Jan 21, 2015; Florham Park, NJ, USA; New York Jets new general manager Mike Maccagnan speaks during a press conference at Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. Mandatory Credit: William Perlman/NJ Advance Media for NJ.com via USA TODAY Sports
General manager Mike Maccagnan of the New York Jets has many issues to deal with. With major questions regarding the future status of team leaders, the front office has turned to rebuilding the roster from the bottom up.
In professional sports, it is not uncommon for new management to disparage the roster moves of the previous regime. Most of the time, such an argument holds water because it’s true. Maccagnan is a quiet professional who has refused to dive into a similar narrative. He has yet to utter a bad word about his disastrous predecessors John Idzik and Mike Tannenbaum. But behind the scenes, it is well-known that Maccagnan and head coach Todd Bowles realize that the roster they inherited is aging and slow and thin at best.
The great NFL franchises churn out 3-4 solid contributors per draft — but the five drafts of 2010-2014 in total yielded 2015 starters Muhammad Wilkerson, Calvin Pryor, Brian Winters, Tommy Bohanon and the since departed Demario Davis. Aside from the scores of players since let go, the Jets’ 2016 training camp roster still overflows with overpaid or perennially injured benchwarmers, such as Jace Amaro, Dakota Dozier, Dexter McDougle Dee Milliner, and the jaw-dropping Geno Smith.
The Jets’ braintrust knows what they need to do. They understand that last year’s 10-6 mark was likely an anomaly; a perfect storm of weak schedule, veteran leadership and a little bit of luck.
Here’s a deeper look at the team’s draft picks, undrafted free agents and tryout players — all trying to pursue their life’s dreams at One Jets Drive in Florham Park. Nobody really knows how these players will turn out, but it is obvious that they are all high-motor contributors with true leadership qualities. That’s a great methodology to build a winning team.
Next: On Defense
Apr 28, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Darron Lee (Ohio State) after being selected by the New York Jets as the number twenty overall pick in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at Auditorium Theatre. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
The Jets desperately needed to address their aging linebacking corps. The overall lack of speed resulted in below average pass coverage and a virtually nonexistent edge pursuit. Maccagnan cut bait with Rex Ryan’s “boys” Quinton Coples and Davis, as well as the 37-year-old Calvin Pace, so the only linebacker left standing is defensive leader David Harris.
Top draft choice Darron Lee is an ideal fit for Bowles’ defense, a lightning fast thumper in the mode of Deone Bucannon, who the Jets’ HC once employed so effectively in Arizona. Third-round pick Jordan Jenkins ain’t exactly a sack machine, but at University of Georgia he drew comparison to former Bulldog and Jets’ great linebacker Mo Lewis. Expect returning veteran Erin Henderson and former Dallas Cowboy Bruce Carter to hold the line this season while Lee, Jenkins, and impressive 2015 pick Lorenzo Mauldin works hard to grow into a starting role.
Idzik’s whiff on the #8 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft on Milliner continues to haunt this franchise. The fact that Marcus Williams, an undrafted free agent out of North Dakota State is more of a complete player than the former Alabama star is a damning indictment. Milliner’s salary is on the books for 2016, and unless things change fast, he could spend most of this season in street clothes as a weekly deactivation. Idzik’s planned partner to Milliner, 2013 third-rounder McDougle, has made minimal impact and may not make the final roster.
Not counting Eric Mangini-era pick Darrelle Revis, the only remaining Rex Ryan-anointed secondary member is the seldom-used Rontez Miles. That’s why the fourth-round pick of North Carolina State corner Juston Burris was so important. The large and powerful ballhawk excels at that physical man-to-man coverage so necessary to Bowles’ defense, and he will be learning the game from a future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Expect Burris to become a future contributor.
Next: On Offense
Jan 1, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Ohio State Buckeyes wide receiver Jalin Marshall (7) bobbles a pass in the third quarter against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium. The pass resulted in a completion. Ohio State won 44-28. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker currently comprise one of the league’s top passing tandems. But who knows how long that will last, with Marshall, on his best behavior, facing retirement and readying for a budding television career. Maccagnan waited until using the team’s second of two seventh-round picks on Charone Peake out of Clemson — who has a real opportunity to contribute.
Tough-as-nails undrafted free agent Jalin Marshall out of Ohio State may become a better pro than his former classmate Devin Smith, Maccagnan’s underwhelming 2015 second-round pick. Quenton Bundrage is another intriguing UDFA prospect. But the majority of the Jets’ free agent buzz has been over their upcoming tryout of Giants star WR Odell Beckham, Jr.’s cousin Terron Beckham, an athletic freak of nature.
The Jets still don’t have a real tight end, unless Amaro finally arrives or Zach Sudfeld recovers from his season-long injury. In the meantime, both tight ends sit behind blocking machine Kellen Davis, and perhaps also former Giant Adrien Robinson.
The offensive line is aging fast. The team surprisingly traded their 2017 fourth-round pick for a fifth-rounder, spent on South Carolina tackle Brandon Shell, the nephew of Hall of Fame tackle Art Shell. While the former Gamecock has the right bloodline, he cannot be counted on to replace the recently retired D’Brickashaw Ferguson; at best Shell’s an eventual replacement for Breno Giacomini.
The selection of Shell, accompanied by the re-signing of Ben Ijalana is not a positive sign for last year’s fifth-round tackle Jarvis Harrison. There is also talk of Shell stepping in at guard for the average-at-best Winters. The Jets also brought in three interesting long-shot UDFA linemen: Temple’s Kyle Friend, Virginia Union’s Dahon Taylor and Wingate’s Mathu Gibson.
Of course the 400-lb. gorilla in the room is the quarterback situation of the Jets. People are laughing about the second-round selection of polarizing Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg — but he who laughs last, laughs best. Legendary offensive coordinator Chan Gailey thinks he can fix the beat-down behemoth, who suffered through three seasons of the Joe Paterno scandal fallout, coaching changes and absolutely brutal pass coverage.
Give Maccagnan credit — this is such an aggressive move. It can blow up in his face, or he has unearthed the next Philip Rivers. But football men, not pencil-pushers, run this new front office, so don’t bet against the professionals.
The Hackenberg move basically ensures that Smith is a goner. It also says that they have little belief in 2015 fourth-rounder Bryce Petty. Undrafted free agent flamethrower Jason Vander Laan out of Michigan’s Ferris State is a fascinating small-college prospect but is likely auditioning for a CFL or Arena League job. So is tryout quarterback Liam Nadler, a four-year starter at Erie, PA’s Gannon University, who also attracted interest from the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers and Houston Texans.
But one thing is for sure: the Jets’ staring contest with Fitzpatrick better end soon.
Next: On Special Teams
Sep 6, 2014; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes punter Tom Hackett (33) punts the ball during the first half against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
On Special Teams
One effect of the thinning roster was a glaring weakness on special teams — once a strong point under coach Mike Westhoff. There’s little to get excited about new special teams coach Brant Boyer, ex of the Indianapolis Colts, but he can’t be any worse than last year’s coach Bobby April or his predecessor Thomas McGaughey.
Punter Ryan Quigley got kicked to the curb after two seasons of profound mediocrity. To replace him, Maccagnan has brought in two Australian booters — Sam Houston State’s Lachlan Edwards, the seventh-rounder standout at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, and two-time Ray Gay Award winner Tom Hackett, an undrafted free agent out of Utah, rated by many prognosticators as the top punter going into this year’s draft.
Should kicker Nick Folk start looking over his shoulder? When Folk got injured last year, Randy Bullock stepped in admirably. So if he is not fully healed, and either Duke’s Ross Martin or Albright’s Daniel Sobolewski make it past the first round of roster cuts, expect Maccagnan to move beyond the pricey veteran.
At this point in time, there are no great answers in terms of the kick return game. The departure of punt returning fair-catch-machine Jeremy Kerley feels like addition by subtraction. Sure-handed receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, former Steeler Dri Archer, and the aforementioned Peake will all get long looks.
Feel good Jets fans, your team is in good hands. The roster is getting younger and faster, and the new players fit the gridiron schemes of the coaching staff and the larger goals of the organization. It’s all part of slowly building a winner.