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

New York Jets update status of players injured on Thursday

New York Jets

Carl Lawson and Zane Lewis are done for the year, but the New York Jets appeared to have dodged a bullet with two other starters.

The New York Jets announced on Thursday that defensive lineman Carl Lawson and safety Zane Lewis will miss the 2021 season after sustaining injuries during a joint practice with the Green Bay Packers.

Lawson’s departure is particularly devastating to a Jets team that bestowed him $30 million guaranteed to bolster their pass rush. At $45 million total (over three seasons), Lawson was the Jets’ most expensive offseason acquisition. He established himself as one of the league’s most promising pass rushers despite a relatively pedestrian sack total. Last season, he was one of 11 defenders to create at least 10 sacks, according to ESPN’s advanced stats department.

Per Connor Hughes of The Athletic, Lawson (ruptured Achillies) sustained the injury during a pass rush drill in the red zone. Lawson previously tore his ACLs in his sophomore years at Auburn (2014) and the Bengals (2018), missing the whole year in the former.

The Jets declared that Bryce Huff took over Lawson’s reps for the remainder of the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Lewis (torn his patella tendon/sprained MCL) was looking to make the team as an undrafted freshman free agent out of Air Force. He was a cornerback with the Falcons but the Jets were planning to use him as a safety.

In addition to Lawson and Lewis, each of whom was carted off the field, the Jets also lost receiver Denzel Mims (hip) and defensive lineman Sheldon Rankins (knee) to ailments. However, the Jets reported that each will be labeled day-to-day.

Thursday marked the latter of two joint practices between the Jets and the Packers in Green Bay. The collaboration will conclude with a preseason contest on Saturday late afternoon at Lambeau Field (4:25 p.m. ET, WLNY/NFL Network).

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

Robert Saleh lays out expectations for New York Jets cornerbacks

New York Jets, Bless Austin

The lack of a proven force in the New York Jets’ cornerback group didn’t stop Robert Saleh from clearly defining his expectations.

The macabre gift of the New York Jets’ 2020 season was that things became so dire that any move they made over the offseason could’ve been viewed as an improvement. But the Jets’ offseason to-do list could stretch from one end zone to the other after a disastrous two-win season. Even with a cap space surplus, some area on the modern depth chart was going to be neglected and prevent the Jets from becoming immediate contenders.

It’s not hard to find the affected areas.

With matchups against four of the top five passing units from last season looming on their upcoming schedule (Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Houston, Atlanta), the Jets’ secondary remains undermanned and inexperienced as kickoff weekend approaches. The safeties at least have a slight safety blanket (pun intended) with Marcus Maye back on a franchise tag and Lamarcus Joyner, one of only five New Yorkers who are at least 30 years old, coming over from Las Vegas.

The Jets’ front line in the secondary, the cornerback area, leaves much to be desired. Only newcomer Justin Hardee (115 defensive snaps over the past three years) has more than two seasons of NFL experience and he was primarily brought in for his special teams expertise. Four cornerbacks have no experience at all, as the Jets spent the Saturday of draft weekend adding new names to the ranks. Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock, and Brandin Echols arrived in the draft’s later rounds while Isaiah Dunn was added through undrafted free agency.

At the top of the depth chart, Bless Austin and Bryce Hall…a combined 23 starts between them…are set to take starring roles. Behind them lies a hodgepodge of journeymen (Corey Ballentine, Bennett Jackson) and undrafted youngsters (Javelin Guidry, Zane Lewis, Elijah Campbell, Lamar Jackson…no, not that one, obviously).

Head coach Robert Saleh isn’t worried.

Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

One would perhaps expect Saleh, a defensive coach in several assistant stops throughout the NFL, to assemble a more worthy group of defenders for his first year as a head coach. When that proved to be unfeasible, Saleh worked with management to come to a relative compromise of stocking up on young secondary talent on draft weekend Saturday after spending the first two days preparing for the new franchise quarterback’s arrival. So far, he’s happy with the young clay that he gets to mold in his first season at the New York helm.

Saleh doesn’t care about where they’ve been or how they were obtained. He carries one burning question for his new young talents, one he carries with him from his days as the defensive boss in San Francisco.

“Can you win on third down? That’s pretty much it. It’s that simple,” Saleh said on Thursday, per notes from the Jets. “When you’re looking at traits, we had Richard Sherman, who’s all of 6-3, long, incredibly smart, and we’ve had Jason Verrett, who’s all of 5-9, strong and wiry.”

“So they come in all shapes and sizes but the dog mentality, the ability to win in man coverage, the fearlessness to get up there in press (coverage) and win one-on-ones. That’s what matters, because at the end of the day, when it’s crunch time and you’ve got to win in football, it comes down to your ability to win in one-on-one, whether it’s man, zone, however you want to count it.”

The current starters’ respective battles with gridiron adversity are particularly inspiring to a New York team desperate to overcome relentless vibes and reminders of the “same old Jets” concept. Austin, a Queens native, enjoyed a breakout sophomore season at Rutgers but injuries limited him to only five more games in Piscataway over his last two seasons. Hall might’ve been an opening round pick in 2019, but an injury sustained during his senior year banished him to the Saturday wilderness.

To their credit, Austin and Hall have garnered positive reviews in their early camp showings. Brian Costello of the New York Post said that Hall “looks like he is ready to make a jump” in his sophomore season while Austin has been a thorn in the side of Zach Wilson early on. Saleh has been pleased with the early returns, once bringing up the size differences in analyzing each defender.

New York Jets, Bryce Hall

“Bryce is so long and big. Bless is obviously more wiry and twitchy, but they both have an incredible mindset to get up there, get in your face, use their length, use their athleticism,” Saleh said. “What we’ve been doing defensively is we teach a little bit different of a man technique, obviously, and our zones. So try to get them the reps they need to be able to blend the two is not easy and it does take time, but these guys have gotten better every day.”

Just because Austin and Hall have the early edge, however, doesn’t mean that Saleh is going to simply hand the primary duties for them. Saleh has been proud to work the rookie defenders into the rotation, namely calling out Echols and Dunn for “(earning) the right to get a little peek at getting some run with the ones”. He’s also excited for the ongoing nickel group, which appears to consist of Campbell, Carter, and Guidry.

Saleh had a prime opportunity to add in some veteran talent. Both Sherman and Verrett, his former Bay Area proteges, were available on the free agent market, but he opted for a young revolution that can allow for the Jets’ new staff, headlined by Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich to shape their new secondary in their image. Saleh compared the feeling to a roller-coaster on the Garden State Parkway.

“When you’re dealing with young guys, the excitement is like when you’re driving on the freeway and you’re on (empty), you’re like, ‘When’s it going to happen?’ It’s like a roller coaster, but at the same time, you see an unbelievable amount of growth happen from play-in and play-out, and day-in and day-out,” Saleh said. “I’ve seen teams win, I’ve seen teams have growth, you see everything. I’ve seen veteran teams lose, it’s a matter of gaining confidence, gelling, having the ball bounce your way and really getting confidence, and this group is a very confident group, it’s a very young, confident group.”

“They’re having a lot of success here in training camp and when they get to go against Green Bay, and Philadelphia, the Giants, and they get to test themselves against other players, I think that’s where you’ll start to see the identity of this team kind of take shape.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags