Over the past few weeks, the New York Jets have been talking about the possibility of trading for Buffalo Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson. As the Jets continue to be “all in” on making the playoffs, they’ve also expressed interest in re-signing free agent wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but both parties seem to be having trouble finding common ground.
Maybe the most edgy decision the Jets have made this off-season is trading 3rd-round pick Austin Seferian-Jenkins to the Seattle Seahawks for a second-round draft pick. They did it to get rid of a troubled tight end who had a history of substance abuse. The team powerbrokers of the Jets decision to move on from Seferian-Jenkins is a sign that they’re tired of dealing with him, and it’s a decision they’ll have to live with.
The New York Jets are in a weird situation with their quarterbacks. They have an experienced one who is getting up there in age but is still productive. They have a young one who is not ready for the NFL, but is good enough to get them to the playoffs. Then there is the big guy, who is starving himself to get big, but doesn’t have the arm strength to be a competent NFL quarterback. So what do they do?
Take a peek at what’s going on with the New York Jets:
Editor’s note: According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Jets acquired Houston Texans pass rusher Shaq Lawson on Sunday. According to ESPN’s Rich Cimini, New York will give Houston a sixth-round draft selection in 2022 as part of the trade. Lawson, 27, is a reasonably effective player with a deal that runs through next season. Cimini’s appraisal of the Jets’ defensive end position before to the transaction is included below.
1. Examining the DE market: The Jets have been dealt a twin blow at defensive end, with first Carl Lawson and now Vinny Curry. They’re desperate for assistance at a time when the league’s inventory is low, and you know what that means: making a deal will be prohibitively expensive.
Nonetheless, Jets general manager Joe Douglas must act before the start of the 2021 NFL regular season. When the best defensive ends are John Franklin-Myers, Bryce Huff, and Ronnie Blair, coach Robert Saleh can’t expect to run his defensive scheme, which is based on front-four pressure. 20.5 sacks in his career.
“It’s always simple to play the fictitious game of, ‘Let’s go grab someone,’ but the truth is that what’s accessible is few and far between,” Saleh added. “Obviously, Joe and his team are working nonstop right now, trying to keep an eye on the roster and communicate constantly.”
Saleh wasn’t going to put up a “Help Wanted” sign, so it was the response you’d expect from a coach. That would reduce their bargaining power. Douglas is seeking to trade after making 11 player deals in his first 26 months on the job. Is he going to be able to locate a match? Let’s look at some of the paths they might take:
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— Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich both come from the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons, respectively, so that’s a solid place to start. The 49ers have a lot of depth on the edge, but Dee Ford and Alex Barrett are the only backups Saleh has coached. Ford is a well-known brand that is also reasonably priced ($4 million base in 2021). He’s been battling ailments and hasn’t played much since 2019, but he had a great camp.
Dante Fowler Jr. ($6 million) is the name in Atlanta, and he accepted a salary cut following a big contract in 2020. From their time together with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Saleh is also acquainted with Fowler. He’s by far the Falcons’ greatest pass rusher, so a trade seems improbable. The asking price, if they’re willing to listen, would be hefty, maybe a second-round draft selection. Derek Barnett ($990,000), a reasonably effective player who will be a free agency, is the only Douglas link that stands out.
— Underperforming high picks: Desperate clubs often go in this direction, believing that a change of environment can rejuvenate a player. Clelin Ferrell of the Las Vegas Raiders (two years, $8.1 million), Rashan Gary of the Green Bay Packers (two years, $4.6 million), Shaq Lawson of the Houston Texans (two years, $9.8 million), and Jaylon Ferguson of the Baltimore Ravens (two years, $2.8 million) are all in this group.
— A sleeper: If they make a deal, it’s likely to come from here — a young and inexpensive player who they think has potential. It will not be a household name, which will disappoint fans but fulfill the organization’s goal to develop for the long run. We’re talking about outside linebacker Cam Gill of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who appeared in all four playoff games last season and had a half-sack in Super Bowl LV, but was passed on the depth chart by 2021 first-round draft choice Joe Tryon.
— An irritated celebrity: Chandler Jones of the Arizona Cardinals, who is seeking a contract extension, has sparked a lot of media conjecture. Jones has 97 career sacks, but Douglas isn’t going to part with a valuable asset for a 31-year-old in the last year of his contract earning $15.5 million.
2. Jets great on Lawson: Mark Gastineau, the greatest edge rusher in Jets history, told ESPN that Lawson’s season-ending Achilles tear left him “heartbroken.” Although Lawson only played a few plays in the first preseason game, Gastineau saw enough to think Lawson was on the verge of a great season.
Carl Lawson was the guy the Jets couldn’t afford to lose because of his skill and the position he was intended to serve in the new 4-3 front, as a wide rusher. USA Today/Chris Pedota
Gastineau, who previously held the NFL record with 22 sacks in a season, remarked, “He could’ve gotten close to my sack record” (1984). “Who knows?” says the speaker. It’s possible he got it. I want him to succeed. It’s in the nature of records to be broken.
“His first two steps are eerily similar to mine. His take-off is just incredible.”
Before the game, Gastineau and Lawson exchanged a glance. Lawson clasped his hands and dropped his head as he saw Gastineau in the stands behind the Jets’ bench. He is aware of Gastineau’s historical significance; in fact, he recently acknowledged him by name at a press conference.
The pregame encounter was “very lovely,” Gastineau added.
3. Gang (very) Green: According to Saleh, his squad will be “ridiculously youthful.” The Jets will feature 19 rookies and second-year players on their opening day roster, according to my 53-man roster prediction.
4. If you don’t take a chance, you won’t get a biscuit: When asked how they decide where to throw the ball, most rookie quarterbacks spit back the scripted response: “Take what the defense offers you.” Zach Wilson, a rookie, had a different perspective.
“Risk will always exist; it’s simply a matter of knowing when to take it,” Wilson added. “Turning the ball over is never a good thing, but if you don’t have any turnovers but no explosive plays, you’re not going to win games.”
Is this a winning strategy? I conducted some research and looked at the statistics of quarterbacks who tried 20-yard passes into tight windows (less than one yard separation). Aren’t they high-risk passes? According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the players with the most attempts in that category last season were Tom Brady (30) of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Justin Herbert (27) of the Los Angeles Chargers — an all-time great and a rising star. It clearly worked for them.
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Those who like Wilson’s aggressive style should recall the time when he threw an interception while attempting to squeeze one in — and there will be interceptions. Brady was intercepted twice in his 30 pass attempts, but he also averaged 37 yards per completion.
5. Upstairs and downstairs: During the regular season, it will be fascinating to observe where offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is deployed. He spent all three games on the sideline calling plays, which wasn’t the initial idea. Wilson prefers LaFleur on the sideline because it allows them to huddle in between series, but he added he doesn’t mind if LaFleur wants to be upstairs for a better perspective of the field.
LaFleur now has the flexibility to call games from the sidelines thanks to the hiring of senior offensive coach Matt Cavanaugh, who succeeds the late Greg Knapp. Cavanaugh has the ability to be the calming influence on the field, which is something that any rookie quarterback should have. Quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese also has a role, although he lacks Cavanaugh’s expertise, having played in the league and taught for three decades.
Playcallers may choose their own game venue. When I talked with former NFL coach Todd Haley recently, he told me that he preferred to be on the sideline, in the midst of the mayhem, so he could connect with players. He said that one of his instructors, Dan Henning, liked the box’s calm, antiseptic environment.
6. From video game to real life: It’s always fascinating to hear young players talk about the Madden video game as their early link to the NFL. It was brought up the other day when rookie linebacker Jamien Sherwood revealed how he met (now teammate) C.J. Mosley via Madden.
“When he was with the Ravens, I used to play Madden with him,” Sherwood recalled. “So when I eventually met him, I simply thought he was insane because he was so quick at the game — and it showed on the field. He is a natural born leader.”
Sherwood, who has taken over at outside linebacker for the injured Jarrad Davis, is now lined up beside Mosley in the 4-3 basic front.
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