The New York Jets have now completed their offseason training program and the big news wasn’t players skipping them, but rather the team telling its two most prominent veterans they’re not welcome to participate. Indeed, the Jets caused quite a controversy last week when they released veterans David Harris and Eric Decker. From a football standpoint, the moves were questionable, as both can still provide valuable contributions at positions of need. But the message is clear: it’s time to rebuild. While they now have a month or so before reconvening for training camp, let’s examine what we learned from the New York Jets off-season training activities thus far.
New York Jets Off-Season Roundup: Where Do They Stand?
The Tank is Officially On
Early this off-season, the Jets moved on – in one form or another – from the following veterans: Nick Mangold, Brandon Marshall, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Darrelle Revis, Nick Folk, Breno Giacomini, and Marcus Gilchrist. While they had legitimate reasons for letting most of them go, it’s still quite a list for a team that’s endured nearly a decade long of draft futility. And that wasn’t all. The Jets also released their second round pick from two years ago, Devin Smith, after he tore his ACL a second time.
But their commitment to a full rebuild was confirmed last week with the untimely releases of Harris and Decker. Both are seasoned veterans that could still contribute and provide much needed leadership, both on and off the field. Yes, the moves saved the Jets a significant amount of money, but their timing was less than optimal. Harris especially deserved better, having been a stalwart in the middle of the Jets defense for the past ten years. And even though Decker was coming off surgery, he was still the Jets’ most experienced and reliable option at wide receiver. Letting him go leaves Quincy Enunwa as the only “veteran” receiver on the roster and he doesn’t have much experience himself. Who’s going to teach the young receivers what it takes to be successful at this level? Letting Decker go could be a huge mistake.
Next year’s draft will feature at least three top-level quarterback prospects around which any struggling franchise can build. Since the Jets haven’t had quarterback stability since, arguably, Chad Pennington (and even that was short-lived), you can’t blame them for trying to position themselves to finally get their franchise quarterback. But if any team can mess up a rebuild it’s the New York Jets, and that leads me to their biggest question.
Who Will Be The New York Jets Quarterback?
After last year’s disaster, the Jets voided Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract and signed Josh McCown, an oft-injured 37-year old journeyman. McCown joins backups Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg in the fight to be the Jets’ starting quarterback. Last season, we got a healthy dose of Bryce Petty, all of which only confirmed that he’s no better than a backup, if that.
During Jets OTAs, coach Todd Bowles had McCown taking snaps with the first team, and the question is: why? McCown is clearly at the tail end of his career and has no future with the Jets, at least not as a player. In the past, McCown has been able to put together strong spurts in which he’s put up solid numbers and helped his team win a few games, here and there. But in the unlikely event that were to happen with the Jets, it could only serve to set back their rebuild.
That’s why the Jets need to hand the ball to Christian Hackenberg. It doesn’t matter if he’s “ready” or not. The Jets are firmly in tank mode, and they spent a valuable second round pick on Hackenberg last year. Doesn’t it make sense to see what they have in him before drafting another quarterback next year? And with all the moves they’ve made this offseason, what do they have to lose by starting Hackenberg right away? They’ve already gutted this team. If Hackenberg fails then the decision to draft a franchise quarterback next year will be that much easier. And if he plays well, the Jets can focus on other positions next year or comfortably slide him into a backup role. It would be a good problem to have.
The reviews on Hackenberg this offseason have been mixed. During OTAs, he took snaps with the third team and some of his throws came closer to sideline reporters than to the team’s receivers. But then last week in the Jets’ minicamp, Hackenberg reportedly looked a whole lot better, dare I say “impressive.” Yes, he’ll have his ups and downs but if the Jets are fully in rebuild mode, they must make Hackenberg the starter, whether he’s ready or not.
Lorenzo Mauldin is Leaner
Two years ago, linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin showed promise as an edge rusher the Jets selected in the third round. Despite battling injuries his rookie season, Mauldin flashed speed around the corners and some much needed tenacity in the pass rush. As a result, the team had high expectations last year, which he did not meet. Mauldin blames last year’s regression on weight he had put on during the offseason, which he had hoped would help him better defend the run. But it had the reverse effect. Not only was he ineffective against the run, he was simply too slow to get to opposing quarterbacks.
In response, Mauldin has re-dedicated himself this offseason, not just to return to his rookie form but to improve on it. He’s reportedly shed nearly ten pounds and the team has noticed a return of his burst and quickness. He’s even looked good dropping back into coverage, something he wasn’t comfortable doing his first two years. And it couldn’t come at a better time, as the Jets will need their young linebacker(s) to step up in order to replace what they’ve lost in David Harris.
Jamal Adams Has Impressed
Yes, the team has yet to practice in pads but the early buzz is that Jamal Adams looks to be everything scouts believed he would. Indeed, the sixth pick in the draft is already proving to be a quick study. In the Jets minicamp this week, Adams was flying all over the field, reading the offense and anticipating plays. He had a highlight reel interception in Wednesday’s practice, and followed it up Thursday by running up to the line of scrimmage and barking out the play he believed the offense was running. He was right and as a result, the defense covered the play perfectly, allowing Sheldon Richardson to get in for a sack. Adams seems to be taking a leadership role in the Jets secondary, and will be an immediate starter from day one.
Other Notable Performers From the New York Jets Offseason Training Program
Several other players have impressed during the New York Jets off-season training activities. Muhammad Wilkerson looks sharper and more motivated than at this time last year. Another good sign for the Jets has been the play of their cornerbacks, most notably Juston Burris. While Morris Claiborne has been solid in offseason workouts, Burris has reportedly looked so sharp that he has a legitimate chance to start opposite Claiborne. Other players that have impressed thus far include Dylan Donahue, Marcus Maye, and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. Although, in Seferian-Jenkins’ case, it could quickly be forgotten as he will be suspended for the first two games of the season. But are you seeing a trend here? Virtually all of the buzz from the New York Jets off-season training program have come from the defensive side of the ball.
The Jets have plenty of work to do. We don’t yet know who will be the starting quarterback. Their offensive line has looked shaky, although Brian Winters and newcomer Kelvin Beachum haven’t practiced much. And their receiving corps looks extremely thin, especially now that Eric Decker was let go. But there’s reason for optimism on the defensive side. We know the defensive line will be solid, and if offseason workouts are any indication, the back seven may not be as bad as we thought. Yes, they’ve yet to put the pads on so any optimism should realistically be tempered, but it doesn’t mean we can’t hope.