A look at what's happening around the New York Jets
1. Joe Jet: Now that Joe Douglas is on board as the new general manager, let's take a minute to figure out how he might shape the roster and attempt to build the Jets into a consistent winner. This is a projection, of course, because this is his first time in the big chair. Still, we can use trends and influences in his career to forecast what might unfold in the coming years.
A few thoughts on what to expect:
Watch the early strike. Douglas spent the past three years with the Philadelphia Eagles, one of the most proactive teams when it comes to locking up their own players before they hit free agency. The most recent example: quarterback Carson Wentz, who received a four-year extension even though he had two years remaining on his rookie deal. Because of this approach, the Eagles have no fewer than a dozen key players under contract through 2021. The Jets have been lagging in this area. The philosophy will be put to the test early with decisions on wide receiver Robby Anderson and defensive lineman Leonard Williams, both of whom will be free agents after the season. Douglas doesn't have to worry about quarterback Sam Darnold until 2021 at the earliest. On Saturday, Darnold said he's not thinking about his contract, saying, "If I play well -- if we win games, most importantly -- the future is bright for the organization. That's all I care about."
The stars will get paid. Douglas grew up in the Baltimore Ravens organization and worked alongside GM Ozzie Newsome, who did a fantastic job of re-signing his top players. Until this offseason, the Ravens never had failed to re-up with a first-round pick who made multiple Pro Bowls. The streak ended with linebacker C.J. Mosley, who became the first such player in the 23-year history of the franchise to leave. You know where he ended up. The Jets don't have any players who fall into the first-round/multiple-Pro Bowl category, but that will change if safety Jamal Adams has another big season. They can control him through 2021 on his rookie contract, but he's eligible for a new deal after this season. The Jets have a sad history when it comes to retaining their best players.
Holdovers are on notice. Linebacker Darron Lee and tight end Jordan Leggett already have been jettisoned, courtesy of coach Adam Gase, and you can bet a few more of Mike Maccagnan's former draft picks will be dropped in the coming months. Among those fighting to keep their roster spots are wide receiver Charone Peake, running backs Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon, and defensive linemen Nathan Shepherd and Folorunso Fatukasi. There's a new sheriff in town -- two, actually -- and that usually means a significant roster turnover. Maccagnan's picks will get no benefit of the doubt, which is a good thing because it will increase the competition.
The offensive line won't be ignored anymore: It's too late for a 2019 overhaul, but this will be one of the stories next offseason. Unlike Maccagnan, who picked only three linemen in five drafts (none earlier than the third round), Douglas recognizes the importance of building a strong offensive line. Presiding over the Eagles' draft, he selected tackle Andre Dillard at No. 22 overall after trading up three spots. In 2018, he drafted two tackles in the later rounds. The Jets' line needs some TLC because starting tackles Kelvin Beachum and Brandon Shell are headed to free agency. It wouldn't be a shock if they have four new starters in 2020.
A new lieutenant: Once Douglas settles in, he will start interviewing candidates to be his right-hand man. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay is a candidate for a position, he told ESPN. Former Cleveland Browns GM Phil Savage, who overlapped with Douglas for a few years in Baltimore in the early 2000s, also has been mentioned as a possibility.
2. Under-the-radar moves: Before the Douglas hire, the Jets had begun to quietly move around some chairs in the scouting and personnel departments. Some of the most noteworthy changes, none of which were announced: Greg Nejmeh, previously the pro personnel coordinator, was promoted to director of pro personnel. Kevin Murphy, a pro scout, was promoted to assistant director of pro personnel. Andrew Dollak, an intern, was named a college scout. Ray Agnew and Salim Powell, scouting interns, were named scouting assistants. Rich Snead, a player personnel executive, retired.
3. Unusual hat trick: The three most important figures in the organization -- Douglas, Gase and Darnold -- are represented by agent Jimmy Sexton of CAA. This creates the potential of a conflict of interest, especially when Darnold's contract can be renegotiated in 2021. Ostensibly, Douglas will be across the bargaining table from the man who represents him, too. This is highly unusual.
"I don't know if it affects me at all, but it's definitely convenient, kind of understanding what's going on and being able to have that connection with my agents," said Darnold, adding that his agents supplied him with helpful background on Gase and Douglas.
There might be benefits, but it could get sticky down the road.
4. Pay day on the horizon: Anderson speaks softly, but carries big expectations into the season. Entering a contract year, he didn't hold back when asked to describe his mindset as he prepares for 2019.
Anderson said he's "pushing myself to new limits. My first couple of years, I thought 100 yards [per game] was, like, good. For what I want to be -- an elite, top-five receiver -- that's not good. I'm setting higher goals for myself."
Recent history shows it's uncommon for a wide receiver to have a breakout after he's been in the league for at least three years. Maybe Anderson will be an exception. After all, his developmental curve was greater than most because he was so raw when he got to the NFL.
To make the jump, he needs to do a better job of maximizing his outstanding speed. He was "open" on only 25.5% of his targets last season, which ranked 41st out of the 45 wide receivers with at least 50 catches, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. ("Open" is defined as having at least 3 yards of separation from the nearest defender when the pass arrives). Darnold's inexperience probably contributed to the low percentage, as young quarterbacks typically hold the ball too long.
Anderson also could use an assist from Gase, who needs to diversify his role. It was too predictable last season; he averaged a league-high 16.5 air yards per target. He was Mr. Go Route, which explains why the average cushion from cornerbacks was a cushy 6.0 yards. Imagine how much damage he could do if he developed into a reliable short and intermediate route runner.
For now, he's slated to make $3.1 million, the amount of his restricted free agent tender. If he reaches the 1,000-yard neighborhood, he'll be looking for about $15 million per year, based on the current receiver market. That sounds like a lot of loot, but Sammy Watkins ($16 million APY) and Davante Adams ($14.5 million APY) scored big deals with similar bodies of work after four years. In terms of production, Anderson is on a much better pace than teammate Quincy Enunwa, who received $8.4 million APY after a one-year tender -- which gives you an idea of Anderson's potential earning power.
5. Bumpy week: Last week's minicamp served as a reminder that Darnold still is a young, developing quarterback, trying to learn a new offense. He had a lot on his plate -- Gase installed new plays -- and the growing pains were evident. At one point, Darnold was visibly frustrated. Gase, too, got annoyed. He actually yelled at Darnold. Yes, really.
And the quarterback was cool with that.
"I think he likes it better when you're a little aggressive with him," Gase said. "I think the first time I actually raised my voice, he was saying, 'It's about time you started getting on me a little bit.'"
It's a good thing when the quarterback responds to hard coaching. It sends a message to the rest of the team that no one is immune to it. (See: Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.) As for Darnold's progress on the field, relax and be patient.
6. Help wanted: Asked about the lack of depth at cornerback, Gase said, "I think we're thin at more than just corner." (A shot at Maccagnan?) Gase said they will be actively looking to upgrade the position. One name to watch is the Pittsburgh Steelers' Artie Burns, a first-round pick in 2016. He hasn't lived up to expectations and could be traded or released before training camp. It sounds like a Darron Lee situation, one that might be worth exploring for a corner-needy team. Morris Claiborne remains a free agent because his asking price remains high.
7. Island paradise? If the Jets want to be good on defense, they absolutely need a better season out of Trumaine Johnson, who's supposed to be their CB1. He's reunited with defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, under whom he enjoyed his most success -- with the St. Louis Rams in 2015. So maybe there's hope.
Johnson praised Williams for his aggressive scheme, saying, "He likes to blitz and likes to leave his corners on an island. As a corner, I say go for it."
But here's the thing about Johnson: He showed no aggressiveness last season. His pre-snap cushion on wide receivers averaged 6.7 yards, more than all but five corners in the league, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He won't last on the island with that mentality.