It’s time for Robert Saleh to prove why he got the New York Jets job

new york jets, robert saleh

Ending the New York Jets lengthy postseason drought is still a tall task, but early injuries have raised the pressure on the new boss.

For New York Jets fans, hiring Robert Saleh was like getting that one Christmas gift your parents insist they’re not getting you.

Saleh was one of the most sought-after coordinators during the NFL’s search for head coaches in 2021. He was an anomaly in the lens of modern American football in that his prior duties have centered around defense, a new arrival in the brotherhood of NFL head coaches at a time when stats like 30 points or 400 yards appear on more losing box scores than ever. Of the seven new hires, Saleh was the only one with a background primarily in defense.

He nonetheless earned interviews with all but two of the teams looking to fill headset vacancies. His eventual hire by the Jets earned positive reviews both domestically and abroad. A football fan landscape that uses any simple Jets mistake as a guaranteed punchline almost didn’t know what to do with itself.

Jets supporters would’ve taken any average football mind after the harrowing two years under Adam Gase’s watch…something along the lines of the mediocrity on display with say, Eric Magini would’ve been downright euphoric. Getting Saleh, the coveted coordinator from San Francisco, could’ve been classified as the closest feeling the Jets have had to a postseason triumph since their visit to the AFC title game at the start of the prior decade. Saleh’s mantra of “All Gas, No Brake” has been more quoted than lines from the scripts of The Sopranos…no easy tasks in Northern New Jersey.

Despite the praises hoisted upon Saleh (and a strong refurbishing of the team’s depth chart), the Jets’ issues didn’t instantly vanish. No one was booking trips to Inglewood for Super Bowl LVI. MetLife Stadium probably won’t have to reschedule any events in January. The feeling of being a savior, a prophet amongst metropolitan football fans, has to feel good. But it’s going to take a lot of work to keep that trust.

Jets fans were understandably patient: Gase’s antics over the last two seasons left the franchise in shambles. “Trusting the process” has become a parody of itself…especially since such a strategy has produced nothing greater than heartbreak in the conference semifinals for the concept’s originators in Philadelphia…but Gang Green’s worshippers had no choice. Merely improving from last year’s disaster would be viewed as a genuine step in the right direction. The veteran additions they made this offseason were strong markers in that path back to respectability.

The trigger fingers of NFL decision-makers are quicker than ever: Gase’s two-year tenure was the shortest in Jets history to end via firing since Rich Kotite’s cursed 32 games in 1995-96 (Al Groh resigned after a single season in 2000). But, perhaps a completely winless campaign notwithstanding, Saleh isn’t getting fired if/when the Jets miss the playoffs this year.

 Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

But Saleh probably thought he’d at least get to enjoy the spectacle of opening kickoff before dealing with his first true test.

Saleh’s first games as an NFL head coach are going to held without the services of two of his top defenders after a costly business trip to Green Bay. Carl Lawson is done for the year after rupturing his Achilles while linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) is out for at least the first five games after leaving the exhibition showcase that concluded the trip. The football gods continued to show no mercy as the Jets prepare for their final preseason contest on Friday against Philadelphia (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS); former Eagles Vinny Curry will miss the reunion with his former team and all 17 regular season games after that after he was diagnosed with blood clots.

Saleh has also been left to finish cleaning up the mess the prior regime left behind. The incompetence of the last two seasons created so many holes that it was a near guarantee that some area on the roster was going to be neglected. New York’s secondary appears to be the odd group out: inexperienced raw talent reigns at the top of the cornerback depth chart (Bless Austin and Bryce Hall). The new, experienced arrivals upfront could’ve helped the Jets get by, especially in the early going. Now, Saleh is dealt his first major crisis before the calendar flips to September, to the point where the team is planning to seek out more help in the pass rush before the season starts…an endeavor that would ignore holes like backup quarterback and the aforementioned secondary. He’ll have to work through his first games with a relatively thin group on the defensive front.

In other words…the showcase that got Saleh hired continues.

If one’s criteria for hiring a new head coach stopped at a quick glance at the standings, Saleh’s status as a former 49ers assistant likely would’ve eliminated him. San Francisco followed up an NFC title with a 6-10 showing that sank them to the bottom of the NFC West. But the standings often rarely tell a team’s full story.

Since Gase, among others, was doing a fine job of upending the Jets’ fortunes on his own, the football gods might’ve left the Jets alone during the 2020 season. They instead turned their focus to the Bay Area, where several key ingredients were forcibly removed from the 49ers’ Super Bowl recipe. Saleh’s unit was no exception: the defensive injury list resembled a Pro Bowl ballot. Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Dee Ford, and Richard Sherman missed significant time, while Emmanuel Moseley, Jimmie Ward, and K’Waun Williams were also medical departures. San Francisco was extensively also affected by the COVID-19 issues that invaded the NFL last season; local restrictions forced them to relocate to Arizona for the last portions of their season.

Saleh responded to the challenges head-on. Whereas some new hires (i.e. Arthur Smith, Tennessee offensive coordinator-turned-Atlanta head coach) earned their promotions through on-field results, Saleh earned his job through adaptation.

Despite the front seven losing a good part of its bite, San Francisco’s defense managed to keep its pressure at a consistent rate, forcing hurries on 11.2 percent of opposing quarterback dropouts (fifth-best in the league). In more conventional stats, Saleh’s ragtag group of defenders allowed 350 yards or less in six of their final games. One such effort allowed the Washington Football Team’s offense to put up 193 yards…in a game the 49ers lost 23-15. Washington’s points were primarily earned through a Chase Young fumble return touchdown and Kamren Curl pick-six and two other drives totaling 42 yards that led to Dustin Hopkins field goals. Their longest drive of the day, a 72-yard trek to open the second half, also produced a Hopkins triple.

Under Saleh’s watch, depth man Kerry Hyder got back to numbers (49 tackles, 18 quarterback knockdowns, 8.5 sacks) not reached since his sophomore season in Detroit, which was followed by a torn Achilles that cost him his whole 2017 campaign. He was rewarded with a three-year deal from Seattle.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw said that Saleh’s composure helped the 49ers keep their composure in a time of distress.

“(He made) sure that every guy is doing their job 100 percent of the time, as good as they can, hard as they can,” Greenlaw said per Shayna Rubin of The Mercury News. “Saleh said if we bring that every week to the game, we’re going to be one of the most dominant teams. Having the mentality he has, the mindset he has, it carries to us on defense. I don’t know where he’s going to go from here, but I know that mentality will stick with us.”

Now, Saleh has to deal with that adversity right from the get-go. He’s not looking for sympathy…he’s looking for players to step up.

“The NFL train stops for nobody,” Saleh said after last weekend’s 23-14 preseason win over Green Bay per Randy Lange of the team website. It was Saleh’s first public comments after the dire Lawson diagnosis. “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.”

The New York Jets have been a franchise that has had to deal with adversity, a team that has been forced to adapt to landscapes changed through both self-inflicted calamities and issues bestowed from parties from abroad. Fortunately, they’ve found a head coach that earned his biggest opportunity to date through overcoming such issues.

This time, however, it’s time to do it in green gear.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets incoming DE Vinny Curry out for the season

The departure of Curry is another big blow to a New York Jets pass rush that also lost fellow newcomer Carl Lawson.

The New York Jets’ beleaguered pass rush took another hit on Tuesday, as the team announced that defensive end Vinny Curry was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list. Such a designation will force him to miss the entirety of the 2021 season, as Curry was originally placed on the Active/NFI list.

Formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, Curry inked a one-year, $1.3 million deal with the Jets in March. The Neptune, NJ native was set to enter his tenth NFL season, spending all but one in Philadelphia. Curry was part of the Eagles’ Super Bowl champion squad at the end of the 2017-18 season alongside current Jets general manager Joe Douglas, who was part of Philadelphia’s front office at the time. His final season with the Eagles saw him earn 16 tackles over 11 games including three sacks.

Curry becomes the fourth Jets defender set to miss significant time this season. The news of his medical departure due to this unspecified ailment comes less than a week after the Jets learned that they would be without fellow newcomer Carl Lawson this season due to a ruptured Achillies sustained a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers. Undrafted cornerback Zane Lewis (torn patella tendon/sprained MCL) is likewise out for the year while yet another free agency arrival, linebacker Jarrad Davis (ankle) is on pace to miss the first five games after leaving an exhibition showcase against the Packers early.

Placing Curry on the Reserve/NFI list was part of the Jets’ efforts to reach the league-manded 80 players allowed on their active roster by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. The team also announced the releases of receivers Manasseh Bailey and Josh Malone, as well as offensive lineman Tristan Hoge and linebacker Edmond Robinson.

New York (2-0) concludes its preseason slate on Friday night at MetLife Stadium against the Philadelphia Eagles (7:30 p.m. ET, WCBS).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Is a trade for pass rushing the right move right now?

new york jets, robert saleh

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.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

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.

New York Jets, Joe Douglas
 (Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images)

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.

No one’s denying the Jets can get better through a late trade or overcome the loss of Lawson (especially considering his prescience or absence wasn’t the difference in terms of ending their ten-year postseason drought). But if they’re going to make one more move before summer lets out, the Jets must take the time to assess their priorities, values, and faith.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: Attainable goals for Saturday’s game at Green Bay

New York Jets, Mekhi Becton

How can the New York Jets end a (literally) painful visit to Wisconsin on the right note? ESM’s Jets experts investigate…

Following a devastating injury on the football field, the New York Jets will look to pick up the pieces and seek redemption in a familiar place: the football field, namely the not-so-famous thawed, green tundra of Lambeau Field.

The Jets will seek to end a business trip to Wisconsin on the right note on Saturday late afternoon, as they’ll battle the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition contest (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network). New York and Green Bay have done battle this week through a pair of joint practices within a stone’s throw of the football cathedral.

The latter portion was a scene plucked from Jets’ fans’ most garish nightmares: defensive end Carl Lawson was carted off the field during a team drill. Their newly acquired pressure artist was later revealed to have torn his Achilles tendon, an injury that will keep force him to miss the entire 2021 season. Undrafted secondary defender Zane Lewis was likewise lost for the year in a separate medical incident.

So how can the Jets leave Titletown with a sense of accomplishment, no matter how small? ESM’s Jets experts investigate with an attainable goal for the Jets to aspire to.

Geoff Magliocchetti: Find Clarity, Confident, and Depth in the Offensive Trenches

Jets fans have every right to be sad and upset over losing Lawson. But, as we discussed earlier this week, his prescience alone didn’t launch the Jets into the playoff conversation and the front seven’s pass rush potential is deep enough to weather the coming storm in 2021. This was always going to be a year centered on development and Lawson’s injury shouldn’t change that.

This season is about finding long-term solutions that can sustain the Jets during the potential good time ahead. One area that was full of fostered potential is the offensive line made to protect the new franchise quarterback Zach Wilson. The blockers mostly did their job last weekend against the Giants’ reserve defenders…they allowed only one sack on the night and their rushers had a little bit of real estate to work with. But this week featured some developments, perhaps masked by the mourning over Lawson, that could have the Jets questioning their depth on the offensive wall.

One of their blocking staples from the last two seasons, guard Alex Lewis, retired this week. Another interior blocking project, 2020 fourth-rounder Cameron Clark, was also placed on injured reserve. Alijah Vera-Tucker, drafted to take over interior duties on Wilson’s blindside, has dealt with a pectoral muscle injury all camp and likely won’t play on Saturday.

Furthermore, reports from Green Bay state that the Jets’ line struggled in front of a legitimate opponent, as Green Bay’s starters took center stage during this week’s get-togethers. Brian Costello of the New York Post estimated that Wilson would’ve been sacked seven times during Wednesday’s practice had his red non-contact jersey saved him. Last season’s most cherished silver lining, tackle Mekhi Becton, has reportedly struggled against opponents, both domestically (Lawson) and abroad (Preston Smith).

Jets offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur mentioned that Becton was “going through some things right now”, per notes from the Jets. LaFleur nonetheless remained confident that Becton would regain his freshman swagger before opening weekend in Charlotte.

“He’ll keep on going. We’re only one preseason game in, we still have over three and a half weeks until we go out and play Carolina. Every day, there are still slight improvements that he’s making and we’re just trying to take it one day at a time right now,” LaFleur said. “Mekhi, he didn’t have a training camp last year. He didn’t have an OTAs last May and June so, he’s still working through some things. I got all the confidence in the world in Mekhi because one, I know how talented he is and two, he’s a good dude and he’s going to work through all this stuff. We got a long way to go across that whole front, across this whole offense and myself included.”

The Jets thus need to use Saturday’s proceedings as a way to build back confidence. Green Bay will likewise be resting many of its starters on Saturday, but a big opportunity lingers to regain the good vibes felt after last week’s win over the Giants. Some names to watch include Dan Feeney, who should continue to get premier interior reps with the first team, and David Moore, an undrafted first-year out of Grambling who drew interest from several teams on the rookie free agency market.

Brendan Carpenter: Go Beyond Lawson

The Jets have had a rough week. Leading up to their Saturday afternoon game against the Packers, joint practices took place in Green Bay. As we know by now, these practices were not injury-free.

.There were a few bumps and bruises, but no injury was bigger than that of Carl Lawson. He is going to miss the season with a torn Achilles. This gut-wrenching news, however, does bring about a new goal for the second preseason game: to see the rest of the depth at defensive end produce.

Outside of Lawson, the Jets have John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, Ronald Blair, Jabari Zuniga, and Vinny Curry, (who should return to the field around Week 2). Lawson was clearly the number-one edge rush option, but the team has nice depth and should still be able to apply pressure. The Jets will most likely have an even more noticeable rotation at end during Saturday’s game, and that’s fine.

The season isn’t over. The loss of Lawson hurts, but it creates an opportunity for other players to show their worth on the field. It won’t be easy to replace the impact the Jets’ most expensive offseason addition would’ve had on the field, but they’ll find a way to compensate. The opportunity starts against Green Bay, and they should be up to the task.

Don’t necessarily look for a substantial amount of sacks against the Packers, but the line should be able to make noticeable noise in the backfield on drop-backs. That alone would be enough to reach this new goal on short notice.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

New York Jets: 3 reasons why the Carl Lawson injury isn’t a total disaster

The New York Jets will undoubtedly miss their new pass rusher after Thursday’s painful news, but not all is lost.

The football gods were feeling bored on Thursday and thus engaged in one of their oldest and most cherished pastimes: toying with the New York Jets.

Carl Lawson, one of the NFL’s rising pressure artists, with the Jets in March, was injured in a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers on Thursday afternoon. The Jets later announced that their $45 million man ruptured his Achilles tendon during a blitz on a team drill and would miss the entire 2021 season. Zane Lewis, an undrafted freshman in the secondary, was likewise lost for the year through a sprained MCL and a torn patella tendon.

The Jets have little time to truly process this unfortunate turn of events. An exhibition contest against the Packers lingers on Saturday late afternoon (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network), their penultimate preseason game under the new shortened format. Lawson was expected to bolster a pass rush that has had trouble creating pressure in the backfield in recent seasons. This season alone, the team faces matchups against elite passing talents like Josh Allen and Tom Brady, as well as young rising stars like Joe Burrow, Trevor Lawrence, Jalen Hurts, and Tua Tagovailoa.

Pessimism over the coming Jets season has become as prevalent of a metropolitan summer tradition as Macy’s 4th of July fireworks and the New York Mets’ collapse combined. Lawson’s injury has done little to alleviate concerns from a fanbase that now has to deal with the NFL’s longest active playoff drought. 

But Jets fans should know…not all is lost with Lawson done for the year:

Return on Investment 

Don’t let the Jets’ garish two-win campaign blur the fact that their front seven enjoyed several breakout campaigns. The team has recently welcomed back Quinnen Williams to their trenches. Williams is coming off a breakthrough year that saw him lead the team in sacks and vindicate his status as the third overall pick in the 2019 draft. He believes that the arrival of head coach Robert Saleh will allow him to reach his true NFL potential, especially considering the pass rushers that the former San Francisco defensive boss has turned into household names. Williams has spent the offseason going over their film.

“I’ve been watching every tape (for) about two years now. When they had DeForest Buckner), (Arik) Armstead, Nick Bosa, man them guys were rolling,” Williams told Steve Serby of the New York Post. “That year when they went to the Super Bowl, I was watching their tape, how much fun those guys were having…Kwon Alexander was there, one of my good friends. (I was) watching those guys ball, watching those guys get off, watching those guys dominate that year.”

Elsewhere in returning trench talents, John Franklin-Myers and Foley Fatukasi will also look to build on breakthrough years. Another returnee, Bryce Huff, has been one of the most pleasant surprises in camp, drawing rave reviews after a two-sack performance in last weekend’s preseason opener against the Giants.

“The more we watch him, he’s just winning,” Saleh said of Huff’s Saturday showing, per Max Goodman of Sports Illustrated. “He’s one of those guys, at first, we were like, ‘Man, how are we going to hide this guy in the preseason, he’s going to end up with like 10 sacks.’ It got to the point where we were like, ‘How are we going to keep him off the first unit?’”

It comes with a painful sacrifice, but Saleh may no longer have an answer to that question.

Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

They Studied Abroad

It’s clear that Lawson figures into the Jets’ long-term plans. With the team potentially facing a pair of annual matchups against multi-talented quarterbacks like Allen and Tagovailoa for the foreseeable future, addressing the pass rush was vital.

But even sans Lawson, the Jets have built their backfield invasion force to a strong level. Lawson perhaps made them an elite unit, but there is still plenty to work with. The former Bengal wasn’t the only entry from abroad on the defensive depth chart: the Jets also welcomed Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry to the fold as affordable, serviceable options that have championship experience.

The Jets dodged a bullet when it came to Rankins. He also left Thursday’s practice in Wisconsin early thanks to a knee injury, but the Jets have since labeled him day-to-day. Earlier this month, Rankins, a playoff participant in each of the last four seasons as a member of the New Orleans Saints, didn’t single anyone out when it came to his praises of the defensive line. He feels that the pass rush can instill fear in offenses through a team effort.

“I’ve played with some good dudes. But the dudes I’m playing with now, in this scheme, I feel the sky’s the limit,” Rankins said in a report from Rich Cimini of ESPN. He was clear that the Jets’ backfield assaults wouldn’t end with the first teams, perhaps retroactively prophesizing that one lost cog, no matter how expensive that piece is, won’t break down this machine. “Whoever we roll out there, teams better, excuse my French, buckle their s***. We’re coming. And when that group gets tired, the next group is coming. We expect to do that for a full 60 minutes of a football game and dominate games.”

Curry, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles will likely miss the Jets’ opening weekend contest in Carolina but has refused to hide his enthusiasm for donning a new shade of green. The 33-year-old defender compared the modern Jets to the 2016 Eagles, a team that finished with a losing record but planted the seeds for a Super Bowl run the following season. Like the Jets, Philadelphia was working with a first-year head coach (Doug Pederson) at the time. Current Jets general manager Joe Douglas was serving in the Eagles’ front office as the Vice President of Player Personnel.

“I’ve seen this ship before. When Coach Pederson took over in Philadelphia, so I’ve seen this ship before and I just wanted to be a part of it, so no hesitation at all,” Curry said in his opening statements as a Jet, per Dave Zangaro of NBC Sports Philadelphia. “Just the relationship with Joe and just to see what he was building, it was kind of like too good to pass up. The excitement around the building when I met some of the staff members. I met a couple of my teammates that I knew just down the road. It was just like a great fit for me, a very exciting opportunity so I just had to do it.”

Lawson’s injury also opens up a big opportunity for late signing Ronald Blair, a disciple of Saleh’s systems in San Francisco. Despite Blair’s relatively unsung status, Saleh has spoken highly of the fifth-round pick from 2016 during their shared tenure in the Bay Area.

“If you like winning, you like Ronnie Blair. If you don’t like winning, you don’t like him,” Saleh said in 2019, per Kyle Posey of Niners Nation. “I love him to death. He can do no wrong in my book. He’s got great versatility. He’ll play nickel if you ask him to, and he’ll know what to do, and he’ll execute.”

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Don’t Talk About Playoffs

Jets fans have every right to be upset about Lawson’s injury. But they must face an uncomfortable truth: Lawson’s prescience didn’t thrust them into the playoff discussion. 2021 was never going to be the Jets’ year, frankly.

Perhaps nothing short of a full-team swap with the Kansas City Chiefs was going to put the Jets into this winter’s bracket. Competing for a division is out of the question for the time being with the Buffalo Bills at full strength. There are simply too many established contenders in the AFC to compete for the wild card…the AFC North might send three playoff teams alone. That predicament isn’t meant to be a critique of Douglas: it simply goes to show just how far backward the Adam Gase era set back the Jets’ fortunes.

Of course, one never wants to say never when it comes to NFL postseason fortunes…the greatest moment in Jets history is based on the first-ever Super Bowl upset after all. But there’s no denying that the odds are stacked against them. Appearing in the “In the Hunt” column once the networks breakout the playoff charts come the holiday season would be a respectable and attainable goal for the Jets. Lawson or no Lawson, the postseason was a tall ask, even with expanded real estate to work with.

Lawson’s forced departure shouldn’t depress the Jets. A prime opportunity still stands on the horizon, one to foster development and figure out who will be part of the potential good times ahead. Getting an upset win at some point in the season over one of those established contenders would also serve as a great throat clearing gesture, one that would put the rest of the NFL on notice. That Philadelphia team mentioned by Curry, for example, earned wins over Steelers, Falcons, and Giants teams that went to the playoffs (they also topped a top-seeded Cowboys squad that was resting starters in Week 17).

But Lawson’s injury shouldn’t derail any goals or endeavors put forward by a Jets team embroiled in a desperate search for stability. Part of that is a mental struggle, but the Jets and observers both domestically and abroad appear to believe they have the right man to help them work through it in Saleh.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

What are realistic expectations for the 2021 New York Jets?

new york jets, zach wilson

The New York Jets undoubtedly became a better team over the past eight months. But are they a playoff team? ESM’s experts discuss.

The 2020 New York Jets left the franchise’s immediate and long-term future in a rare state of optimistically macabre: after the Jets sunk to the depths of the football underworld…plummeting to dubious valleys that even the cursed Rich Kotite era managed to avoid…any move the team made in the offseason could’ve been seen as an improvement.

With both the Stanley Cup and Larry O’Brien Trophy…not to mention every medal at the Olympic Games in Tokyo…earned and bestowed, it’s officially socially acceptable to start forecasting the 2021 NFL season. The metropolitan arrivals of so many elite new faces, of both the rookie (Zach Wilson, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Elijah Moore) and veteran (Carl Lawson, Corey Davis) variety have gotten fans excited, as has the hiring of head coach Robert Saleh.

But the ultimate question lingers: after a two-win season and now ensnared in the NFL’s longest active playoff, just how much improvement will the Jets show in the one place it matters…the standings, namely the win column?

ESM’s Jets experts ponder this quandary as the preseason opener against the New York Giants looms on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, WNBC)…

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Geoff Magliocchetti

To take a page out of another New York sports decisionmaker Brian Cashman, let’s view Joe Douglas’ New York Jets from the perspective of the Death Star.

Ignoring the fact that the Star Wars-based superweapon is destroyed in each of its incarnations, Douglas does have a Death Star at his disposal. But it’s not the behemoth seen in A New Hope (and, by extension, Rogue One), nor is it the partially constructed but “fully armed and operational battle station” from Return of the Jedi. Rather, the Jets’ Death Star resembles the infantile version Vader and Palpatine look over at the end of Revenge of the Sith.

The Jets began this offseason with the hiring of head coach Saleh. In contrast to the Adam Gase hire, a transaction praised exclusively by modern hot take artists, the Saleh move was lauded by on-field participants both domestically and abroad. New York was and is by no means a football destination yet…one needs to establish a victorious on-field prescience before they become that…but the Jets were able to attract several names with championship experience, winners that were attracted to what Saleh was trying to build.

Douglas and Co. could’ve stood pat on the pass rush, a rare 2020 silver lining after the breakouts of Quinnen Williams, Foley Fatukasi, and John Franklin-Myers. They instead bolstered the unit by bringing in rising pressure artist Lawson and NFC postseason staples Sheldon Rankins and Vinny Curry. Elsewhere on defense, they prepared for Saleh’s reimplementation of the 4-3 with the arrival of linebacker Jarrad Davis, whose finest defensive days came in Florida and Detroit’s similar formations.

On offense, newly minted quarterback Zach Wilson’s arsenal appears to contain more firepower than anything Sam Darnold had to work with. Two-time Super Bowl participant Tevin Coleman is ready to work with potential day three draft gem Michael Carter in the backfield, while the upgraded aerial attack features Davis and Moore uniting with returnees Jamison Crowder and Denzel Mims. Mekhi Becton returns on the line with Alijah Vera-Tucker on Wilson’s blindside.

Yet…the playoffs remain a pipe dream.

The AFC East already appears to be under the control of a new potential dynasty in Western New York, so capturing the quartet for the first time since 2002 appears to be out of the question. The North could well send three teams to the postseason, while the West’s mighty Kansas City Chiefs show no signs of slowing down, even with the Los Angeles Chargers rising fast with Justin Herbert. Even with an extra playoff spot, it’s asking a lot for the Jets to establish themselves in the crowded conference.

Even if the AFC wasn’t packed to the brim with contenders, the Jets aren’t fully completed just yet. There were so many holes so fill, so much damage to repair from the Gase era that it was a guarantee that some area of the roster was going to be neglected. One look at the current depth chart shows that the secondary got the raw deal, as inexperienced options like Bless Austin, Ashtyn Davis, and Bryce Hall are set to assume primary roles. On offense, there are plenty of players that can become major contributors (Carter, Moore, Davis), but they lack the experience in the primetime situations they’ve been called upon.

Until Saleh’s group proves otherwise on the field, their dire straits are more indicative of just how poorly the Gase era went. Gase might be gone, but the dark spirits of his tenure will linger over the Jets’ facilities until the fruits of Saleh’s process appear in the win column. A good season in 2021 would be to at least double the two-win tally from last season and perhaps earn an upset win over an elite opponent, a similar process to what the Chargers went through last year with Herbert.

Record Prediction: 6-11

new york jets, zach wilson
Mandatory Credit: New York Jets/Handout Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Brendan Carpenter

The New York Jets have a lot of hype leading into the season and for good reason: rookies Wilson and Moore highlight a revamped offense. Lawson adds a much-needed pass rush to a defense that needs it with unproven corners.

The Jets, however, are not a playoff team just yet. Aside from their own play, they find themselves in an increasingly brutal AFC East. Each team is improving, but, at the moment, Gang Green finds themselves behind Buffalo and, most likely, either New England or Miami…maybe even both.

Yes, the future is bright and fans should be excited. All of the excitement should be taken with a grain of salt, though. There need to be reasonable expectations for this season. So, realistically, look for this team to win about 6 games of the newly-implemented 17 game schedule.

Record Prediction: 6-11

carl lawson, new york jets
(Photo: Getty)

Dylan Price

As the Jets head into a season filled with promise, I want to make one thing clear before I begin: I do NOT expect the New York Jets to make the playoffs.

I expect the team to take a significant step up and approach the 7-9 win territory. With that said, I foresee hiccups along the way: Wilson will likely experience significant growing pains early as he leaves Brigham Young University and acclimates to the bright lights of Broadway. I firmly expect struggles from both sides of the ball early as they look to establish a new identity under a new coaching staff. Lastly, I have a bad feeling about the secondary, but guys like Hall and Michael Carter II will likely get better as the season progresses.

On a lighter note, I foresee a strong debut in green and white for Lawson, Rankins, and Davis. Lawson is a legitimate threat to finish in the top ten in sacks, while Rankins and Davis will likely be impact contributors if they can stay healthy. Finally, look for rookies, Michael Carter (the running back) and Alijah Vera-Tucker to make names for themselves early, although the story will be Moore, the budding star receiver.

Record Prediction: 7-10

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

New York Jets: Ashtyn Davis, Vinny Curry set to miss Week 1

Head coach Robert Saleh announced on Wednesday that the New York Jets will be without two key defenders come opening day in Carolina.

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh broke some tough news as training camp practices commenced on Wednesday.

By a “conservative” estimate, safety Ashtyn Davis won’t come off the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list until the Jets’ home opener in Week 2 against New England. Saleh likewise predicted that Vinny Curry would also miss the Jets’ kickoff weekend showdown with the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte on September 12.

According to Saleh, Davis’ problem is the same foot injury that kept him out of the final four games of last season. Davis, a third-round pick out of Cal-Berkeley in last year’s virtual draft, is expected to take on a larger role in the strong safety spot. Veteran newcomer Lamarcus Joyner will likely take on an expanded role, backed by fellow acquisition Sharrod Neasman and former XFL representative Elijah Campbell.

As for Curry, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, Saleh mentioned that an offseason procedure “is going to hold him up”. The Super Bowl champion spent parts of last season on injured reserve with a hamstring issue that cost him four games.

Saleh’s injury updates weren’t fully dire. The head coach mentioned that both Quinnen Williams and Kyle Phillips are anticipated to be ready for the Jets’ visit to Green Bay during the second week of the preseason. New York will partake in joint practice sessions with the Packers before an exhibition battle on August 21.

The head coach went into a little more detail on Williams, whose return is one of the most anticipated of the season after his breakthrough sophomore season. Williams has been sidelined with a foot injury suffered while working out at the team’s training facility over the spring. Saleh said that the third pick of the 2019 draft hasn’t partaken in team activities yet for precautionary reasons, per notes provided by the Jets.

“(We’re taking a) slower approach in terms of making sure that this doesn’t happen to the other foot and all that stuff,” Saleh said. “I’m still not concerned at all about Quinnen, he does look good out there. He started running, he’s in good shape. He’s going through all of it, he’s been here. We’re confident when he hits the field, he’ll hit the ground running.”

Asked if Williams would be ready for Week 1 in Carolina, Saleh merely replied “I don’t want to jinx it”.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

 

New York Jets announce new batch of jersey numbers

The New York Jets’ draft and free agency classes all received their metropolitan numerals for the 2021 season.

The New York Jets’ free agency and draft classes received their official numbers for their first seasons in green on Monday. ESM looks at what the newcomers will be rocking once the season gets underway…

No. 23 Tevin Coleman

Coleman wore 26 in prior stops in Atlanta and San Francisco, but it’s probably best for the Jets to avoid rushers wearing No. 26 for a while after the Le’Veon Bell debacle.

Notable No. 23’s in Jets History: RB Shonn Greene, DB Shafer Suggs

No. 25 Brandin Echols

Echols, a sixth-round pick appears to be sharing No. 25 with rusher Ty Johnson, as the 26 he wore at Kentucky is taken by fellow defensive back Elijah Campbell.

Notable No. 25’s in Jets History: S Kerry Rhodes, RB Scott Dierking, S Calvin Pryor

No. 29 Lamarcus Joyner

Joyner will be wearing a number previously borne by fan-favorite rusher and returner Leon Washington, who’s now on the Jets’ coaching staff.

Notable No. 29’s in Jets History: WR Bake Turner, RB Bilal Powell, RB Adrian Murrell, RB Leon Washington, DB Donnie Abraham

No. 30 Michael Carter II

Another former bearer of 26, Carter takes over the 30 worn by Bradley McDougald last season. He’ll also have the Roman numeral “II” on the back of his jersey to separate himself from the offensive Michael Carter.

Notable No. 30’s in Jets History: RB Brad Baxter, DB LaRon Landry

No. 32 Michael Carter 

Running backs are allowed to wear single digits under the NFL’s new uniform mandates, but Carter opted to multiply it four. He follows in the footsteps of Super Bowl champion and green rusher Emerson Boozer.

Notable No. 32’s in Jets History: RB Emerson Boozer, RB Blair Thomas, RB Leon Johnson

No. 34 Justin Hardee

It’s a tough break for anyone who hoped the Jets would bring back Brian Poole, but the special teams standout Hardee will keep the number he had during his prior endeavors in New Orleans.

Notable No. 34’s in Jets History: RB Johnny Hector, RB LaMont Jordan

No. 41 Jason Pinnock

Pinnock’s No. 15 from Pittsburgh has been taken over by someone he’ll presumably cover come training camp, receiver Lawrence Cager. His new digits were worn by Matthias Farley last season and best known from a Jets standpoint as the numbers Matt Snell wore in the Super Bowl III triumph.

Notable No. 41’s in Jets History: RB Matt Snell, S Buster Skrine

No. 43 Del’Shawn Phillips 

Phillips wore No. 46 in his first season in Buffalo but moved on to 43 last season. He’ll apparently stick with those numerals as he moves on to another New York football journey.

Notable No. 43’s in Jets History: DB Michael Brim

No. 44 Jamien Sherwood 

With 44 last worn by the New England-bound Harvey Lagni, the defensive back-turned-linebacker Sherwood takes a traditional number as opposed to the single digits now available.

Notable No. 44’s in Jets History: RB John Riggins

No. 45 Hamsah Nasirildeen

Another converted secondary member who made the move to linebacker, Nasirildeen also makes the move to 45, as the 23 he wore at Florida State was taken by Coleman.

Notable No. 45’s in Jets History: DB Earlie Thomas, CB Otis Smith

No. 52 Jarrad Davis

The new Jets’ linebacker’s number from Detroit and his college days in Florida (40) is now worn by Javelin Guidry, but there’s a strong group of both linebackers and lineman that have previously repped his new digits.

Notable No. 52’s in Jets History: LB David Harris, C John Schmitt, C Mike Hudock, LB Pepper Johson 

No. 58 Carl Lawson

Lawson may be changing from tiger stripes to green and black, but he’ll be wearing a familiar number leftover from his Cincinnati days. 

Notable No. 58’s in Jets History: LB James Farrior

No. 65 Corey Levin

Levin is one of the newcomers on the Jets. If/when he takes the field in an NFL regular-season game for the first time since 2018, it’ll be in a different number, as he wore 62 during his time in Tennessee.

Notable No. 65’s in Jets History: OL Joe Fields, G Brandon Moore

No. 67 Dan Feeney

Undrafted rookie Teton Saltes has Feeny’s No. 66 from his days as a Charger, so he moved one up, perhaps indirectly emulating some other notable veteran blockers in Jets history.

Notable No. 67’s in Jets History: OL Dave Herman, T Kareem McKenzie, OL Damien Woody

No. 81 Tyler Kroft

In his return to New Jersey football, Kroft won’t have the No. 86 he wore at Rutgers (his Piscataway number now on fellow tight end Ryan Griffin) but he retains the number he’s worn in his first two NFL stops (Cincinnati and Buffalo) and it’s a number that has made a New York impact on both sides of the ball.

Notable No. 81’s in Jets History: DE Gerry Philbin, TE Dustin Keller

No. 84 Corey Davis

Davis will keep the number he wore at both Western Michigan and Tennessee. That’s rather appropriate, as the most famous wearer of 84 in his new team’s history is in fact a New York Titan.

Notable No. 84’s in Jets History: WR Art Powell

No. 88 Keelan Cole

With Davis taking over the No. 84, Cole’s moves four digits up to 88, emulating some of the more productive receivers in New York history.

Notable No. 88’s in Jets History: WR Al Toon, TE Rich Caster, TE Anthony Becht

No. 96 Jonathan Marshall

Henry Anderson’s old number wasn’t gone for long, as it’s been taken over by the former Arkansas captain who became the final pick of the Jets’ 2021 draft proceedings.

Notable No. 96’s in Jets History: DT Muhammad Wilkerson

No. 98 Sheldon Rankins

Undrafted standout Kyle Phillips wore No. 98 but he’s moving onto 93 to allow Rankins to keep the number he had during his six years in New Orleans.

Notable No. 98’s in Jets History: LB Anthony Pleasant, DL Kyle Phillips

No. 99 Vinny Curry

Curry has had a pretty accomplished NFL career, and he’s going to take over the numerals of some of the most storied defenders on the team.

Notable No. 99’s in Jets History: DE Mark Gastineau, DE Bryan Thomas, DT Steve McLendon, DE Hugh Douglas

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

The New York Jets’ latest acquisitions know that championship feeling

Some of the New York Jets’ major 2021 acquisitions know how football’s biggest spotlight feels. Here’s why that’s so important.

The New York Jets are going back to the Super Bowl. 

Alas for fans of the star-crossed franchise the trip will have to come vicariously through the acquisition of new running back Tevin Coleman. The newly-minted 28-year-old has appeared in two Big Game box scores, starring in the 51st and 54th editions as a running back for the NFC champions from Atlanta and San Francisco respectively. Coleman, in fact, may own one of the most infamous touchdowns in Super Bowl history: his six-year scoring grab from Matt Ryan gave the Falcons a 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots in the former tilt at NRG Stadium. What happened next requires little elaboration.

While he was mostly sidelined in the latter Super Bowl trip…the 49ers’ doomed defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs…Coleman played a major role in the path to the championship, tallying triple digits in yardage and two scores in the Divisional triumph over Minnesota.

Less than 24 hours before Coleman conquered the Vikings, Corey Davis scored a three-yard touchdown through Derrick Henry trickery. It was a score that gave the Tennessee Titans a permanent two-possession lead over the Baltimore Ravens on the AFC side.

Both Coleman and Davis are now members of the Jets, a team whose playoff conversations in the last decade have centered only around the location of their watch parties. They’ve each been called upon to end a metropolitan playoff drought that might reach a point where it can see a PG-13 movie without a parent/guardian’s permission. Several transactional measures have been taken to ensure that doesn’t happen again: Coleman, Davis, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry, and Keelan Cole are among them.

Sure there are signings beyond that group…previous practitioners Carl Lawson and Jarrad Davis should be intriguing in the 4-3 set that Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich are projected to implement…but the aforementioned assembly has a common link: experience in the NFL postseason.

When you’re a team as starved for postseason success as the Jets have been, any ray of light will be gratuitously accepted. The idea of bringing in a Super Bowl champion like Curry…a rare conqueror of the New England dynasty through a Philadelphia Eagles victory in Super Bowl LII…as a mentor to a young defense seems cliche, stolen from the script of the most basic sports film. Putting aside the point that maybe a return to the fundamentals might be the very thing that the Jets need right now, Curry provides the good vibes, the championship vibes the Jets need to get any semblance of momentum going within their organization.

In his first statements in a different shade of gridiron green, Curry established himself as a leader, becoming yet another on-field voice, and not a hot take artist, to profess his faith in both Saleh and his process. But Curry immediately endeared himself to his new group and got things rolling on a strong note by comparing the modern Jets to that championship squad that neutralized Tom Brady, if only for a short while.

“I just wanted to get on this ship. I’ve seen this ship before when coach Pederson took over in Philadelphia. I’ve seen this ship before, and I just wanted to be a part of it,” Curry said, per Newsday’s Al Iannazzone. “I think once we all get around each other and get a feel for each other, we have the potential to really be a force upfront. Potentially we could be something special.”

Rankins concurred with his fellow newcomer in the front seven. The former New Orleans Saint was part of modern-day playoff runs engineered by Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and offensive company, though he and his defenders had their own moments of glory. Rankins himself had a big sack that kicked the Chicago Bears out of field goal territory during January’s NFC Wild Card playoff matchup.

Unlike the over-optimistic razzle-dazzle often seen from offseason newcomers, Rankins brought another feeling the Jets needed: realism, while keeping sanguinity on the cusp of his comments.

“It’s not going to be easy to essentially turn around an organization that, let’s just be completely honest, hasn’t won a lot of games in a while,” Rankins said in Iannazzone’s report. “But when you got someone at the helm that demands excellence and you bring in guys that demand excellence that does nothing but has a trickle-down effect on the rest of the roster.”

Rankins would probably know. Going into his third season in 2018, three-time Pro Bowl blocker Terron Armstead uncannily expressed both dread and admiration in working across from Rankins, telling Around the NFL’s Herbie Teope that “I’ve had the advantage of watching him work every day. Sheldon has been a guy who works on his craft daily. He’s only improved since he’s got here.”

When one looks at the current Jets roster, there is raw potential that can be cultivated with the right brand of guidance. The Jets discovered the hard way that Adam Gase and his single game of playoff experience wasn’t the way to go about that. This time around, general manager Joe Douglas brought in winners, contributors on a big scale that won’t flinch if faced with a big game situation, ones the Jets hope to experience again fairly soon. This time, instead of working with players who will one day appear on the “Wait, He Played for the Jets???” lists, they found young contributors who have already experienced a lot of what the NFL has to offer.

Last season, the Jets were forced to enjoy sizable contributions from Joe Flacco and Frank Gore…staples of new century football that lingered well into the new decade. They provided mentorship but were never meant to be consistent stat providers, respectively forced into action through a Sam Darnold injury and the release of Le’Veon Bell. These playoff-savvy newcomers, however, have expectations thrust upon them, projected to provide clarity and stability to a team in desperate need of it.

The Jets have begun to chart a new path to the Super Bowl, one that’s different in several inspiring ways. This revelation that it will potentially be paved by young weapons who have walked it before should provide rare metropolitan optimism.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Ranking the New York Jets’ March Madness by 2021 impact

New York Giants, Corey Davis

With the free agency frenzy relatively pacified, ESM looks back on the New York Jets’ March signings and ranks them by their 2021 impact.

The third month on the calendar has been filled with realized dreams, jaw-dropping surprises, and, quite simply, madness.

We are, of course, referring to the NFL’s free agency proceedings…what were you thinking?

Even in its dormant stages, the gridiron has matched the hardwood in drama and intensity through its annual transactional period. We’ve seen the metropolitan football landscape shift as both the New York Jets and Giants seek to claw their ways back to respectability.

From the former’s green standpoint, perhaps anything short of a perfect offseason renovation was going to be able to loosen the current stranglehold the Buffalo Bills have on the AFC East. But the Jets have had a solid, methodic offseason that has at least laid down the groundwork for the team’s potential redemption.

But which newly-minted Jets can have the biggest impact in 2021, in the short term future? ESM looks back on the Jets’ March signings and investigates…

1. RB Tevin Coleman

After the Le’Veon Bell debacle, it’s going to be a long, long time before the Jets break open the bank for a running back. Even so, a strong rushing attack can help remove some of the offensive burden from the quarterback, whether it’s a Sam Darnold desperate for stability or a rookie looking to get off to a good start. There’s potential in the La’Mical Perine-Ty Johnson-Josh Adams triumvirate, but veteran assistance was definitely needed.

Coleman was a rare carry-over from San Francisco for Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur. He struggled last season, dealing with a sprained knee for a majority of the year, but earned some vital carries during the 49ers’ run to the Super Bowl the year before. Coleman’s offensive firepower, capable of earning yards and scores through both rushing and receiving antics, is something the Jets have sorely lacked, as a shortage of big-play talent has stifled any progress they’ve been trying to make in the modern NFL.

2. WR Corey Davis

The Jets were without a big-play receiver after letting Robby Anderson walk to Carolina without much resistance and Denzel Mims’ NFL debut was delayed. Time will tell if Davis is capable of becoming a No. 1 receiver, a billing he never truly lived up to in Tennessee. But, for now, he grants further offensive stability and is a proven talent that knows how to play in big games, having partaken in three playoff treks in Nashville.

Despite falling just short of four digits in yardage, forced to the reserve/COVID-19 list, Davis is nonetheless coming off a career-best season (65 receptions, 984 yards, 5 touchdowns). Getting a young talent on the upswing was vital for this offense, and Davis was perhaps one of the better options available in that realm.

3. LB Jarrad Davis 

While Saleh and the Jets avoided splurging on former 49ers, they were nonetheless able to acquire personnel that can seamlessly fit in what the new head coach is trying to do.

Davis never lived up to first-round billing in Detroit but was very successful in a 4-3 set under co-coordinators Randy Shannon and (current Georgia Tech boss) Geoff Collins. Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich have had success in the set before and will bring it over to New York. Having a relative expert in the field like Davis will help the transition.

4. DE Carl Lawson

Perhaps overshadowed by Geno Atkins in Cincinnati, Lawson has a prime opportunity to shine in New York. He couldn’t have arrived at a better time, as the Jets are faced with the prospect of two yearly meetings with both Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, necessitating a strong pass rush. His versatility should allow him to contribute on the edge as both an end and a Linebacker. Lawson is particularly excited about working with what Saleh has to offer.

“I looked up some stuff on YouTube about Coach Saleh and I heard some stuff around the league,” Lawson said in his introductory statements, per team reporter Randy Lange. “Listening to some interviews, I came away with how impressive he was. Even in a video, he felt like he was talking to me. And then there was availability at the spot [on the D-line], so those were the first two things that really attracted me here.”

5. WR Keelan Cole

One can debate whether the Jets have a true “No. 1” receiver right now. But with Cole, Davis, and the returning Mims and Jamison Crowder, there’s some strong potential and a sizable arsenal for the quarterback to worth with. The arrival of Cole is just another weapon to work with and helps the Jets start the season with a far more experienced receiving corps. Making Cole even more valuable is the fact that he has carved a strong NFL path for himself despite a carousel of quarterbacks working their way through Jacksonville.

6. DT Sheldon Rankins

Rankins should be an instant starter on the Jets’ defense and is another versatile option that has lined up as an end, tackle, and nose. The revamped front seven can benefit from that flexibility and experience. Ranking, the 12th overall choice of New Orleans in 2016 should also serve as a great mentor to Quinnen Williams, who appears ready to follow in the Louisville alum’s footsteps.

“I watched the true impact defender that (Williams) really is, watching him flourish last year, but he’s really only scratching the surface,” Rankins said of his potential mentorship role, per Brian Costello of the New York Post. “He’s still doing a lot of things of just being better than a lot of people. I think once you fine-tune some things…I’ve been around this game going on for six years now. I’ve seen a lot, been through a lot. I can give him some nuggets here and there.”

7. S LaMarcus Joyner

The Joe Douglas era has been relatively bereft of long-term deals, and Joyner’s one-year offer ($3 million) was no exception. He should probably take over the primary strong safety spot alongside Marcus Maye as the 30-year-old searches for some long-term roots after spending the last two seasons with the migrating Raiders.

If anything, Joyner can be a strong mentor to previous third-round choice Ashtyn Davis, who enters a de facto second rookie season after his original was marred by injuries.

8. TE Tyler Kroft

When’s the last time the Jets have had a reliable red zone target? Scoring has been a major concern in the first place, but they could use someone able to create the necessary red zone separation. There was hope Chris Herndon could be that scorer, but he hasn’t matched the firepower of a strong rookie season.

Kroft probably isn’t going to challenge Herndon for the top spot just yet, but he can be that option for a quarterback in desperate need of stability. Each of the Rutgers alum’s dozen career touchdown receptions has come from 20 yards or fewer, including three from Josh Allen last season, including the game-winner in a September win over the Rams. Kroft has also earned positive reviews for his blocking, indirectly addressing an area of need that has unfortunately been otherwise neglected.

9. G Dan Feeney 

Going into the offseason, the Jets’ most pressing need was not the quarterback, but the protection in front of him. Thus far, the Jets have done little to remedy the situation as Feeney, high in personality but low on the analytical ranking lists, is the only offensive line acquisition they’ve made thus far, thrusting a brighter spotlight upon him.

It’s unknown exactly where Feeney will fit in on the Jets’ official depth chart. The best estimation right now probably has him backing up Greg Van Roten at right guard. But, at least until the Jets add some protection through the draft, he’s the only difference from last season and he might get called upon to make some changes, especially in the interior.

10. CB Justin Hardee

Hardee is officially listed as a cornerback, but it’s far more likely he’ll bolster the Jets’ coverage units. When you’re a team like the Jets, one that struggles to score, pinning the opponent deep on kickoffs and punts remains vital. Hardee, a mainstay amongst the top special teams tackle leaders, should help the Jets improve on their punts, as they allowed 11.7 yards per return last season (27th in the NFL), a number that could’ve been higher if not for some crucial stops by Braden Mann.

11. DE Vinny Curry

Curry has had his moments of NFL glory, but no one’s expecting the nine-sacks, four-forced fumble season he earned in 2014. Last season in Philadelphia showed that the 33-year-old still has some power left in the tank, so he can serve as a reliable depth option, which could’ve come in handy last season when Jabari Zuniga and Kyle Phillips went down. It’s more likely, though, he’ll be used in more of a mentorship role for Williams and Foley Fatukasi.

12. LB Del’Shawn Phillips

The former JUCO star has an inspiring story, working his way into a Big Ten school (Illinois) after academic ineligibility ended his original Division I dreams at Western Michigan. Even with the Jets’ issues at linebacker, Phillips likely faces an uphill battle to reach the Week 1 lineup.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags