FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Sam’s (Fan) Club: Listening to general manager Joe Douglas, it doesn’t sound like he will be swayed by how Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields plays Monday night in the College Football Playoff championship. Douglas believes the bulk of the scouting is done; he sees this as the “final-piece-to-the-puzzle” stage. That, of course, won’t stop fans and media from dissecting every pass and speculating whether Fields is worthy of the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL draft.
As the debate rages, one voice worth a listen is that of ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay, who has known Douglas for 25 years. Speaking on the “First Draft” podcast, McShay sounds pretty convinced Douglas won’t draft a quarterback and will run it back with Sam Darnold in 2021.
“I know Joe Douglas. I obviously played with him in college. We have a good relationship,” McShay said. “I know he grew up in the Ozzie Newsome organization with the Ravens. If it’s not going to be Trevor Lawrence, it’s going to be move down, if possible. If not, let’s protect [Darnold] and get guys around the player we think can be our franchise.
“I know they like Sam. I think they would view Trevor as a potential upgrade, but I think they view Sam as good enough to build around. That’s what they have to do. … They can build an entire organization in the next two years of the draft [with four first-round picks], and I think that’s exactly what Joe Douglas is going to do.”
If Douglas wants to trade down, the team to watch is the Atlanta Falcons (No. 4), who could be looking to draft a quarterback to replace the aging Matt Ryan. To swap places with the Falcons, the Jets would get Atlanta’s second- and third-round picks, based on the trade-value chart. The haul could get bigger because many teams will disregard the chart when a quarterback is involved in the trade.
It would be a franchise-altering trade for the Jets, assuming they’re right about Darnold, who finished as the NFL’s lowest-rated passer. There’s a huge component McShay doesn’t mention: Darnold’s contract. He has one year remaining, plus a fifth-year option (2022) that would cost about $25 million. The financial uncertainty beyond 2021 can’t be discounted.
Me? I’m not sold on Fields, and I really want to see how he fares against Alabama.
2. Coaching update: The Jets are up to nine known candidates for their head-coaching vacancy. It’s a pretty good mix. Let’s break it down:
Personally, I’d put Saleh, Bieniemy and Daboll on a level above the rest, but they’re in high demand. Bieniemy and Saleh are drawing interest from five of the six teams in the head-coaching market and, let’s be honest, the Jets’ job isn’t as attractive as some others. The Jets and the Los Angeles Chargers reportedly are the only teams interested in Daboll, but know this: He went to high school with Chargers GM Tom Telesco. Plus, the Chargers have emerging star Justin Herbert at quarterback.
Those three coaches could be off the board for the Jets, who could end up with one of the others on their list — or perhaps a college coach whose name hasn’t surfaced.
3. Douglas & Lewis? Lewis is an interesting candidate. He shares a Baltimore Ravens connection with Douglas, albeit a brief overlap in the early 2000s. Some in league circles see them as a good fit because Douglas, as a relatively inexperienced GM, would benefit from working alongside such as a seasoned coach. In Cincinnati, where he made the playoffs in seven of 16 seasons, Lewis showed he could win with less, meaning an organization that didn’t spend big money on free agents. The downside is his age (62). Does he really want to sign up for a long rebuild? Still, Lewis is a name to watch.
4. Frankly speaking: Few players, if any, have as much perspective as running back Frank Gore, who has played on five teams over 16 years. When he looks at the Jets, Gore sees a young team that needs veteran leaders, aka proven winners, to show the way.
“I think they should have one in every room,” he said.
Gore preached patience, pointing to the 49ers of the late 2000s as an example of a team that developed slowly. He didn’t experience a winning season until his seventh year (2011), when the 49ers went 13-3 in Jim Harbaugh’s first season. That started a three-year run in the postseason, the culmination of good drafting and coaching. Gore said the Jets’ rookie class is a good start, but they still need more players.
“It will take time,” he said. “It don’t take no one year.”
5. Culture club: None of the players made available to the media at the end of the season were publicly critical of former coach Adam Gase, but it’s obvious they felt something was missing. They talked about how the team needs to establish a culture and create an identity, and some of them shared that sentiment with Douglas in exit interviews.
“I’ll tell you what I told Joe and the rest of the guys: The one thing in Seattle that they pushed was the culture,” former Seahawks tackle George Fant said. “We have to change the culture. We have to bring a lot of culture here.”
There was a feeling Gase didn’t connect with the locker room. It’s unfair to blame it all on Gase. Put more talent in the locker room and you will see how the culture improves.
6. Give them medals: When a team endures the misery of 2-14, the players who played the most deserve special recognition. They’re the ones who kept grinding amid adversity. The Jets’ playing-time leaders: Safety Marcus Maye (99.9% of the defensive snaps) and center Connor McGovern (98% of the offensive snaps). Take a long vacation, fellas. You earned it.
The others are Andre Roberts and Brian Winters (Bills); Avery Williamson (Pittsburgh Steelers); Le’Veon Bell and Mike Pennel (Chiefs); Demario Davis (Saints); Steve McLendon (Tampa Bay Buccaneers); Damon Harrison (Green Bay Packers); Buster Skrine (Chicago Bears); Nick Bellore, Brandon Shell, Jason Myers and Geno Smith (Seahawks).
Some pretty good players here. One of the biggest mysteries of the past decade was how the Jets let Davis walk out of the building.
8. The last word: “Look at the people [Darnold] came out with. Look at Baker Mayfield. Look at my man in Buffalo, Josh [Allen]. Come on, man. He wasn’t the third pick for nothing. He’s very talented. Tough. Loves the game. … Not to doubt my guys here because they fought their behinds off, get him guys like Josh’s got, like [Stefon] Diggs and Smoke (John Brown) and [Cole] Beasley. Baker’s got Odell [Beckham] and Jarvis Landry. Get Sam help like that.” — Gore.