FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Power position: The Zach Wilson hype train is speeding toward the 2021 NFL draft, and the biggest beneficiary (other than Wilson) is the Jets. Wilson’s soaring popularity has increased the value of the No. 2 overall pick, and the Jets have done their part by maintaining a poker face.
With quarterback Trevor Lawrence expected to go No. 1 to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Jets sit in the power position, with control of the draft. They can select Sam Darnold‘s replacement by taking Wilson for themselves or trade the pick for a franchise-altering ransom, which would mean riding with Darnold. Personally, I’d opt for the latter scenario, assuming they get a “Godfather” offer for the No. 2 pick.
This is working out brilliantly for the Jets, who haven’t done anything other than send out cryptic signals about their plans. The only downside is they risk the possibility of alienating Darnold, who is twisting in the Southern California wind.
Wilson is the hottest name in the draft, which is remarkable when you consider he went into the 2020 season in an open competition for the BYU starting job. After a 33-touchdown/three-interception season, albeit against weak competition, talent evaluators and “TV scouts” are going zowie for Zach. NBC Sports’ Chris Simms, speaking this week on the “Chris Simms Unbuttoned” podcast, rated Wilson as the No. 1 quarterback in the draft. He put him ahead of Lawrence, claiming it’s not even close.
Ryan Clark argues that Zach Wilson deserves more consideration as the top QB prospect in the 2021 NFL draft.
If the Jets fall in love with Wilson, they will draft him and trade Darnold. They also could auction the pick to a quarterback-needy team such as the Atlanta Falcons (No. 4), Philadelphia Eagles (No. 6) or Carolina Panthers (No. 8), which would allow them to fill many roster holes.
In three of the past nine drafts, the team holding the No. 2 pick swapped places with a team that came up for a quarterback. The amount of compensation provides an idea of the Jets’ potential haul:
2017: San Francisco 49ers (to No. 3) — For changing places with the Chicago Bears, who drafted Mitchell Trubisky, the 49ers received third- and fourth-round picks in 2017, plus a third-rounder in 2018.
2016: Cleveland Browns (to No. 8) — They switched spots with the Eagles, who gave up a ton for Carson Wentz — third- and fourth-round picks in 2016, plus a 2017 first-rounder and a 2018 second-rounder. They got back a 2017 fourth-round choice from the Browns.
2012: St. Louis Rams (to No. 6) — This is known as the RGIII trade. The Rams collected a second-round pick in 2012, plus first-rounders in 2013 and 2014 from the Washington Football Team, which mortgaged its future for Robert Griffin III.
Jets general manager Joe Douglas could have a winning lottery ticket in his hand.
2. Darnold in limbo: Because they have a new coach in Robert Saleh, the Jets are allowed to start their offseason workout program on April 5, two weeks earlier than teams with returning coaches. It might be a bit awkward if Darnold’s status remains unsettled.
3. Say it ain’t so, Joe: Pray it’s posturing.
Douglas’ midweek comments to the media, taken at face value, suggest he will have no interest in trading for Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. The GM gave every impression he won’t break the lock on his treasure chest of draft picks until it’s time to draft.
Douglas needs to keep an open mind and be prepared to strike aggressively if Watson is made available. With four first-round picks in 2021 and 2022, the Jets have more ammunition than any team. It would be GM malpractice if Douglas doesn’t make a blockbuster offer; it would be a nightmare if Watson winds up with the Miami Dolphins.
Unable to comment on Watson because he’s under contract to Houston, Douglas was asked a general question about trading significant draft capital for one player.
“Ultimately for us to get to where the great teams are, the most consistent teams are, you do that through the draft,” he said. “It’s the most team-friendly market in sports. For us to really be that team that’s consistently competing for Super Bowls, we have to hit on our draft picks.”
You’d like to believe this was GM-speak, that Douglas didn’t want to give the impression he’s jonesing for Watson — totally understandable. Thing is, I’ve heard the same sentiment in league circles: Douglas wants to stick to his rebuilding plan. He learned under former Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome, who believed in building through the draft.
The Ravens’ GM from 1996 to 2018, Newsome never traded a first-round pick for a veteran player, according to research by ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley. In 2004, he traded a second-rounder for 49ers wide receiver Terrell Owens, but the deal was rescinded because Owens refused to report. There were four instances in which he dealt a third-round pick for a veteran.
Food for thought.
4. Another unhappy safety: The Marcus Maye situation took an acrimonious turn when his agent criticized the Jets on social media. It’s unusual for an agent to do that, an indication the frustration runs deep.
Here’s my take: Maye is a good, not elite free safety who should get somewhere between $10 million to $12 million per year, an APY that would allow him to crack the top 10 at safety. (The franchise tag is projected at $11.2 million.) He’s a good soldier, respected in the locker room — a captain. If you can’t re-sign a player like Maye, who can you re-sign?
What makes me think the situation will continue to fester is Douglas doesn’t like to pay premium dollars at the safety position. (See: Jamal Adams.) He also has Ashtyn Davis waiting in the wings. Davis is a Douglas draft pick, a natural free safety and a player held in high regard despite a nondescript rookie season.
As for Maye, the Jets have the leverage. It’s called the franchise tag, and they likely will use it by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline. That would give the sides until July 15 to work out a long-term deal.
Since the 2010 draft, the Jets have re-signed five picks to second contracts — Muhammad Wilkerson, Bilal Powell, Brian Winters, Quincy Enunwa and Jordan Jenkins. That explains a lot. They never will be contenders until they catch up with the rest of the league in the draft-and-develop area.
5. Receiver reality: Don’t get too hyped up about the Jets landing a star wide receiver in NFL free agency. The best ones — Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin and Kenny Golladay — are expected to get the franchise tags. That leaves a lot of WR2s who will get paid like WR1s.
6. Did you know? Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur is installing a quarterback-friendly system that can get solid production out of journeyman-type talent. From 2017 to 2020, LaFleur’s former team, the 49ers, used three quarterbacks who started at least 12 games apiece — Jimmy Garoppolo (30) and backups Nick Mullens (16) and C.J. Beathard (12). Not one finished below an 81.8 passer rating in a season.
7. Mosley’s meeting: Saleh recently had a chance to meet with linebacker C.J. Mosley, who stopped by the Jets’ facility after opting out last season because of COVID-19 concerns. Saleh called it an “awesome” meeting, saying he expects Mosley to “continue to be the pro that he’s been since the day he was drafted and the leader that he’s been, and find ways to get better every single day. C.J. definitely has that mindset.”
Mosley will be a curiosity in 2021. Think about it: Because of the opt-out and injuries, he hasn’t played a complete game since 2018. You have to wonder how he will be affected by the long layoff.