Individually, the New York Jets have several make-or-break cases. It’s a shame because, from a 2020 point-of-view, they have little to lose.
In the latter stages of “Like a Rolling Stone”, Bob Dylan declares “when you ain’t got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”.
That’s certainly one way to look at the current state of affairs of the New York Jets. The team is the midst of a nine-year playoff drought (third-longest in the NFL) and, even with expanded playoff invitations, ending it will be a tall task. Established contenders populate the AFC (which will likely run through Kansas City until further notice) and the Jets were dealt a further blow with linebacker C.J. Mosley opting out.
But desperation creates difficult times. With no expectations, this could a time to break out of their shell, take chances, risk it all. After all, this is a team whose few veterans are getting quite sick of the piled-up defeats.
“I’ve been here four, going on five years and I’m tired of f***ing losing,” linebacker Jordan Jenkins said earlier this month, per Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com. “So, now (we) just got to ramp (things) up and just try to get the ball rolling.”
Entering his fifth season in green, Jenkins has been on the wrong end of many an NFL scoreboard. His collegiate career at Georgia endured only 13 losses. That number was surpassed by October of his sophomore season. A strong season (leading the Jets with eight sacks) led to the Jets welcoming him back for another year, but Jenkins, 26, perhaps has plenty to lose as his career enters a crossroads and he seeks to earn a long-term contract, be it in New York or elsewhere.
The Jets have 36 players due for free agency next offseason. They’re working with a coaching staff that may well be fighting for their jobs. At the same time, 2020 is a bit of a consequence-free season from a team standpoint. It’s anything but a Super Bowl-or-bust campaign. Everyone outside of Foxboro has the Buffalo Bills pegged to usurp the AFC East throne. Matching last year’s win total of seven may be a reasonable goal. Anything else would be a pleasant surprise. But, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not exactly a tragedy if the Jets miss out on the postseason party this year.
Thus, it’s on the guys whose positions are relatively safe to get things rolling and opening the book of chance up. Fortune can be risked. Moves can be made. It’s all about the Jets of the present and future working on something new. It’s on them to play a brand of risky Jets football that probably hasn’t been seen in a while. When was the last time, for example, you heard of a Jets trick play? Deep balls have been far and few in between. It’s time for the team to take risks on a year of no consequence.
Rookie safety Ashtyn Davis knows all about that brand of football. The Cal-Berkeley alum’s days as a Golden Bear were defined by a sense of nothing to lose as a walk-on player who had track to fall back on if the football experiment didn’t work out. He went on to be a crucial part of the Berkeley defense and special teams, becoming a regular on the Pac-12’s leaderboards. He played his way into consideration for the Burlsworth Trophy (awarded to the most outstanding Football Bowl Subdivision player who began his career as a walk-on) and into a third-round selection in April’s NFL Draft.
Set to be a big part of the New York defensive efforts as it was, Davis has a huge opportunity ahead upon the departure of Jamal Adams. His healthy reckless abandon, a willingness to immediately play two parts of the game (Davis has worked as both a returner and a gunner) has drawn the attention of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who hopes that veterans emulate such an attitude.
“I love the fact that he had to walk on and he had to do everything he could to just get a scholarship and get some time at the college level to play,” Williams said, per Kristian Dyer of Sports Illustrated. “But he’s done very well with everything we’ve seen, he’s going to have to slow down mentally and that’s what happens when any young guy comes into our league and this league is not one of those things where you just do a couple of things and let him go.”
“I’m a fast guy and special teams is just defense in space so it’s a good opportunity to show that I can do the things I need to do on defense as well as making a contribution on the field,” Davis added. “I’m competitive so as long as I’m on the football field so when I’m out on the field, regardless of what it is, I like doing it.”
Veterans can likewise roll with the continuing change and the potential to take risks and roll through. Quarterbacks entering a “make-or-break” year appears to be a theme in the Adam Gase era…it felt like Ryan Tannehill went through a decade of them in Miami…but this isn’t the case for Sam Darnold.
As the Jets continue to search for an offensive identity, Darnold has a chance to establish himself as a true leader and franchise man. The Jets’ receiving corps continues to develop and work itself out, a process that might get even lengthier with both Breshad Perriman and Denzel Mims nursing injuries. But the potential of a bolstered offensive line gives him a good opportunity for a true breakout.
Considering the turnover Darnold has had to deal with in only two years as a New York starter (both the receiver corps and offensive line from Darnold’s rookie season are gone), it’s almost a miracle that he’s been able to flash his occasional brilliance under center. Stationed behind a group of blockers that has the most to lose on this squad, Darnold has a chance to develop chemistry and work on the personal issues that have prevented him from reaching his full potential, such as the deep ball. NFL Next Gen Stats had him ranked third-worst among starters in air yard distance (46.2).
“Continuing to work on deep-ball accuracy, is huge for me. (I) feel like I left some of those on the table last year,” Darnold said during the spring. “But with the weapons that we have now, we’re looking for good production from our wide receivers and running backs.”
Risks should even be on the table for those who have everything to lose. Marcus Maye has an opportunity to truly take over the New York defense. When he gets back on the field, Perriman has a chance to truly live up to his first-round potential and hit the reset button his career.
By no means, obviously, should this team even consider tanking or “trusting the process”. This isn’t the NBA, where a high draft pick proves more valuable than getting the 7th/8th seed. Seasons in the NFL are simply far too valuable to entertain that kind of thought.
But, as a team, healthy reckless abandon should be the name of the game. Not everyone is going to make it through this season of transition, one that will serve as an audition for many as the Jets try to prepare for potential glory days ahead. From a team standpoint, it’s time to take risks, make your own luck. If it wasn’t meant to be, it wasn’t meant to be. Who knows, the season could well play out the way many expect it to play out: another losing season and no playoff berth to show for it. If that’s the way it goes, at least work on the development. Risk and chance could well be the way to go.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags