The Jets did not make major investments to upgrade their beleaguered cornerback position this offseason. The resources the team used address the spot were relatively modest. Slot cornerback Brian Poole was retained on a $5 million contract. Pierre Desir signed a contract worth $4 million. The Jets also invested a fifth round pick to select Bryce Hall and a sixth round pick to trade for Quincy Wilson. Poole is now the highest paid cornerback on the team.
Nobody knows whether Joe Douglas will be a successful general manager. It will be years before we have a good idea. We can only judge his plans and his process right now. His success will mainly be determined by how effectively he implements his plans, but a sound process makes that success more likely.
For most of the NFL cornerback is considered a premium position. Teams use abundant resources to make sure the position has high end talent. There are ways around investing heavily in cornerbacks, though.
#Jets play a ton of Cover 2….you don’t need to invest in high pedigree cornerbacks in that approach.— Andy Benoit (@Andy_Benoit) April 27, 2020
The best run organizations in the NFL are aware of trends in the league. Sometimes they follow these trends, but sometimes they know to zig when everybody else is zagging.
Years ago one of the reason the 3-4 defense rose to prominence was that teams started reading the market. Most of the league was running a 4-3 defense. That meant few teams had use for the gap filling interior linemen, big block shedding linebackers, and undersized pass rushers who fit 3-4 defenses. These players had minimal demand in a league dominated by the 4-3 and could be obtained cheaply and easily.
Over the last two decades, the Patriots have constantly altered their offensive approach to try and stay a step ahead of league trends.
As Andy Benoit noted, the Jets adopted an approach in 2019 that does not require cornerbacks to do a ton of heavy lifting. That means the Jets don’t need to make large monetary investments the way most of the league does.
In addition to the Cover 2 mentioned by Benoit, another frequently used defensive call from the Jets last year was Cover 6.
Generally speaking, this coverage splits deep responsibilities between three defenders. One safety covers the half of the field on the hash mark where the ball is snapped while another safety and a cornerback split the other half of the field.
This is not a defense that puts a lot of stress on the outside cornerbacks. One is playing deep as though he is a safety while the other is only responsible for an underneath zone with help over the top.
Running coverages like this can save you money at cornerback. It is substantially easier to cover an area of the field this small than it is to follow a receiver all over the field. There are numerous corners who can handle assignments like this, and they can be obtained cheaply.
The typical Cover 2 divides the field into half. Two safeties split the deep part of the field. This again helps out the outside corners since they have help over the top, making the job easier to execute.
There is a vulnerability, though. The area between the two safeties is open for the offenses to exploit.
To deal with this Gregg Williams has a call that gives responsibility for this part of the field to the middle linebacker who must drop.
This is called the Tampa 2 as it was the staple play of the great Buccaneers defenses of the Tony Dungy/Jon Gruden Era.
I’m about to show you a rather infamous play from the 2019 Jets season. The Jets run a Tampa 2 defensive call.
Middle linebacker CJ Mosley runs down the middle with wide receiver John Brown because he has to protect that middle spot.
Ultimately this is a tremendous coverage job.
You likely will have negative memories of this play since Mosley sustained a groin injury that essentially ended his season on it. Still he ran step for step with one of the fastest wide receivers in the NFL.
It is a demonstration of how a defense like this is supposed to work. If you are asking your cornerbacks to cover less ground than the typical NFL player at their position, somebody has to pick up the slack.
Most NFL linebackers aren’t asked to cover much ground. Their typical responsibilities are playing a small zone underneath and handling the run.
That’s the main reason linebacker aren’t paid much. There are plenty of players capable of doing that, and they can be acquired inexpensively.
When you have a linebacker who can run down the field with John Brown, that’s when it makes sense to pay more at the position. This is especially true when you want the linebacker to cover more of the field so that you can ask your corners to cover less.
Keeping your safeties deep to help the corners in the passing game is also much easier to do when you have somebody with the range of Jamal Adams who can still get downhill quickly and help stop the run.
All of this brings me back to how the Jets addressed the cornerback position in the offseason. The team seems to have the personnel at linebacker and safety to execute a zone heavy scheme that wouldn’t require heavy lifting from the cornerbacks.
Pierre Desir, the most significant free agent import at cornerback, is well-known to be a much better fit playing zone than man. So is fifth round pick Bryce Hall. Last week Bent wrote an article in which he mentioned Quincy Wilson is likely better suited to play zone than man.
From the outside this looks to me like a case where the front office and the coaching staff are on the same page. There is a clear theme to the way the Jets are building their defense between the types of players the team is acquiring and the way resources are being allocated.
If Gregg Williams had his choice I’m not sure this is exactly the type of defense he would want to run, especially when looking at his history. My hunch is the reason we saw so many conservative coverages last year was based on the Jets’ lack of corners who could handle major responsibilities.
Teams have finite resources, however, and the best approach for the team as a whole sometimes doesn’t allow one coach to have its first choice. Ultimately successful franchises figure out the best strategy, get everybody on the same page, and make the most of what they have. For the Jets the best option was probably to continue playing coverages that don’t put stress on the corners. The offseason could be dedicated to finding inexpensive corners capable of running these basic coverages better than last year’s players. For his part, Williams showed last year that he will buy into this approach with this type of personnel.
At this point we can’t judge how effectively this will all work or whether Douglas brought in the right pieces. Still player additions and contracts shouldn’t feel arbitrary. There should be a clear theme to acquisitions. We can and should ask whether the Jets’ decisions show a clear plan, whether the front office and coaching staff appear to be on the same page, and whether the resources are properly allocated to execute the plan.
For all three I think the answer is yes which if nothing else is a refreshing change of pace for the Jets.