The New York Jets did their very best to field the best final roster possible heading into the regular season. Unfortunately for cornerback Dee Milliner, time has finally run out.
As the clock struck 4pm eastern time Saturday, the New York Jets announced their 53-man roster. There were a few cuts that left Jets fans shaking their heads, however, one cut that came as no surprise was a former first-round cornerback, Dee Milliner.
After parting ways with cornerback superstar Darrelle Revis in 2013 who left in a trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Jets were left with a gaping hole at that position opposite starter Antonio Cromartie. With two first-round picks at their disposal, the Jets addressed the need early with the ninth overall pick in which they selected Milliner out of Alabama.
In the months leading up the 2013 NFL Draft, Milliner was considered by many as the top cornerback available. Despite undergoing several surgeries throughout his college career, this was not seen as a red flag due to his potential to succeed in the NFL.
As a player picked in the top ten, there was, of course, immense pressure on Milliner to succeed. Not only because of his high draft selection but also due to the fact that he wasn’t just replacing any old corner. He was replacing Revis, a former all-pro and 2009 Defensive Player of the Year.
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Throughout training camp and the preseason, Milliner showed head coach Rex Ryan enough to get him to plug him in at cornerback in the starting unit opposite Cromartie, who went on to produce a strong season in which he was selected to the Pro Bowl.
It didn’t go so well for the rookie, however.
In what can only be described as a season that was hot and cold, Milliner struggled mightily, to begin with.
He was thrust into the starting secondary, lining up against teams second and third wide receivers on a weekly basis.
Milliner’s rookie growing pains were on display often resulting in multiple trips to the bench.
Ryan, forever the optimist, assured the media that he was not disappointed by Milliner’s performance and seen his struggles as an opportunity for him to watch and learn. Of course, as a first round pick, he was on and off the bench throughout the year.
The Jets weren’t expected to make much noise in 2013, what with rookie quarterback Geno Smith taking the reigns over injured veteran Mark Sanchez, who was injured in a preseason game against an opposing defense of players fighting for their jobs no less. This was an example of the competitive fire that burned strongly inside Ryan.
This was a good and bad thing.
That fire is what kept the Jets competitive and somewhat of a surprise to analysts around the league as they were considered the underdog in victories over heavily favored teams such as Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints.
Milliner was given the opportunity to prove his worth several times throughout the season receiving the go-ahead from Ryan to regain his starting job until the end of the year. It was then that he rewarded his coach and general manager John Idzik, showing them why he was a first-round selection.
Aug 27, 2016; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Tavarres King (15) catches a touchdown pass in front of New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner (27) during the second half at MetLife Stadium. The Giants won 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
Unfortunately for the Jets, by the time December came along, they were already out of the playoff picture, although not everything was lost.
Milliner caught fire and redeemed himself with a performance so strong, he ended the year winning the Rookie of the Month award.
It was finally looking up for Milliner who ended his rookie campaign with a monster game against the Miami Dolphins in which he intercepted quarterback Ryan Tannehill twice. The Jets were excited, and so were the fans. How could you not be? Milliner underwent a transformation to finish the year and looked to carry over his dominant performance into the following season.
As we all know, Milliner didn’t go on to become a key piece of the Jets puzzle and instead, turned into a headache. A headache that wouldn’t go away no matter how hard they tried. Milliner’s final month was as good as it got.
The following season, Milliner was a shell of his former self. What could have possibly gone wrong that caused him to struggle as much as he did when he finished so strong the previous year? This wasn’t the same stud who showed improved man coverage technique and play-making abilities in December. Who exactly was this player who was constantly getting beat left, right and center?
It was Milliner. Plagued by inconsistency and injuries, he soon became a nonfactor.
Once Ryan and Idzik were shown the door, it only got worse for the young man. Once considered to be one of the new faces of the franchise, he was simply an afterthought. This new regime made it obvious that they didn’t believe he could man one of the starting positions. This led to the return of Revis and other corners who were quickly signed such as Buster Skrine and Marcus Williams.
With Bowles’ new secondary intact, this didn’t leave a prominent role for Milliner. In fact, he found himself relegated to the bottom of the depth chart. Not confident in the young corner, Bowles made it difficult for Milliner to see the field at all. He only made appearances on the field during special teams.
Milliner missed several games in the 2015 season due to injury but when he was healthy enough to play, he was so irrelevant in Bowles’ eyes that he had a total snap count of zero. Milliner was that bad playing in the position he was mainly drafted for.
This is why it was no surprise that Milliner was exiled after four years.
The Jets declined the fifth-year option on his contract earlier in the year and placed him on the trading block for months. The general consensus is that he was a goner no matter what happened.
It was an easy decision for Bowles and Maccagnan to release a player from a previous regime who missed 27 out of 48 games in three seasons due to multiple injuries. Everything from his wrist and Achilles made it hard to truly evaluate him. Milliner was a total nonfactor. So much that they essentially paid Milliner the $2.1M salary he was guaranteed to make to get him out the door as quickly as they could.
Will Milliner play another down? Sure. Will he be successful? Probably not.
There will be teams out there who’ll give him another chance because of his possible potential. Watch out for former coach Ryan’s Buffalo Bills as a possible landing spot. Ryan loves his cornerbacks and will run a system similar to the ones he implemented with the Jets.
Meanwhile, the Jets can feel confident with their current secondary as they continue to plan for their season opener. The Jets are set to welcome the visiting Cincinnati Bengals at MetLife Stadium on September 11th.