FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets on Super Bowl Sunday:
1. (Big) Apple of his eye: The game is the thing, but the Deshaun Watson drama was a big part of the narrative during the buildup to Super Bowl LV — so much speculation and, yes, misguided commentary. (See: Brett Favre.) Of all the pundits, Michael Irvin said it best with regard to the Jets’ potential interest in the Houston Texans‘ star quarterback.
In a videoconference with NFL Network analysts, I asked Irvin if he believes Jets quarterback Sam Darnold can be fixed and whether New York should go all-in on Watson.
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“You can still believe in Sam Darnold and that Sam Darnold can get it done, and the right coaching staff can bring the best out of him, but if you can get a Deshaun Watson, you go all-in on a Deshaun Watson because he’s a different kind of guy,” the Pro Football Hall of Famer said.
“He’s a different kind of playmaker, and if you can have that kind of playmaker in New York — oh, my God. Oh, my God. It could be crazy if you could get that kid, that talent in New York.”
That describes how I believe the Jets are approaching the situation, sans the OMGs: They would be content to run it back with Darnold in 2021 but feel compelled to explore Watson because it’s a rare opportunity to get a franchise quarterback in his prime. If Jets general manager Joe Douglas truly espouses the best-player-available philosophy, how can he not chase Watson?
But will Douglas go “all-in,” as Irvin suggested?
It will take a massive package to land Watson, if the Texans decide to trade him. Right now, Houston is refusing to engage teams in trade discussions. Experts say it could be at least three first-round picks, plus defensive players. The Jets could have an advantage because their first-round picks (No. 2 and No. 23) have a higher value than those of the Miami Dolphins (No. 3 and No. 18), based on the commonly used value chart. The Jets also have two first-rounders in 2022, plus coveted defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, whose contract can be traded (albeit with a $10.8 million cap hit).
Douglas doesn’t seem like a “sell the future” kind of guy. People who know him like to point out he won Super Bowl rings with the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles with Trent Dilfer, Joe Flacco and Nick Foles at quarterback. File that under: “For what it’s worth.”
2. Draft buzz: If the Jets don’t get Watson, they can stick with Darnold or draft a quarterback at No. 2. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. isn’t a fan of the latter route and would opt for Darnold.
Kiper rates Wilson and Fields as first-round talents but not on the elite level. And, we have more than two months to continue this debate.
3. Rating the rooks: The Jets’ 2020 draft class was recently ranked 15th by Pro Football Focus, which used its wins above replacement (WAR) metric to rank every team. Truth is, there’s no definitive way to grade a class. Is it quantity over quality? Everyone has their own opinion, but this much is certain: The Jets’ rookies got a lot of playing time, which should bode well for the future.
Based on snaps played, the Jets ranked seventh (3,185), according to data from ESPN Stats & Information. This includes undrafted free agents, which boosted the Jets’ standing. Their UDFAs, led by cornerback Lamar Jackson (426) played a total of 903 snaps, the third-highest total among the UDFA classes.
Eight of the top 10 in the overall rankings posted losing records, which makes sense. Good teams usually don’t rely on rookies. The Jacksonville Jaguars (4,510) led the way. That the Dolphins (4,373) finished second is noteworthy. They were a good team (10-6) and played a lot of rookies. Take notice, AFC East.
4. Last laugh: Imagine this moment in Super Bowl LV: Kansas City Chiefs running back Le’Veon Bell takes a handoff, cuts upfield and — wham! — he runs into Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Steve McLendon.
Oh, what a Jets moment.
Bell and McLendon are proof anything is possible in the NFL. Both players began the season mired in the misery of the Jets’ losing, and now they’re ending it on the sport’s grandest stage. McLendon was traded at midseason. Bell was released after a “disagreement” (his word) with the organization, a stunning end to his ill-fated time with the Jets.
“It’s been an interesting season, to say the least, for me — one of my more intriguing seasons,” Bell said during a Super Bowl virtual session.
Bell’s legacy in New York? Not enough touchdowns, a flu-ridden bowling night, a Twitter rant directed at former coach Adam Gase and $4 million in “dead” money on their 2021 salary cap.
5. Super free agents: Of the pending free agents in the Super Bowl, the most intriguing players from a Jets perspective both play for the Bucs — edge rusher Shaquil Barrett and wide receiver Chris Godwin. Chances are, only one will hit the open market.
Barrett would be an ideal fit in coach Robert Saleh’s 4-3 front, but his price tag will be too rich for the Jets. Godwin is mainly a slot receiver, but he was used in shifts/motions on 119 plays (including playoffs), third highest in the league. Pre-snap motion will be a big part of the offense under offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur. But, again, I wonder if Douglas will splurge, knowing he could take a quality receiver in the draft.
6. Just spend, baby: The 2021 salary-cap number still hasn’t been finalized, but it figures to come in lower than the 2020 number ($198 million) because of the coronavirus pandemic. Over the Cap projects a $176 million cap. Based on that, the Jets will have $63.5 million in space, ranking third. They can clear another $16.8 million by releasing defensive end Henry Anderson and guards Alex Lewis and Greg Van Roten.
Adam Schefter reports on the Jets’ decision to hire Robert Saleh as their next coach and breaks down what he thinks it means for Sam Darnold.
The free-agent market will be saturated with players because nearly half the teams are projected to be over the cap. The Jets’ plan is to capitalize on a buyer’s market. We’ll see. Right now, their 2021 cash payroll is the lowest in the league.
7. Canton is Alan-town: Congrats to Alan Faneca, who was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. He made it because of his stellar career with the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he made the Pro Bowl in each of his two seasons with the Jets (2008-09). He and Damien Woody arrived in 2008, galvanizing an offensive line that already included D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold and Brandon Moore. In 2009, the Jets rushed for an astounding 2,756 yards, the sixth-highest total in the league since 2001.
Former Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum, who signed Faneca to a record-breaking contract for a guard, recalled Faneca’s “greatness and consistency” in terms of his preparation. He said Faneca, always the first to arrive at the stadium, had an elaborate pregame routine that included stretching and time in the hot tub. Tannenbaum said he believes Faneca’s dedication rubbed off on the younger players.
Ex-Jets great Darrelle Revis is eligible for the Class of 2023.
8. No ill will: Ex-Jets coaches Todd Bowles and Kacy Rodgers, both members of the Bucs’ staff, had nothing but positive things to say about their former team during their Super Bowl availability. Rodgers mentioned how he experienced a health scare during the 2018 season, which caused him to miss a couple of games. He said Jets CEO Christopher Johnson visited him at home. Clearly, Rodgers was touched by that gesture of kindness.
9. Super Bowl prediction: I like the Bucs because they can get to Patrick Mahomes with a four-man rush and because Tom Brady … well, I hear he’s clutch in the big games. I also think the Bucs will benefit most from their Week 12 loss to the Chiefs. I really like the Bucs in rainy, wet conditions; they get the edge on a slow track. Score: Bucs, 35-31. Check out more of ESPN’s Super Bowl LV predictions.
10. The last word: “They got a new coach, so things might change over there. I guess time will tell.” — Le’Veon Bell on the Jets.