The 2017 New York Jets will look a lot different than the team looked in 2016. After a disappointing 5-11 season, the Jets decided to move on from many of their veteran players. This leaves them with more cap space and many young players, but overall a lot of unproven talent. The team as constructed now is likely to compete for the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft during this authentic rebuild. One of the most important things the Jets need in 2017 is a true leader on this young team and Leonard Williams is that leader.
Leonard Williams is the Leader the New York Jets Need Now
The Jets Need a Leader
Some notable players who the Jets parted ways with in the offseason are Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold, Nick Folk, Geno Smith, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Clady, Marcus Gilchrist, Breno Giacomini, Calvin Pryor, Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker, Erin Henderson, and David Harris. Ten of those 13 players are currently 30 years-old or older.
The Jets 2016 team came with an abundance of veteran presence, but possibly too much. When you bring in many veterans from different teams, it doesn’t always pan out. Only three of the ten players in their 30s were drafted by the Jets. It’s hard to understand the tough times that come along with being a Jet when you were only there for a few years.
Out of the group listed above, Marshall was the most vocal leader on the team. That did not come without major pushback, however. The Jets controversial defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson viewed Marshall’s departure from the team as a blessing.
As mentioned by different media outlets such as Sports Illustrated, he told reporters that “the locker room is a whole lot easier to get along with now.”
After a little pressing he confirmed to the reporters that he was talking about Marshall by referring to the number he wore as a Jet.
“Y’all so thirsty,” Richardson continued. “Let’s just say we’ve got 15 reasons why it’s better.”
As much as Richardson has acted out during his time on the Jets, his distaste for Marshall shows a lack of true leadership in the clubhouse. The Jets need a leader that is well-respected, professional on and off the field, plays at a high level, and will be around for a while. Unfortunately Marshall did not check all those boxes.
Why Leonard Williams?
Respectable and Professional
Williams fits all the criteria mentioned. He is well-respected and is professional on and off the field. Instead of getting into trouble off the field, he has done positive things. When his teammate Darron Lee was arguing with his girlfriend at the Governors Ball music festival in early June, the 6’5″, 298 pound defensive lineman picked him up and restrained him from escalating the incident. Head coach Todd Bowles was pleased with Williams’ actions.
“It’s a good role as a friend, and it’s a good role as a teammate,” Bowles said according to the New York Daily News. “So that’s fine. I’m good with that.”
Talent and Tenure
Williams plays at a very high level. He is one of the better defensive lineman in the NFL and is the best player on the Jets currently. In only his second season, he was named to the Pro Bowl after originally being named as a first alternate. No other Jet made the Pro Bowl in 2016.
While he will only be entering his third season, Williams is actual the perfect fit to lead this Jets team. Williams, whose 23rd birthday falls on June 20, actually has more experience than many of the rookies and second-year players who may have big roles on this team. His two years experience is more than ArDarius Stewart, Marcus Maye, Jamal Adams, Jordan Leggett, Christian Hackenberg, Brandon Shell, Robby Anderson, Charone Peake, Juston Burris, Jalin Marshall, Jordan Jenkins, and Lee. Experience doesn’t directly correlate into leadership, but it’s still good that the overall team around him won’t be that much more experienced than himself.
Also he will likely have a big role on the team for at least three more seasons. With the amount of cap space the Jets are projected to have in the near future however, it would be surprising if general manager Mike Maccagnan didn’t store up enough money for a long-term deal for Williams as long as he continues his success. If he does continue his success, he could get a deal similar to Muhammad Wilkerson who signed last offseason for five years.
Will He Take That Step?
Williams not only has leadership abilities, but he also has the desire to become a leader. According to an article written by ESPN’s Rich Cimini, Williams’ goal at the end of 2016 was to be a team leader. When he told that goal to Ronnie Lott, his girlfriend’s dad and Pro Football Hall of Famer, he was advised to attend a leadership program.
Williams is attending Ascension Leadership Academy in San Diego on the weekends to grow in his personal development and leadership abilities.
The 2017 season will involve a lot of sorting out. The Jets will need a real leader during this rebuild and Williams is the best option available.