The New York Jets have wrapped up their offseason program. What do we know now? It is hard to figure out what progress has been made with players in shorts without pads. We can say that Alijah Vera-Tucker looks great in a Jets jersey, but without pads we can discern very little of his impact on the team. That also is true of all the offensive and defensive linemen.
The practices were not completely open to the press as the writers were only allowed to view some open practices. Others were held in private which is how most of the NFL allows the press to view the camps. I myself wasn’t at any of the practices, but I was able to read a wide variety of reports and watch as much film that was made available to me. I will try and paint as true of a picture as I can of the Jets current status as I can.
First of all you have to take coach speak about players lightly since they are apt to overstate the abilities of their players. You also have consider that writers are seeing some players for the first time on an NFL field which could impact their ability to correctly judge the talent.
This is not to say that the Jets are not headed in the right direction. It is to pump the breaks on the fervor that the media likes to generate. Let your eyes be your guide once you get to see the team in action. The media gets more views in video and print from Jets fans when the news seems positive.
You have to realize that the Jets are looking at a total rebuild here top to bottom. The Jets have jettisoned nearly their entire coaching staff along with their starting quarterback and much of their roster. Those who remain from the Maccagnan era are on thin ice. The Jets brought in on the defense Carl Lawson, Sheldon Rankins, Vinny Curry, Jarrad Davis, Lamarcus Joyner along with Corey Davis, Keelan Cole, Dan Feeney, Kenny Yeboah, Tyler Kroft and Tevin Coleman on offense.
The Jets drafted a new QB (Wilson) and WR (Moore) and a added RB (Carter) through the Draft. They have helped their offensive line by trading up to add Alijah Vera-Tucker to work next last year’s top pick Mekhi Becton. Now they just continued the offensive transformation by adding tackle Morgan Moses to the line which will be a vast improvement. It should move George Fant into a swing tackle role which he is best suited for. Fant is a mediocre talent but has the ability to play on either side of the line which is not an easy trait to find.
George Fant Contract
I’m pretty sure the Jets will ask him to take a pay cut to do so; it seems like that is Joe Douglas’s modus operandi. The thing to remember about this is that Fant’s cap hit to the Jets this year is $9,829,5412. If the Jets were to cut him they only save $3,379,412 and eat $6,450,000 in dead money. Yet Fant will be 30 years old next year and has zero guaranteed money in his $9,250,000 salary in 2022. The Jets would only have a $1,000,000 dead cap hit from his prorated portion of his original signing bonus.
So the way to do this (drop his 2021 cap hit) would be to prioritize Fant’s value to the team and pay him accordingly. Fant is a below average starter by any standard you may use. He is not horribly bad, but he is well below average especially in the run game where he gets no movement. He is though an above average swing tackle in that he can play both tackle positions and protect the edge against swift edge rushers. Fant is also a well liked teammate so keeping him on the roster is a positive move for the locker room. Good character players who provide a valuable service even if they are not starters and play an unappreciated role on all teams.
So you offer Fant a contract extension (I never thought in a million years I would lobby for this) that will make him a Jet for the next 3 years. He currently has 18,550,000 of salary left on his contract over the next two years of which only $4,450,000 is guaranteed. If he were to be cut he would not be without suitors for his services, but at this point in the offseason there are few if any teams that would offer him any serious money.
So you tear up his contract and sign him to a new contract for 3 years which takes him to his age 32 season. You give him a signing bonus of $3 million and a contract of $11 million with salaries of $2 million in 2021, $3 million in 2022 and $3 million in 2023. That would give him more money this year than if he was released. The low salaries the next two years would make it hard for the Jets to find a better replacement as a swing tackle who is reliable (not the Maccagnan approach) for less money. The cap hit this year is $4 million which only saves $450,000, but it gets the Jets out from under an unwieldy $18,550,000 salary the next two years and supplies the Jets with a viable swing tackle who would also has solid character on he roster. The last two years of the contract would have no guaranteed money so Fant would be investing in himself to make the team.
Fant would be gambling on the Jets keeping him, but he would also not have to worry about the wear and tear on his body as a starting player. The Jets could also add a provision that Fant gets a bonus depending on the amount of snaps he takes on offense. This way if one of the starting tackles goes down early in the season he will still be able to reap the rewards of his playing time.
A new culture for the Jets?
A new energy is present at the Jets facility as stated by nearly every news media writer and even the players themselves. The Jets’ new intensity is a positive step as it creates or forms a new culture for players to buy into now and in the future. The Jets are trying to create a clear and productive culture that is a guidepost for players. Robert Saleh is basically the builder of that culture, but he wisely pushes that thinking back to the players. As Salah said, “I believe the culture is basically created by the people that are brought into it. That goes back to all the discussions in this offseason, everything Joe Douglas and his staff have done, the collaboration that has happened throughout the year, with regards to bringing in men of tremendous character, men who want to play football, love football, want to get better every single day, and just have that mindset.”
“As far as the identity goes, touched on it a couple of times, our identity is not going to reveal itself until we see adversity. When things are good, everyone loves being part of winning, everyone loves being part of the good things. The whole disease of me, of course, things are going to be good but, what’s going to happen when you hit adversity when things aren’t going your way? How are you going to look, not only as an individual but as a team? Those moments have to reveal themselves.”
Zach Wilson so far has come into the Jets just as advertised. That doesn’t mean he is going to be an all time great, but it doesn’t preclude him from being so either. It is just a good start, something that everyone with hope for a great Jets future should be happy about. Many fans didn’t like the fact the Jets selected Wilson. They wanted another prospect or rather the Jets trade down for a bounty of Draft picks and keep Sam Darnold. I even read that some fans were calling Wilson the next Johnny Manziel which I knew was a ludicrous assumption given all the facts I read about him. I hope everyone can see that kind of thinking was just destructive and patently false if you compare the two players. Manziel and Wilson are actually the antithesis of one another.
Wilson is all about football. He plays it and studies it ad nauseam. He is a gym rat who likes to watch film constantly. His coach can’t give him enough tape to watch. He has a voracious appetite for learning everything he can about the offense. He has very much impressed his offensive coordinator Mike La Fleur and passing game specialist coach Greg Knapp. As Knapp put it, “He’s a fast study, he has done a good job of minimizing mistakes. You’ve got to expect mistakes from anyone starting the first time in any profession. I’ve seen very minimal same mistakes twice. He learns quickly from mistakes, and that is impressive to see from a young guy.”
Wilson himself understands that learning the offense is going to take some time and mistakes will happen He said, “Out here, you’re always just a step slow at first, It’s just how fast can I get through my progressions to where I don’t even have to think about it. Something’s covered, I instantly know how to move on. I think that’s the key. There’s always something new to prepare for and get better at. I’m just gonna make sure I’m doing everything that I can to be ready once training camp runs around.”
Mike LaFleur knows it will take time to get Wilson up to speed as he said, “It’s been a learning curve for him. We’ve thrown a ton at him. We had a plan like I told you guys last time, we go through an installation schedule. You have your two-minute (drill), you get into your situational football. I thought these last two weeks have been awesome for him. We’ve done so many ‘call-it periods’ where he doesn’t have the script and he just has to hear me through that walkie talkie and make sure not only is he calling it correctly, but getting everyone else aligned. That’s part of the quarterback’s job. I thought he did a really good job with it. He put so much time into it. He certainly does not need a pep talk. He’s so internally motivated to obviously be the best and all that, but to learn. That’s what’s unique.”
It is a work in progress, but Wilson has flashed some in practice like this nice pass to the incredibly talented Elijah Moore.
This was a beautiful pass over the outstretched hands of Corner Bryce Hall. Moore is another player who has flashed in the early parts of the Jets offseason (more on him later). Here again is another pass to Moore on a bit of a roll out. Wilson is a tremendous athlete with superior movement skills. He is adept at throwing the ball accurately on the move which is a key for success in the NFL. This is a ground level shot so it is not the best vantage point but you get the picture.
Again this was a tight spiraled pass that is easy to catch. Moore making himself available for the pass by gaining separation is also a key. In fact I have read that Wilson has been very efficient when throwing to all three of his slot type receivers in camp including what little time he had with Crowder. Berrios has been getting open as well so if there are injuries or illness there are 3 viable slot type receivers who have an early chemistry with Wilson.
You can even play numerous slot receivers on certain plays and be successful. Most teams only have a single slot corner of any repute so the player being covered by a 2nd team type talent has a very good chance of beating his man. All three slot receivers the Jets have are very capable after the catch. They can turn a 5 yard reception into a big play. It gives the Jets more options in terms of receiver groupings and play structure.
Like I said earlier Zach Wilson is a very good athlete. He ran 4.44/40 at his pro day and has terrific hand eye coordination. He played as the point guard on his basketball team and could have possibly been the starter in college if he didn’t play football. Here he is showing you a little taste of his basketball prowess.
Now Wilson isn’t going to be leaving to join the Knicks anytime soon. (They could probably use him.) It just enhances the thought that Wilson is an all around physical talent and not just “a guy with a big arm.” Maybe because he just looks so young people doubt his abilities. He is not going to look young forever, (I know first hand.) but hopefully in the future Jet fans will look back with retrospective delight of the kid from Utah.
Another player who has worked well with Wilson is Michael Carter the rookie out of North Carolina who also has turned heads in OTA and minicamp (more on him later as well). Carter had some great receiving numbers in college (82 receptions) on a team that was loaded at receiver and while he shared the backfield with Javonte Williams who will probably be the lead back in Denver this year. Here early in OTAs Wilson is working with Carter indoors on some wheel type routes.
I watched a number of these exact same plays, and while there are no defenders the ball never hit the ground. This just allows Wilson and Carter to gauge each others talents with Wilson understanding where to throw the ball and the speed of Carter. Carter can get a feel of how the ball will come to him and read the arc on the ball which should be the same once the pads go on.
It may be that the two had a chance to work so much together as rookies the last few weeks, but it appears to me that Wilson really likes throwing to Carter and trusts him which is a major thing between players. Here Carter is making a nice adjustment on a ball thrown away from the defender. He makes a nice catch.
You like to see Wilson err on the side of caution with the throw far to the outside of the defender. That defender by the way is Brendon White a UDFA LB out of Rutgers who could make the team or practice squad. White played 3 seasons at Ohio State before transferring to Rutgers for his senior season. White was a safety in college and at 6’ 1 3/8” 215 lbs is the type of WILL LB the Jets have been looking for. He has good coverage skills, very nice agility and 4.66/40 speed from the LB position. He is a dark horse candidate to watch.
Carter shows some good hands on the play, keeps his balance, then heads upfield immediately. With the running back position up for grabs Carter could be the lead back for the Jets if he continues to impress. The backfield will probably be a time share adventure this season with players being used situationally.
Wilson is looking to get his receivers together for some informal throwing sessions before camp. That sounds like a good idea and it shows some initiative on Wilson’s part to be a leader and gel with his teammates as much as possible. “We’ll find some time to get together,” Wilson said
When the Jets drafted Elijah Moore I jumped out of my seat with joy because I thought Moore was a singular talent who could be not only a leader on the field but a shining example of dedication to the craft for other players. Both he and fellow rookie Michael Carter have been coming into the facility early (around 6:30 AM) to get in extra work before practice begins. Maybe that is why both have been standout performers so far this year. Coach LaFleur has raved about Moore ever since he walked into the Jets facility adding, “Cool part about Elijah is this guy just works. I know a lot of people say that but he does and he puts in a lot of time whether it be seven in the morning on the jugs and working in the indoor, taking it through the meetings, being prepared with the scripted plays.”
“Miles Austin’s done an awesome job putting him at ‘X,’ putting him at ‘Z,’ putting him at ‘F,’ which when I was a receivers coach, I was almost a little bit nervous to do that. I wanted to see these guys have a little bit of success because I knew how hard it was and he’s embraced and he goes after it. He’s a fun dude to coach.”
People who have known Elijah say that he is just this way and not because he is trying to impress the coach. He used to text his trainer while at Mississippi (he was in Miami in Elijah’s hometown) at early parts of the morning to ask him questions about different types of things he could do later that morning.
He has even impressed his new QB to the point that Wilson had this to say about Elijah, “He’s someone I want to be around because he wants to be great.”
Carter’s work (as shown earlier) has really stood out to the coaches. Zach Wilson is as upbeat a player there is, but even he was amazed to hear Carter talk to him after a tough day at practice. Wilson said Carter told him, ‘You know what, it’s hard to know sometimes if it was a good or a bad day. And it’s really because there’s so many learning experiences, and the frustrating things are good to learn from.”
Carter was one player the Jets thought they had lost the opportunity to draft when they traded away the two third round picks they had for the chance to draft Alijah Vera-Tucker. The Jets Could have used the #66 pick on Carter if they had not traded it away in the deal. So they were elated to see Carter still on the board when they were up with the 2nd pick in the 4th round #107.
Carter is climbing the ladder on the depth chart and is on his way to the top in the opinions of many of the writers at the Jet practices. Yet training camp has not begun so let’s hold off on anointing anyone as a starter until the pads go on. Still it is better to be thought of as a possible starter than some guy who is probably not going to make the roster.
So who has not impressed?
With the upbeat vibe coming from the OTAs and minicamp it is hard to judge who has not been there so far as it comes to players under performing. Denzel Mims has been running almost exclusively with the 2nd team units, but that could change in the weeks ahead. It could be just a motivation thing or any number of different issues that has kept Mims from shining at Jets practices so far. Again let’s wait until the pads go on to make anything substantial out of that.
If you could pencil in one sore spot on the offense it would be the tight end position. This is a more vital position to the La Fleur offense than most systems. So it is a little more than concerning that no player has stepped up to claim the position. As of right now the writers think the starter would be Ryan Griffin who is an average talent at best and with little or no ability to make splash plays.
Projected starter Chris Herndon was kept on the 2nd unit throughout minicamp. He only got a handful of reps with the starters. That in and of itself is not a deal breaker, but he is coming off two lost years and is coming into the final year of his contract. Even Tyler Kroft seems to be ahead of him on the depth chart. If he fails to impress in training camp he might find himself looking for a job. Joe Douglas has no ties to him and no one here has any idea what Joe thinks of Herndon.
UDFA Kenny Yeboah probably has the best athletic talent of any of the tight ends on the roster. He did get some first team repsm but he had some drops during his time in the offense. In fact the Jets said they had a 4th round grade on Yeboah. I had him as a 6th round talent because he has hands of stone. Yeboah had 17 dropped balls in college and he only had 74 receptions in 4 years. If Yeboah wants to take the tight end position for himself he will need to work like Elijah Moore to get his hands up to speed. The good thing is that hands can be made better with work unlike speed or intelligence. Yeboah is a little old for a rookie, (He will be 23 in October.) but if he can produce like he did against Alabama where he had 7 receptions for 181 yards and 2 TDs he would be special.
The Jets need a player at tight end, and most of the guys the Jets have at that position are not really good athletes. The Jets starting tight end this season could be on someone else’s roster right now. They could wait for a castoff before committing to any player at the position.
Some have floated the idea around about the Jets acquiring Zack Ertz. The connection is already there with Joe Douglas and the Eagles, but I don’t know if Joe would pull the trigger on a trade for a 31 year old player who is definitely on the last legs of his career.
For some reason the Eagles are set on getting rid of Ertz even though if they trade him they will eat $7,769,500 in dead cap space over the next 3 years. His base salary is $8,500,000 for this year which seems steep for a player coming off a year where he played in only 11 games, had 36 receptions, had 5 drops, only 88 YAC yards, 1 TD and played in only 56% of the snaps.
When healthy Ertz could help the Jets, but if he is released I don’t know how much salary Joe would give him or whether he would want to come to a rebuilding affair like the Jets. He could (if he is in great shape) be a huge difference maker for he Jets, but it remains to be seen if he is that healthy.
As of now you have to be impressed by many of the moves Joe Douglas has made since the end of the season. The first free agency period did not go well, and we see that Joe has taken a wildly different approach this year. So far everything he has done seems to be spot on, but the season hasn’t started yet so it remains to be seen how things work out. If someone on the Jets offensive line can play just average at the right guard position, the line looks fairly solid which would be a huge improvement. The Jets still have holes on their team, but Joe has done a yeoman’s job on the plethora of Jets team shortcomings. He also created a better power structure along with a health and fitness program and has a solid medical team in place to work on assorted injuries. He has done quite a lot.
With the training camp on the horizon the Jets will be looking for players to step up. There is a chance that some will surprise and others falter. With a new regime in place anything is possible for the Jets.
That’s what I think.
What do you think?