The New York Jets can’t ignore the (backup) quarterback problem much longer

Robert Saleh doesn’t seem too worried about it, but the New York Jets’ backup quarterback situation creates an eerie offensive aura.

Rejoice, New York and New Jersey, for it’s officially summer in the metropolitan area.

Don’t turn your calendar to June 21 just yet. It’s perfectly fine if you haven’t run to the ice cream truck for a Choco Taco. Summer in the city is often welcomed not by the beach, blockbusters, and burgers…but rather a New York Jets quarterback controversy.

Now, rest assured, Jets fans, you who have been granted legitimate hope in the form of Zach Wilson. The second overall pick of April’s draft is the latest (and, the Jets certainly hope, last for a while) name chosen to lead Gang Green into the 21st century. Time will tell if he lives up to his status as the long-awaited passing prophet absent since Joe Namath hung up his helmet adorned with a green oval, but there’s no doubt that he is the man the Jets envision starting in three, five, ten years from now.

This time around, however, the problem lies behind Wilson.

As New York commences their minicamp proceedings this week, three quarterbacks reside on the current passing ledgers. Wilson is far and away the top option, with James Morgan and Mike White sitting behind him. There’s not much in common between the three, with the glaring exception that they all have the same number of regular season passes in the National Football League: zero.

The goose egg is a startling contrast to the last few attempts the Jets have made in providing insurance, both mentally and physically, to their would-be backup quarterback. Todd Bowles’ tenure began with Ryan Fitzpatrick set to mentor Geno Smith before an infamous training camp altercation thrust the bearded Harvard alum into the starter’s role (and deeper into the hearts of the American football fan). After being used as a stopgap the year before, Josh McCown was re-signed with the purpose of being the Yoda to Sam Darnold’s Luke Skywalker. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco took over the role last season, though it was clear to the Jets that there was no saving Darnold from the Adam Gase era, leading to Wilson’s selection. Years beforehand, Mark Sanchez earned some of his final football hours thanks to the late-career efforts of fellow two-time AFC finalist Mark Brunell.

New York Jets, Mark Sanchez
NY Jets quarterback #6 Mark Sanchez runs off the field with Mark Brunell after the Jets win 17-16. The New York Jets defeated the Indianapolis Cols 17-16 in an AFC Wild-card game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN, January 8, 2011. ***** ALL NEW YORK NEWSPAPERS OUT —- ALL NEW YORK NEWSPAPERS OUT ***** (Photo by Anthony J. Causi/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)Mar

 

Flacco switched his shades of green in the offseason, moving on to Philadelphia to mentor (and possibly compete with) another young hopeful, Jalen Hurts. For the three weeks between the Darnold trade and the draft’s opening night, Morgan and White were the only quarterbacks on the roster before Wilson heard his name called in Cleveland.

Yet, Jets coach Robert Saleh doesn’t sound overly enthused about bringing in a backup any time soon. Speaking after the Jets’ minicamp proceedings on Monday, Saleh seemed to hint that bringing one in at this point in time wouldn’t have much of a purpose at this point in time.

“If you just bring in a veteran who doesn’t know your scheme, he’s learning just like the rookie is,” Saleh said, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “Aside from helping him with rehab…and study habits, which I think Zach and that entire quarterback room is already ahead of the curve on how they handle their bodies and study, I don’t know if there’s much value aside from being comfortable that if the crap hits the fan you have a veteran who has played football. It’s more of a comforting feeling rather than working your ass off to develop the quarterbacks who are already in the building.”

The role of the backup quarterback may well be the most underrated job in professional sports. Sometimes, the role proves to be bizarrely rewarding. Fitzpatrick, for example, has built a 17-year NFL career through quasi-Winston Wolf endeavors, solving starting quarterback problems in various locales. He’s spending the 2021 season in Washington, which is still buzzing from the antics of Taylor Heinicke, the Old Dominion legend who viral for playing respectably during the NFC Wild Card playoffs against Tampa Bay last winter. Charlie Whitehurst, he of a Christ-like physical appearance and nearly 400 pass attempts over 11 NFL seasons, earned a cult following as “Clipboard Jesus”.

In these modern NFL Sundays, dominated by the social media behemoth of Twitter, it doesn’t take much for overzealous fans, even facetious supporters looking for engagements, to start calling for the backup’s name. Once he’s in, the primary directive is simple: do not be the reason your team fails to prevail. For instance, Heinicke (26-of-44, 306 yards, 46 rushing yards, 2 total scores, 1 interception) was far from the primary reason that Washington fell to the eventual Super Bowl champions, and it convinced the Football Team to bring him back on a two-year deal. The same couldn’t be said about, say, 2019’s Pittsburgh Steelers, who failed to keep up the same offensive production with Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges after Ben Roethlisberger went down.

But when a rookie quarterback, an anointed franchise man, joins the fold, the backup takes on double duty: serving as a mentor or even holding down the fort while the freshman gets his NFL legs.

The latter concept is an endangered species. Kansas City’s gambit…remaining in immediate contention with effective incumbent Alex Smith before turning the reigns over to future champion Patrick Mahomes…probably bought it some time. The Los Angeles Chargers were set to roll with such a strategy before a medical emergency forced the chosen veteran, Tyrod Taylor, to vacate the starter’s role in favor of eventual Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert. Miami partially employed it, but never truly committed to Tua Tagovailoa last season. When thrust into a surprise playoff run, they turned to, who else, Fitzpatrick.

Right now, neither of the understudies on the Jets’ roster seems capable of fulfilling those roles. The fourth-round selection of Morgan was bizarre when it happened (especially when Gabriel Davis went to Buffalo three picks later) and was made even more puzzling when the Florida International alum couldn’t even earn a dressing during a meaningless two-win season. White, a fifth-round pick in Dallas back in 2018, at least has the benefit of a couple of preseasons under his belt, but those numbers (68.5 passer rating over eight contests) aren’t inspiring.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 08: Nick Foles #9 of the Chicago Bears passes under pressure from Devin White #45 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field on October 08, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Bucs 20-19. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Jets have actually had ample opportunities to address the area this offseason, but have curiously passed on each one. Brian Hoyer, another thrower who has extended his career through sizable backup endeavors, was brought in for a workout but he chose to continue his third tenure in New England. Nick Mullens, a former pupil of the Jets’ new offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur back in San Francisco, seemed like another prime candidate before he joined Flacco and Hurts in Philadelphia. The free agent market is relatively shriveled at this point, with the best option perhaps being a trade with Chicago, inquiring about Nick Foles. Flacco’s fellow Super Bowl MVP is a popular entry in the backup quarterback Mount Rushmore who won the 52nd alongside current Jets general manager Joe Douglas, the latter then residing in the Eagles’ front office. He’s expendable in Chicago through the arrivals of veteran Andy Dalton and rookie Justin Fields.

Between Saleh’s words and the logistics and protocols involved with a new entry, it’s probably not wise to assume that Jets (who have a decent amount of extra draft picks to barter with) will be welcoming Foles to their minicamp proceedings this week. But they’d be better off trying to solve the situation sooner rather than later.

As the Darnold era quickly proved, the Jets can hope all they want that a certain prospect will pan out, but they need to have both guidance and insurance working with the rookie. Darnold would routinely mention that his best days came under the watch of McCown, years after Mark Sanchez built a strong relationship with Brunell. Otherwise relatively quiet on the football timeline, the early summer months can be a perfect time for Wilson to work with a mentor. By neglecting this area for so long, they’ve wasted some valuable time in Wilson’s development.

One can have the highest hopes and dreams for Wilson, and it’s abundantly clear that the Jets have such fantasies in store for him. However, when the prized rookie comes in and is somehow tied for the title of the most experienced man in the room…that’s a controversy.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Jamison Crowder contract hints at Robert Saleh effect

New York Jets, Jamison Crowder

Crowder couldn’t be blamed if he wanted to move on, but his return to the New York Jets shows further hints at excitement for the Saleh era.

Upon ceasing the Adam Gase era, the New York Jets did everything short of the process Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet used to outright forget each other’s existence in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The team spent this spring on a relative purge of the Gase era, starting fresh at several major outlets, including the almighty quarterback position.

Even the return of the most potent weapon on the team, the rare offensive silver lining, was highly in question.

No one in their right football mind could’ve found fault in a divorce between the Jets and Jamison Crowder. While Crowder (1,532 yards, 12 touchdowns) was the closest thing the Jets had to a consistent offensive highlight-maker, but that status probably said more about the state of the Jets than it did about Crowder. For his part, Crowder used the last two years to become one of the more reliable slot receivers in the league. But, set to turn 28 on Thursday, Crowder hasn’t reaped the true glory that the NFL has to offer. His career has been spent mostly in the football doldrums of Washington and Florham Park, his postseason endeavors limited to a single Wild Card weekend showing with former after the 2015 season.

Crowder’s co-workers are drastically changed as well, deskmates that could put a dent in the sizable numbers he has gotten used to. Instead of first-round also-ran Breshad Perriman and current lacrosse star Chris Hogan, Crowder now shares a playbook with Corey Davis and Elijah Moore, each accoladed in their respective veteran and rookie fields. Topping that with another veteran arrival boasting slot experience (Keelan Cole), the $10 million in cap savings due to the Jets upon his trade or release, and the fact that the final year of Crowder’s contract had no guaranteed money left, an amicable parting seemed like the best way to go.

Instead, Crowder is coming back to help author a new chapter of the Jets’ rebuild.

Ian Rapoport of NFL Network revealed on Monday that Crowder will be back in New York on a restructured deal. While official numbers have not been disclosed, ESPN’s Rich Cimini hinted that the Jets were seeking to convince Crowder to take “at least a 50 percent pay cut” on his $10 million salary. The extra money put toward the Jets’ $27 million in available cap space (third-best in the NFL behind Jacksonville and Denver) could possibly go toward blocking upgrades, as New York is rumored to be assessing Morgan Moses’ post-Washington situation.

Dec 27, 2020; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Jets wide receiver Jamison Crowder (82) is tackled by Cleveland Browns cornerback Denzel Ward (21) during the first quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s easy and fair to avoid sentimentalities and chalk up the gambit to a mere business decision. Crowder presumably gets a guaranteed salary and gets to view the 2021 season as a chance to make a highlight tape that will presumably end up on the desks of the other 31 NFL general managers as soon as the final seconds ticks off of the Jets’ Week 17…erm, 18…contest. One can also argue that moving elsewhere this late in the postseason would have severely limited Crowder’s potential destinations.

But as the Jets’ rebuild edges closer to immortality, it’s hard not to view Crowder’s re-upping, if only for a short while, as yet another sign of how much Robert Saleh has changed the culture in his short time at the New York helm.

Even Jets fans might be tired of hearing about the Saleh effect, especially considering we’re still about three months away from playing meaningful downs. Part of the Saleh allure, even if his worshippers don’t want to admit it, is indeed recency bias. Things became so garish under Gase that anything short of Rich Kotite’s return would’ve been seen as an upgrade. Observing the Saleh effect also doesn’t mean one views the new Jets’ boss as infallible. One would think, for example, that his reputation could’ve secured a stronger secondary lineup.

If Saleh’s prescience did play a role, though, it’s fair to assess the work he’s doing in combating the “Same Old Jets” moniker.

Even if things worked out in relatively favorable fashion, the Le’Veon Bell debacle should’ve set the Jets’ free agency endeavors back at least a few years. What self-respecting free agent was going to look at what Bell went through…rumors of in-fighting, mismanagement…and say “Yeah, I want in on that”? One could easily cast the blame of the Bell trouble entirely on Gase, but that doesn’t erase nearly five decades of football follies that gain extra attention, if only because there’s a Jets logo on it.

Had the Butt Fumble, for example, happened anywhere else, the sensation probably would’ve died down in a month. But because Mark Sanchez’s infamous turnover happened with a green oval on his helmet, it became a non-perishable. Joe Douglas deserves some credit in freshening up the free agency welcome wagon as well. When things didn’t work out, he sent some valuable pieces off to more attractive situations that also fit their on-field needs (i.e. sending Steve McClendon to the eventual Super Bowl champions in Tampa Bay). But, from the moment he took the job, Douglas was fighting decades of jokes, many of them exaggerated, made at the Jets’ expense, one that painted (and frankly continues to paint) Florham Park as a football underworld.

Jan 3, 2021; Glendale, Arizona, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh against the Seattle Seahawks at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Jets stigma could’ve steered free agents, including Crowder, away. Even with so many improvements, asking the Jets to reach the playoffs is still going to be a tall task. Crowder would’ve been well within his rights to demand a trade to a contender or take his chances on the late offseason free agency market. After all, his skills as a reliable slot prescience could well complement a team at the cusp of a playoff spot or seeking to move further in the postseason.

Those unwilling to embrace the Saleh effect could further argue that, since Crowder has re-upped on a mere one-year deal and the prescience of young, lauded projects like Moore, he won’t be around to fully reap what the new guard is sowing. But, much like anointing Saleh (and/or Zach Wilson, for that matter) as the savior of green metropolitan football, it’s probably a bit too early to have any in-depth conversations about the future. If the Jets flash some hope beyond the expected improvement from a rock-bottom campaign and Crowder becomes further absorbed into the rebooted unit, a further commitment could be possible.

The most noticeable difference in Crowder’s New York career, at least from a leadership perspective, this time around is that of Saleh. The new head coach’s hire has earned vocal praise from players both domestically and abroad. Crowder’s decision to not only stay but return to a team eager to atone for a two-win campaign is, in part, another such statement.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets add DE, ex-49er Ronald Blair (Report)

New York Jets

The latest New York Jets addition spent five seasons in San Francisco, the last four under new head coach Robert Saleh.

When it comes to his first roster as a head coach, things look a little more familiar for New York Jets boss Robert Saleh this week.

Per a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets have signed former San Francisco 49er Ronald Blair. The Appalachian State alum joined the league as a fifth-round pick in 2016 and has spent the last four seasons under the watch of Saleh, then a defensive coordinator in the Bay Area.

Blair burst on the national football scene by ending his career in Boone with the 2015 Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year award (previously won by Demarcus Ware). He earned 88 tackles (including 13 sacks) over his five seasons with the 49ers, partaking in 47 games (2 starts). His best statistical season came in 2018 when he put 36 tackles (10 for a loss, 5.5 sacks).

While Blair has proven himself to be a reliable depth option, injuries have taken over his career. His last NFL regular season action came in November 2019, as he missed both the 49ers’ run to Super Bowl LIV and all of last season after tearing his ACL.

Saleh and the Jets have made a bit of a point to avoid oversaturating the roster with former 49ers, as only reserve receiver Matt Cole has officially joined this season. But Saleh routinely bestowed praise upon Blair during their shared tenure in red and gold, so it was thus no surprise that the Jets had some interest.

“If you like winning, you like Ronnie. If you don’t, you don’t,” Saleh said in September 2019, per Jacob Hutchinson of KNBR. “He’s just a model of consistency…I love Ronnie. I’ve gushed about him up here and I can do it for another 15 minutes if you all like. You guys know how I feel about him.”

“He looked fantastic and he’s looked like that, to me, his entire career, it just goes unnoticed when he’s not the big name, he’s not the big draft pick. But, he’s your lunch pail, gets things done, makes things work, gets people lined up. He does it all. I’m happy we have him. He’s a playmaker. People have never noticed it.”

[[UPDATE: 6/1/21, 8:55 A.M. ET]]: The Jets confirmed the signing of Blair, likewise announcing the waiving of fellow defensive lineman Sharif Finch in a corresponding move.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

The New York Jets’ most vital improvements may be on special teams

The New York Jets’ special teams improvements will vital in taking their first steps toward their leadership’s vision.

When an NFL team comes off a two-win season and adds a second digit to its playoff drought, a macabre gift is offered in the form of an offseason where almost any move made will push the organization in the right direction.

Even if the New York Jets weren’t coming a season considered garish even by their own star-crossed standards, they certainly had one of most productive offseasons in the NFL.

The hiring of Robert Saleh brought rave reviews domestically and abroad. The end of April saw them find their newest franchise quarterback (Zach Wilson) and finish creating what could be one of the deepest receiving corps in the league (draftee Elijah Moore joining veteran newcomers Corey Davis and Keelan Cole). Defensively, they stocked up on veterans of 4-3 sets that Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich are projected to implement.

While the playoffs still sit out of reach for the Jets, trapped with a divisional juggernaut and established AFC contenders, there’s no doubt they’ve improved on paper on both offense and defense. They’re packed with newcomers that are going to help them improve both immediately (Tevin Coleman/Jarrad Davis) and in the long term (Davis and Carl Lawson, each a signer of a three-year deal).

But the true difference after this offseason could well be on display on the Jets’ special teams.

It feels like an eternity since the Jets were able to breathe easy about their specialists, even though it’s only been two full seasons since they sent both their kicker (Jason Myers) and primary returner (Andre Roberts) to the Pro Bowl. The turnover in the kicker’s spot has been particularly troubling: since Myers absconded to Seattle after his all-star season, six different kickers have appeared in the Jets’ role in either a regular season or exhibition contest.

It’s not just the kicking game where the Jets have struggled. Last season, they ranked 25th and 27th in opposing kick and punt return respectively and alternated between Corey Ballentine and Braxton Berrios as their own kickoff man.

New head coach Robert Saleh made it clear from the get-go that special teams adjustments would be part of his ongoing renovations, even if he wouldn’t take an immediate hands-on role. To that end, he retained longtime special teams coordinator Brant Boyer on his staff after an extensive research process. Boyer has now survived the purges of Todd Bowles and Adam Gase’s respective staffs as he enters his sixth season on the green staff.

“So many people have called on his (Boyer’s) behalf,” Saleh said per team reporter Ethan Greenberg. “He’s held in such high regard.”

General manager Joe Douglas has concurred, demonstrating his dedication by drafting punter Braden Mann with the final pick of his original draft in 2020.

The kicking solution isn’t fully solved, with incumbent Sam Ficken battling with undrafted free agent Chris Naggar. While Naggar might not have had the notoriety of first-year prospects like Evan McPherson or Jose Borregales, but he did lead the AAC in conversation rate (94 percent) and points during his final year at Southern Methodist.

“(We’re) very excited about him, giving him a chance,” Saleh said about Naggar, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “(We’re going) to give him the opportunity to come here and compete for that job. That’s a real deal and it’s gonna be fun to watch.”

That’s the type of reliability the Jets need in the kicker spot, especially with an offense still lingering in its development stages. With new quarterback Zach Wilson in tow, the maturation process will probably start all over again (though Wilson has a far stronger arsenal to work with in his first year than Sam Darnold probably ever did). What’s going to be huge in boosting a young offense’s confidence is if they can end drives that reach opposing territory with any points whatsoever.

They nearly had that in Ficken last season, as the Penn State-based veteran hit his first nine field goal attempts (five alone in an October prime time game against Denver) before sustaining an injury that forced the Jets to turn to Sergio Castillo and Chase McLaughlin at several points.

Likewise, the Jets need to shore up their return game with Roberts long gone. Darnold’s rookie season was barely blessed, but he did have the relative stability of Roberts, currently a Houston Texan, setting him up with solid starting field position.

If anyone knows about strong starting field position, it’s one of Boyer’s new positional assistants in Leon Washington. Sure, the prescience of Washington, a 2006 New York draftee, may make Jets fans feel old, but that’s a minuscule price to pay for having his expertise on the roster. Washington has spent four of the past five seasons

Upon his arrival to the Jets’ staff, Washington expressed a desire to carry on in the footsteps of his own special teams as a player, the long-tenured Mike Westhoff.

“You think about the history of the Jets. They were always known for special teams going back to Mike,” Washington, the Jets’ all-time leader in kick return touchdowns, said in another team. “Brant does a great job. He’s in that Mike Westhoff mold. He can really get guys to play hard for him.”

Among those looking to follow in Washington’s footsteps may be Moore, who filled in on both receiving and punt return duties in a solid fashion at Mississippi. Another offensive choice from Cleveland’s draft, as North Carolina rusher Michael Carter spoke about the idea of handling kickoffs with Jack Bell on the team website.

“I’ve been returning kicks all my life,” Carter said. “I did in college last two years. I don’t know what the future has in store, but I’m sure the Jets have a good plan for me.”

The Jets’ free agency offerings seem to indicate that they’re interested in the smaller, less-heralded aspects of special teams as well. Their coverage issues often set opponents up in strong situations and several touchdowns were perhaps saved by Mann, who earned four tackles last season. Sure, it’s always great to see the team’s reaction when the punter earns a takedown, but the fun wears off when the opposing offense needs a mere 40 yards for six points. This offseason has seen them take steps to combat that problem, wisely allocating their excessive offseason capital toward those goals.

Justin Hardee, well known for his coverage exploits, was signed from New Orleans, while sixth-round choice Hamsah Nasirildeen has been seen by some as a steal for his potential to provide strong specialist coverage. Post-draft endeavors saw them take undrafted rookie Jordyn Peters from Auburn. The safety became well known for becoming a new kind of backfield prescience, blocking four punts during his time as a Tiger.

One can certainly argue that the NFL appears to be chopping at the impact special teams have on the game: longer extra points encourage two-point conversions, the kickoff gets moved up by a few yards more often.

But if the Jets ignore their special teams exploits, Robert Saleh’s “All Gas, No Brake” mantra is going to go for naught and lose its meaning. So far, the Jets are doing what they can to prevent that reality.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets announce the release of six players

In the aftermath of the NFL Draft, the New York Jets released six veteran players from their roster on Friday.

The New York Jets announced the release of the following veteran players on Friday morning:

CB Kyron Brown-Brown signed as an undrafted free agent out of Akron after the 2019 draft but spent all of last season on the physically unable to perform list after suffering a quad injury. He partook in three games in green, including one starts, all during the 2019 campaign.

TE Connor Davis-A Stony Brook alum, Davis didn’t partake in any Jets regular seasons games with the Jets but had previous professional experience in the AAF (Birmingham Iron) and XFL (St. Louis BattleHawks.

WR Josh Doctson-The former first round pick out of TCU signed with the Jets last season after four years between Washington and Minnesota but opted out of the 2020 season.

C Leo Koloamatangi-Another 2020 opt-out, Koomatangi had been on and off the Jets’ active roster but did not appear in any regular season games. He previously spent time on Detroit’s practice squad, entering the league as an undrafted free agent out of Hawaii.

K Chase McLaughlin-It appears the Jets’ kicking competition will come down to incumbent Sam Ficken and undrafted free agent Chris Naggar from Southern Methodist. McLaughlin, who appeared on the roster of six other teams before his New York arrival, converted two extra points in the Jets’ season finale in New England.

WR Jaleel Scott-A former fourth-round pick in Baltimore, Scott was added to the Jets’ practice squad after he was part of the Ravens’ final round of camp cuts. He appeared in one game with New York last season, earning a 16-yard reception in the Jets’ December loss to Seattle.

In addition to the cuts, the Jets also place safety Saquan Hampton on the reserve/physically unable to perform list. Hampton joined the Jets in December and partook in a single game, during which he ruptured his Achilles tendon. The Hamilton, NJ native was a sixth-round pick in New Orleans during the 2019 selections.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets claim former San Francisco WR Matt Cole

New York Jets

Cole, the newest New York Jet, partook in his first NFL action alongside Mike LaFleur in San Francisco last season.

The New York Jets announced the claiming of former San Francisco receiver Matt Cole on Wednesday. Cole, 24, reunites with Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur, who served as the 49ers’ passing game coordinator last season.

Cole emerged from Division II McKendree, where he earned a reputation as a superstar in yardage. His total tally of 3,583 all-purpose yards over four seasons was good for fourth all-time in program history. He ended his career by setting single season marks with 939 receiving yards and 12 touchdown receptions.

That senior season was also punctuated by a strong showing in the return game, where Cole had 208 yards on 26 returns. He also registered 18 tackles on special teams, earning the Great Lakes Valley Conference’s Special Teams Player of the Year honor, as well as an appearance for his receiving efforts on the all-conference team.

The Chicago native began last season on the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad. As an undrafted free agent, he was the first McKendree alum to appear in an NFL system. He remained on the Dolphins’ practice squad for most of the season, save for a stint on the COVID-19 list in November. The 49ers signed Cole to their active roster in December and he made his regular season debut in their final game of the season just over a week later. In a narrow loss to Seattle, Cole had two special teams tackles. San Francisco released Cole on May 4 but he has now been claimed by New York.

Cole joins a Jets receiving corps that added veterans Corey Davis and Keelan Cole as well as rookie Elijah Moore through the draft. Incumbents Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims likewise return. He could well compete for the Jets’ primary returning duties, likely set to compete with incumbents Corey Ballentine and Braxton Berrios.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

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

New York Jets, Brian Poole

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

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

But the Jets’ work is nowhere near complete.

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

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

Backup Quarterback

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

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

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

Experienced Defensive Help

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

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

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

Blocking Depth

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets undrafted free agency tracker (UPDATING)

New York Jets

Follow along with ESM as we track down the New York Jets’ post-draft free agent signings and activities beyond Cleveland.

As the New York Jets sign undrafted free agents, ESM will update the list below.

(LAST UPDATED: 5/1/21, 9:20 p.m. ET)

OT Teton Saltes, New Mexico-Born on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Saltes is the most recent winner of the Wuerffel Trophy (awarded to the college football player “who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement”) was one of the top blockers in the Mountain West. (Draft Diamonds)

TE Kenny Yeboah, Mississippi-A transfer from Temple, Yeboah spent last season working with second-round choice Elijah Moore in Oxford and put up career-best numbers (27 receptions, 524 yards, 6 touchdowns). (Matt Barrows)

LB Milo Eifler, Illinois-Eifler started his career at Washington before transferring to the Illini, where he had 63 tackles in 2019 before injuries cost him three contests last year. (Eifler)

DL Michael Dwumfour, Rutgers-Dwumfour transferred from Michigan to spend his final season in Piscataway, earning honorable mentions on the All-Big Ten team. (Dwumfour)

CB Brendon White, Rutgers-White was the Defensive MVP for Ohio State during their 2019 Rose Bowl victory over Washington. (Rutgers Football)

G Tristen Hoge, BYU-The Jets opted to add one of Zach Wilson’s protectors from Provo in Hoge, a Notre Dame. (BYU Football)

OL Grant Hermanns, Purdue-Much like some of their day three collections, Hermanns has been a strong leader off the field too, serving as one of the Boilermakers’ captains and appearing on the Big Ten’s All-Academic team. (James Yodice)

LB Hamilcar Rashed Jr., Oregon State-Rashed is best known for dominant junior year, where he set a school record with 14 sacks in 2019. (Jeremy Fowler)

OL Parker Ferguson, Air Force-This Cadet impressed the 18 teams that came to his Pro Day and has earned praise for agility and technique. (Center Grove Football)

CB Isaiah Dunn, Oregon State-At $185,000, Dunn has reportedly been inked to the richest undrafted rookie contract in post-draft history after earning 115 tackles and 18 pass breakups in his final season in Corvallis. (Aaron Wilson)

K Chris Naggar, Southern Methodist-Naggar converted 17-of-21 triple attempts last season (his longest from 48 yards out) and will likely compete with Sam Ficken and Chase McLaughlin. (Nathan Shackelford)

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

No, the New York Jets shouldn’t trade for Aaron Rodgers

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.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Mandatory Credit: Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags