The day elementary school science teachers prepared us for finally came on Tuesday morning.
Superstar free agent J.J. Watt set football Twitter ablaze with a cryptic posting that simply read “Mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell”. Watt, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year, offered no context for his scientific observation. Such labeling of mitochondria is common in biology textbooks and the phrase gained a bit of notoriety in 2013, when Tumblr users mocked the supposed uselessness of this information being taught in schools. Mitochondria are found in the cells of most eukaryotic organisms (whose cells contain a membrane encased nucleus).
With Watt set to move on from the rebuilding Houston Texans, fans and analysts couldn’t help but wonder if the prized defender was hinting at his new destination. The organelle held particular meaning for fans of the Buffalo Bills, as some fans pointed out that Buffalo is home to the Mitochondria Research Society. The MRS is described on the National Organization for Rare Disorders’ (NORD) site as “a non-profit, international organization of scientists and physicians. The purpose of MRS is to find a cure for mitochondrial diseases by promoting research on basic science of mitochondria, mitochondria pathogenesis, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment throughout the world”.
Buffalo fans were hardly alone in trying to decipher Watt’s tweet in their favor. Syracuse.com’s Ryan Talbot jokingly pointed out mitochondria’s bean-like shape, facetiously declaring that Watt was negotiating with Bills general manager Brandon Beane. Talbot’s mentions were quickly filled by overzealous fans of the Chicago Bears, who insisted that Watt was referring to the Windy City’s Cloud Gate sculpture, commonly referred to as “The Bean”. None of the league’s fanbases were truly without guilt in this endeavor, each stretching their own theory further than the last. Only Bills fans, it would appear, were able to find a local landmark to strengthen their case.
Watt, 31, requested his release from the Texans after a decade in Houston. While a bittersweet breakup, the split appeared to be mutual, with Watt’s wish fulfilled by owner Cal McNair. Watt has earned countless accolades in his NFL career and departs Houston as the Texans’ all-time leader in sacks (101), tackles for a loss (172) and All-Pro nominations (5). He earned 52 tackles and five sacks, as well as the sixth touchdown of his career (and first since 2014) last season, as he partook in all 16 games after his 0219 campaign was mostly lost due to a torn pectoral.
Despite Watt’s apparent hint, don’t expect the former Texan to make a decision any time soon. He indicated as such when responding to an impatient follower on Sunday night.
“I scroll through door dash for like an hour before I pick a restaurant man…” [sic] Watt told the fan. “You’re gonna have to give me a second to choose a new team and city.” [sic].
Another Swedish athlete who took over Madison Square Garden’s staging area is moving on.
New York Liberty veteran Amanda Zahui B has announced her metropolitan departure, as the WNBA veteran will join the Los Angeles Sparks. Zahui B, a Stockholm native, was the longest-tenured member of the team alongside fellow international import Rebecca Allen. She originally joined the Liberty via a trade with the Tulsa Shock five years ago. The Minnesota alumna entered the Association as the second overall pick in the 2015 WNBA Draft, chosen by the Shock, who now go by the Dallas Wings moniker.
Over five seasons in seafoam, Zahui B made her prescience felt on and off the court. She played a particularly large role in the Liberty’s 2020 endeavors in the Bradenton bubble, serving as a “baby vet” on a team laden with rookies. Zahui B averaged 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds in her final Liberty season, partaking in all but one of the 22 games. Among her most cherished New York memories was a 37-point showing during a June 2019 win in Los Angels (the second-best single-game output in Liberty history) and hauling in a WNBA-record 21 defensive rebounds last August against Dallas, breaking a record held by Detroit’s Cindy Brown for over two decades. Along the way, Zahui B endeared herself to her Liberty teammates, developing strong friends with players like Allen and Han Xu.
After her departure was made official, Zahui B took to Instagram to pen a heartfelt farewell and thanks to her New York compatriots. Among the photos included in the post included her team gathered at midcourt at MSG, a Floridan pose with rookie Jazmine Jones, Sabrina Ionescu, Kylee Shook, and Leaonna Odom, and her participation in the 2018 NYC Pride March.
“I came to New York very confused, shattered in many ways, and really kind of lost. Lost in God’s plans. I had no clue that NY would become home,” Zahui B’s caption partially reads. “I grew so much as a player and even more as a person.”
“Finding my confidence would not have been possible without each and every single one of my teammates through my NY years,” she continued. “I don’t even know how I would’ve made it without y’all crazy asses! From our Turn-up crews to standing up against injustice, police brutality, racism, and for all kind of humans. No matter where or how, y’all will always be in my heart and we shall continue to make a change together.” [sic]
Zahui B’s New York teammates wished her well, including current Liberty reps Allen, Stokes, and Asia Durr.
Despite the loss of Zahui B, the Liberty have remained active in the transaction front, welcoming in 2020’s Most Improved Player champion Betnijah Laney from Atlanta, as well as Natasha Howard and Sami Whitcomb from Seattle through a three-team trade that also involved the Phoenix Mercury.
Chris Herndon is set to enter his fourth season on the New York Jets’ roster, which might as well make him a relic in green.
To put things in perspective: of the 17 men to catch a pass during the 2018 season…Sam Darnold’s debut campaign…the tight end is the only one still on the active green roster. He was second on the team in most major receiving categories, picking up 502 yards on 56 receptions, four of which went for scores. Since then, however, Herndon has struggled to maintain that kind of consistency. A four-game suspension and a subsequent injury limited him to 18 snaps in his sophomore year. He struggled to find his footing for the majority of the 2020 campaign, but the final stages started to bring out the Herndon of old, as he tallied 145 yards on 14 receptions, a couple going for scores.
At a crossroads on offense, the Jets could use a veteran playmaker to help stabilize things ever-so-slightly. He’s entering the final year of his original rookie deal and is clearly the best of what the Jets’ tight ends have to offer.
Chris has a lot of ability and it’s just like everybody else, you’re fighting the battle with yourself to go out there and be able to do it,” veteran quarterback Joe Flacco said of Herndon, per Max Goodman of SI, after the Jets’ November loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Herndon had a pair of receptions in that game, including a highlight-reel touchdown, his first score since December 2018. “He’s a young player with a ton of ability.”
Elsewhere on the Jets’ roster, Ryan Griffin failed to live up to the $10 million contract extension afforded to him in the midst of 2019. Second-year man Trevon Wesco dealt with injuries and inconsistency and the Jets more or less ended a plan to use him as a fullback in the early stages of the season.
Used primarily as a blocker and a special teamer, Brown has earned nine receptions over two years in New York, though one went for a touchdown in the Jets’ November 2019 visit to Washington. He was part of the team’s final training camp cuts last year but reinstated shortly after.
Travis played 10 snaps with the Jets last season, mostly on special teams, after shuttling on and off the practice squad (as well as the reserve/COVID-19 list).
Kyle Pitts is phenomenal, but do not forget about Brevin Jordan down in Miami.
Jordan bolsters a strong frame with room to add more muscle if he chooses.
Depends on their faith in Herndon, but, even if it’s strong, no one would fault the Jets for using one of their excess draft picks on a tight end. Florida’s Kyle Pitts is the consensus top choice and likely won’t be on the table for the Jets (who have far greater needs to fill), but the latter days are rife with possibilities. Herndon’s fellow former Miami Hurricane, Brevin Jordan, may be the next best option and someone to potentially target with the extra third-round choice yielded from Seattle. Hunter Long (Boston College) and Matt Bushman (BYU) could be worth keeping an eye on, while small school choice Quintin Morris (Bowling Green) upped his stock at the Senior Bowl over the weekend (3 receptions, 52 yards in Saturday’s exhibition).
Jared Cook, New Orleans
Set to turn 34 in April, Cook can be a Frank Gore-like addition to the Jets’ tight ends…but he would contribute far more on the field. Over the past two seasons with the Saints, Cook has scored 16 touchdowns and earned a Pro Bowl berth in 2019. He can serve as a calming influence for Herndon, whom the Jets apparently still envision as the long term option, and help him maintain consistency. If the Jets can get him on a short-term deal, this would be a strong match.
Gerald Everett, LA Rams
Everyone knew about Everett’s catching prowess coming out of South Alabama, and he’s lived up to that hype so far by catching 74 percent of his targets to date. But Everett’s improved blocking, particularly in the run game. Everett figures to be one of the top tight end free agency targets after the Rams re-upped with Tyler Higbee. If he’s willing to face a training camp competition for more snaps, this could be an intriguing match. Head coach Robert Saleh has no doubt studied Everett extensively during his time as San Francisco’s defensive coordinator.
Ross Dwelley, San Francisco
Constantly overshadowed by George Kittle in San Francisco, Dwelley got a bit of an extended opportunity over veteran Jordan Reed when Kittle’s injury woes forced the Niners to turn to their bench. Dwelley is a restricted free agent, but a reunion with former Niners overseer Mike LeFleur, as well as an extended opportunity to contribute in New York, could serve as a selling point.
For the time being, Herndon is going into the future as the Jets starting tight end, but he will likely have one of the hottest seats in Florham Park. Expect the Jets to add some help from outside at tight end, especially with the current backup help struggling and extensive cap space.
How will the New York Jets move on in their rushing situation after Le’Veon Bell? ESM investigates in Part II of its offseason preview.
The Position: Running Back On the Roster: La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson Free Agents: Frank Gore, Josh Adams Reserve/Future: Pete Guerriero
If you told New York Jets fans this time last year that Le’Veon Bell would be getting ready to play in Super Bowl LV, they would be ecstatic and likely booking their flights and hotels to/in the Tampa area. Alas for the wearers of green, we’re enduring a socially distanced Super Bowl this year that will limit attendance. If Bell plays, he will not represent the Jets, but the Kansas City Chiefs, having been mercifully granted his New York release after 17 games over the last two seasons.
Upon his departure, Bell left behind an aura of uncertainty with the Jets rushing situation…and that can’t be pinned entirely on his release. The Jets had an opportunity to clear up their rushing future with several viable candidates. Fourth-round rookie La’mical Perine was emerging from an early stretch of injuries while the Jets added former Detroit draft pick Ty Johnson off waivers. Joe Douglas’ former Philadelphia disciple Josh Adams was also called up from the practice squad. Alas, New York opted to give most of its rushing opportunities to an aging Frank Gore, who put up a career-low 3.5 yards a carry and never reached the 75-yard plateau.
While Perine (64 carries, 232 yards, 2 scores) struggled to gain traction, missing six games due to injuries and a late positive test for COVID-19, Johnson and Adams took advantage of the little opportunities left. The pair united for 178 yards in a December contest against Las Vegas, with Johnson accounting for the first triple-digit rushing game for a Jets back in over two calendar years.
One can easily respect the brilliant, resilient NFL career of Gore while acknowledging that it’s probably not the best idea to make him your feature back at age 37. But that’s exactly what the Jets tried to do last season, and it didn’t end well. Again, one can’t entirely pin the disaster on Gore, who had a purpose upon his signing. No one was going to quarrel with the veteran Gore coming to New York and serving as a spell option, mentor, and veteran leader, but making him the top back after Bell’s release was ill-advised, especially when the macabre gift of consequence-free football games would’ve allowed the Jets to try something new.
Gore hinted at retirement during the season but left the door open to a 17th season earlier this winter, telling team reporter Jack Bell “I haven’t made a decision yet”. He ended the 2020 campaign as the third-leading rusher in NFL history at exactly 16,000 yards, behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Whether he’ll add to that tally remains to be seen, it’s possible additional yardage could be earned in a Jets jersey. Several of Gore’s younger teammates often cited the value of his veteran leadership and the Jets could be getting even younger at some of their most vital positions…i.e. quarterback. Then again, Gore may be better off “ring-chasing” as the Jets seek to make their own luck moving forward.
After all the drama, someone with the name “J. Adams” actually contributed something positive for the Jets in 2020. Adams previously worked with Douglas as an undrafted rookie during the Eagles’ failed Super Bowl defense in 2018, picking up a team-best 511 yards. One of Douglas’ first moves upon taking the Jets’ GM spot was to pick up Adams after he was a part of Philadelphia’s final camp cuts the following year. Adams played sparingly in his New York debut but led Jets running backs with a 5.4 average carry (albeit on 29 attempts) last season.
Adams’ familiarity with Douglas could potentially work in his favor if he’s interested in a reunion, but he may seek a new destination with more consistent opportunities to avoid getting lost in the fold.
Will They Draft?
Unlikely. The Jets just used a fourth-round choice on Perine last spring. They will likely turn to free agency to find a more established primary option, whether it’s in preparation for someone like Perine or Johnson to take on the role full-time or a longer-term option. It has been a long time since the Jets drafted a running back during the draft’s early portions, their last selection over the first two days coming in 2009 (Shonn Greene), but there are far too many holes to fill to “waste” an early pick on a rusher.
Leonard Fournette, Tampa Bay
Another future Super Bowl participant, Fournette could work in the same capacity Gore did: serve as a calming veteran prescience that knows how to win. In addition to his upcoming trip to the Big Game, Fournette was also involved in Jacksonville’s surprising trip to the AFC title game in 2018. The true difference from the Gore era would be that Fournette, 26, has proven he can still handle the workload of a top rusher. He has come up particularly big for the Buccaneers during their title run, putting up 313 total yards and scoring a touchdown in each of the three games.
Malcolm Brown, LA Rams
It’s possible the Jets could go with a rusher-by-committee approach, though they could use an experienced option to head up the group. Brown will likely seek a new opportunity after sharing duties with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson in Los Angeles. He and Henderson led the Rams in rushing scores with five each.
Kyle Juszcsyk, San Francisco
It has been a while since the Jets experimented with a fullback, their last legitimate project perhaps being Lex Hilliard in 2012. They briefly toyed with tight end Trevon Wesco in the spot but more or less abandoned it when the sophomore dealt with injuries this season. Adding Juszczyk, who would be familiar with Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur from his San Francisco days, would give the Jets not only a player with winning experience but a goal-line option to go along with his traditional blocking duties. Juszczy, a five-time Pro Bowler, scored a career-best six touchdowns this season, including two in his first multi-score game against Arizona in December.
There is certainly plenty of room to get better when it comes to the Jets’ run game, but, for a team that has so many holes, bolstering the unit may take a backseat while they settle some other affairs. Combine that with a relatively weak free agent class (the top overall options may be Fournette, Kenyan Drake, and Todd Gurley) and the Jets’ still recovering from the Bell debacle, it’s difficult to imagine them making too drastic of a movie. There’s certainly potential from the names on the roster right now, but the Jets’ failure to perform extensive research once Bell left could come back to hurt the team in the near future. An opportunity presented itself to check something off the offseason checklist, but they opted to give that opportunity to a potential Gore retirement tour.
Everyone assumes the Buffalo Bills will be back to the AFC title game, but we’ve heard that one way too many times in the past.
Toward the end of many NFL playoff contests, a mantra of the damned has become as much of a prevalent broadcast tradition as reminding viewers that Bob’s Burgers or 60 Minutes will be coming up next (except on the west coast, in the latter case). When time is low and the game’s outcome is no longer in doubt, time is often dedicated to the team who will have to wait until September to restart their Super Bowl trek. As the camera lingers on images of the downtrodden runners-up between plays, the announcers will often repeat some variation of the phrase “they’ll be back”.
The Buffalo Bills were the latest to hear the chants, as their magical 2020-21 season came to an end in Sunday’s AFC Championship Game. Buffalo was no match for the Kansas City Chiefs’ title defense, falling in a 38-24 final in their first semifinal visit since 1994. During contentious final minutes defined by post-whistle extracurriculars, CBS broadcasters Jim Nantz and Tony Romo waxed poetic on the Bills, they of 13 wins and an AFC East title, assuring fans that the best was likely yet to come for a team that grew by leaps and bounds. The Buffalo locker room repeated the phrase as Kansas City celebrated their return trip to the Big Game.
“I have no doubt in my mind that we will be back,” quarterback Josh Allen said, per team reporter Jourdon LaBarber. “We’re still young and we’re only going to get better. That’s one thing I take from this. We’re close. The results weren’t good tonight but I’m super proud of how our team fought all season and how we bonded together.”
“Give the Kansas City Chiefs credit. They won, they were the better team tonight. But the Buffalo Bills will be back,” head coach Sean McDermott added in a postgame interview with CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn. “This is a learning experience. It’s a tough environment to play. We didn’t play our best game, we didn’t coach our best game, we’ll be back.”
But, if recent history has proven anything, this mantra has only led to more losing.
Losing the AFC title game can certainly serve as a springboard for future success. Kansas City, for example, hasn’t lost a postseason game since they fell to New England in the 2019 edition. But everyone brushed off the Jacksonville Jaguars’ loss to those same Patriots the year before as a mere stepping stone to something brighter. After all, they were armed with a youthful, fearsome defense featuring Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye, Yannick Ngakoue, and many others. It was only a matter of time before they made the next step, no?
In the three years since that epic run, Jacksonville has won a mere dozen games (including a single triumph this season) and will choose first in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Los Angeles Rams appeared ready to take over football after their own run that same season but wound up missing the playoffs in the NFC title defense. A “double doink” derailed the Chicago Bears. Even Super Bowl champions aren’t exempt from such hangovers. Only four years ago, the Philadelphia Eagles looked like a dynasty in the making. Now, they’re one of the least desirable situations in football. Doug Pederson has already been dismissed and Carson Wentz appears to be next.
How can the Bills avoid such a hangover? ESM investigates…
Be Buffalo Bold
What eventually did Buffalo in during the AFC title game was their lack of assertiveness in Kansas City. If you want to beat the Chiefs, you have to be the Chiefs, a team so dedicated to securing the victory as quickly and cleanly as possible that they’re willing to throw with Chad Henne on a 4th-and-1 just two games away from the Super Bowl.
Before things got out of hand at Arrowhead, the Bills had several opportunities to assert their authority on the Chiefs and earn precious points on fourth-and-short situations. However, they opted for the relative safety of Tyler Bass field goals, but they proved meaningless when the defense failed to stop Kansas City’s high-voltage offense. The red dagger came when they chose to narrow the lead to 24-15 on a 26-yard Bass boot when three yards would’ve set first-and-goal in the latter stages of the third quarter. Tyreek Hill immediately made them pay with a 75-yard catch-and-run that set up Travis Kelce’s short score through underhanded mastery from Patrick Mahomes.
“Maybe if I had to do it over again, I would have went for maybe one of them,” McDermott said of the costly decisions to kick, per Marcel Louis-Jacques of ESPN. “But the one before the half, I wanted to get points. We were having trouble coming up with points, and I wanted to at least have something to show for it going into the half, especially knowing they were getting the ball after half. I’ll look back at that and reevaluate that, especially the one after half there, and as an entire team, we’ll learn from the experience.”
Making things all the more tragic from a football standpoint was the fact that the Bills were no stranger to such aggressiveness during this magical season. They tied with Miami for the best fourth-down conversion rate (albeit on only 10 attempts) and pulled one off on their opening possession, later leading to Bass’ first field goal. Hopefully for Buffalo, they took the missed opportunities as the learning experience McDermott alluded to.
Lock the Block(ers)
The Bills are blessed with the multiple talents of Allen, who has proven capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground. Blessed with such a prime, game-changing force of football nature, Buffalo must do everything in its power to protect him. Allen was sacked 34 times last season, the 10th-worst rate in football, but that tends to happen when you have a mobile quarterback. All in all, the Bills did a decent job, but it still feels like there are ways to improve.
Among the potential departures through free agency is tackle Daryl Williams, one of the most pleasant surprises amongst the league’s contenders. The former All-Pro was signed to an affordable one-year deal but wound up filling in very well for an injured Cody Ford late in the year. Interior regulars Jon Feliciano, Brian Winters, and Ike Boettger will all be free agents, while center Mitch Morse could be a salary cap casualty (over $4.8 million) as the team currently holds under $2 million in cap space.
Buffalo can’t afford any regression when it comes to their blocking help. It’s possible they could use the 30th pick on someone like Creed Humphrey out of Oklahoma to bolster the unit. If the biggest problem on the offense is the fact that the long-sought franchise quarterback has too much protection, you know you’re doing something right.
Lower the Flags
While the Bills tackled numerous streaks of futility in 2020, one unfortunate streak kept on rolling. With 102 penalties (941 yards lost) during the regular season (sixth in the league), the Bills ranked in the league’s top-ten flag drawers for the third straight season. While Buffalo’s penalty ledger was relatively clean against Kansas City (38 yards on a quartet), the final stages of the season were marred by post-whistle extracurriculars that only built the rivalry between the Bills and Chiefs further. Should the Chiefs prevail in their Super Bowl endeavor two Sundays from now (6:30 p.m. ET, CBS), no one would be surprised to see the Bills in the traditional opening Thursday night slot for the defending champions come Week 1 of 2021.
It was great to see the Bills stick up for each other once things got chippy in the final minutes, but it left a sour taste in Allen’s mouth. One of Buffalo’s last possessions ended with Allen taking a late hit from Chiefs lineman Alex Okafor. Allen tossed the ball at Okafor’s facemask, leading to the first of several late-game melees.
“The way it ended doesn’t sit right with me with how chippy and ticky-tack it got. I’m disappointed in myself,” Allen said per Matt Parrino of Syracuse.com. “I let my emotions get to me there. That’s not how you’re supposed to play football.”
Figure Out the Rushing Stampede
The Bills have formed one of the most explosive passing attacks in the league through Allen, Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, and others. But that doesn’t mean they have to solely rely on aerial antics to pull off wins. Over the past two seasons, the Bills are a mediocre 5-5 when Allen throws the ball at least 40 times. Two of those victories came in too-close-for-comfort showdowns with the New York Jets, while two of those losses came in the AFC playoffs (2020 Wild Card at Houston, 2021 AFC title game at Kansas City).
Sophomore rusher Devin Singletary regressed in several major rushing categories, working alongside the roller-coaster rookie antics of Zack Moss, who missed a majority of the postseason after leaving the Wild Card tilt on a cart. The two united for 1,168 yards and seven total touchdowns but struggled to maintain consistency. It’s good that the Bills have a relatively consistent rushing tandem, but they have to develop some true traction to avoid the risk of the offense becoming too shallow. Once Moss got injured, the Bills turned almost exclusively to passing. Singletary earned his first carry of the Divisional round late in the second quarter. Allen put up 88 yards against the Chiefs, but Singletary and T.J. Yeldon mustered only 32 on nine carries.
In another report from Parrino, McDermott flat out noted that “we got to be able to run the football better” after the AFC title game. If anyone in the NFL can do it all, it may well certainly be Allen, but that’s no reason to force him into such a situation.
The idea of Deshaun Watson moving to the New York Jets sounds too good to be true. That’s because, frankly…it is.
Somehow, someway, the Houston Texans…a team blessed with the talents of one of the most recognizable names in football on each side of the ball, winners of four of the last six AFC South titles…managed to become a more toxic gridiron wasteland than the New York Jets.
To paraphrase the great Ron Burgundy, one can’t even be mad. It’s amazing.
The biggest story outside of the NFL playoff picture by far is the fate of Watson, the beleaguered franchise quarterback. No playoff games await Watson, but he is apparently nonetheless on a mission this postseason: to get out of Houston as fast as possible. It’s a liberation that has been brewing for some time and the rumbling has only intensified upon the end of the Texans’ 4-12 season. Adam Schefter of ESPN brought things to a fever pitch through a report that strongly indicated that Watson “has played his last snap for the team”.
Despite the lack of a formal trade request (and the prescience of the no-trade clause in his contract), Watson has been linked to several of his non-playoff brethren, including the Jets. The sleuths of Instagram took notice of one of Watson’s recent “likes”, one featuring potentially the first of many punny headlines from the New York Post. Richard Sherman, a noted fan of new Jets boss Robert Saleh, advised Watson to “head to New York” on Cris Collinsworth’s podcast. Video has surfaced of Watson purchasing a car his associates wanting it painted “jet green”.
don’t know if this is from today or years ago but this is deshaun watson buying a car in philly. the salesman says he wants deshaun to sign with philly. his agent says they want the car to turn “jet green”.
From a Jets standpoint, all the pieces appear to align in their favor. The light at the end of their two-win tunnel was the second overall pick in April’s draft, a pick the Texans desperately need after shipping their own first rounder (which became the pick right after New York’s) to Miami. That more than likely won’t be enough to satisfy the Texans (who likely won’t be appearing in Wid Card Saturday’s afternoon slot anytime soon), but the Jets have the picks to atone for it, including guaranteed first-rounders from Seattle via the Jamal Adams trade. Assets beyond picks could include contributors under contract that might become salary cap casualties anyway…talented names like Jamison Crowder and Henry Anderson that could potentially save the Jets a pick. Thier cap space is already pretty attractive as is; entering the 2021 offseason, the Jets have just over $65 million to spend, behind only Jacksonville ($73 million).
The Jets have been looking for a lasting franchise quarterback after since Joe Namath took his final green snaps in 1976. False prophets have come and gone, but a name like Watson, only starting to tap into his true potential and power, could give the Jets long-term assurance and stability at arguably the most important position in all of sports.
If all of this sounds too good to be true…especially when it comes to a franchise as star-crossed as the Jets…that’s because, frankly, it probably is. A union between Watson and the Jets wouldn’t be fair to either side, tantalizing as it may be.
For Watson, a New York collaboration wouldn’t be much different from his current situation in Houston…except it would be a lot colder. From a Jets’ standpoint, there would little separate a potential era of Watson from the Sam Darnold saga. The way the team is constructed now, there would be plenty of instances of Watson running for his life, and this would be after he led the league in passing yardage despite being brought down 49 times with the Texans (third-worst in football). Watson’s mobile talents would perhaps spare him some of the carnage, but likely nothing where he would be able to make a meaningful difference in the Jets’ offense, one that finished at or near the bottom of most major statistical categories.
To the Jets’ credit, namely general manager Joe Douglas’, they’re starting to making sensible, rational, if not conservative, decisions with their offensive roster. In his first draft last spring, Douglas bypassed the name-brand receiving talent to take tackle Mekhi Becton. Not only did Becton turn out to be one of the brightest emergences of the 2020 rookie class, but Douglas was also able to earn a big-play receiver in Denzel Mims in the second round. There’s also plenty of time between now and Week 1 of a hopefully normal 2021 season…heck, there’s plenty of time even before the draft…for Douglas, Saleh, and the Jets to stock up and become more attractive to a new franchise quarterback, whether it’s Watson, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields. There’s no guarantee they’ll even move on from Darnold, who has reportedly caught the eye of both Saleh and his reported new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur.
Unfortunately for Douglas, however, his debut veteran acquisition class left much to be desired, riddled with names that were plagued by injuries (Bradley McDougald, Greg Van Roten), inconsistency (Connor McGovern, Pierre Desir), or both (Breshad Perriman). Adding Watson is the type of move a team makes when they’re the proverbial “one move away” from the Super Bowl. If the Adam Gase era proved anything, it’s that the Jets are many, many moves away from a mere playoff berth, much less the Big Game.
The Jets needed to use every asset, every piece of roster capital they have to end this cycle of rebuilding. Dedicating a majority of those resources, be it picks, be it cap space, to Watson and his contract (which includes a $40 million cap hit next year) would be reckless spending, using excess fund to plug one hole when there are many, many, many holes to be filled. Bringing Watson in would sell jerseys, but it wouldn’t necessarily lead to wins.
Modern NFL endeavors have provided countless examples of such irresponsible spending. The Jets’ MetLife Stadium co-tenants, for example, were on the verge of something at least entertaining at the end of the 2016-17 season. In the first year of their post-Tom Coughlin endeavors, the New York Giants won 11 games and showcased six All-Pro men on their roster. Their season ended in a listless 38-13 Wild Card playoff loss in Green Bay, but hope was on the horizon, manifested in several high-profile transactions. Big Blue welcomed in receiver Brandon Marshall to work alongside Odell Beckham Jr. They used their first-round pick on tight end Evan Engram, an Ole Miss alum to gear up fellow former Rebel Eli Manning for one last run to glory. Later in the draft, the Giants took Davis Webb in the third round, perhaps the most serious they had come to seeking an heir to the Manning throne. The team also re-upped with fan favorite pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul to the tune of a four-year contract with $40 million guaranteed.
But in their marquee spending, the Giants failed to account for some of more dour problems hidden on their roster, namely the offensive line. The Giants did little, if anything, to upgrade their line, letting reliable veterans like Andrew Whitworth fall by the wayside. Cursed with little to no blocking help, the Giants sputtered to a brutal 3-13 season and fell down a hole they have yet to emerge from. Beckham has since been traded, and there is little left from the promising 2016 campaign.
The story of the modern Giants and so many other “offseason champions” in the NFL serve as cautionary tales to active Super Bowl seekers. A house renovation could serve as a strong parable to what the Jets are going through at this moment. Bringing in Watson would be a high-profile purchase, immediately spending a windfall on, say, a luxury vehicle or swimming pool. However, doing so would ignore more grimy, subtle problems in the house that could bring the entire structure down…mold damage in the basement, perhaps. Even if the Jets admit that Darnold isn’t the answer, there are still situations to resolve, such as their porous blocking, uncertain rungame situation, and lack of offensive weapons and defensive depth. Filling every blank with Watson isn’t going to work, no matter how hard the Jets try. The Texans have tried doing that with Watson and J.J. Watt…chaos has enused.
It seems hard for Jets fans to believe, but that’s the cruelly funny thing about life in the NFL: there’s no situation, no matter how dire, where things can’t actively get worse. The Jets have been blessed with a plethora of offseason capital through multiple draft picks and excess cap space. To cash it all in on one big-ticket player would be reckless.
Another reason why Watson’s potential New York arrival sounds so promising is because not only has he made an impact on the field, but he continues to be a vital prescience off of it as well. Watson has made it clear he wants to use his voice for good as Americans seek an end to systemic racism and he has also come through for Houston medical staffers fighting the ongoing health crisis. Bringing in a high-character superstar would be the perfect way to open a new Jets era, one that could allow them to shatter the losing status quo that New York football has become far-too-accustomed to. Watson’s rumored eagerness to join a two-win team bearing what’s by far the longest playoff drought in the NFL (10 seasons) speaks volumes as well, signifying a welcome counter to the concept of “ring-chasing” that has spread throughout the major professional sports leagues.
But to ask Watson to come to New York and become a lone, instant fixer-upper…which is essentially what he would be if the Jets bestow all of their offseason funding unto him…when he’s on the precipice of entering his prime is a little too much to ask for. A more established contender, a Miami, an Indianapolis, would be better for a player of his talents. If the Jets truly want to make a change at quarterback, they would be far better off using their cap space to create a more attractive environment for a rookie quarterback, or even build around Darnold if Saleh and LaFleur are impressed enough to keep him around.
This is a new, exciting time to take an interest in the New York Jets…it’s so rare to say that. While there’s a chance that Douglas could make the Watson revolution work, it’s best, for the time being, to avoid temptation. It’s never good to use an “all for one” mentality…the assets, an “all for all” situation, would be better spent on many helpers, never mind just one, showstopping as he may be.
Determined to finally rise from the ashes of the WNBA cellar, the New York Liberty now face a most interesting free agency period.
The New York Liberty have sowed their post-Madison Square Garden rebuild for three years now. But after three years at or near the bottom of the WNBA standings, they’re really to start reaping.
Three months after the Bradenton bubble was deflated for the last time, the Association’s free agency period unofficially opened on Friday, with its twelve teams now permitted to negotiate with their own free agents, as well as Restricted and Unrestricted Free Agents. Deals and offer sheets can officially be signed on February 1.
Trapped in the midst of a three-year playoff drought, the longest in franchise history, the Liberty have picked some strong-long term contributors during their stay in hardwood purgatory. These additions go far beyond the high-profile arrival of Sabrina Ionescu, as the team has also welcomed in All-Star Kia Nurse and 2020 All-Rookie team representative Jazmine Jones through the draft, while veteran leader Layshia Clarendon arrived through free agency last season. More recently, the Liberty hit the jackpot at the WNBA Draft Lottery for the second straight season, as they earned an early Christmas gift in the form of the top overall pick at this spring’s upcoming draft. Additionally, the Liberty gained franchise stability through new management. Brooklyn Nets owner Joseph Tsai purchased the team in 2019 and was ready to move the team into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center before current events enforced a delay.
These decisions and steps forward have done little to atone for the fact that the Liberty have endured some brutal seasons in recent years, with things more or less plummeting in a 2-20 record inside the bubble. The Liberty went through most of last season without Ionescu and veteran contributors like Rebecca Allen, Asia Durr, and Marine Johannes, using seven rookies over the course of the enclosed season. With the veterans set to return, the Liberty will have some major decisions to make when it comes to these young players.
In the lottery aftermath, Liberty general manager Jonathan Kolb made it clear that the 2021 season would be one that could at least begin to right the ship while developing some of their younger talents. Kolb labeled this modern endeavor a “hybrid rebuild”.
“We have a really exciting opportunity to kind of have a hybrid rebuild if you will,” Kolb said. “We can be super competitive right now while bringing along the future of the Liberty down the road. So that’s what we’re going to try to do. We have a plan, and we’ll see how it goes. Time will tell.”
“I think the most exciting thing is, we’re in position to do something. We’re positioned cap-wise, flexibility-wise, that if they’re interested in coming to New York, we’re in a position to capitalize on it.”
Based on numbers from Spotrac, the Liberty have just over $467,000 to spend through free agency.
ESM has you covered with what you need to know about the Liberty’s transactional future as the process gets underway…
The Liberty have re-upped with one of their free agents thus far.
C/F Kiah Stokes
Stokes was set to become a free agent but inked a one-year contract extension just before the Liberty’s season finale in September. After sitting out the entire 2019 WNBA season due to personal issues, Stokes returned to America with a newfound propensity for shooting the three, putting up 85 attempts after only three in her first four seasons. She sank only 20, but her newfound confidence from beyond the arc was inspiring to head coach Walt Hopkins.
“Stokes has been a rock for this group in a lot of ways,” Hopkins said in September. “In spite of her going through what has to have been the most difficult mental season in terms of being uncomfortable, when you’re uncomfortable, you’re able to grow.”
“As this season went on, it was quite clear Kiah Stokes needed to be a part of what we’re doing,” Kolb said after her re-upping. “She enables us what we want to be and helps us be what we want to be.”
As a first-round pick from 2015, Stokes also presents a rare form of experience on the current New York roster.
The Liberty have no players with the core or unrestricted designations.
Reserved players are those that have three years or less of WNBA service. Their current teams have exclusive negotiation rights.
F Joyner Holmes
After the Liberty endured their veteran opt-outs, they brought in Holmes, a 2020 second-round pick from Seattle. Holmes averaged 2.9 points and 2.7 rebounds in 19 games off the bench but left her mark on New York history by tying a Liberty rookie record with 13 rebounds in a September tilt against Phoenix.
G Paris Kea
A former draft pick in Indiana, Kea was signed midseason once it became clear that Ionescu was out with a long-term issue. She made the most of her opportunity, averaging 6.9 points over 11 contests (five of which she started). The Liberty recently announced that Kea underwent knee surgery for an injury she sustained while playing overseas in Israel. Her 2021 status is uncertain, but she is expected to make a full recovery.
Unrestricted free agents are permitted to sign with any team, except if they been bestowed core status
C Amanda Zahui B
Another New York veteran, coming over in a 2016 trade with the defunct Tulsa Shock, Zahui B emerged as a leader on and off the court last season. The rookie surplus looked up to her as an inspiration, while she used her platform to bring attention to social causes away from the hardwood.
Zahui B set career highs in nearly every major category this season, including averages of 9.0 points and 8.5 rebounds, but with Stokes’ return confirmed and collegiate interior threat Charli Collier potentially up for the top pick, it’ll be interesting to see what becomes of the Stockholm native’s future.
Players with expired contracts but opted out of the 2020 season can negotiate exclusively with their current team
F/G Rebecca Allen
Allen opted out of the 2020 season in the wake of the ongoing health crisis, but was routinely mentioned by Liberty representatives over the season. Hopkins, for example, never hesitated to mention just how much he missed having Allen in his debut lineup.
“She’s got a tremendous skill set and she’s got a rare mix of characteristics in that she’s about 6’2 and she’s really long and she’s deceptively athletic to go with her ability to put the ball on the floor and get fouled and shoot the three at such a high level,” Hopkins said earlier last spring. “That’s really the type of player we absolutely need for this system to work and we’ve got one built-in already. On top of that, she’s a phenomenal person.”
F Stephanie Talbot
Talbot has yet to make her New York debut, having arrived through a draft night trade with Minnesota. Allen’s fellow Opal (a member of Australia’s national squad) likewise opted out but kept busy in her homeland’s top women’s league, earning first-team all-WNBL honors alongside WNBA All-Star Liz Cambage. Talbot previously worked with Hopkins when the latter was an assistant with the Lynx in 2019.
Outside Names to Watch
F Natasha Howard, Seattle
In her brief WNBA time, Ionescu found her shooting prowess rather quickly, scoring 33 points in only her second contest. If the Liberty were able to get another experienced interior threat, similar to what Ionescu had at Oregon with fellow 2020 draftees Satou Sabally and Ruthy Hebard, it could help her get even more comfortable with the WNBA game.
Howard has had her experience working with game-changing point guards in Seattle, namely Sue Bird. With a pair of All-Defensive First Team nominations, she would also give the Liberty some much needed defensive pointers, as New York has finished no better than ninth in points allowed in each of the past three seasons (including a league-worst 84.3 per game in 2019). Hopkins (as well as assistant Shelley Patterson) has also worked with Howard in the past, as the two previously collaborated on the Lynx’s 2017 run to the WNBA Finals.
F Nneka Ogwumike, Los Angeles
Both Kolb and Hopkins have preached about the value of high-character players representing New York, and it’s hard to find anyone more accomplished on and off the court than Ogwumike. The current Spark and future Space Jam: A New Legacy star is current in the midst of her second term as the WNBA Players Association president, with Clarendon serving as the second-in-command. WIth WNBPA headquarters situated on Sixth Ave., New York could be an attractive option to Ogwumike from both a basketball and business standpoint.
Both Howard and Ogwumike have core designations, but something can still be accomplished through a sign-and-trade deal.
F Emma Meeseman, Washington
Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep perhaps best personified Hopkins’ vision of playing positionless basketball where participants are confident from any area of the floor.
That more or less has been the story of Meeseman over the past few seasons, as she has fulfilled a variety of roles under Mike Thibault. She played it to her advantage during the 2019 WNBA Finals, coming off the bench to swipe series MVP honors after skipping the previous 2018 season to represent her native Belgium in the FIBA World Cup. Though Washington struggled without Elena Delle Donne last season, Meeseman set a new career-best with 4.5 assists per game.
The New York Jets have decisions to make at quarterback. A stopgap can provide welcome stability if they move on from Sam Darnold.
Well-meaning parents who purchased their children New York Jets jerseys bearing Trevor Lawrence’s name for the December holidays have some explaining to do.
The Jets’ endeavor for Trevor is more than likely over after Sunday, as a combination of a New York win and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 14th consecutive defeat sent the top overall pick in this spring’s draft to Duval County. Considering the Jaguars (1-14) opted to play Mike Glennon in place of Gardner Minshew for their 41-17 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Bears, it’s more or less assured that they’re planning to select the Clemson thrower set to partake in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl on Friday night (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Even if the Jets (2-13) landed the top overall choice…a scenario rendered impossible by their pair of December wins and the strength of schedule tiebreaker…there was going to be debate over whether they should use it on Lawrence or entrust another year to incumbent starter Sam Darnold. With nearly three stanzas completed, the narrative of Darnold’s New York saga is a complicated one. It has been defined by the occasional flash of brilliance too often countered with head-scratching decisions on the field. The story has also been interrupted by calamities that are either an unfortunate part of the game (injuries) or something most go quarterbacks go through their whole career without seeing (mononucleosis). Missing four games with a shoulder ailment hasn’t helped, but Darnold is on pace to set new career lows in most major passing categories, including yards (currently at 1,942) and touchdown passes (8).
Countless amounts of turnover have like played a role in Darnold’s lack of progress. His crucial developmental years have been staged in not only the Todd Bowles-to-Adam Gase staff transition, but the general manager swap from Mike Maccagnan to Joe Douglas. Nothing drives the point of unstable turnover than the fact that no receiver (with the exception of tight end Chris Herndon) from Darnold’s rookie campaign (2018) remains on the current Jets’ roster. The Jets may be ready to make yet another coaching change with Gase’s win percentage (.290) besting only Rich Kotite amongst green head coaches with at least one full year at the helm.
Tempting as it may be to see what Darnold could do with a new coaching staff (provided Gase is indeed dealt his walking papers), a legal separation, one perhaps involving a trade for draft picks, may be the best for all parties involved. The Jets don’t have time to help pen anyone else’s redemption story…they’ve spent a decade trying to write their own…and Darnold deserves a place that isn’t relying on him to be a one-size-fits-all solution.
If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that the Jets are far removed from being “a quarterback away’ from mere relevancy, much less the Super Bowl. This is a team with many needs, and it’s not fair to Darnold, Lawrence, or an unknown, young third party to expect them to be the savior sought since Joe Namath hung up his green and white paraphernalia for the last time. Even if the Jets are poised to miss out on Lawrence, the 2021 draft has provided solid consolation prizes in the form of Justin Fields, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, and Kyle Trask.
But what if the Jets took a year off from the franchise quarterback process?
Such a concept has been on the rise in recent years, the phenomenon informally labeled as using a “stopgap” quarterback. Through this endeavor, a talented quarterback helps the team in question keep rolling while other needs are addressed and developed.
The stopgap, as his name implies, is not meant to be the starter for any extended period of time. Rather, they arise out of necessity or in case of emergency. Oftentimes, the stopgap is called upon to clean up the mess or void a retired or departing franchise quarterback left behind. Modern examples on the 2020 circuit include Phillip Rivers in Indianapolis and Cam Newton in New England. Sometines, the stopgap manages to extend his stay. Modern Tom Brady could arguably be seen as a stopgap in Tampa Bay, as the Buccaneers sought his services to capitalize on a strong team around him in plans to make the most of a window of contentions. The Tennessee Titans perhaps envisioned Ryan Tannehill, fresh off a polarizing stint as Miami’s franchise man, as a temporary solution when they pulled the plug on the Marcus Mariota experiment. Tannehill helped guide the Titans to a pair of surprise playoffs wins and was rewarded with the Comeback Player of the Year Award and a four-extension.
A similar plan could work out for the Jets, a team working on a playoff game drought that’s older than all but two movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The most important thing the Jets need right now is stability. They’re a team venturing off the football rails, where even a mere winning record has proven elusive. This is a squad that needs to get back to a place where a win isn’t the worst thing that can happen to the franchise, as many have declared after the Jets stole wins from playoff contenders in Los Angeles and Cleveland. This isn’t a scenario like the Indianapolis Colts had in 2012, when Andrew Luck turned a two-win squad into a playoff team. The Jets don’t have a plethora of reliable veterans to help the kid, unlike Indianapolis’ haul of Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney, and Adam Vinatieri, among others.
There’s a light at the end of the green tunnel in the form of 2021 cap space. The Jets’ offseason bank currently stands at just over $81 million, once again trailing only Jacksonville. This season, particularly a strong December, has yielded some potential building blocks (Mekhi Becton, Denzel Mims, Quinnen Williams, Marcus Maye among them), but the Jets are far from a completed project. They still need blocking and weaponry on offense while the defense needs help in the secondary. The pass rush also needs to be bolstered with matchups against Josh Allen on the horizon for the next decade, and their kicking situation needs clarity. It’s not fair to waste further development on Darnold on a situation like this, nor is this any condition in which to subject a top overall pick. As the Jets try to find their footing, a stopgap man could work wonders. A short-term deal is feasible in this cap space surplus, filling one need while diverting attention to more long-term goals. Draft picks obtained from a potential trade of Darnold can be used to net weaponry that can be overseen by a proven throwing option.
Whereas the draft class may loaded with franchise potential, 2021’s free agency class is laden with stopgap potential. Jacoby Brissett had a strong showing in filling the gap between Luck and Rivers last season and would potentially seek a new chance to return to starting duties. Andy Dalton has kept the Dallas Cowboys in contention for the NFC East title since taking over for the injured Dak Prescott. The Jets may even have a stopgap option on their roster in the form of Joe Flacco. Super Bowl XLVII’s MVP may be facing the twilight of his career, but showed that he did have some gas left in the tank while filling in for an injured Darnold earlier this season.
The Jets’ most recent glory days…or the closest thing resembling them in this dreary decade…have come with stopgap guys under center. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 2015 season appears at or near the top of nearly every single-season passing record in the Jets’ record book. Fitzpatrick (as well as fellow free-agent-to-be Tyrod Taylor, who helped end the Buffalo Bills’ eternal playoff drought before Josh Allen arrived) has nearly made a career out of the concept and currently serves in such a capacity in Miami on a part-time basis as they bide their time with Tua Tagovailoa.
Two years later, Josh McCown kept the Jets competitive in a year some expected them to go winless. The final ledger read 5-11, but McCown’s brief restablization kept them in ball games.
Of course, the Jets have plenty of time to rectify their current surroundings to make them more desireable to an incoming franchise quarterback. If offseason funds are spent wisely (i.e. adding a strong receiving talent like Allen Robinson or JuJu Smith-Schuster), the idea of a stopgap man could seem almost laughable. For all we know, Darnold could emerge to pilot his fourth straight kickoff weekend for the Jets, hopefully one packed to the brim with fans this time around. But the stopgap conversation is one the Jets shouldn’t ignore this offseason.
Whatever the Jets have been trying in the franchise quarterback department, it’s clearly not working. Maybe some change would do them some good…if only temporarily.
The New York Jets have banded together to compete in the final stanza. This effort can save some players…but not this doomed staff.
If this keeps up, the New York Jets might be able to win the NFC East.
Alas, even the woebegone division, one that will undoubtedly put a team with a losing record in the playoffs after Sunday’s transpirings, would be too far out of the Jets’ reach in a surprising team swap. But Gang Green has spent December providing some holiday cheer in the form of consecutive victories at the end of the NFL season. Each win has come against a team in the thick of the NFL playoff hunt. The Jets (2-13) stole a tilt at SoFi Stadium against the Los Angles Rams (9-6) last weekend before topping the Cleveland Browns (10-5) in this season’s MetLife Stadium finale two days after Christmas.
The triumphs themselves have proved controversial amongst the fanbase. New York’s endeavor for Trevor Lawrence is officially dead after the win over Cleveland, as the Clemson quarterback appears to be headed for Jacksonville after Duval County endured its 14th consecutive loss while the Jets put a Christmas bow on their win over the Browns. The fact the Jets are etched into what will presumably be the first non-Lawrence pick is of little consolation to supporters of the metropolitan green squad.
Those responsible for the on-field triumphs have heeded no mind to those calling for losses, only energized by the past couple of weeks.
“It proves that we don’t quit,” linebacker Tarell Basham, a Sunday hero with two forced fumbles over the final four minutes, said in the aftermath according to an Associated Press report. “It proves that we still are approaching every week to win.”
“We’ve been more consistent, but obviously it’s too late,” quarterback Sam Darnold added in team reporter Jack Bell’s recap. “But it’s huge for our guys who are so resilient playing the way we did as an offense struggling in the second half. The defense and specials having our back. I’m super proud of the guys. We had a huge win in LA last week then came into work on Monday, the whole week and had a good week.”
In an effort to exorcise the demons 2020 has brought forth, football or otherwise, the box scores from the last two weeks are probably set for incineration, along with the rest of the ledgers of this cursed year. But it’s certainly encouraging to see the players band together and play well against what is clearly superior competition.
The Jets have pulled no punches when it comes to expressing their thoughts about supposed fans wishing active harm against the team. Seeing their hard efforts culminate it what has been a strong December…each game of their Christmas quartet has been close with the exception of a 40-3 shellacking in Seattle…is inspiring. All across the roster, participants could well be securing NFL futures in either New York or one of the other 31 markets.
But, in the midst of celebration, it’s worth wondering…have these unexpected triumphs breathed new life into the Adam Gase era?
Gase’s tenure as Jets head coach, however long it remains, could well become defined by ill-advised victories. Time will potentially tell just how much a 7-2 stretch at the end of his debut season, one that followed a garish 1-7 start, altered the course of Jets history. The strong finish gained mostly against teams somehow in even more dire straits than the Jets was enough to convince the powers that be that Gase was the right man for the job. His 2020 performance has consistently proven otherwise.
Yet, even as the Jets threatened to join an unholy trinity of 16-game imperfection with the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns, Gase’s departure somehow felt anything but certain. After all, several names with football resumes far more expansive than Gase’s were bid farewell before a change in head coaching was apparently considered. Veteran defensive starters Steve McLendon and Avery Williamson were dealt for day three draft picks. Le’Veon Bell was outright released. It took highly publicized bad call for Gregg Williams to be handed an ousting less than 24 hours later. All the while, Gase remained in charge, making increasingly questionable decisions that didn’t exactly fuel the idea that the Jets were trying to win ball games.
The wins over teams of a playoff caliber may be reopening the case for Gase. Even some of the Jets’ recent defeats have show a sense of honor, with four of their prior seven losses coming by one possession. Darnold even remarked after the Cleveland win that he “(loved) working for him”, per Connor Hughes of The Athletic.
But if Gase is back coaching the team in 2021 even in part thanks to this last stretch, that says more about New York management than it ever will about the former Peyton Manning overseer.
For one thing, future discussions of these Jets victories may require asterisks. The Rams victory lost a little bit of luster with rookie rusher Cam Akers noticeably sidelined by an injury (not to mention two of his longer runs, including a touchdown, erased by penalties). A positive test for COVID-19 not only delayed the Browns arrival but the ensuing contact tracing forced them to leave a good portion of their receiving output in Ohio. It’s safe to say that the timing of their respective matchups played well in the Jets’ favor.
But hidden behind the final score are subtle signs that the Jets are making the same mistakes that dug them into this hole in the first place. Progress isn’t be made in the right areas. The Jets are winning in spite of their recurring, apparent issues…not because they’ve overcome them.
For example, the Jets offense still hasn’t reached optimal levels of output, especially under a supposed “guru” like Gase. Darnold, for example, hasn’t taken the next step on his journey as an NFL franchise man. He has yet to earn a triple-digit passer rating and has yet to break the 300-yard mark this season. Sure, numbers don’t entirely make or break an NFL quarterback’s career, but there was a reason that Jets fans were so eager to see Lawrence fall into their laps. Speaking of offense, a lack of scoring, particularly the shrinkage as the game goes on, has been concerning from an offensive standpoint. The Jets have had matching, convincing 13-3 leads at halftime in each of their last two games, but have been forced to rely on bailouts from a tired defense to secure each win. This Sunday marked only the fourth time this season the Jets offense has gotten past the 300-yard mark (333). Such a struggle should almost be impossible in this modern NFL ruled by a fantasy football deity.
Additionally, Gase and Co. continue to make baffling decisions that make one question whether the Jets want to truly pull out a victory. The Jets continue to leave points on the field at opportune times of the ball game, whether it’s sending Braden Mann out to punt on a one-yard fourth down circa midfield or continuing to insist on a Frank Gore farewell tour while Ty Johnson and La’Mical Perine watch. Not only does it affect the Jets’ task at hand, but it throws a wrench into their future as well. One can argue that Johnson and Perine aren’t cut out for a New York future, but the evidence will never be present if they’re not getting some of Gore’s workload in a dire situation.
A purge is indeed coming to the New York Jets. Part of it will be enforced by contractual endeavors…the Jets will have 32 players up for free agency this offseason…but necessity will be the primary factor. At no point in Gase’s tenure have the Jets come remotely close to resembling a contender in the modern NFL. Not even the good times, whether it was the optimistic second half of last season or this new, active winning streak, have given much hope, as fans have grumbled about falling down in the draft order rather than relatively upward in the standings. With rare exception, players have not been put in a strong position to succeed, to extend whatever good times have surfaced over the past few seasons. Those shortcomings, still very much present despite new results on the scoreboard, primarily fall on Gase and his staff with little exception (i.e. special teams boss Brant Boyer).
At the end of the day, those who thrust the Jets into a bizarro football world where victories are considered to be the worst thing that can happen to the franchise should be the first ones held accountable when the purge inevitably comes. Two wins don’t change the fact that Gase is the main culprit.
Enough negativity, pessimism, and parody has surrounded the 2020 New York Jets. It’s time to focus on a (hopefully) brighter future.
It’s understandable to see why the 2020 New York Jets have become a bit of a punchline. The team appears to be the year 2020 A.D. personified, trapped for five more weeks in a season that will go down in infamy, even if the Jets (0-11) do manage to eke out a win before all is said and done. Their next opportunity to do comes on Sunday afternoon against the Las Vegas Raiders (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
The Jets and their fans have been through untold amounts of gridiron catastrophe over the decades, but a winless season has avoided them for the time being. Either way, those who make football funnies, both through pregame shows and social media, have been granted a plethora of material by the Jets’ modern endeavors.
It seems like a tired tradition at this point, but Jets fans are looking toward the future with hope. The light at the end of the turfed tunnel appears to be the right to choose first at the 2021 NFL Draft come spring. It’s assumed by many that, if the Jets were to secure that pick, they would use it one of the passing talents at the top of the big boards.
But football comedians and analysts alike are seeking to deny the Jets even that simple pleasure. Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields are juniors, but very much expected to make the early leap to the NFL once this college football season ends (potentially in the College Football Playoff). But, if the horizon becomes a bit too scary, respective returns to Clemson and Ohio State for senior year, while seemingly unlikely, would be options that were indeed on the table. Amateur and professional pundits alike have openly taunted the Jets with the idea that one or both would go back to school, if only to avoid the ongoing cesspool of New York football and to take advantage of the time-honored tradition of harvesting clicks through the “LOL Jets” subgenre. Peyton Manning partook in a similar gambit in 1997, choosing to go back to Tennessee after the Jets chose not to commit to taking him with the top pick after the one-win disaster in the final year of the Rich Kotite era.
In short, many have asked: what could the hapless Jets possibly offer an accomplished college name, especially one with a viable option like the back-up plans Lawrence and Fields have?
ESM feels there’s enough negativity surrounding New York’s green team; here’s what they have to offer to their new franchise man.
There’s Plenty to Spend
Even if the Jets opt to move on from Darnold, this season has proven that a simple quarterback switch isn’t going to solve all of the Jets’ problems. But there’s another list where the Jets rank toward the top, other than the draft order: the 2021 cap space table.
This offseason, the Jets will have just over $82 million of cap space to spend, trailing only fellow early picker Jacksonville ($85 million). It’d be fair for Jets fans to ask if general manager Joe Douglas is willing to splurge; after all, Douglas was blessed with some extra funds late this summer but opted to mostly stand pat with the team he had (passing on signees like Jadeveon Clowney and Logan Ryan). Many of the free agents that did join up with Douglas haven’t truly panned out thus far, some through no fault of Douglas or their own, instead being lost to injuries. But in comments made earlier this year, Douglas seemed to hint that this prior offseason, defined by short-term deals and a sense of hesitation, could serve as a learning experience, potentially hinting at bigger things in the future.
“I think we had a focus on what we going to try to attack in the offseason. That was on the offensive side of the ball with o-line and skill players. Ultimately, for a lot of different reasons, it hasn’t materialized this year on that side of the ball,” Douglas said, per notes from the Jets. “We’re going through this offseason, we’re going through what our processes were in the offseason and trying to figure out what we can do better moving forward.”
A Blocking Revolution is Well Underway
If Douglas has succeeded in one area during his year-plus on the job, it has been in doing his utmost to make up for the relative offensive line negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. His first moves at the helm were to trade a draft pick for Alex Lewis and convincing Pro Bowl staple Ryan Kalil to come out of retirement. Lewis has been effective but injured, while the Kalil experiment failed to yield positive results. But those moves foreshadowed the much-needed rebuild of the New York offensive line.
In April, Douglas used the first draft pick of his Jets tenure (No. 11 overall) on a blocker out of Louisville. Upon hearing his name, Mekhi Becton became the first New York lineman taken in the first round since the legendary D’Brickashaw Ferguson in 2006. His drafting has provided sweet relief in a lost season, with his results on Pro Football Focus (where he is one of 15 NFL tackles with a grade of at least 70 in both pass and run blocking) showing a promising return on investment.
“I think he is a player that is going to help us long-term,” Douglas said in notes and video from the Jets. “We’re excited about working with him every day, because you’re talking about a young man that loves football. He’s very smart, he’s tough as nails, and has a rare size and athleticism. And still, he’s just scratching the surface of what he can do physically. 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 sort of bend over backward to try to help him reach his goals.”
Some of Douglas’ other additions have not panned out, and that’s apparent in the current state of the offensive line. Greg Van Roten has been durable but inconsistent and George Fant has been average, but other additions like Connor McGovern (the one Jets free agency signee from last season with no cap savings on a potential out) and Josh Andrews have been most disappointing. There’s little reason to doubt that Douglas will once again look toward the free agent front to find protection through both experienced (Alex Mack) and younger (Joe Thuney) options alike.
The idea of a blocking revolution doesn’t even have to have a new quarterback to protect. It instead could continue at the top of the big board if Sam Darnold rises to the occasion over the final games. If that’s the case, the Jets could perhaps opt to choose tackle Penei Sewell out of Oregon to help not only Darnold but what will likely be a new weapons package. Sewell opted out of the 2020 season but has already declared for the draft. He will bring the Outland Trophy and unanimous All-American honors with him.
Weapons Are Emerging
No matter who Douglas chose with the 11th overall pick last spring, he was going to annoy some subsection of the New York fanbase. For everyone who wanted a blocker, there was another who demanded that Douglas dip his toe into the pool of receivers available toward the draft’s middle stages. The Jets will face one of those receivers on Sunday with Henry Ruggs partaking in the Las Vegas efforts. New York also passed on Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, and Justin Jefferson in the process. A consolation prize awaited in the second round in the form of Denzel Mims from Baylor.
When it comes to Mims, it appears that Douglas’ patience is paying off. He had to wait a little longer due to training camp ailments but has since become one of the Jets’ most reliable receivers. Mims has since united with Breshad Perriman and Jamison Crowder to provide a spark to the New York offense. The two have played in each of the Jets’ past three games. In that span, the Jets put out a season-best 322 yards in Week 9’s Monday night loss to New England and their margin of defeat has trickled to an average of just over eight points. Without the trio, they were losing by an average of 18.
Despite some emergencies from de facto homegrown talent…rookie rusher La’Mical Perine was also starting to find a bit of a groove before landing on injured reserve…Perriman was added on a one-year deal while Crowder could be a cap savings casualty, so the Jets must take full advantage of their expanded cap space in an illustrious market. The team can probably get by with Perine as their top rusher (though an affordable, decently-aged veteran like Phillip Lindsay or Wayne Gallman could provide a nice compliment), but they must be ready to splurge in a crowded receivers’ realm. Allen Robinson will likewise be the top option alongside JuJu Smith-Schuster, whose rookie deal in Pittsburgh is set to expire.