PHOENIX — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Publicity shy: The Jets were must-see TV in the summer of 2010 when they were featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” series. Owner Woody Johnson called it “an unbelievable thing,” recalling how he saw people rush out of restaurants to get home in time for the show. There were so many entertaining storylines, notably coach Rex Ryan’s salty vocabulary and cornerback Darrelle Revis’ holdout.
Thirteen years later, the Jets could get another knock on the door, as they’re one of four teams eligible based on criteria set in 2014. League rules exempt teams with a first-year head coach, teams that have made the playoffs in the previous two seasons and teams that have hosted the show in the past decade.
That eliminates 28 teams, leaving the Jets, Chicago Bears, New Orleans Saints and Washington Commanders as possibilities. Bears chairman George McCaskey already is on record as saying he’s not enthralled with the prospect of being on the show. The Jets, with a handful of young stars and the anticipated arrival of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, will be a hot story this summer — but you get the impression they’re not hot on the idea of “Hard Knocks.”
Johnson, speaking at the league meetings in Phoenix, was noncommittal, saying they will take a “hard look” at it. Coach Robert Saleh said, “I’ll leave that one alone.” A fly on the wall inside the coaches’ meeting room probably would hear more cons than pros on the subject.
Indeed, the Jets can’t afford any distractions this summer. They will have a new quarterback (probably), a new offensive coordinator, a new system to learn and they want to maintain a business-minded approach in training camp. They will get plenty of national exposure in the regular season — perhaps as many as five prime-time games — so you can understand why they’re not openly campaigning for the gig, as the Detroit Lions did last year.
This summer’s “Hard Knocks” team will be announced in the near future.
2. Rumblings in the desert: Heard in the hallways at the Phoenix Biltmore, where league owners, general managers and head coaches gathered for a few days:
a. The Jets and Green Bay Packers inched closer to finalizing the trade for Rodgers, with Packers GM Brian Gutekunst admitting publicly that he’s willing to do a deal that doesn’t include the Jets’ first-round pick (No. 13). The sticking point appears to be on the back end, with both teams looking to be protected based on whether Rodgers plays in 2024.
My suggestion: The Jets trade a 2023 second-round pick (No. 42) and a 2024 conditional fourth-rounder, which goes to a third if he plays 50% of the snaps, a second if they make the playoffs and a first if they make the Super Bowl. That 2024 pick would follow the same criteria from the Brett Favre trade in 2008. If Rodgers plays only one year, the Jets recoup a 2025 third-round pick.
It’s hard to find a recent comp. In 1993, the San Francisco 49ers traded Joe Montana for a first-round pick, with a third-rounder and safety David Whitmore going with him to the Kansas City Chiefs. The Packers raised the Montana deal in early discussions with the Jets, but it’s apples and oranges because of Rodgers’ massive contract. The Jets will be relieving them of that burden, which should be factored into the trade compensation.
b. Jets officials weren’t shy about expressing their interest in free agent Odell Beckham Jr., who generated a lot of publicity by milling around the hotel grounds with his agent. Beckham is thought to be seeking a one-year deal for $15 million, which is pricey for a 30-year-old receiver coming off his second ACL surgery. A deal in the $10 million to $12 million range seems more likely, with a chance to earn more with incentives. The Jets are said to be the front-runners.
c. Heard a lot of positive reviews from coaches and even some former players on new offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, who was described as an energetic teacher whose route concepts will do wonders for the passing game.
d. Former Kansas City Chiefs receiver Mecole Hardman signed with the Jets, in part, because they promised he’d be able to expand his route tree in their offense. In Kansas City, he was used at the line of scrimmage (jet sweeps, bubble screens, etc.) and on vertical routes, with not much in between. The Jets believe he has untapped ability on intermediate routes.
e. They still hope to sign former Tennessee Titans center Ben Jones. If that falls through, they could turn back to Connor McGovern on a one-year deal. Free agency hasn’t worked out as planned for McGovern, who started 48 games for the Jets from 2020 to 2022. He wanted a long-term deal, but the market has dried up.
f. Tackle Mekhi Becton is down to about 350 pounds, a rather stunning transformation. The 2020 first-round pick, who weighed as much as 400 a couple of years ago, is determined to right his career as he attempts to rebound from his second knee surgery (both on the right knee). Publicly, the Jets are noncommittal on his fifth-year option (a guaranteed $13.6 million in 2024, if exercised), but Becton missing nearly two full seasons due to injury suggests they’ll decline it by the May 1 deadline.
Becton, proud of his new bod, has been posting pictures on social media. This tweet shows him with Arnold Schwarzenegger and former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou.
Just coolin with some GOATS!!! 🤷🏾♂️ pic.twitter.com/XqB3BZkjIO
— Trending Topic 🤷🏾♂️ (@BigTicket73) March 28, 2023
g. The Jets have invested a lot in the tight end position, but they still might try to add explosiveness to the position. Food for thought as the draft approaches.
3. Shortage in trenches: After losing Sheldon Rankins and Nathan Shepherd in free agency, and making unsuccessful bids for Fletcher Cox and Calais Campbell, the Jets are really hurting at defensive tackle. It’s a draft priority, though perhaps not with the 13th pick — unless Georgia’s Jalen Carter falls to them.
Some might be wondering how the losses of Rankins and Shepherd might impact Quinnen Williams‘ production. Not much, based on last year. Only five of his 12 sacks came with Rankins or Shepherd on the field. Williams was at his best when joined by Carl Lawson (end) and John Franklin-Myers (tackle), who often lined up inside on passing downs. Williams recorded nine sacks with them on the line.
Still, they need to bolster the position and there’s not much left in free agency. The top remaining tackles are Matt Ioannidis (Carolina Panthers), Poona Ford (Seattle Seahawks), Shelby Harris (Seahawks) and A’Shawn Robinson (Los Angeles Rams).
4. IDing a new coach: The Jets have a new position on their coaching staff — instructional designer. John Vieira held the same position last season on Hackett’s staff with the Denver Broncos and he followed Hackett to New York. Basically, he “teaches teachers how to teach” by using cutting-edge technology, Hackett told reporters last year in Denver. The ultimate goal is to make it easier for the players to learn. The Hackett-Vieira friendship dates to their days at UC Davis, where they both majored in neurobiology.
5. The last word: “I always see light at the end of the tunnel. … When I go in the [stadium] parking lot every week and I think the fans are going to kill me — and maybe have a right to kill me — they’re so optimistic.” — Owner Woody Johnson