Le’Veon Bell: The wrong man to open the purge of the New York Jets

New York Jets, LeVeon Bell

Necessary changes are coming to the New York Jets. Bidding Le’Veon Bell farewell, while merciful, wasn’t the right way to start them.

In the 2001 children’s picture Monsters Inc., a monster armed with the voice of Brooklyn native Steve Buscemi tells a one-eyed green creature voiced by The Bronx-raised Billy Crystal to be wary of “the winds of change“.

Another green monstrosity felt them blow on Tuesday night.

As professional football fans enjoyed a rare excursion on the second day of the week, the Jets opted to end Le’Veon Bell’s New York journey after 17 games, 863 rushing yards, $27 million in guaranteed money, and countless rumored feuds with head coach Adam Gase. Bell joined the Jets on a four-year deal during the 2019 offseason.

The Jets’ perpetual rebuild has somehow fallen into a deep abyss, one that has them at 0-5 (the losses coming by an average margin of over two touchdowns) and on a collision course with NFL infamy. Combine that with a plethora of free agents on the horizon and the mere thought of keeping the status quo would be lunacy. But for Bell’s status as the modern Jets’ first sacrifice to the football gods is a slap in the face to successful gridiron reboots and rebuilds everywhere.

Granted, Bell’s four-year, $52.5 million contract will likely go down in the same sentence as the deals bestowed to expensive, unproductive endeavors like Trumaine Johnson and Neil O’Donnell. Should Bell return to the elite form displayed in Pittsburgh, his image in green can probably be stored in the same folder as photos of Randy Moss in the Oakland Raiders’ colors.

But what the Jets’ latest transaction shows is a dedication to a regime that’s not working.

For as much as Bell floundered in New York, his 17 games in green don’t take away his glory days between 2013 and 2017 in Pittsburgh, ones that saw him finish third in the NFL in rushing yards in that span. But Bell is a rare New York representative that knows about success at the highest level in football. That’s also why Frank Gore, who is set to take over the top rushing duties in the Jets’ backfield, is still valuable at 37 years old. But the Jets now have the audacity to turn down the services of a top player still lingering in his prime while unproven names continue to steer the franchise ship.

Irony was perhaps best defined on Tuesday night by the fact that Gase, careening toward Rich Kotite status, remains employed by the same Jets team that granted Bell his walking papers. Further ironic hijinks also came from a rare sanctioned NFL game on Tuesday as well. As Bell was let go, a former Gase pupil helped move his team to 4-0 by guiding them to four touchdowns. That player, Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill, was subjected to countless “make-or-break” seasons under Gase’s watch in Miami. He has since established himself as the franchise quarterback for a Titans squad living up to the hype of their AFC title game appearance last season (when they’re not dealing with the ongoing health crisis, that is).

 (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

The release of Bell thus sets a troubling precedent: the Jets appear all too willing to commit to a regime that’s only trending downward.

Tannehill isn’t even the only former practitioner of a Gase offense to find success elsewhere. Robby Anderson, for example, only spent a year under him but is on pace for career-best numbers in Carolina. Kenyan Drake has emerged as a security blanket for Kyler Murray in Arizona. If the Jets aren’t careful, more of their fleeting silver linings could venture out for greener pastures (oh, you know what we mean).

Under Gase, the Jets have lost some of their best, most recognizable players. Guys on a team desperate silver linings perhaps look at the Bell news and can’t help but think that they’re next. For example, if the Jets are willing to part ways with a proven, expensive talent like Bell, and allow Gase’s tenure to continue, who’s to say Sam Darnold, whose NFL journey is rife with uncertainty, isn’t next?

It’s not even guys on the current roster that might be most concerning. The Jets are blessed with strong cap space in time for the 2021 offseason. But what big-name free agent in their right mind is going to look at Bell’s tumultuous time in New York and declare “yeah…I want in on that”? It’s the type of move that’s going to have a ripple effect across several years…only this time, the waves could well sink the Jets further into the abyss.

The arrival of Gase and his staff wasn’t going to lead to wins immediately. Even with Tom Brady’s highly-publicized departure from the AFC East and expanded wild card capital, asking the Jets to reach the 2020 playoffs was going to be a tall task. But the 2020 season, one that gets no easier with a rescheduled visit to Miami on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, CBS), has instead become one long vote of confidence to a staff that’s in over their heads and dragging the players down with them.

General manager Joe Douglas has a bit of a longer leash in this process. After all, it wasn’t he who added Bell, that honor instead going to Mike Maccagnan, one the latters final decisions before a most unusual firing after the draft. But Gase and company have to be on thin ice. His offensive ranking are at or near the NFL’s nadir. Promising prospects have regressed while others have been forced to wallow in obscurity. For example, the Jets appeared to have high hopes for fourth-round La’Mical Perine, and an opportunity appeared to open when Bell went down with an injury in Week 1. Carries instead when to the 37-year-old Gore, whose status beyond 2020 was always in question after inking a one-year deal this offseason.

New York Jets, Adam Gase

With the exception of the Jets improbable 6-2 finish to cap off the 2019 season, mostly earned against teams that were either resting players or were somehow more lost than they were, Gase and his staff have instill little hope in building anything successful, other than their case for the top overall draft pick next spring. Fans immediately came to adore the brash Gregg Williams in the defensive coordinator spot, but his unit has been equally guilty, as his unit ranks 25th in total defense this season.

Yet, it feels like the entire Gase era has been one long extension of a vote of confidence. It happened at his introduction, it happened when the Jets started off 1-7 last season, it continues to happen as 2020 continues to present more horrifying surprises.

The playoffs are obviously long removed from any form of New York football conversation. But the last 11-12 weeks of the season may mean everything to the Jets’ on-field representatives. Time will only tell how long the Gase experiment is allowed to continue, but some of these players could be playing for their football livelihoods, whether it’s with the Jets or elsewhere. If anything, it provides meaning to otherwise meaningless contests, starting with the adjusted matchup against the Dolphins on Sunday.

After all, if Le’Veon Bell isn’t safe in this system…how can they be?

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka could leave MLB after end to 2020 season

New York Yankees, Masahiro Tanaka

New York Yankees‘ right-handed pitcher Masahiro Tanaka reportedly may leave Major League Baseball to return to the Japan league. The 31-year-old is a free agent this offseason and the Rakuten Golden Eagles may have the best offer for him. According to several reports, the club is offering between $20-25 million per year. The length of the contract is unknown. The contract would also be a major record for a contract in Nippon Professional Baseball.

Tanaka has already played for the Golden Eagles from 2007 to 2013 before he signed his seven-year, $155 million dollar contract with the Yankees that expired this year. In 2013 with the Golden Eagles, Tanaka had a tremendous year where he held a 24-0 record and 1.27 ERA.

Tanaka is definitely going to pick up some major looks this offseason because of his free agency, and because of the interests from the Golden Eagles, it will only give Tanaka more attention during the winter.

After seven years with the Yankees, Tanaka held an overall 78-46 record and a career 3.74 ERA. Throughout a total of 1054.1 innings pitched for the Yankees, Tanaka fanned 991 batters. Except for this season, Tanaka was known for his dominance in the postseason, being a big reason that the Yankees did well in 2017 and 2019.

Despite having a heartbreaking ending to a solid seven-year career with the Yankees, Tanaka will definitely have his options this offseason. There are numerous teams (still including the Yankees) that are in desperate need of quality starting pitching. Other big free agents this offseason are Trevor Bauer, Marcus Stroman, Mike Minor, and Jake Odorizzi. Even though this free-agent class is not as special as last year’s, it’ll be interesting to see where some of the big names end up.

New York Liberty: Sabrina Ionescu speaks after an abbreviated rookie season

sabrina ionescu, New York Liberty

The New York Liberty’s touted rookie spoke about her brief, yet fruitful, experiences in the “Wubble” as well as her future.

So eager is Sabrina Ionescu to return to sports that she can’t let even a yoga class go by without a sense of competitiveness.

Ever since an ankle injury prematurely ended her earliest endeavors with the New York Liberty, Ionescu has spent her time between rehabilitation in New York and with her support system in her home state of California. In her cross-country travels, Ionescu has picked yoga and pilates at home and ventured to her first instructor-led class on Wednesday morning with her gym opening back up. Her goal in the practice is to “(become) more flexible” and to “be in tune with (her) body”.

But even then, Ionescu couldn’t help but bring her fiery sense of fight that has presented itself on courts in Eugene and Bradenton alike.

“There was someone next to me today that had his hand down on a plank, and I was like ‘no, he’s cheating, that doesn’t count, your hand’s got to be on your hip’,” Ionescu said with a smile in recalling her outdoor class. “On a plank, side-plank, hand’s got to be on the hip or up, you can’t have it on the ground.”

Ionescu feels the same way about her place in the WNBA jersey sales. She placed fourth in the rankings behind league legends Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, and Candace Parker, but Ionescu’s hoping to move three spots up, admitting “I’m a little bit competitive…even if it’s just jersey selling”.

Adding another talent or two to her already overcrowded scouting report should have Ionescu’s opponents on alert. WNBA opponents were spared an Ionescu takeover when she twisted her ankle during a July 31 contest against Atlanta. Wednesday marked her first time speaking with the media since that injury, as Ionescu recapped her abbreviated freshman campaign and looked toward the future.

Like many, Ionescu faced challenges in 2020, a year that saw her earn the highest highs and endure some emotionally tolling lows. Prior to entering the WNBA’s bubble in Florida, Ionescu added to her overflowing trophy case with Player of the Year honors from the Associated Press, Los Angeles Atheltic Club, and several others. The ongoing health crisis denied her a final attempt at March Madness glory but she was nonetheless named the top overall pick in April’s WNBA Draft. She the first of five rookies chosen by the Liberty that night.

The biggest lesson Ionescu learned from this year was to “cherish the moment that you have”.

“I don’t think I ever expected to miss so many games,” she said. “I think (it’s) really just think being present in the moment, being thankful for what you have, because it can be taken away from you at any moment, with my injury I definitely learned. Obviously, I’m going to continue to learn. It’s not going to be the last time I’m going to get hurt, but it’s about finding ways to continue to prepare and put myself in the best situation possible.”

Ionescu’s injury came in her third game, less than 48 hours after she put up 33 points in just her second career contest. She had 10 more in a dozen minutes against Atlanta but twisted her ankle at midcourt during the second quarter.

Asked about her thoughts in the aftermath, Ionescu wasn’t even worried about her ailment. She was worried about the outcome, one she was sure was going to tilt in the Liberty’s favor.

“It actually didn’t really hurt,” Ionescu recalled. “My face was completely straight. I don’t know if it was because I was in shock or because I knew I hurt it really bad and I didn’t want to show the other team I was hurt because I wanted to go back in. My first thought was how I could get this wrapped up and continue to play and finish the game because we would’ve won that game.”

“We were going on the run. I knew we would’ve won that game.”

The Liberty wound up falling in that contest as Ionescu’s season ended. She left the bubble soon after to start rehabbing, but her prescience lingered all season long.

Ionescu first endorsed the bubble setting’s dedication to social justice, which she labeled as “awesome to see”. While it was at times tough for her tune in to the exciting games the WNBA had to offer due to her injury…at which point Ionescu would turn to NBA games from Orlando…her focus remained on New York endeavors. The former Oregon Duck also had kind words for her New York teammates, marveling at happenings like Jazmine Jones’ nomination to the All-Rookie team and Kiah Stokes’ newfound propensity to shoot from deep. Ionescu also expressed anticipation in working with Asia Durr, the second overall pick from 2019 who sat out of the bubble proceedings about a bout with COVID-19.

But perhaps most intriguing was Ionescu’s revelation that served as a de facto fifth coach on the sidelines. Ionescu remained in constant with head coach Walt Hopkins, to the point she was texting Hopkins at halftime to relay what she saw from afar.

“There were a few times that I would actually text Walt at halftime of the game if I saw something,” Ionescu said. She jokingly took credit for the Liberty’s 101-99 victory over the Chicago Sky on August 25. “I was telling him some things that I saw and we ended up winning. I told him that I took that win from back home.”

Ionescu has otherwise been training in her home state of California, backed by a support system that includes her family and NBA stars old and new. Newly minted Brooklyn Nets head coach Steve Nash is among them, as is Chris Paul. Each of them reached out to Ionescu after her injury, while she also credited Stephen Curry and Pau Gasol for inspiring words after her first game.

As for the future, Ionescu is confident she’ll be ready in time for the 2021 season, a year she hopes will be held in the confines of Barclays Center and the WNBA’s other home arenas. Contact drills have been put on hold due to the health crisis, though Ionescu is content to flourish in her new activities of yoga and pilates. Overseas basketball remains an option, with anywhere in Europe being her preferred destination.

But despite the Liberty’s 2-20 struggles this season, Ionescu can’t help but savor the potential and opportunities in New York. Ionescu is looking at 2021 as a de facto second rookie season, the threat of consequence-free basketball looming large over the WNBA.

Uncertainty does lie ahead for New York, as they enter what could be a chaotic free agency period and/or bid farewell to several young contributors as familiar faces like Durr start to work their way back. But, if 2020 proved anything, it’s that it’ll take a heck of a lot more than a mere injury to derail the confidence and demeanor of Ionescu.

“I kind of just took it and continued to go one foot in front of the other,” Ionescu said of her situation. “What’s next? What can I do to get better? I think this time that I’ve had, being at home, seeing my family more than I ever had, and obviously just starting this foundation of what I want to do with my career.”

“It’s really given me time to reflect. I’m really blessed to have played three games in the league just to see what it was like, how I need to train, how I need to prepare to play at that level. I can focus on that this offseason, which I’m really excited about.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Three areas to spend extra cap space

New York Jets, Joe Douglas

The New York Jets opened some cap space with a series of transactions last week. Where should they spend that cash?

As AC/DC once famously declared…money talks.

The departure of several players…be it through opt-outs (C.J. Mosley, Josh Doctson) or outright releases (Brian Winters)…netted the New York Jets some extra 2020 cap space. Per Over the Cap, these moves have left the Jets with just over $30 million in cap space. If words from this time last season are any indication, they plan on using that money.

In his earliest days as the helm of the Jets’ decision-making, general manager Joe Douglas mentioned he was “fired up” to familiarize himself with the waiver wire.

Where should the Jets spend this relative windfall? ESM has some ideas…

Receiver

With the release of Quincy Enunwa, there are no receivers left from the 2018 roster, Sam Darnold’s rookie season. In terms of the current depth chart, Jamison Crowder is a reliable prescience in the slot and Breshad Perriman is going to get to audition for top receiver duties. Behind them, however, the Jets are sorely lacking in experience. That attribute became even thinner when former first-round pick Doctson opted out earlier this month.

The Jets have high hopes for Denzel Mims but he’s their second-round pick. Vyncint Smith and Braxton Berrios return from last year’s team, but they have a combined 28 receptions between them…all but six of them coming from Smith. Players with handfuls of NFL snaps and undrafted free agents populate the rest of the corps. No one’s expecting the modern Jets offense to be a sequel to the Greatest Show on Turf. But some more experienced receivers could do wonders for the confidence of Darnold, who enters the proverbially vital third under center. An easy solution could be to re-sign Demaryius Thomas.

Potential Candidates: Paul Richardson, Taylor Gabriel, Demaryius Thomas

Pass Rush

The Jets knew that the foreseeable future would feature a pair of matchups against the multi-talented Josh Allen. This offseason promised that the next decade could also feature get-togethers with Tua Tagovailoa and Cam Newton. The 2020 slate also features matchups against the speedy Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray, and, the half-billion-dollar man himself, Patrick Mahomes.

The common theme around any modern defensive gameplan, especially in today’s era that worships a fantasy football deity, is to make the quarterback uncomfortable. That’s something the Jets simply haven’t done over the past few seasons of futility. Since 2016, the Jets have earned 129 sacks. That sounds like a lot on paper, but the cumulative tally is 29th in the league in that span, besting only the Giants, Dolphins, and Raiders.

New York management has shown surprisingly little interest in Jadeveon Clowney (even with his former Seattle compatriot Bradley McDougald playing matchmaker), but there’s still potential to upgrade here. There’s plenty of veteran help on the market that can raise the pressure, if only so slightly. Bringing in a veteran name could also help the coming-of-age process for Quinnen Williams. Last season’s first-round pick is expected to take on a bigger role as a defensive playmaker in 2020.

Potential Candidates: Cameron Wake, Malcolm Smith, Ezekiel Ansah, Jabaal Sheard

Secondary

The Jamal Adams saga is over, but the questions have only just begun.

The safety position will be one of the most consistently intriguing green areas on the New York football landscape. Marcus Maye faces a contract season that will feature expanded duties and could determine his football future. Another Pac-12 alum, Cal’s Ashtyn Davis, joined the team after a third-round calling. Bradley McDougald, the only yield from the Adams trade with a name so far, filled in well for Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas in Seattle but will be expected to take on a larger role this time around. Behind those names lies uncertainty in the form of names with very limited regular season experience.

Remaining names on the safeties market are certainly big on age on experience. Former Giant Antoine Bethea may be beyond his prime, but options like Clayton Geathers and Morgan Burnett can provide some veteran stability and strong contingency options if Maye and McDougald don’t play up to expectations and Davis struggles to acclimate to instant contributions on the NFL level, veteran help could come in very handy.

Potential Candidates: Clayton Geathers, Morgan Burnett, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, John Cyprien

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The five New York Jets with the most to gain and lose in 2020

New York Jets, Brian Winters

For these five New York Jets, 2020 could provide the ultimate football reward of longevity or set their careers into a tailspin.

If and when the 2020 NFL season commences, every single one of its participants will be dealing with at least a modicum of uncertainty. The feelings perhaps increase threefold if you’re the New York Jets, a team seeing to end a playoff drought that’s approaching a decade.

New York is one of several AFC squads looking to take advantage of expanded playoff capital. Topping the perennial division winners in New England will still be a challenge and the Buffalo Bills have set themselves up to steal the throne. The Jets will be inserted into a crowded conference playoff picture, one packed to the brim with established contenders and even more up-and-comers.

For these five individual cases, however, 2020 could be a year of their own personal playoff, one that could make or break their professional careers…

(Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

RB Le’veon Bell

The role of the modern NFL running back continues to be debated. Derrick Henry, the primary energizer behind the Tennessee Titans’ AFC title game trek, had to wait until the final hour to get a deal beyond his April franchise tag. One look at the league’s rushing leaders from as recent as 2017 should tell the story perfectly. Each of the top eight rushers from that season (including leader Kareem Hunt, who was released by Kansas City after a domestic violence incident) are no longer with the team they accomplished their marks with. That includes Bell and the 1,291 yards he tallied as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

To Bell’s credit, he has openly acknowledged the disasters of 2019, which saw him fall to full-season career-lows in nearly all major rushing categories. Accompanying these acknowledgments are promises to return to his Pittsburgh form. Bell has also been a bit of a peacemaker in the Jamal Adams situation, being able to speak his mind while also providing Jets fans reassurances during a recent interview with Hot 97. It follows up a season where he dealt with trade rumors by repeatedly expressing his loyalty to green.

Soon it’ll be time to back these claims up on the field. The Jets spent a fortune on blocking this season, to help not one but two backfield saviors. Only adding to Bell’s New York plight is the fact that the Jets are set to save $9.5 million if they release him next offseason. 2020 could set Bell up for the rest of his career…for better or worse.

(Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

S Marcus Maye

Last month, we wrote about how big 2020 became for Maye in the wake of the Adams demands. In his Twitter rants, Adams even took the time to tell Maye that he would miss “balling” with him. But Adams’ potential departure doesn’t mean the Jets are simply going to hand dominion of the secondary over to Maye without a test run.

Perhaps under the radar because of Adams’ antics, Maye has shown flashes of strong potential. Pro Football Focus had him among the top 20 safeties last season, which served as a perfect reintroduction to football after Maye missed a good portion of 2018 with injuries. Added to Maye’s plate are looming contract negotiations. Whether it comes from the Jets or elsewhere, Maye can earn himself the big bucks with a strong outing, especially in a future free agent class that also includes Justin Simmons and Budda Baker.

WR Breshad Perriman

Almost every veteran receiver seems to have that one game in which they were untouchable. Who could forget Queens native Kevin Ogletree’s Wednesday night heroics for Dallas in the 2012 opener against the Giants or the sight of Kevin Curtis compiling 221 yards in those garish Philadelphia throwbacks? Stephone Paige is one of six players in NFL history to record 300 yards in a game…that occasion was one of only 12 times he reached triple digits in a 125-game NFL career.

Perriman was able to stretch his one shining moment into a month. The former first-round pick struggled to find a role in Baltimore but rose to the occasion for a woebegone Buccaneers team when Mike Evans missed the final portions of the season. He scored five touchdowns over the final four weeks of the season and broke triple digits in yardage in the latter trio. Brought in on one of many of Joe Douglas’ “prove-it” deals, Perriman will immediately face the challenges of a top receiver. If he succeeds in this role, his career can enjoy a Sammy Watkins-like second wind. The scary alternative potentially resides on the Jets roster in the form of Josh Doctson…a former first-round pick who will have to fight to keep his NFL dream alive in training camp.

LB Avery Williamson

A shortened, or outright canceled, preseason may hurt the Jets, but they can at least avoid scenarios like the one that saw them lose Williamson to a season-long injury during an exhibition visit to Atlanta. Despite sizable cap savings attached to his release, Williamson has been afforded a chance to win back his roster spot, despite the Jets adding Patrick Onwuasor in free agency and enjoying the ride of rookie backup Blake Cashman once Williamson was lost.

Having turned 28 in March, Williamson will not only be looking for a chance to prove he can return to form after a devastating injury but 2020 will also map out his future. If he struggles during his camp endeavors, the Jets could potentially be tantalized by $6.5 million in cap savings and reliable veteran depth in Neville Hewitt and James Burgess (each of whom was re-signed).

(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

OL Brian Winters

Getting the vote of confidence from management often seems to spell doom for an incumbent coach, but the concept seems to hold more water when it comes to a player. Winters is the longest-tenured Jet on the roster (joining the team as a third-round pick out of Kent State in 2013) and, like Harrison, is one of the few offensive leftovers from Darnold’s arrival. Many thought the corresponding $7 million in cap space would lead to Winters’ release this offseason, but general manager Joe Douglas dispelled the notion.

“You’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better teammate, a tougher guy than Brian Winters,” Douglas said in February, according to Brian Costello of the New York Post. “I’ve heard a lot of optimism and positives about his rehab. So again, seeing him around the locker room, you know, it’s always good to see Brian. He’s got a big smile on his face and he’s an outstanding Jet.”

Those words appear to have afforded Winters, who turned 29 two weeks ago, another green opportunity. The ball’s now in his court in terms of taking advantage of it.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: A Demaryius Thomas reunion could work wonders

New York Jets, Demaryius Thomas

Deep into the offseason, Demaryius Thomas remains a free agent. A return to the New York Jets would be beneficial for all sides.

Legends of NFL lore have borne the green of the New York Jets…albeit too late in their careers to make an impact.

The uniforms have hosted a plethora of superstars making a stop in the metropolitan area, looking as out of place as Vince Vaughn did in that Psycho remake. You could, in fact, form a whole that would probably win 10-12 games in their prime with the out-of-place gridiron gods that have passed through Jets camp. Brett Favre could be throwing passes to Art Monk while Jason Taylor and Ty Law handled things on defense (Law, to his credit, put up 10 interceptions in 2005).

Demaryius Thomas could be the next name on that list. A recent slew of injuries and perhaps sheer bad luck has caused many to forget just how explosive and game-changing a receiver Thomas can be. Between the 2012 and 2017 seasons, only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones acquired more receiving yardage than Thomas. Some could say those numbers were inflated with Peyton Manning throwing him the ball in Denver, but Thomas managed to make the most of situations where journeymen like Tim Tebow and Trevor Siemian. During his final full season with the Broncos (2017), Thomas still appeared in the top 20 in receiving yards (949) and receptions (83) with a terrifying throwing hydra of Siemian, Brock Osweiler, and Paxton Lynch reigning in Denver.

Embracing a rebuild, Denver traded Thomas to Houston where he suffered a torn Achilles. The Texans released him soon after and a comeback effort with the Patriots that ensuing summer went for naught. A rare trade between AFC East rivals sent Thomas the Jets’ way, where pedestrian numbers awaited (433 yards on 36 receptions and a score over 11 games).

Today’s NFL is one of instant gratification and memory spans shorter than a New York minute. Cam Newton, an MVP as little as five seasons ago, was a free agent into June. Thomas, 32, remains on the pickup list awaiting an opportunity as the NFL offseason reaches its twilight stages and an uncertain future.

A New York Jets reunion would not only benefit Thomas but help Gang Green solve some immediate problems of their own.

The idea of a Thomas return was ignited by a report from Connor Hughes of The Athletic earlier this month, who mentioned that the two sides “are talking” about 2020. It’s foolhardy to assume that his rearrival makes the Jets an instant contender but he’s the exact type of player the Jets need right now.

It’s admirable to see that the latest stage of the Jets’ perpetual rebuild has gone with a youth-oriented approach. Only six players on the squad are at least 30 and three of them are newcomers Frank Gore, Joe Flacco, and Brett Maher. But every rebuilding young squad needs some sort of veteran anchor, a veteran mentor to keep things rolling. A veteran anchor is a player that has been there before, someone who has seen the trials and tribulations a professional league has to offer, one that can make a transition of power all the more smooth.

Josh McCown perhaps fulfilled that role for the Jets before his brief retirement. Their metropolitan athletic brethren have employed similar concepts in their own rebuilds, as Henrik Lundqvist has taken on a similar role with the New York Rangers. The Brooklyn Nets took on two in the forms of DeAndre Jordan and Wilson Chandler.

Thomas would could help a receivers room in desperate need of some guidance. Slot man Jamison Crowder is currently the most experienced option, sharing the honor with Breshad Perriman. The latter is expected to be the top receiving option alongside second-round pick Denzel Mims. Thomas can be a reassuring veteran prescience that can help Perriman expand on the career-best stretch we saw at the end of last season, as well as a strong instant teacher for Mims.

His influence on the youth has been perfectly documented by the case of 24-year-old Vyncint Smith. The pair worked together during their brief time in Houston and Thomas convinced Jets management to take a waiver on the undrafted veteran from Division II Limestone College. Reunited with Thomas, Smith made in an impact in the Jets’ starting lineup, making four starts and tallying 277 yards from scrimmage.

“He’s a big help. He’s the reason I came over to the Jets when they were scouting my film,” Smith said to Olivia Landis of NewYorkJets.com. “They asked him about me, and he said, ‘Yeah bring him in, he’s going to be big.’ He helped me out in Houston and I helped him a little bit with the plays, and he helped me with everything else. Things like being a professional on and off the field, he’s helped out a lot.”

Thomas’ leadership was rewarded through captaincy honors in November.

“It’s because everybody respects the man, the young guys and the older guys,” fellow captain Steve McLendon told Peter Botte of the New York Post. “Demaryius is a man of few words, but when he does say something, you take it to heart. Plus, he has gone and been to where we all desire to go and be.”

McLendon was perhaps indirectly referring to the Super Bowl, which Thomas has visited twice. His Super Bowl touchdown, in fact, came at MetLife Stadium, the lone bright mark for Denver in their 43-8 loss to Seattle in the game’s 48th edition. It was one of a Super Bowl-record 13 receptions for Thomas in that game. He’d eventually get his long-sought-after ring in the return trip two years later, when the Broncos topped Carolina 24-10 in Santa Clara.

Set to turn 33 this Christmas, it’s possible that Thomas might never be the same after the injury in Houston ended his 2018 season. But a chance to leave a lasting legacy could await him in New York. It’s no guarantee that he would be around to truly reap the fruits of his potential veteran labor, but a simple one-year signing, so common in this offseason, could pay big dividends in the long run.

Images of Favre, Law, etc. wearing Jets green may be viewed as sacrilegious by the football faithful. They’ll more than likely lump Thomas in the same view, but the modern Jets could look back on such an image fondly if the leadership returns in this crucial year.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

What Should the New York Knicks’ Offseason Look Like?

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

When looking at the New York Knicks, their obvious issues pertain to having no reliable sharpshooters from deep and defensively being a trainwreck. They have struggled to nail picks in the draft and free agents, as when they do, they usually end up trading them away, (Marcus Morris or Kristaps Porzingas).

While Julius Randle may seem like a solid signing, he is usually ball-dominant and has, in my opinion, stunted the growth of RJ Barrett as he cannot shoot threes adequately. He is also a slouch defensively, which puts an even more significant burden on a kid like Barrett, who needs someone to help him either offensively with sharpshooting or can be lockdown defensively to relieve him from tough matchups.

With their offseason starting now in terms of no basketball, the Knicks need to ponder what to do for their team’s improvements and what direction to go.

Who Comes Back?

If I’m the Knicks, I don’t resign any of their players with expiring contracts, and I let Bobby Portis go as well, meaning the Knicks would have nine roster spots and six available for the draft or any signings.

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though, let’s start off with who the Knicks should acquire in the NBA draft.

Shooting and Guards Galore For Knicks Draft Night

If the Knicks end up with a top 5 pick, I think they can land either LaMelo Ball or Killian Hayes, who are rated as two of the best point guards in the upcoming draft. Ball has issues with his percentages, but with NBA coaching, he can be able to drain threes, and on top of that, he’s a solid defender. His best attribute, in my opinion, is his unbelievable playmaking, and with RJ Barrett, he could easily see himself with 8-9, assists a game. For Killian, Hayes has talent and can be solid in the NBA, but his playmaking ability can be inconsistent.

Is Hayes a bad prospect? Not at all, and if the Knicks get him, I think they’ll be fine as he is promising, but again he shouldn’t be picked by the Knicks if LaMelo is on the board.

For their second 1st round pick, I see the Knicks getting Killian Tille as he’s a big man shooting 40% from three this season. The Knicks could get an upgrade at their Forward position and have a really solid 3 and D player for their future. He isn’t the most talented player in college basketball, but the Knicks would be getting better if they were able to snag him.

With their 2nd rounder, I see the Knicks going for Mason Jones who’s a reliable scorer and shooter at the guard position as the Knicks look to add depth at that position and try to get better offensively from deep, with the kid averaging 22 points on 35% from 3 and 45% overall, which aren’t great but could improve in the NBA.

These picks would make the Knicks a lot better for the future and would give the Knicks only 3 more spots to fill out as I see the Knicks moving one player in their active roster like an Ignas Brazdeikis down to the G-League. These guys aren’t superstars, but they will make the Knicks a whole lot better.

Rounding Out A Roster In Free Agency

The Knicks active roster in these hypothetical looks like this currently:

RJ Barrett G/F
Julius Randle F
Mitchell Robinson F/C
LaMelo Ball G
Killian Tille F
Mason Jones G
Taj Gibson F/C
Kevin Knox F
Dennis Smith Jr. G
Frank Ntilikina G
Reggie Bullock G
Wayne Ellington G
Elfrid Peyton G

Now let us try to make some cuts, with Dennis Smith Jr, Wayne Ellington, and Elfrid Peyton being part of my waives. In return, the Knicks now can add three free agents, and since my cuts were guards, I think adding one guard, and two forwards would be ideal here.

My first addition to the roster would be the Wizards’ sharpshooter Dāvis Bertāns who’s known as the Latvian Laser, as he’s a 27-year-old 41.1% shooter from deep. While he’s a below-average defender, he is 6-10 and can be the Knicks 6th man and play Forward or play for Julius Randle and have Randle fill in for Barrett one the second team.

The second addition to this team for me would be Orlando Magic’s guard Evan Fournier, who is shooting 40.6% from 3 this season and is a career 37.6% shooter from three. He is averaging 18.8 points per game with 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds. He’s 6-7 and can play shooting guard, which could be an excellent addition for the Knicks as a perimeter threat. I know his defense isn’t great, but with the next guy, there’s defensive upside.

The final addition to this team would be Serge Ibaka, who is a 7-foot monster who can play center or forward, and on 3.3 attempts per game is shooting 39.8% from three. With a 104 Defensive Rating, he’s okay defensively at Center, but as a forward, it’s at 103 with a positive defensive box plus-minus. If playing Forward, he can be a lockdown defender that the Knicks need right now. On top of all of this, he’s giving the Raptors 16 and 8 on 27.5 minutes and could be a force for the Knicks in the paint with Mitchell Robinson.

What Would the Lineup Look Like?

Well, the amount of new pieces means the lineup needs to be restructured and here’s how I’d do so:

LaMelo Ball G
Evan Fournier G
RJ Barrett F
Dāvis Bertāns F
Serge Ibaka F

This starting lineup provides at least 3 high-level shooters from 3 and Serge Ibaka being a solid shooter. This means RJ Barrett also has a chance to show off his slashing abilities and develop as a shooter and also have options to pass to when he’s doubled. For the second team, this is where, in my opinion, the Knicks show their real improvement:

Frank Ntilikina G
Mason Jones G
Julius Randle F
Killian Tille F
Mitchell Robinson F

This second team is more flourished and has a better chance of competing against a good team’s second squad as well. The depth of the Knicks is improved, and they get a really young and good second team with decent shooting from their two draft picks and a good scorer in Randle.

Does this offseason make them a Finals contender? No, not at all, but it gives them the chance to develop stars in LaMelo Ball and RJ Barrett.

3 Reasons why Frank Gore and the New York Jets are a perfect match

New York Giants, Frank Gore

The signing of Frank Gore has raised some eyebrows, but the newly minted 37-year-old may wind up being the New York Jets’ most vital addition.

If you assembled the all-time “He played for the JETS?!?!” team, Frank Gore would already be a top contender, but he’d have some competition.

Gore, who turns 37 on Thursday, joins a list of illustrious rushers that have spent their twilight years with the New York Jets. Others notables that have taken the green plunge include Chris Johnson, Matt Forte, and LaDanian Tomlinson. Aging legends of the game be found all over such a lineup, one whose depth chart includes Brett Favre, Derrick Mason, Jason Taylor, and Ronnie Lott.

While some names wind up hitting the blooper reels of NFL lore, others can wind becoming solid contributors to the New York cause. Law, for example, earned a career-best 10 interceptions during the 2005 season. A decade later, Brandon Marshall had the most illustrious season in franchise history with team-bests 1,502 yards on 109 receptions, 14 of which went for touchdowns.

Here’s why Gore can potentially lean toward ending up in the latter, more hopeful, category…

He’s Still Got What the Jets Are Looking For

Jets head coach Adam Gase took some heat for his usage of Le’Veon Bell last season. Comments to ESPN’s Rich Cimini earlier this offseason only seemed to further freeze the icy relationship Bell and Gase have reportedly had so far.

“I do think we have some guys that can help maybe lessen the load on (Bell) to where it’s not all on him,” Gase told Cimini on May 4, two days before Gore’s arrival. “Hopefully, we can get some of the younger backs to where we can make a good one-two punch to where we can really excel instead of feeling like it’s just all on him all the time.”

But Gase may have a point.

While Bell’s tally of 311 touches didn’t sniff the league-best 406 he had with Pittsburgh in 2017, it still ranked eighth in the NFL last season. It quickly became clear that Bell wasn’t the one-size-fits-all solution to the Jets’ offense some envisioned him to be. Things could get a little easier after the expansive offensive line renovations,  The Jets had to find a spell option for Bell, a process that became all the more imperative with Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery on the free agency block.

They began to address the role when they took Florida’s Lamical Perine in the fourth round of last month’s draft and continued with Gore. No one’s expecting Gore to be the dominant rusher he was during his glory days in San Francisco, but he has spent the past few seasons fulfilling similar roles across the AFC East. Gore has earned 1,321 over the last two seasons with Miami and Buffalo. He would serve as a passable starting option when Devin Singletary went down with an injury. Among his notable efforts with the Bills last season was an 83-total yard performance at MetLife Stadium (also scoring a touchdown in a 28-14 win over the Giants) and a 109-yard ground output on 17 carries against New England. For what the Jets are looking for, Gore was a perfect fit.

Over the last seasons, Gore’s 1,321 rushing yards are good for second amongst running backs in their 30s (behind only Washington’s Adrian Peterson).

He Knows the Staff

If and when we get a 2020 season, it will undoubtedly be one of reckoning for Gase and his staff. He and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains will be under particular scrutiny for how the offense flows with Sam Darnold entering the telling third year as the franchise quarterback, now armed with a revamped offensive line and a potential big-play receiver in Denzel Mims in tow.

It’s only natural for the staff to surround themselves with talent that has worked to their advantage before. Gore was brought into Gase and Loggains’ Miami squad in 2018. His duties were shared with youngsters Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage, but he still led the team with 722 yards. The 2018 season also served as a mini-revitalization, as Gore averaged 4.6 yards per carry, the first time he put over four yards since his final San Francisco season in 2014.

Gase has spoken highly of their brief shared tour of Miami. He referred to the Gore experience as “unbelievable” in the lead-up to the Jets’ Week 1 matchup with the rusher’s then-employers from Buffalo.

“If you watched him work day-in and day-out, it wouldn’t surprise you,” Gase said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “We would always say, ‘Hey, we think you should take today off,’ and he’s like, ‘Wednesdays, I’m practicing,’ and he wants every rep. You’re in full pads and he’s going at it like it’s Sunday. That’s just how he looks. That’s how he’s always been. He loves football. There’s no other place he’d rather be than the practice field, game day. Everything about football, he loves.”

(Photo by Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Good Country For Old Men

A lot has been made about the Jets signing yet another veteran past his prime. But that might be exactly what they need at this stage of the game.

The Jets’ perpetual rebuild is in perhaps its most hopeful stage yet, but it’s one stocked with youth. On the team’s current roster, only four other veterans are at least 30. When it comes to building a winning culture, a veteran that has done the dance of victory before is an essential ingredient. One can do far worse in a helpful veteran than a college football national champion, a five-time Pro Bowler, the rusher named to the 2010s All-Decade Team by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and the third-leading rusher in NFL history.

An example at another position came in the form of Mark Brunell’s brief tenure as Mark Sanchez’s backup during the 2010 and 2011 campaigns. Brunell’s resume wasn’t as polished as Gore’s, but he was the quarterback that led the Jacksonville Jaguars to their earliest glory days and later won a Super Bowl as the understudy in New Orleans.

The aged Brunell, who was entering his 40s, had a calming effect on Sanchez, who posted the best numbers of his career with the ex-Jaguar in the room.

“He has a calming presence when everything is spinning out of control,” Sanchez told Cimini during the 2011 preseason. “When you’re not having a good game or practice is going too fast and you’re just not right, he’s got this way about him.”

A prominent rushing example came from Thomas Jones at the turn of the last decade. Jones’ was a solid contributor during his twilight years (he’s still seventh in franchise history with 3,833 rushing yards despite spending only three years in green), but he had a calming effect on the lineup as a whole. In another Cimini piece, Sanchez called Jones “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had”, even though their New York paths only merged for a single season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Four Late Free Agents That Should Be Brought Back

The free agent frenzy has mollified, but the New York Jets would be smart to handle matters with a handful of their own unsigned players.

Professional football discussions are currently centered on the draft. The free agency period thus feels like a distant memory, but, for several recent New York Jets, it remains an all-too-current reality.

Entering Thursday, the Jets still have 14 players in the free agency pool. The team has made plenty of moves on the transaction front, but a few more could truly solidify them for the 2020 season…

P Lac Edwards

We spoke about the Jets’ holes in the special teams department earlier this week. Edwards’ lingering free agency is only exacerbating the tenuous situation. Former Steelers summer leg Ian Berryman is currently destined to take the role as the only punter on the roster.

Edwards endured a heavy workload last season (an NFL-high yardage of 3,991 on an equally-high 87 punts), but he tied for eighth in punts inside the 20 (28). It seems like a trivial matter, but a reliable punter is a must-have accessory for an offense that struggles to consistently score. Having built a rapport with long snapper Thomas Hennessy and drawn the praises of special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, Edwards could be an under-the-radar signing that puts both the offense and defense at ease.

S Rontez Miles

Miles is one of the NFL’s most undersung success stories. A California alum…not the Golden Bears of Berkeley, but the California University of Pennsylvania on the Division II level…that entered the league as an undrafted free agent in 2013, Miles has built himself a respectable NFL career primarily through special teams exploits. His efforts with the team were rewarded last season with a team captaincy.

Assisting Miles’ case is the Jets’ failed signing of former Los Angeles Ram Marqui Christian. The veteran safety was set to sign with the Jets before a salary dispute caused the deal to fall through. For a team in desperate need of veteran leadership, Miles’ experience could be indispensable.

RB Bilal Powell

Another longtime Jet that has yet to be invited back is Powell, the longest-tenured guy in green at nine seasons. During the Jets’ endless stream of starts on the offensive line, Powell was able to lead the team with a 3.9 rushing average. A decent average has been part of Powell’s repertoire since his 2011 entry. Over the past nine seasons, Powell’s 4.32 ranks 12th in the NFL amongst rushers with at least 800 attempts.

The Jets upgraded their offensive line this offseason, which should allow Bell to at least reach a closer version of Pittsburgh self. Spell options, however, remain slim in the form of Josh Adams, Kenneth Dixon, and Trenton Cannon. With fellow free agent Ty Montgomery failing to find a true spot in the rushing rotation, bringing back the reliable Powell makes a lot of sense.

WR Demaryius Thomas

Renovations on the blocking front have provided a long-sought sense of hope for the Jets’ offense. But there’s no denying that the loss of Robby Anderson was a big blow. For example, whereas Anderson scored 20 touchdowns for the Jets since his 2016 entry, no other Jets receiver reached double-digits. Sam Darnold’s current top target is destined to be Breshad Perriman after a stellar season wrap-up with Tampa Bay. Jamison Crowder returns in the slot, but a whole bunch of uncertainty lies behind him.

Thomas probably isn’t at a level where he can be a reliable top target. But the Jets could his experience and veteran leadership on a roster in desperate need of older help. It may be a lot to ask Thomas to duplicate his stellar numbers from Denver, but a young quarterback like Darnold needs a seasoned veteran to help him out. He recently told Denver radio station 104.3 The Fan (KKFN-FM) that he was very willing to return for an eleventh season.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets #MockDraftMonday: April 6, 2020

New York Jets

After Joe Douglas’ public comments, this week’s New York Jets mock draft from our experts gains position unanimity with the 11th overall pick.

With a healthy haul of veteran blockers, one would expect the New York Jets to use the 11th overall pick of the upcoming NFL Draft on a so-called “exciting” pick. Perhaps a receiver could be called to replace Robby Anderson. A depleted pass rush could use a sack threat. Even the secondary could use a bit more help, even with some big names lined up.

To paraphrase Jets general manager Joe Douglas…not so fast.

In his first public comments of the offseason, Douglas seemed to hint that the Jets’ offensive line renovation might not be completed just yet.

“I think there’s a real shortage of quality offensive linemen in the NFL,” Douglas said in a Wednesday afternoon conference call, per Ralph Vacchiano of SNY. “We’re going to do our best to get as many quality ones as we can because you can never have too many.”

Geoff Magliocchetti

1st Round (11th overall): OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
2nd Round (48th overall): WR K.J. Hamler, Penn State
3rd Round (68th overall): EDGE Julian Okwara, Notre Dame
3rd Round (79th overall): CB Bryce Hall, Virginia
4th Round (120th overall): S Jeremy Chinn, Southern Illinois
5th Round (158th overall): RB AJ Dillon, Boston College
6th Round (191st overall): LB Mohamed Barry, Nebraska
6th Round (211th overall): K Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia

The flexibility we thought the Jets would have at the 11th pick seems to have gone by the wayside with Douglas’ apparent commitment to a blocker. But that flexibility can present itself in new ways on draft weekend. With the depth and imperative transactions the Jets have gained and made via free agency, the Jets have plenty of freedom with their remaining seven picks. The wiggle room could be especially advantageous when it comes to their three picks in the Friday session.

Douglas is apparently intrigued by the deep blocking class available on the first day. Even if Thomas goes within the first ten picks, Mekhi Becton, Tristan Wirfs, and Thomas’ SEC compatriot Jedrick Wills should be readily available. Day two would allow the Jets to fill one of their biggest remaining needs: receiving and defensive depth. Hamler is a Friday gem that would immediately contribute to any offense, while Okwara would fill the necessary pass rush void in order to start giving Josh Allen nightmares. The trend of immediate depth contributors extends into day three. Chinn can work alongside the established strong duo of Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, while Dillon becomes a much-needed spell option for Le’Veon Bell.

Brendan Carpenter

1st Round (11th overall): OT Andrew Thomas, Georgia
2nd Round (48th overall): WR Tee Higgins, Clemson
3rd Round (68th overall): EDGE Bradlee Anae, Utah
3rd Round (79th overall): WR Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
4th Round (120th overall): CB Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame
5th Round (158th overall): DE Jonathan Greenard, Florida
6th Round (191st overall): LB Mohamed Barry, Nebraska
6th Round (211th overall): K Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia

Taking a receiver with their first pick is tempting, but the Jets would opt to go the safe route to solidify the remaining spot on their offensive line. I originally had the Jets selecting Jalen Reagor out of TCU on day two, but at 6’4″ with a long frame, Higgins would be tough to pass on. He knows how to show up in big games as well. The receiving trend continues with the 6’3, 212-pound Edwards, but there would be some question marks. He missed his final two games with a knee injury and broke his foot while training for the combine. Despite these setbacks, Edwards is another addition that could have a decent upside. Appropriately, the Jets would use the pick earned from the Leonard Williams trade to Anae (13 sacks in 14 starts last season).

Cornerback is a position of need for Gang Green. With Jeff Okudah most likely going in the top-five in the draft, there is no need to reach for one after that. Getting Pride Jr. in the third round would satisfy a need the Jets desperately need to address. He would slide in to play alongside Pierre Desir and Brian Poole in the secondary. Greenard could immediately contribute on the defensive line, especially if Quinnen Williams is suspended.

Dylan Price

1st Round (11th overall): OT Jedrick Wills, Alabama
2nd Round (48th overall): WR KJ Hamler, Penn State
3rd Round (68th overall): EDGE Joshua Uche, Michigan
3rd Round (79th overall): CB Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame
4th Round (120th overall): OT Ben Bartch, St. John’s (MN)
5th Round (158th overall): RB Darrynton Evans, Appalachian State
6th Round (191st overall): TE Colby Parkinson, Stanford
6th Round (211th overall): OL Calvin Throckmorton, Oregon

In our last mock, I projected Andrew Thomas would be the pick. This time he was off the board, so Wills becomes the key offensive lineman of the future. He, Bartch and Throckmorton are all incredibly versatile offensive linemen. Bartch and Wills can be starters quickly, while Throckmorton provides depth. Hamler has elite playmaking ability and immediately becomes an excellent weapon for Sam Darnold.

Parkinson also becomes a good weapon, with high potential, who could fight for some reps at tight end. Uche and Pride both can develop behind the starters this year and be groomed to take over in 2021. Evans was a pick in my last mock draft who could be the future back for this team.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags