FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. They got “hacked”: Why did the Jets pass on quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the 2017 NFL draft? It’s a question that still vexes people affiliated with the ’17 Jets. Let’s take a look at how they missed out on the sport’s most dynamic quarterback, whom they face at 1 p.m. ET Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium (CBS).
Warning: This might be painful for some.
At the time, the Jets had just signed Josh McCown to be their bridge quarterback. They were one year into the Christian Hackenberg experiment and, while coach Todd Bowles already had seen enough, general manager Mike Maccagnan still wasn’t ready to write off his risky draft pick. If you recall, Hackenberg got a chance in the 2017 preseason to win the starting job. Maccagnan’s stubbornness and lack of foresight proved costly.
The Jets did plenty of homework on Mahomes. Jets quarterbacks coach Jeremy Bates was dispatched to Texas Tech for a private workout. (Side note: Mahomes had planned to hire Bates as his personal coach for pre-draft prep until the Jets made him part of the staff.) Ten days later, the Jets brought Mahomes to their facility for a visit and a workout, which included a throwing session in their field house. Those who witnessed it were very impressed with his arm talent. Like, who wouldn’t be?
“I definitely thought there was interest there,” Mahomes said this week. “Whenever you go on those visits, you know they’re pretty interested in doing their due diligence. I definitely thought there was interest there. But at the time they drafted a great player in [safety] Jamal Adams and you can’t really argue with that one.”
Mahomes was universally admired within the Jets’ organization, sources said. Aside from the obvious physical talent, they liked his character and the way he handled himself. Quarterback Deshaun Watson (Clemson), too, had support, especially from Bowles and the coaching staff. There was a split on Mitchell Trubisky (North Carolina), with the scouting department grading him higher than the coaching staff. In the end, Trubisky was the highest rated of the three top quarterbacks on the Jets’ board.
The Chicago Bears took Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick, leaving Mahomes and Watson for the Jets at No. 6. From all indications, the Jets didn’t give much consideration to either player. Maccagnan was fixated on Adams, sources said. He saw Adams as a difference-maker on the field and a culture changer in the locker room.
The Jets were in the midst of a roster teardown, so Maccagnan was looking for competitive, strong-willed players who could help build a winning environment. (As we all know, Adams eventually succumbed to the losing.) Another factor: Maccagnan already was looking ahead to the 2018 quarterback class, and his plan was to find his guy then (Sam Darnold) and insert him into a ready-made lineup.
The plan was executed, but here’s the thing about plans: Sometimes, they need to be adjusted. The Jets had a generational talent in their building, working out before their eyes, and they failed to act on it. To be fair, several teams passed on Mahomes, whose background in the Air Raid offense prompted some to wonder about his NFL transition. The Chiefs were smarter than everybody else, trading up to take him with the No. 10 pick.
Maccagnan, who didn’t return messages for this story, always guarded his plans closely. That’s why there’s a layer of mystery surrounding the 2017 draft and the decision to pass on Mahomes and Watson. The Jets got three good years out of Adams, then flipped him for two first-round picks. They might be back in the quarterback market in 2021, starting the cycle all over again. And, Hackenberg is trying his hand at baseball.
2. Trevor & the Jets: The general reaction to Trevor Lawrence‘s hesitancy to commit to the 2021 NFL draft was way over the top. In my opinion, it wasn’t a shot at the Jets, but rather a college player refusing to put himself above his team.
If Lawrence had doubled down on what he said in September, that this would be his final season at Clemson, it could have been perceived as him quitting on his team in the middle of a national championship chase. Look, he might end up having reservations about the Jets, who are the front-runners for the No. 1 pick, but I don’t think his mind is there, yet.
Some have speculated Lawrence might try to avoid the Jets by forcing a trade, assuming he enters the draft. NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a guest on ESPN’s Flight Deck podcast, doesn’t envision an Eli Manning-like scenario.
“Just from what I know of him, I don’t think that would be a move he’d pull,” Jeremiah said of Lawrence, adding it should be a “pretty easy sell” for the Jets to convince Lawrence they’re worthy.
If the Jets receive the first selection in the 2021 NFL draft, Stephen A. Smith says Trevor Lawrence should either return to Clemson or refuse to play for the franchise.
Jeremiah believes the Jets are attractive because of general manager Joe Douglas’ winning background and the abundance of resources at his disposal (18 draft picks over the next two years and plenty of salary-cap space).
Prepare for six months of relentless speculation.
3. Quinnen’s challenge: The Jets have made it clear they have no desire to trade defensive tackle Quinnen Williams. Why would they? While he still isn’t playing up to his lofty draft status (No. 3 overall in 2019), he’s an ascending player under team control for three more years. He also plays a premium position, which is important for Douglas’ team-building philosophy.
The one thing the team would like to see from Williams is consistent effort. That is one of the reasons they manage his playing time (only 62% of the defensive snaps). By contrast, Los Angeles Rams star Aaron Donald has played 85% of the snaps, and he plays every one with all-out intensity. Williams needs to get to that level of effort.
From all indications, Williams reported to training camp in good shape after fanatical training in June and July — a period in which he dropped 25 pounds, according to one of his trainers. Part of this is the natural maturation of a young player (22) who started one year in college.
4. For sale: The NFL’s trading deadline is Tuesday. Because of COVID-19 protocols, there might not be as much last-minute action for the Jets as in previous years. Players to watch are linebackers Avery Williamson and Jordan Jenkins and cornerbacks Brian Poole and Pierre Desir, all of whom are on expiring contracts. Some league insiders believe Williamson could be a match for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost Devin Bush for the season. The Jets will consider anything that helps their future. Keep an eye on tackle Chuma Edoga, who doesn’t seem to be a fit with the current regime.
5. Here come the rookies: With Bradley McDougald (shoulder) sidelined, rookie safety Ashtyn Davis will make his first career start. He will join tackle Mekhi Becton and wide receiver Denzel Mims as rookie starters, with running back La’Mical Perine in an almost-starting role. That means four of the top five draft picks will have prominent roles. The fifth is defensive end Jabari Zuniga, who came off injured reserve and could be active for the first time.
They’re gaining invaluable experience.
6. Did you know? The Chiefs have scored more points in three home games (92) than the Jets have scored in all seven games combined (85).
7. Fault line: Analytics aren’t foolproof (just ask the Tampa Bay Rays), but these are worth noting: The Jets are ranked 32nd in pass-block win rate and 26th in run-block win rate, per NFL Next Gen Stats, which uses tracking devices to gather data. Clearly, this doesn’t reflect well on the offensive line, which could undergo big changes in the offseason (again).
8. Last Word: “He’s the best quarterback guy that I’ve seen. I mean, I haven’t seen him play in person yet, but on tape just some of the things he does are unreal. The guy is phenomenal. When you’re watching it, it looks like he’s playing at a different speed than everybody else.” — Jets coach Adam Gase on Mahomes