Herndon’s once-promising New York Jets career has reportedly come to an end, as a deal has been reached with the Minnesota Vikings.
The #Vikings have solved their TE issue, as they are trading for promising #Jets TE Chris Herndon in exchange for draft pick compensation, sources say. Agent @malkikawa later confirmed the deal. Herndon steps right in following Irv Smith’s knee injury.
Per NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the New York Jets have traded tight Chris Herndon to the Minnesota Vikings for an undetermined draft pick compensation. Minnesota recently lost primary tight end Irv Smith Jr. for the season due to a meniscus injury.
Thus ends Herndon’s New York Jets career, which began with such promise in 2018. He was chosen in the fourth round out of Miami (107th overall) and developed a strong connection with fellow rookie and camp roommate Sam Darnold. Herndon ranked second on the Jets and led all rookie tight ends with 502 yards on 39 receptions, four of which went for scores.
However, Herndon was never able to replicate his freshman success. His sophomore season was a lost cause thanks to a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL substance abuse policy and a rib injury that limited his participation to a mere 18 snaps. He regained the Jets’ primary tight end role last season but earned only 287 yards on 31 receptions, dropping four passes in that span. This summer, Herndon lost the primary training camp snaps to veteran newcomer Tyler Kroft, making him expendable as league rosters trickle down to 53 players. His preseason participation was mostly limited to second half reps, earning a pair of receptions good for 14 yards.
Upon Herndon’s departure, only two of six players (Nathan Shepherd, Foley Fatukasi) remains from the Jets’ 2018 draft class. Herndon was also called upon to model the Jets’ new uniforms during the ensuing offseason after his breakout rookie campaign, joining Darnold, Jamal Adams, Robby Anderson, Quincy Enunwa, and Leonard Williams in a reveal party hosted by Curb Your Enthusiasm star J.B. Smoove. None of those veterans remain with the team.
The Jets open their regular season in Charlotte on Sept. 12 against the Carolina Panthers (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
[[[UPDATE: 7:00 p.m. ET]]]: In officially announcing the trade, the Jets will also send over their sixth round pick in the upcoming draft to Minnesota in exchange for a fourth-round choice in the same selections.
Shaq Lawson doesn’t change the New York Jets’ 2021 outlook, but he can be a solid stopgap in a developmental season.
The New York Jets are fulfilling an offseason promise to put Lawson on their defensive line.
Carl Lawson is done for the year but those designing the Jets’ uniforms can still use the surname’s nameplate. The Jets reportedly welcomed in defensive end Shaq Lawson to the fold on Sunday, sending the sixth-round pick they gained from San Francisco in last year’s Jordan Willis deal. Most recently donning a Houston Texans helmet, Lawson is on to his fourth team after entering the league as Buffalo’s first-round pick in 2016 (immediately before the Jets chose Darron Lee).
Shaq Lawson arrives at an interesting landmark on the Jets’ 2021 timeline. It was previously hinted that the Jets would seek help in the pass rush after Carl Lawson, the Jets’ most expensive offseason acquisition, was lost for the year after rupturing his Achillies during a joint practice in Green Bay. Fellow veteran Vinny Curry was likewise lost for the year after dealing with blood clots. The Jets appeared to have fulfilled that quest with Sunday’s transaction.
What exactly can be expected with Lawson poised to don a green uniform? ESM investigates…
The Jets are desperate enough to write a redemption story for the past decade of fruitless football, much less finally pen a sequel to the Super Bowl III epic. To that end, they can’t concern themselves with co-authoring someone else’s, no matter how talented that player can be. That’s removed them from the conversation on several high-profile stars and, frankly, should’ve steered them away from the expensive Le’Veon Bell gambit in 2019.
Shaq Lawson, at first glance, appears to carry the baggage that a developing team like the Jets should avoid. The Clemson alum has shown flashes but has yet to live up to his first-round billing. New York is his fourth team over the past three seasons and he was playing deep into the second half of the Texans’ preseason contests. His lasting legacy, as of this moment, is perhaps his status as the penultimate premier pick of Buffalo’s ill-fated Doug Whaley era.
But Lawson’s redemption story that the Jets can literally afford to play a supporting role in. If/when the trade is confirmed, the Jets are set to inherit only circa $2 million of Lawson’s salary, with the Texans set to take on nearly $7 million in dead cap. If Lawson were to perform well enough that the Jets want more, his contract allows the Jets to retain him at just under $9 million. Even with the pick from the Willis trade gone, they will have a dozen choices to work with come next spring.
From a football standpoint, Lawson isn’t being called upon to turn the tide in New York. Even with Carl Lawson in tow, this wasn’t going to be a playoff team in 2021. He can work things in relatively peaceful surroundings with the Jets, where defensive storylines will likely linger on Quinnen Williams’ development and what’s going on in the Jets’ secondary. One could argue he had a similar blank slate in Houston, but the Jets seem much more secure in their future (particularly when it comes to comparing the quarterback situations). What Joe Douglas has done this offseason won’t make the Jets a playoff team immediately but he has built a situation that allows the team to take a risk or two in the name of veteran help.
Lawson potentially enters the Jets in a bit of a prickly situation: the Jets’ preseason slate wrapped on Friday night, giving him just two weeks to cram the Jets’ playbook before they open against Carolina on Sept. 12. But despite Lawson’s lack of a true NFL impact so far, he appears to be on a bit of an upswing.
Whereas the departed Carl Lawson’s hype was partly built on advanced pressure numbers, the incoming Shaq has tried to make a name for himself through more conventional means, traditional numbers that have been sorely lacking in New York in recent times. Lawson has earned 10.5 sacks over the last two seasons, including 6.5 during his final year in Buffalo in 2019. In comparison, only one player (Jordan Jenkins) has reached double-figures in sacks, falling just short of Lawson’s mark with 10. He won’t fully replace the pressure that the unrelated Carl brought in Cincinnati but he is a well-traveled pressure artist in his own right, earning 77 pressures over the last two seasons with the Bills and Miami Dolphins.
Lawson is coming off a solid, if not uneventful, season with the Dolphins after his career-best campaign in Buffalo in 2019. He’s a better option than free agent question marks like Everson Griffen (who went back to Minnesota after the Lawson injury) and Olivier Vernon and was likely far less expensive than potential trade candidates like Dante Fowler or Chandler Jones. The Jets needed pressure and Lawson, despite his flaws, has been reliable in that regard. As to the potential problems when it comes to a speed course in the New York defense, Lawson got a taste of 4-3 action during his brief time in Houston under defensive coordinator Lovie Smith.
“With this defense, you can just attack,” Lawson said of the 4-3 scheme, per Anthony Wood of SI.com. “You don’t (have) to think about no blocks or anything you’ve got to worry about. I mean, that’s the great part about being in a 4-3 defense.”
Houston head coach David Culley got to witness some of Lawson’s developmental antics as a Buffalo assistant. Asked about his potential to fit with the Texans’ front seven, Culley reminisced about pass-rushing endeavors that have been sorely lacking in green metropolitan circles in recent seasons.
“Shaq was a pass rusher up there,” Culley said, per notes from the Texans. “He’s quick. He has great movement. He’s got a great first step…He plays with good leverage, and he’s got good hands, and basically, what we teach all those guys to do, he has that.”
It’s been theorized that the New York Jets could seek out a new pass rusher. But is that the most worthwhile move as the 2021 kickoff looms?
Any analysis of the New York Jets’ 2021 offseason must be prefaced with the caveat that the previous campaign sunk the team to such dramatic depths that anything short of full-on contraction would’ve been seen as an upgrade…and, even then, some Gang Green fans would go full John McKay.
But there is no objectively denying that the Jets made smart moves following last year’s disastrous two-win showing. Even with the loss of the most expensive purchase, defensive end Carl Lawson, the Jets are in a favorable position to at least start to reintroduce themselves to the world of professional football relevancy. At the same time, however, even the most unapologetic Jets propagandist has to admit that Lawson’s forced season-long departure due to a ruptured Achillies sustained during last week’s joint activities with the Green Bay Packers puts a bit of a damper on Joe Douglas’ most impactful offseason to date.
To that end, the Jets are reportedly seeking help from abroad to bolster their pass rush game. A popular candidate amongst fans has been former New England pass rusher Chandler Jones, who’s reportedly displeased with his current settings in Arizona. Other potential movers could include Preston Smith of the aforementioned Packers or 2019’s fourth overall choice Clelin Ferrell in Las Vegas.
But as the Jets plan one more summer splurge before school starts, is the pass rush the right area to address?
The loss of Lawson obviously brings the unit down a few notches, but the Jets’ pass rush still has several notable returnees looking to build on breakout seasons from 2020. It’s a group headlined by 2019’s third overall choice Quinnen Williams and assisted by John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi. The team is also set to welcome back Kyle Phillips and Bryce Huff, the latter of whom has earned positive reviews during the most recent camp sessions in Florham Park. Veteran arrivals Vinny Curry and Sheldon Rankins have likewise dealt with ailments but bring talent and playoff experience from Philadelphia and New Orleans respectively. A major opportunity rises for Ronald Blair, a late arrival who previously worked with head coach Robert Saleh in the Bay Area.
In addition to the talent assembled, the Jets’ new boss has experience in dealing with big losses in the front seven. During his final season as the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, new head coach Robert Saleh dealt with injury reports that resembled Pro Bowl rosters. Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas were lost for the year after ACL tears at MetLife Stadium. Help from abroad (Dee Ford, Ziggy Ansah) was likewise medically removed from the 2020 proceedings.
Despite the losses, Saleh’s backfield invaders still managed to post respectable efforts. The 49ers ranked fifth in quarterback hurries per dropback (11.2 percent) and yards allowed (314.4 per game) despite the departures. One could argue that Saleh’s ability to adapt was one of the big reasons why he was one of the most coveted head coaching candidates once the year let out.
Saleh knows how much is lost with Lawson done for the year but he was among the first to come to grips with the doomsday diagnosis in the aftermath of the Green Bay business trip.
“I’ve said it before, the NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after the Jets’ 23-14 preseason win over the Packers on Saturday, per team reporter Randy Lange. “When someone falls off the train…it’s another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. A lot of men at that defensive end spot are chomping at the bit for the opportunity, and they got it. We’ll work our tails off to get them ready, and I know they’ll work their tails off to reciprocate.”
There’s enough talent on the defensive line for the Jets to survive. The injury of Lawson shouldn’t awaken the Jets from dreams of development that would allow them to label the 2021 season a success. But there’s always room for improvement, especially when your rebuild prepares to enter a second decade. With so much draft capital…the Jets currently own 13 spots on the 2022 draft board…it would almost be silly not to seek out a trade. There are enough valuable names on the line that can hold down the pass rushing fort while Lawson heals. Improvement is better sought elsewhere.
Douglas has never been one to shy away from a late move if it helps the team: he took over the Jets after primary offseason activities like free agency and the draft ended and immediately tried to bolster the blocking (Ryan Kalil, Alex Lews) and receiving (Demaryius Thomas). None of those moves truly panned out in the long term…none of them are with the team…but Douglas’ activity was refreshing after the passiveness of the Mike Maccagnan era.
It appears that the Jets might be ready to make another late summer move, but they have to assess their priorities. A show of faith to the talented youngsters of the defensive line might help team morale moving forward, leaving them to look at other areas, ones entrenched in far greater states of desperation.
With apologies to those still traumatized by the 2020 season, the ineptitude on display in the final year of the Adam Gase almost guaranteed that some area on the team was going to be neglected, even with the perfect offseason. The secondary still remains woefully undermanned in terms of experience. Their struggles were prominently on display during Saturday’s exhibition showcase in Titletown: Jets starters played deep into the first half and allowed a Green Bay offense consisting almost entirely of reserves to score on two of their four drives over the first 30 minutes. The ultimate insult was a 19-play, 81-yard drive that ate over 10 minutes of game time.
Zach Wilson’s (nearly) perfect showing allowed the Jets to bring some optimism home, but New York can’t allow it to mask their defensive struggles. Green Bay went 8-of-14 on third down, four alone earned through the air on the aforementioned long drive. The last was a five-yard touchdown pass from Kurt Benkert to Jace Sternberger. Perhaps the extra draft capital is better spent on a veteran corner to mentor and/or compete with Bless Austin and Bryce Hall. Charvarius Ward could be a championship addition from Kansas City (especially with L’Jarius Sneed’s emergence) while C.J. Henderson remains a tantalizing prize in Jacksonville.
The early strong returns from Wilson also shouldn’t discourage the Jets from bolstering their backup quarterback situation. Sam Darnold’s medical woes over the past three seasons have shown the Jets just how far south a season can go without the intended starter, even if they had good intentions through veteran additions like Joe Flacco, Josh McCown, and Trevor Siemian.
Mike White has been serviceable this preseason (86.1 passer ratings and no turnovers through two games) but it probably hasn’t been anything to convince the Jets they can stay afloat if the unthinkable happened to Wilson. White also took a few tough hits during Saturday’s win in Green Bay, leaving the contest with a rib injury. Late acquisition Josh Johnson was seen as a veteran mentor to Wilson but has yet to take a preseason snap in green.
Trading for Chicago’s Nick Foles remains the most popular and realistic option for teams seeking quarterback depth. Not only is Foles set to wallow in the third slot on the depth chart behind the Justin Fields/Andy Dalton conundrum, but the Bears are also in desperate need of early draft picks. Chicago has only two picks over the first four rounds in Las Vegas next spring, having dealt their first and fourth round choices to the Giants to ensure the selection of Fields. The Jets’ pair of first-rounders (including the last piece of the Jamal Adams trade from Seattle) is likely off the table but they have five other choices over rounds two through four.
It’s becoming more likely that the New York Jets will go into camp with James Morgan and Mike White backing up Zach Wilson.
According to a report from Brian Costello of the New York Post, those expecting Super Bowl hero Nick Foles to don a new shade of green shouldn’t get their hopes up.
In addressing the New York Jets’ backup quarterback situation, Costello reports that the team has “had discussions” with the Chicago Bears about adding Foles as the understudy and mentor to incoming franchise man Zach Wilson. However, he acknowledges that such a deal “seems unlikely”.
Foles, who guided the Philadelphia Eagles to a championship in 2018, is projected to be Chicago’s third-string option behind first-round pick Justin Fields and incoming veteran Andy Dalton. With Wilson set to take over, he seems like a perfect candidate to not only serve as a mentor to the rookie but step up in case of an emergency. The 32-year-old Foles posted an 80.8 passer rating in nine games (seven starts) in place of Mitchell Trubisky last season.
However, Costello says that Foles’ salary is the biggest roadblock in the path to getting him in a green helmet. Foles came over from the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2020 and restructured his contract to be a three-year deal worth $24 million ($17 million guaranteed). Chicago would be out $14 million in dead money if they were to release Foles, rendering a trade the only likely departure from the Windy City.
It appears more likely that the Jets will go into the season with either James Morgan or Mike White as their backup quarterback. Like Wilson, neither has thrown a pass in a regular season NFL game. Morgan was chosen in the fourth round during the 2020 draft and did not dress in no games last season. White is a 2018 fifth-round pick from Dallas who has been on and off the Jets’ practice squad over the last two seasons.
Head coach Robert Saleh admitted that the team had discussions with former San Francisco backup Nick Mullens (who eventually signed with Philadephia), but he was interested in seeing what Morgan and White had to offer.
“It doesn’t mean that just because (a newcomer is) a veteran it’ll help the (rookie) quarterback,” Saleh said in June, per notes from the Jets. “There’s a match that has to happen, there’s a scheme familiarity that has to happen. If you just bring in a veteran that doesn’t know anything about your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is.”
“I think Zach, and that entire quarterback room, is already ahead of the curve on, with how they handle their bodies and study. I don’t know if there’s much value aside from being comfortable that if something hits the fan, that you have a veteran who’s played football. It’s more of a comforting feeling, rather than trying to work your ass off to develop the quarterbacks that are already in the building.”
The Jets are slated to begin training camp activities on Tuesday.
Would the embattled first-round pick from New England fit into the New York Jets’ receiver evolution? ESM investigates.
Could an enemy of the New York Jets’ greatest enemy become their friend?
Wide receiver N’Keal Harry entered the NFL with a fair amount of hype as a 2019 first-round pick (32nd overall) of the New England Patriots. Fresh off three dominant seasons at Arizona State, the 6-foot-4 Harry was set to pick up where the (temporarily) retired Rob Gronkowski left off, serving as a big downfield target for Tom Brady. Alas, injuries ate away at his rookie season and he struggled to find a role in the post-Brady era.
Through two seasons, Harry has tallied 414 yards on 45 receptions, the latter tally being worst amongst first-round skill players. Those are tough numbers for the final pick of the 2019 first round, chosen before second-round standouts like A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.
It appears that Harry is looking to hit the reset button before his third season gets underway. His agent Jamal Tooson released a statement detailing their desires for a trade.
“Through two seasons, he has 86 targets, which obviously hasn’t met the expectations the Patriots and N’Keal had when they drafted a dominant downfield threat who was virtually unstoppable at the point of attack in college,” Tooson’s statement, released on Tuesday, reads in part, per ESPN. “Following numerous conversations with the Patriots, I believe it’s time for a fresh start and best for both parties if N’Keal moves on before the start of training camp. That is why I have informed the Patriots today I am formally requesting a trade on behalf of my client.”
With Harry on the block, should the New York Jets inquire? ESM investigates…
The Case For Harry
What Harry could use right now is a stable situation where there’s relatively little to lose.
A change of scenery to such a locale helped fellow first-round receiver Sammy Watkins (Buffalo, 2014) reclaim the narrative on his NFL career. Watkins was in a bit of a different situation, as injuries derailed his career in Orchard Park. After a tough third season marred by injury, Watkins was shipped to the Los Angeles Rams and later caught on with the Kansas City Chiefs. Through those destinations, Watkins rediscovered his spark as a supporting piece on a contender. By the 2019-20 postseason, he was a vital contributor to a Super Bowl run. He recently earned himself a new contract in Baltimore (one-year, $6 million)
Alas for fans of green New York football, their “nothing to lose” situation stems from no one expecting anything out of them as they prepare to write the next chapter of their rebuild anthology. But they provide what Harry appears to be looking for: opportunities and relative peace.
The Jets’ offensive revolution this offseason yielded receiving building blocks of both the rookie (Elijah Moore) and veteran (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) variety. While, on paper, Zach Wilson has a better arsenal to work with than anything granted to Sam Darnold, there is no clear-cut No. 1 receiver in this group yet. Adding Harry, a receiver with something to prove, could intensify an already-firey and potentially high-octane receiver situation in New York.
Additionally, the Jets have some day three draft pieces to work around if they were to inquire about Harry. A deal for the receiver likely wouldn’t cost, say, the 2022 second-rounder gleaned from the Darnold deal with Carolina. The Jets currently own three picks in the next spring’s sixth round, the extra pair stemming from trades of Steve McLendon (from Tampa Bay) and Jordan Willis (San Francisco).
The Case Against Harry
An arsenal of receivers with something to prove sounds delightful in a relative gap year. No one expects the Jets to do much in 2021, but the year can serve as an explosive coming attraction for what’s on the horizon for the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. Davis, Moore, Cole, as well as returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims, have a chance to prove their mettle as top targets.
At what point, however, does one have too much of a good, yet uncertain, thing?
The Jets did a solid job of avoiding co-authorship on redemption stories this offseason. Attempting to ghostwrite such a tome was one (of many) reasons the Le’Veon Bell gambit didn’t work out. Sure, they brought in some potential comeback stories…such as former San Francisco rusher Tevin Coleman…but those are ones they can not only afford (Coleman’s deal is a $2 million single season) but can stage with relatively little fanfare.
The Jets have enough things to worry about as they get to work in trying to snap a playoff drought that’s by far the longest in pro football. Adding a rare Bill Belichick washout just adds unwanted attention to what they’re trying to build.
Trades between the Jets and Patriots are rare, but there is precedent…the recently retired Demaryius Thomas began the final stages of his NFL journey through a 2019 deal and the teams swapped picks during the 2020 proceedings. Those picks have thus far netted James Morgan, Cameron Clark, and current rookie Hamsah Nasirildeen.
That alone should probably scare the Jets off in terms of bartering with New England. But even if you’re not superstitious, the Jets’ receiver room is fine as it is. Sure, if Harry emerged as a superstar in New York…succeeding where the almighty Belichick failed…it’d be fun to leave that lingering over the heads of Patriots fans. But, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, the Jets aren’t in any position to make moves out of spite.
If the Jets were in a further position of need when it came to receiver…i.e. the early stage of last season when Braxton Berrios and Jeff Smith were their top targets…it would’ve been understandable for them to rise to the occasion and send a pick or two over before Harry potentially hit the free agent market after final training camp cuts. But, frankly, Harry isn’t the Patriot they should have their eyes on. If anything, the team would be better served to try and land one of the New England backups (preferably Brian Hoyer) to serve as Wilson’s understudy and/or mentor.
Harry should find some takers, but it doesn’t make sense for the Jets to expedite the process right now.
Should the Jets keep an eye on Harry? Continue the conversation on Twitter @GeoffJMags
The accoladed receiver’s de facto trade request serves to end his decade-long tenure in Atlanta. Several teams will undoubtedly embark on a full assault for his services and the crowded resume that comes with it.
Should the New York Jets be among them? ESM investigates…
For: Fantasy Football
Jones has been a staple of the early portions of fantasy football drafts for years. When’s the last time Jets fans were able to choose their favorite players with legitimate dreams of a fantasy title in mind. The last realistic options were probably Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker prior to the star-crossed 2015 campaign.
Now, the Jets shouldn’t base their entire lineup around who wins fantasy football championships; if that were the case, they might as well made a move for Derek Carr. But the fact they haven’t had any fantasy stars in recent years is rather telling about where they are as a franchise. Where are the reliable big play targets? Who does the rookie quarterback turn to in the clutch? Who will teams double cover on the last drive of the game?
This offseason, the Jets used the free agency process to stock up on weaponry for the new franchise quarterback, who turned out to be Zach Wilson. The current depth chart-toppers (Corey Davis, Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims, Keelan Cole, and rookie Elijah Moore) are undoubtedly upgrades from last season, but they have yet to prove themselves as consistent, reliable top options. Bringing in Jones would make him one of the Jets’ top playmakers of the past decade, and he might not even have to play a single down to prove that. Plus, the confidence Wilson would have with Jones there to greet him could prove invaluable not only in 2021 but for years to come.
Against: Julio’s Woes
The sophomoric nature of the internet and social media have perhaps made the Jets unwilling to take risks or make high-profile moves. Any move they make is going to be accompanied by satirical scrutiny that’s threatens everything they’re trying to work with in the latest stage of their perpetual rebuild.
Jones, through almost entirely no fault of his own, is going to bring some baggage with him. He’s no doubt keen to stick it to a Falcons that has apparently given up on him, and the Jets do have a high-profile matchup with the Dirty Birds that apparently did him dirty (Atlanta will “host” the Jets in London in October). Jones is also trying to emerge from one of the NFL’s most unfair stigmas: returning from an injury. Hamstring issues limited him to nine games in 2020, but he still managed to tally a respectable 771 yards.
These factors make Jones a perfect candidate, perhaps even the favorite, for the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. Alas, that’s a quest the Jets truly can’t concern themselves with at this point. They have their own comeback/redemption story to write. It’s part of the reason Sam Darnold was let go. Sure, it was entirely possible that a green-clad Darnold could’ve benefitted from the coaching staff shake-up, but the Jets were at a point where they couldn’t base their immediate future on that “if”. The same could apply to Jones and his current endeavors.
For: They Can Help
Coming off three straight losing seasons (including a brutal 4-12 campaign that cost long-tenured Dan Quinn his job), the Falcons need a de facto bailout. As it stands, they’re currently of three teams with under $1 million in cap space (joining Chicago and New Orleans). Even so, they’re obviously going to want a decent return if they’re sending away one of the most prolific names in team history. Jonathan Jones of CBS Sports projects that any potential suitor would have to send at least a second-round pick.
The Jets have expendable assets to help the Falcons out. They own five picks in the first three rounds of next spring’s draft and could even include someone like Crowder (who becomes over $10 million in cap savings upon his departure). If the Falcons are going to trade Jones, something has to capture their fancy, make the deal truly worth their while. The Jets are one of the rare teams with both present and future assets Atlanta potentially covets.
Against: Anything But One Move Away
The Jets have improved by leaps and bounds this offseason, if only because there was little room to plummet further after 2020. Even so, making the playoffs is still going to be a tough ask. They’re trapped in a division with the defending AFC finalists and the other sections are packed with established contenders.
There’s no doubt that Jones can carry the load of a top receiver on a contender. He’s been part of a fairly consistent Atlanta team, but his prescience alone isn’t enough to secure a playoff berth. If he’s serious about moving, he’s likely going to choose a more established destination, not one where a majority of the starting lineup is undergoing a makeover.
Additionally, whoever trades for Jones is going to literally pay a hefty price. His 2021 cap hit exceeds $23 million, with $15 million guaranteed (per Over The Cap). The Jets are one of 11 teams that can handle Jones’ guaranteed salary with their current cap space, but there are other needs that need to be fulfilled before Week 1 kicks off. They’re in desperate need of a backup quarterback (preferably one that can double as a mentor for Wilson) and could certainly use another upgrade in their blocking and secondary areas. Jones, a 32-year-old due over $37 million over the next three seasons, is a luxurious acquisition that doesn’t fit the Jets’ current landscape.
The Verdict: Stay the Course
If this was a year or two into the Robert Saleh era, adding Jones would be a lot more feasible. There would be time to showcase what Saleh and his staff are building, a few contests to develop momentum in what the Jets hope is their last extensive renovation for a long time.
Recent history suggests that maybe the Jets would be a bit better off in bypassing redemption-seeking superstars, at least for the time being. New York is still picking at the wounds left behind in the wake of the Le’Veon Bell era. The ghost of Bell shouldn’t haunt the Jets forever, but things are still a bit too fresh to justify and work through the growing pains of a superstar seeking to prove to himself and the football world that he’s still capable of an NFL workload.
If the Jets were on the cusp of the contention red zone, they would be right to go all out. But, right now, they’ve picked up a few first downs, but probably haven’t even reached midfield in the stadium of NFL fortune. If they were closer to the Super Bowl, investing a substantial sum into a 32-year-old receiver…one who has taken quite the pen to the NFL record books…would be a relative risk worth taking. But when progress would be possibly defined as an appearance in the “In the Hunt” column seen on the networks’ playoff charts come the holidays, adding Jones is not something you can do and would be an endeavor that would merely leave everyone bitter.
The idea of Aaron Rodgers exchanging shades of green seems enticing, but the New York Jets should probably resist.
Let’s go with “Draft Day Bombs” for $1200, Aaron.
As the hours dwindle before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ESPN/ABC/NFL Network), ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t want to return to the Green Bay Packers. The disgruntled Jeopardy! host and Super Bowl MVP turns 38 in December but has continued to post stellar numbers in a career that will undoubtedly end in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Rodgers is the defending NFL MVP, posting career-best numbers in several major passing categories, including a 70.5 completion rate and a jaw-dropping 48 touchdown passes.
With Rodgers upset with Green Bay management…Schefter claims part of it stems from the Packers’ puzzling decision to draft Utah State quarterback Jordan Love with their premier selection last year…fans of non-Wisconsin teams across the league have clicked open their Photoshop apps to don Rodgers in their team’s colors. Supporters of the New York Jets are likely no exception, as there’s little doubt any metropolitan supporter would say no to Rodgers wearing a different shade of green after years of questions and failures at the franchise quarterback spot.
But if the idea of Rodgers exchanging an oval G for capitalized script on his helmet sounds too good to be true…that’s because it probably is.
Rodgers is one of the rare active quarterbacks…heck, probably in NFL history…that can single-handedly turn a team’s fortunes around. Green Bay, laden with controversy and silliness over the past decade-plus, has remained a perpetual prescience in the NFL’s playoff picture thanks to Rodgers’ efforts. But even he might have trouble making a playoff team out of this current Jets squad. The Jets undboutedly improved over the past few months, but it’s still not fair to expect the postseason out of them. There are simply too many established contenders in the AFC and the Jets’ own division appears to be under the control of a Buffalo overlord. Even Rodgers hasn’t ended every season in the playoffs, much less at the top of his quartet.
Even in his late 30s, Rodgers continues to be one of the most impactful and dominant quarterbacks in the NFL. Like Tom Brady before him, he could well continue passing a decade from now, when he’s in his mid-40s. But the Jets can’t afford to take a relative risk like that. No one knows how much longer Rodgers is going to want to do this. Schefter has implied that he may want to settle down with his fiancé, actress Shailene Woodley, and Rodgers himself has set his sights on succeeding the late Alex Trebek full-time.
Today’s offense-worshipping NFL requires a strong starting quarterback but they must also possess a thrower with whom they’re comfortable starting in three-to-five (if he’s not the same guy, that is). The Jets have a chance to fulfill that need with the second overall pick in the upcoming draft, a choice that will likely be used on BYU’s Zach Wilson. It’s better to stick with homegrown talent than going with a guy who would likely lead roll call on the updated “Wait, He Played For the Jets?!?!?” team roster.
“But wait!” you interject. “Why can’t they have both Rodgers and Wilson? What a great mentor for the kid!” The idea that such a union could work is a pipe dream at best. Fans will be welcomed back to MetLife Stadium this season, and the last thing either quarterback needs is for fans to start screaming for his replacement every time he throws an incomplete pass. The Jets have a chance to start fresh with a new roster, but they must work through with as little controversy as possible. Combining Rodgers with a rookie is the very worst way to go about that.
Besides, the Jets have already had one unpleasant experience with a Green Bay legend in Brett Favre. The season itself was more heartbreakingly mediocre than truly unpleasant, but it was nonetheless an endeavor that set the franchise back several years. Its lasting legacy, for example, is the fact it led to the drafting of Mark Sanchez. Additionally, Tim Tebow’s Jacksonville tryout was a stark reminder of the sensational and oftentimes absurd coverage that surrounded the team during Tebow’s one-year term…and he wasn’t even the starter. The combination of Rodgers, (burdened with controversy that’s sometimes far from his own doing), and the Jets (whose mere existence elicits sophomoric social media snickers) would be a marriage of no winners, one where non-football obstacles would rival opposing defenses.
This is a rare opportunity for the Jets to start with something homegrown and surround him with a strong foundation, including a head coach whose hire has earned positive reviews across the league. There’s no use playing with another team’s unwanted toys anymore…even if that toy is an only slightly rugged PlayStation 5.
Baltimore and Kansas City’s deal might give the New York Jets some extra clarity at the 23rd overall pick in Cleveland next weekend.
A deal between contenders could have ripple effects on a team that’s desperate to join them.
The Baltimore Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs swapped assets and names on Friday, six days before the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft will be staged in Cleveland (8 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN/NFL Network). Pro Bowl-nominated blocker Orlando Brown Jr. will join the refurbished wall in front of Patrick Mahomes while four picks, including the 31st overall choice on Thursday, move on to Baltimore. Two Raven draft picks also come over with Brown, the first of which will be a second-rounder on Friday.
One can argue that a trade between a pair of playoff teams should have little effect on the New York Jets, who are ready for a potentially franchise-changing weekend. But New York will turn in three draft cards within the first 34 selections next Thursday and Friday. The Chiefs and Ravens’ gambit could set them up for what they plan to do with the latter pair.
The Jets’ first pick, second overall on Thursday, is more than likely accounted for: unless they plan on starting James Morgan or Mike White in September, they’re taking a quarterback. But debate rages on in what they’ll do with the 23rd overall choice, obtained from Seattle last offseason. The Ravens also own their regularly scheduled pick in the 27th slot, giving them two picks before the Jets pick again at No. 34, the second pick of the second round.
Baltimore is at an interesting point on its franchise timeline. They’ve earned at least 10 wins in each of the last three seasons and won a playoff game for the first time since 2014 in the Wild Card round in January. Barring a jaw-dropping transaction, they’re set with Lamar Jackson at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Their ground game enjoyed a significant jolt with rookie JK Dobbins working with Gus Edwards (1,528 yards, 15 touchdowns combined).
With Jackson’s great power comes even greater responsibility (wrong city, we’re aware). Jackson is capable of beating teams both through the air and on the ground (1,005 rushing yards). His mobile prowess, however, leaves him open to sacks and injuries. The trade of Brown, a blindside blocker, leaves a mediocre offensive line (16th in Pro Football Focus’ final 2020 rankings) in somewhat dire straights. Former All-Pro Ronnie Stanley is expected back, but he’s coming off a brutal ankle injury suffered in November.
Additionally, Baltimore may also look to surround Jackson with more weaponry. They’re set with the young pair of Dobbins and Edwards in the backfield but their receivers leave something to desired. Is there a No. 1 receiver in this bunch? Marquise “Hollywood” Brown has potential (58 receptions, 769 yards, 8 touchdowns) but even if the Ravens want to roll with him, major questions reside behind him. Second receiver Willie Snead left for Las Vegas, leaving behind the unproven Miles Boykin and Devin Duvernay. Veteran Sammy Watkins was welcomed in this offseason, but he’s not somebody who’s going to be the difference in wrangling away control of the AFC from Kansas City or Buffalo.
Thus, it’s very possible that the Ravens could be going offense with each of their first two picks. From a Jets standpoint, it’s thus less likely they can afford to wait until Friday to address a non-quarterback need. Had Kansas City kept Thursday’s penultimate pick, it was more likely to see them addressing their pass rush woes. It’s quite possible Baltimore could go offense with each of their Thursday couple. Several teams between 23rd and 34th (Pittsburgh, Green Bay) already appear to be leaning toward an offensive pick as well. Baltimore’s extended prescience should at least help narrow the Jets’ choices. Several defensive talents should still be around by the time Friday’s proceedings start, but some elite blockers (Tevin Jenkins, Alex Leatherwood, Christian Darrisaw, Landon Dickerson) and weapons (Travis Etienne, Rashod Bateman) could be gone with another offense-seeker injected into the fold.
Granted, the Jets are working so far from behind that there’s almost nowhere to go but up when it comes to day one of the draft. But while the Jets will likely have to address defensive woes sooner or later, they’re about to put a big investment in one of the non-Trevor Lawrence passing talents of a strong 2021 passing class. Whether it’s Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, Trey Lance, or an unknown party, they can’t lead the Jets’ resurrection on their own. They need help, namely on the offensive line after not doing too much to upgrade over the offseason.
Secondary and edge help will be around in the second round. Thursday should be a day dedicated to the new quarterback and getting him as comfortable as possible before the hard part begins. Giving him a more attractive offensive depth chart to look at before he makes his Florham Park entrance requires an offensive mindset in the earliest stages in Cleveland next week.
But the New York Jets and Sam Darnold might’ve come as close as one can, especially when it comes to severing the relationship between an NFL squad and its franchise quarterback.
Darnold confirmed as much in his first statements as a Panther on Monday, a week after he was dealt from New York for a trio of draft picks. While Darnold ruefully stated that he throught he was destined to be the Jets’ quarterback for a long time, he’s ready to embrace a new opportunity in Charlotte.
“I imagined I was going to be the franchise quarterback of the New York Jets for a long time…once you realize that the team that drafted you is moving on, it stings a little bit,” Darnold said, per Carolina reporter Darin Gantt. “Getting that news that you’re going to be traded, of a team saying, ‘Hey, we didn’t want you,” for whatever reason, is hard. But right now, I feel great about it.”
How did each side find something to celebrate? ESM investigates…
Through social media schadenfreude, the Jets are a team whose simplest mistakes are turned into memes within minutes. That concept has hit a fever pitch during their decade-long playoff drought (an NFL-worst), but there may well be light at the end of their tunnel of rebuilding. Rare optimism can be found at One Jets Drive after the hire of Robert Saleh, whose arrival has spawned positive reviews both domestically and abroad.
But the good vibes bring forth a perilous responsibility: it must be surrounded by as little controversy as possible. Holding a quarterback competition would be an unwelcome distraction during. Once the games do get underway, it’s widely expected that fans will be back at MetLife Stadium. The last thing the Jets needed was spectators, no matter the capacity limit, screeching for Darnold’s backup every time he threw an incomplete pass.
But, having traded Darnold, the Jets have a clear-cut plan. Their quarterback controversy will end no later than the evening of April 29, when they choose second in the 2021 NFL Draft in Cleveland. General manager Joe Douglas more or less confirmed as much when speaking after the deal was done.
“There was…a discussion about us taking a quarterback at pick number two and having Sam here for the season…ultimately, we felt that that wouldn’t be the best situation for Sam, the rookie quarterback, Coach Saleh and his staff, and the locker room,” Douglas said, per notes from the Jets. “We felt like this was the best decision for the entire organization moving forward, in hitting the reset button.”
Darnold Gets Stability
On paper, Carolina isn’t too far removed from the Jets in terms of where they are on the NFL barometer. They won only five games last season and are seeking stability under a first-time NFL head coach in Matt Rhule. But one look at the Carolina ledger shows that they provide a more stable offensive situation than Darnold ever had in New York.
Darnold’s burden is immediately lightened through a run game headlined by Christian McCaffrey rather than a disgruntled Le’Veon Bell and a tandem of projects. The biggest sign of Panther progress was perhaps shown through McCaffrey’s absence: despite enjoying only three games with the 2019 All-Pro in the backfield, Carolina remained competitive. All but three of their 11 losses came by one possession while Robby Anderson, Darnold’s favorite New York target in his first two seasons, tallied a career-best 1,096 yards despite relative turmoil at quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater was inconsistent in his first full-time starting gig since enduring a contact-free camp injury in 2015 and was relieved by XFL star P.J. Walker.
The coaching staff is also a welcome sight to any offensive player seeking his NFL fortune. Head coach Matt Rhule turned downtrodden college programs at Temple and Baylor into offensive blockbusters while offensive coordinator Joe Brady over saw the rise of Joe Burrow as the passing game coordinator during the LSU Tigers’ dominant national title run in 2019. Darnold took the time to appreciate the culture that Carolina is building during his opening statements.
“The culture that’s being set here is amazing,” Darnold said in Gantt’s report. “That’s probably the part that intrigues me the most about this.”
A Fine Addition to the New York Collection
While the immediate yield from the Darnold trade isn’t flashy…the Jets earned the 226th overall pick in the coming Cleveland selections…it’s pretty impressive on Douglas’ end that he was able to net a second-round pick (coming in 2022) for an injury-prone quarterback with a 13-25 ledger as a starter, even if the circumstances weren’t the greatest.
“With the premium picks, your first, second, third-round picks, those are the picture you’re looking to become starters on your team,” Douglas remarked through the Jets. “So, those ultimately end up being the picks that you spend the most time talking about.”
As a young Queens webslinger was told, however, with great power comes great responsibility. Quantity doesn’t automatically equal quality, and that axiom rings especially true in the NFL Draft. The Jets learned that lesson the hard way during the 2014 proceedings through John Idzik’s doomed dozen and it’s a nightmare that Douglas doesn’t take lightly.
“We have a lot of opportunity in front of us, 21 picks in the next two drafts, including 10 in the first three rounds,” Douglas said in Jets notes. “But with that opportunity, we know we have to make the most of it and hit on these picks.”
Douglas presents himself as a guy who’s not interested in looking for excuses. But he’d have a good few in the holster.
He joined the Jets under unusual circumstances, placed in charge weeks before training camp opened after Mike Maccagnan’s post-draft firing. His first years with the organization have been handicapped by decisions he had no jurisdiction over (namely the Adam Gase hire).
Now, Douglas’ signings are getting closer to becoming the majority after several Maccagnan/Gase staples were shipped elsewhere. He has a handpicked head coach in Saleh and he’s about to have a handpicked franchise quarterback.
It’s official: Douglas is the captain now. For better or worse, this was a step the Jets needed to move toward. There are no more excuses, there are no more “wait untils”. Douglas’ era can officially begin and he can thus be judged appropriately.
“I think you feel pressure every day you walk into the building,” Douglas said in Jets notes. “You want to do this job to the best of your ability. You want to take the information that you have at hand and make the best possible decisions that you can make.”
Jets fans and the football-loving public at large are about to find out if they’re truly the right moves to end the perpetual rebuild…a rebuild Douglas now officially owns.
As the Sam Darnold era ends, a lingering question will haunt New York Jets fans as he prepares to move to Charlotte.
With respect to the countless devotees of movies, books, television shows, etc., across the world, no one writes more fan fiction than football fans. Rather than “Once upon a time…”, football fables often begin with a question: “What if…?”.
The question is endlessly asked before, during, and after every NFL season. What if that star prospect falls? What if they went for it on fourth down? What if that quarterback retires?
What if the New York Jets hired someone…anyone…other than Adam Gase to oversee Sam Darnold’s developmental years as head coach?
It’s a question whose answers reside months, even years, away. Both Gase and Darnold are now distant memories in the New York archives, the former fired and the latter bound for Charlotte in a trade with the Carolina Panthers. The Jets only have numbers to show for it in the immediate aftermath. Dealing Darnold netted them the 226th overall pick in the coming draft, as well as a second and fourth-round choice in the spring of 2022.
In the immediate aftermath, it’s easy to call the Jets’ Darnold deal with Carolina a win for both sides on paper. Darnold gains welcome stability in Carolina (reuniting with fellow ex-Jet Robby Anderson and working with All-Pro rusher Christian McCaffrey) while the Jets make some fine additions to their draft collection. But the Jets will forever look back on their Darnold with a sense of regret and what might’ve been. The chorus of “what if” echoes as the countdown to what’ll likely be the beginning of the Zach Wilson or Justin Fields era.
It starts with the hiring of Gase, a supposed offensive guru brought in to oversee Darnold’s vital post-rookie campaigns. Todd Bowles’ tenure had undoubtedly run its course, but its final stages were full of hope through Darnold’s final four games. It was a stretch that saw Darnold earn a come-from-behind victory in Buffalo (topping fellow 2018 draftee Josh Allen in their first meeting) and go head-to-head and blow-for-blow with Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers in consecutive weeks. The latter tilt, a Festivus showdown with the Green Bay Packers, was an overtime thriller that saw Darnold earn career-bests in passer rating (128.4) and passing yardage (341).
When Bowles was let go, the Jets needed someone with a strong developmental mind, someone who could nurture Darnold’s potential and build on the promise shown over the final stretch. CEO/Chairman Christopher Johnson knew just how vital the search would be when he spoke after dismissing the current defensive coordinator of the defending champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
“I think the Jets are a really good spot for a coach to end up,” Johnson said at the time. “So I think that we have a competitive advantage there. But we’re not going to sit down and wait for people to come to us, we’re going to search hard and fast. We want to get this done.”
It got done through the arrival of Gase, fresh off three years of Miami mediocrity. From the get-go, there probably should’ve been something off about the new boss, one who never truly fostered a young quarterback. Peyton Manning put the best numbers of his career under Gase, but the most adamant football denier could probably oversee an offense with Peyton Manning and still average 21 points a game.
Gase helped get the Chicago Bears’ offense back on track as coordinator in 2015, but Jay Cutler, despite a career-best passer rating, was in his 11th season and headed toward his polarizing career’s final stanzas. Even if Gase’s work with Cutler counted for something, it was more or less undone when the pair reunited for a fruitless season in South Beach two years later. In terms of youth, Ryan Tannehill endured what seemed like an endless stream of “make-or-break” campaigns before being mercifully shipped to Tennessee after Gase’s Floridan ousting. By now, little more needs to be written about Tannehill’s success sans Gase.
Yet, the Jets insisted Gase was their man, sticking with him after a dreadful 0-4 start. After his infamous bout with mononucleosis…a happening only amplified by social media schadenfreude that amplifies the Jets’ simplest errors…Darnold helped right to ship to the tune of a 7-9 ledger. Further fleeting flashes of brilliance emerged, such as Darnold’s return from illness, a 338-yard, two-score showing in a triumph over Dallas, the Jets’ first win of the year. Further silliness came through Darnold’s failed Ghostbusters tenure, but to have him post a winning record (7-6) despite endless silliness surrounding him was a promising sign.
As the season moved on, the Jets continuously eschewed the notion of firing Gase in-season. Johnson even broke out the guru comparisons after a listless opening day loss in Buffalo by calling Gase “a brilliant offensive mind” after the Jets pulled off the statistical anomaly of earning under 300 yards in Orchard Park. The sub-300 tally, in fact, occurred 11 times during the 2020 campaign…a downright jaw-dropping occurrence in an NFL that worships offense.
All the while, the Jets gave up on several accomplished names before deciding Gase was expendable. A mini-fire sale ensued that saw accomplished defenders Steve McLendon, Avery Williamson, and Pierre Desir sent away. Le’Veon Bell, a constant co-combatant in Gase headlines, was outright released while the eyes of the nation were centered on a rare Tuesday night game.
Darnold sank further into oblivion, forced into situations that even the greatest, most established quarterbacks would have trouble salvaging. One couldn’t even argue that the Jets were showing promise in these losses. All but one of their first eight defeats came by multiple possessions, exacerbated by the struggle to gain yardage. Unlike their blue MetLife Stadium co-tenants (the Giants losing five of their first eight in single possession games), there was nothing to get excited for from a Jets perspective.
For the record, it’s not only the Gase hire that Darnold had to put up with. His rookie season was spent behind an offensive built through the negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era. When the 2020 season kicked off, Darnold had only a single receiver left from his rookie campaign (tight end Chris Herndon, who has struggled to maintain rookie momentum) and his offensive line had undergone yet another makeover. The fact such flashes of brilliance were achieved despite playing in the far reaches of the football netherworld perhaps says something about Darnold, who has a prime opportunity to put his career back on track in Charlotte.
It could’ve happened in New York. The offensive line still needs work, but the Jets upgraded their weaponry this offseason, bringing in capable targets (Corey Davis, Keelan Cole) that can compete with returnees (Jamison Crowder, Denzel Mims) for top receiving honors. A multi-faceted rushing talent like Tevin Coleman can take some of the pressure off of whoever the quarterback will be.
But the Jets are trying to pen their own redemption story. They don’t have the time to co-author someone else’s.
In short, the Gase era left the Jets no other choice. His firing brought in a new regime, one praised not by the hot take artists but by players themselves, both domestically and abroad. For Robert Saleh to fully implement his vision and the Jets holding the ever valuable second overall pick of the NFL draft…the original of aerial franchise saviors like Donovan McNabb and Roman Gabriel…Darnold simply had to go.
Still, that won’t stop the eternal discussions, the fabled chapters that Jets fans will write for months before a single down is played and in the years after that, both supporting what Darnold could’ve done and celebrating his release.