the pressure up on an offensive line that’s set to retain three starting members from a unit that ranked 29th in Pro Football Focus’ annual offensive line standings.

It’s a hole the Jets have slightly dug themselves into, curiously opting to add veteran depth options (like Dan Feeney and Corey Levin) before the draft rather than after it as other elite talents came and went. Many of the names left on the free agent front are up there in age but can serve as stopgaps or provide some extra training camp heat. Former Green Bay Packer Rick Wagner could work on the right side while the Jets solve their center woes by putting Connor McGovern up against another veteran like Joe Looney this summer until they can find a more permanent solution for Wilson. Center was among the biggest problems during the Sam Darnold era, so any form of consistency they can with the newcomer, even if it’s only temporary, can start steering this ship in the right direction.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

How the Chiefs-Ravens trade could affect the New York Jets’ draft plans

Baltimore and Kansas City’s deal might give the New York Jets some extra clarity at the 23rd overall pick in Cleveland next weekend.

A deal between contenders could have ripple effects on a team that’s desperate to join them.

The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs swapped assets and names on Friday, six days before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will be staged in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Pro Bowl-nominated blocker Orlando Brown Jr. will join the refurbished wall in front of Patrick Mahomes while four picks, including the 31st overall choice on Thursday, move on to Baltimore. Two Raven draft picks also come over with Brown, the first of which will be a second-rounder on Friday.

One can argue that a trade between a pair of playoff teams should have little effect on the New York Jets, who are ready for a potentially franchise-changing weekend. But New York will turn in three draft cards within the first 34 selections next Thursday and Friday. The Chiefs and Ravens’ gambit could set them up for what they plan to do with the latter pair.

The Jets’ first pick, second overall on Thursday, is more than likely accounted for: unless they plan on starting James Morgan or Mike White in September, they’re taking a quarterback. But debate rages on in what they’ll do with the 23rd overall choice, obtained from Seattle last offseason. The Ravens also own their regularly scheduled pick in the 27th slot, giving them two picks before the Jets pick again at No. 34, the second pick of the second round.

This de facto Baltimore sandwich…including the 31st pick from Kansas City traditionally bestowed to the Super Bowl runner-ups…only strengthens the case that the extra metropolitan first-rounder could behoove the Jets to address their offensive issues with each of their first two selections.

Baltimore is at an interesting point on its franchise timeline. They’ve earned at least 10 wins in each of the last three seasons and won a playoff game for the first time since 2014 in the Wild Card round in January. Barring a jaw-dropping transaction, they’re set with Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Their ground game enjoyed a significant jolt with rookie JK Dobbins working with Gus Edwards (1,528 yards, 15 touchdowns combined).

 Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

With Jackson’s great power comes even greater responsibility (wrong city, we’re aware). Jackson is capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground (1,005 rushing yards). His mobile prowess, however, leaves him open to sacks and injuries. The trade of Brown, a blindside blocker, leaves a mediocre offensive line (16th in Pro Football Focus’ final 2020 rankings) in somewhat dire straights. Former All-Pro Ronnie Stanley is expected back, but he’s coming off a brutal ankle injury suffered in November.

Additionally, Baltimore may also look to surround Jackson with more weaponry. They’re set with the young pair of Dobbins and Edwards in the backfield but their receivers leave something to desired. Is there a No. 1 receiver in this bunch? Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has potential (58 receptions, 769 yards, 8 touchdowns) but even if the Ravens want to roll with him, major questions reside behind him. Second receiver Willie Snead left for Las Vegas, leaving behind the unproven Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay. Veteran Sammy Watkins was welcomed in this offseason, but he’s not somebody who’s going to be the difference in wrangling away control of the AFC from Kansas City or Buffalo.

Thus, it’s very possible that the Ravens could be going offense with each of their first two picks. From a Jets standpoint, it’s thus less likely they can afford to wait until Friday to address a non-quarterback need. Had Kansas City kept Thursday’s penultimate pick, it was more likely to see them addressing their pass rush woes. It’s quite possible Baltimore could go offense with each of their Thursday couple. Several teams between 23rd and 34th (Pittsburgh, Green Bay) already appear to be leaning toward an offensive pick as well. Baltimore’s extended prescience should at least help narrow the Jets’ choices. Several defensive talents should still be around by the time Friday’s proceedings start, but some elite blockers (Tevin Jenkins, Alex Leatherwood, Christian Darrisaw, Landon Dickerson) and weapons (Travis Etienne, Rashod Bateman) could be gone with another offense-seeker injected into the fold.

New York Giants, Rashod Bateman
 Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Granted, the Jets are working so far from behind that there’s almost nowhere to go but up when it comes to day one of the draft. But while the Jets will likely have to address defensive woes sooner or later, they’re about to put a big investment in one of the non-Trevor Lawrence passing talents of a strong 2021 passing class. Whether it’s Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or an unknown party, they can’t lead the Jets’ resurrection on their own. They need help, namely on the offensive line after not doing too much to upgrade over the offseason.

Secondary and edge help will be around in the second round. Thursday should be a day dedicated to the new quarterback and getting him as comfortable as possible before the hard part begins. Giving him a more attractive offensive depth chart to look at before he makes his Florham Park entrance requires an offensive mindset in the earliest stages in Cleveland next week.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three ways to avoid the failures of the Sam Darnold era

The New York Jets will welcome in yet another passing savior next week. How can they avoid the pratfalls of the prior era?

The New York Jets have answered the question of “what” when it comes to the second overall pick in next week’s NFL Draft (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Through trading Sam Darnold, it’s all but assured that the Jets will be taking a quarterback, but the lingering quandary is “who”? Many expect it will be BYU passer Zach Wilson, but New York management continues to do its due diligence on non-Trevor Lawrence prospects like Justin Fields, Trey Lance, and Mac Jones.

For Jets fans, this process has become distressingly familiar. It’s been a long time since the team had any form of consistency in the franchise quarterback role, a spot plague by turnover on both the field and depth chart. The new century has been particularly cruel: would-be saviors found in the first two rounds have fizzled out, doomed to obscurity or inclusion on the yearly all-time bust lists that accompany draft weekend. Darnold was the latest unfortunate name added to that list through the trade to Carolina after three years of general inconsistency.

But it wouldn’t be fair to pin all of the Jets’ struggles of the past three seasons on Darnold. New York has made their share of mistakes that any quarterback would have trouble overcoming. How can they ensure a smoother transition for a new quarterback this time around? It won’t be easy, as the Jets’ problems won’t automatically be over once the newcomer takes over. ESM has three ways to avoid embarking on yet another passing search…

Build a Wall

Darnold was officially credited with a career-best 217 rushing yards last season. But if his scrambling was accounted for, he might’ve rivaled Derrick Henry’s final tally…OK, maybe Dalvin Cook, but still.

With D’Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold long gone, the Jets have spent the past few seasons paying dearly for the sins of the Mike Maccagnan era, where upgrading blocking was more of a suggestion than it was a requirement. Poor blocking can derail a young quarterback’s career before it ever truly begins. The most blatant case is the cautionary tale of David Carr, the first rookie chosen in Houston Texans history who was sacked an NFL record 76 times in his debut year. He (and the Texans as a whole, for that matter) was never able to get his NFL career back on track. Darnold fortunately never reached those dubious heights, but he was sacked 98 times in three seasons…and he missed ten games due to injury and illness.

To his credit, Joe Douglas has tried to make up for the neglect, even if the Jets’ 2020 renovations have left something to be desired. His first moves as general manager were to convince Ryan Kalil out of retirement and trade a draft pick to Baltimore for Alex Lewis. He brought in veterans like Connor McGovern, George Fant, and Greg Van Roten and passed on elite receiving talents to draft Mekhi Becton. Thus far, only Becton looks like a long-term piece. It’s great to see that Douglas recognizes the importance of blocking, but talent evaluation will be vital over the next few years.

Remember It’s a Team Game 

There is the occasional, once-or-twice-in-a-lifetime passing talent that is able to single-handedly change the game. Legends like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have probably extended the careers of countless receivers. But putting the pressures of New York is too much to bestow on a rookie quarterback and it’s downright harsh to expect any newcomer to be an instant fix for a team that’s nursing a decade-long playoff drought.

We’re still not sure who’s going to line up under center for the Jets come September, but he’s going to be blessed with a relatively warm situation. The Jets brought in a proven multi-talented weapon in Tevin Coleman to headline a run game working with three younger projects. Big play talents Corey Davis and Keelan Cole were added to receiving corps that welcomes back Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims.

Patience will nonetheless be the name of the game. Again, any quarterback short of de-aged Joe Namath isn’t going to thrust the Jets back into relevancy. There are simply too many holes that even next weekend’s draft won’t fully plug and too many established contenders in the AFC to get by. The newcomer’s first season should be about establishing a rapport with his new weapons and coaches. Any extra wins that happen to emerge (the Jets’ o/u is currently 6 at the William Hill sportsbook) can be considered extra credit.

Taking in Robert Saleh as a head coach was a good way to start things off. Sure, a defensive mastermind like Saleh seems unconventional when a team is trying to groom a long-sought-after franchise quarterback. But this time around, it’s not the hot-take artists that are praising the hire…it’s the players. Saleh’s arrival and promotion has earned positive reviews from players both domestically and abroad, a welcome change compared to the relative indifference from on-field participants that plagued Adam Gase’s arrival. Hometown players buying into what Saleh has to offers and outsiders expressing jealousy should help present an ideal emotional setting for a quarterback taking his first NFL steps.

Stay Awhile

No quarterback is an island. Even the most impactful quarterbacks in league history have a name, nor names, forever spoken in the same breath as their own. Brady had Julian Edelman and still has Rob Gronkowski. Manning had Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. Namath fulfilled his legendary guarantee in Miami with the help of longtime rushing collaborator Matt Snell, not to mention future Hall of Fame electee Winston Hill on the offensive line.

Now consider what Darnold dealt with in modern New York: by the time Week 1 of the 2020 season rolled around…his third and final season in green…the 2018 draftee had no receivers leftover from his rookie year with the exception of tight end Chris Herndon (whose sophomore campaign was effectively wiped out by injuries and a suspension). The offensive line was likewise completely different from even one year prior. Darnold took his snaps from three different starting centers (Spencer Long, Jonotthan Harrison, and McGovern).

Simply put, all will seem relatively well once the new quarterback is on the roster. But once he’s secure, it will be all about building gridiron camaraderie with the rest of the roster. That doesn’t only apply to the offense either: building a strong defense can help keep the game manageable for a youngster while good special teams can help turn the field in his favor. Endless amounts of turnover will only lead to chaos for a young man that is already facing one of the most stressful jobs on the face of the Earth: NFL franchise quarterback. Darnold and the Jets learned that the hard way.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: The case for (and against) a Sheldon Richardson reunion

Former first-round draft pick Sheldon Richardson is back on the open market. Should the New York Jets stage a reunion?

As the New York Jets inch toward their future, a remnant of their not-so-distant past is seeking a new opportunity.

Sheldon Richardson, part of the last draft where the Jets had multiple first-round picks prior to next Thursday’s proceedings (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/NFL Network), hit the free agent market last Friday, released by the Cleveland Browns after two seasons. Richardson, 30, has spent the past four years in Seattle, Minnesota, and Cleveland after his Jets career ended with a trade to the Pacific Northwest prior to the 2017 campaign.

Should the Jets stage a reunion, allowing fans to break out their old No. 91 jerseys? ESM investigates…

Why They Should

Though Richardson never reached the heights he hit in New York, he still proved to be serviceable, especially in terms of pressure. His 12 quarterback hits (including two in Cleveland’s AFC Wild Card win in Pittsburgh) earned last season would’ve been the third-best tally on the 2020 Jets, behind Quinnen Williams and a tie between John Franklin-Myers and the departed Tarell Basham. Richardson also came up big during Cleveland’s crucial December win over Tennessee, picking up a game-changing fourth-and-one stop and later forcing a fumble from Derrick Henry. Both takedowns led to Browns touchdowns.

His continued contributions were no surprise to All-Pro Myles Garrett.

“He is a big-time player. That’s why he is here,” Garrett said of Richardson following a dominant defensive win over the Giants in December, per team video. “We see him do it time and time again, and I expect nothing less out of him.”

The Jets have been inspired by the play of their young front seven, particularly through Williams’ 2020 breakout. But with yearly dates with mobile threats Josh Allen looming indefinitely, they can use all the help they can get when it comes to invading the pocket.

New York management could also be interested in a Richardson reunion because of his recent endeavors in the 4-3. They haven’t run it as a primary defensive set since the Herm Edwards day but are expected to make a transition with previous practitioners Roberts Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich at the helm. Richardson struggled when the Jets employed the set during his earlier days (his 2014 Pro Bowl appearance came through his work in the 3-technique) but appeared to gain a new appreciation for it in Cleveland under defensive coordinator Joe Woods.

“The main part is being in the right place at the right time, and you’ll get all the production you’ll need,” Richardson said of Woods’ philosophies, per team reporter Anthony Poisal. “It’s D-line friendly. Everybody has an opportunity on the D-line to make plays without being wrong.”

Why They Shouldn’t

The Jets are currently $24 million under the cap, the third-highest in the NFL (behind Jacksonville and Denver). While some of their neglected needs (offensive line) can be somewhat satisfied in the draft, they still need some veteran renovations. Picking up a veteran backup quarterback to both guide the incoming rookie and relieve him in case of an emergency should be on their spring checklist. The Jets could also use some veteran assistance in the secondary, which may be headlined by young projects Bless Austin and Bryce Hall.

One could argue that Richardson provides veteran mentorship to players like Williams, but the Jets have already brought in some experienced front seven options like Sheldon Rankins, Jarrad Davis, and Carl Lawson. The Jets have enough pressing needs as is. Do they really need to bring in a defender that’s already in his 30s? They already welcomed 32-year-old Vinny Curry to the fold. If they do wish to further remodel their front seven, their remaining offseason funds are perhaps better spent on younger projects.

Richardson’s price tag could also scare some teams away. One of the primary factors behind Richardson’s release was the creation of cap room ($11 million) to afford Jadeveon Clowney. With so many other pressing needs to fill, it would perhaps be wiser for the Jets to look elsewhere.

One also has to wonder if Richardson would even seek out a developing team like the Jets. He has plenty of talent left and could well be the “missing piece” for a team on the cusp of contention. Cleveland’s pair of playoff games in January were the first of Richardson’s NFL career. Granted a taste of postseason action, it’s certain he’s hungry for more. The Jets may have improved, but it wouldn’t be fair to anyone…even the Jets themselves…to call them playoff contenders just yet.

Verdict

Any potential discussion around bringing Richardson in may soon be rendered null. Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski remarked that he “hope(s) that there’s a scenario” to bring Richardson back (per Browns Wire’s Jeff Risdon). Richardson also remarked in an Instagram post bearing the bad news that Cleveland was “starting to feel like home” after single-season stints in Seattle and Minnesota.

From a Jets standpoint, getting Richardson back at an affordable price would be one of the more subtly effective moves of the offseason. From a Jets standpoint, however, there is a case to bring Richardson back. The run defense got a lot better with the additions of Rankins and Lawson and could reach potentially elite levels if Richardson arrived with the same power he had in 2020.

But, for better or worse, the Jets can’t afford to make Richardson a priority right. There are too many scary voids on this roster, ones that can’t fully be solved at the draft next weekend. If they can get Richardson back, maybe on a “hometown” discount of sorts, they should. But the more likely scenario probably has Richardson moving on to another contender.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Two lingering free agents the New York Jets should bring back

The New York Jets have been leaving the Adam Gase/Gregg Williams era behind, but these defensive staples might be worth keeping around. 

The New York Jets have taken spring cleaning to a new level this offseason.

A purge of the Adam Gase era unofficially began during his ill-fated second season, when a de facto fire sale ended the green careers of Le’Veon Bell, Avery Williamson, and future Super Bowl champion Steve McLendon. Gase himself was let go after an unceremonious 32 games, taking almost all of his coaching staff with him. Several big names from the era were likewise sent elsewhere, the further departures headlined by the trade of franchise quarterback Sam Darnold to Carolina. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins, the longest-tenured member of the team, absconded for Houston via free agency.

But not all remnants of the Gase era have been condemned to seek employment elsewhere. Marcus Maye, a former Gregg Williams pupil, was bestowed the franchise tag. Offensive representatives like Vyncint Smith and Daniel Brown, the latter’s signing announced yesterday, are likewise back for more. Ten former Jets currently remain on the open market.

Should anyone else be welcomed back? ESM has a couple of ideas in mind…

LB Neville Hewitt

The signer of three consecutive one-year deals, Hewitt has been one of the Jets’ undisputed defensive leaders. Formerly of the Dolphins and the Marshall Thundering Herd, Hewitt has earned 161 solo takedowns (13 for a loss) over the last three years. He has thus established himself as one of the more reliable depth defenders in the league and could help the team find a sense of veteran leadership with young help presumably coming through the draft.

The Jets’ linebacking corps has been racked by disaster, whether it’s through big-ticket disappointments (Darron Lee) or abysmal luck on the medical front (C.J. Mosley, Blake Cashman). Hewitt is likely seeking some more stable, but if the Jets are looking for a reliable depth option, they shouldn’t hesitate to offer Hewitt something longer. His passable skills on both pass rush and coverage could help soothe Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich’s expected implementation of a 4-3 set.

CB Brian Poole

Poole has built a solid NFL career after going undrafted out of Florida. But he has had apparent difficulty finding work after partaking in a career-low nine games due to shoulder and knee issues. He was one of the Jets’ more consistent defenders during the 2019 campaign and even appeared in Pro Football Focus’ Top 25 cornerbacks list at the end of the regular season. The former Atlanta Falcon was the highest-ranked slot specialist on that list, praised for his work in the nickel.

Bringing back Poole would provide an experienced secondary defender for a group that needs depth and guidance. Young projects like Bless Austin and Bryce Hall, each emerging as day three gems from the most recent drafts, are expected to take starring roles in Ulbrich’s new defense. Poole also holds championship experience, a trait the Jets have appeared to value if their signings from elsewhere are any indication. He was a part of Atlanta’s ill-fated trip to Super Bowl LI and had a game-high seven tackles in the NFC title game win over Green Bay.

It’s surprising that Poole has lasted this long on the open market. The Jets should take advantage before it’s too late.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Jets’ latest acquisitions know that championship feeling

Some of the New York Jets’ major 2021 acquisitions know how football’s biggest spotlight feels. Here’s why that’s so important.

The New York Jets are going back to the Super Bowl. 

Alas for fans of the star-crossed franchise the trip will have to come vicariously through the acquisition of new running back Tevin Coleman. The newly-minted 28-year-old has appeared in two Big Game box scores, starring in the 51st and 54th editions as a running back for the NFC champions from Atlanta and San Francisco respectively. Coleman, in fact, may own one of the most infamous touchdowns in Super Bowl history: his six-year scoring grab from Matt Ryan gave the Falcons a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots in the former tilt at NRG Stadium. What happened next requires little elaboration.

While he was mostly sidelined in the latter Super Bowl trip…the 49ers’ doomed defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs…Coleman played a major role in the path to the championship, tallying triple digits in yardage and two scores in the Divisional triumph over Minnesota.

Less than 24 hours before Coleman conquered the Vikings, Corey Davis scored a three-yard touchdown through Derrick Henry trickery. It was a score that gave the Tennessee Titans a permanent two-possession lead over the Baltimore Ravens on the AFC side.

Both Coleman and Davis are now members of the Jets, a team whose playoff conversations in the last decade have centered only around the location of their watch parties. They’ve each been called upon to end a metropolitan playoff drought that might reach a point where it can see a PG-13 movie without a parent/guardian’s permission. Several transactional measures have been taken to ensure that doesn’t happen again: Coleman, Davis, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry, and Keelan Cole are among them.

Sure there are signings beyond that group…previous practitioners Carl Lawson and Jarrad Davis should be intriguing in the 4-3 set that Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich are projected to implement…but the aforementioned assembly has a common link: experience in the NFL postseason.

When you’re a team as starved for postseason success as the Jets have been, any ray of light will be gratuitously accepted. The idea of bringing in a Super Bowl champion like Curry…a rare conqueror of the New England dynasty through a Philadelphia Eagles victory in Super Bowl LII…as a mentor to a young defense seems cliche, stolen from the script of the most basic sports film. Putting aside the point that maybe a return to the fundamentals might be the very thing that the Jets need right now, Curry provides the good vibes, the championship vibes the Jets need to get any semblance of momentum going within their organization.

In his first statements in a different shade of gridiron green, Curry established himself as a leader, becoming yet another on-field voice, and not a hot take artist, to profess his faith in both Saleh and his process. But Curry immediately endeared himself to his new group and got things rolling on a strong note by comparing the modern Jets to that championship squad that neutralized Tom Brady, if only for a short while.

“I just wanted to get on this ship. I’ve seen this ship before when coach Pederson took over in Philadelphia. I’ve seen this ship before, and I just wanted to be a part of it,” Curry said, per Newsday’s Al Iannazzone. “I think once we all get around each other and get a feel for each other, we have the potential to really be a force upfront. Potentially we could be something special.”

Rankins concurred with his fellow newcomer in the front seven. The former New Orleans Saint was part of modern-day playoff runs engineered by Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and offensive company, though he and his defenders had their own moments of glory. Rankins himself had a big sack that kicked the Chicago Bears out of field goal territory during January’s NFC Wild Card playoff matchup.

Unlike the over-optimistic razzle-dazzle often seen from offseason newcomers, Rankins brought another feeling the Jets needed: realism, while keeping sanguinity on the cusp of his comments.

“It’s not going to be easy to essentially turn around an organization that, let’s just be completely honest, hasn’t won a lot of games in a while,” Rankins said in Iannazzone’s report. “But when you got someone at the helm that demands excellence and you bring in guys that demand excellence that does nothing but has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster.”

Rankins would probably know. Going into his third season in 2018, three-time Pro Bowl blocker Terron Armstead uncannily expressed both dread and admiration in working across from Rankins, telling Around the NFL’s Herbie Teope that “I’ve had the advantage of watching him work every day. Sheldon has been a guy who works on his craft daily. He’s only improved since he’s got here.”

When one looks at the current Jets roster, there is raw potential that can be cultivated with the right brand of guidance. The Jets discovered the hard way that Adam Gase and his single game of playoff experience wasn’t the way to go about that. This time around, general manager Joe Douglas brought in winners, contributors on a big scale that won’t flinch if faced with a big game situation, ones the Jets hope to experience again fairly soon. This time, instead of working with players who will one day appear on the “Wait, He Played for the Jets???” lists, they found young contributors who have already experienced a lot of what the NFL has to offer.

Last season, the Jets were forced to enjoy sizable contributions from Joe Flacco and Frank Gore…staples of new century football that lingered well into the new decade. They provided mentorship but were never meant to be consistent stat providers, respectively forced into action through a Sam Darnold injury and the release of Le’Veon Bell. These playoff-savvy newcomers, however, have expectations thrust upon them, projected to provide clarity and stability to a team in desperate need of it.

The Jets have begun to chart a new path to the Super Bowl, one that’s different in several inspiring ways. This revelation that it will potentially be paved by young weapons who have walked it before should provide rare metropolitan optimism.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags