FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Crowder a goner? A year ago, the Jets’ wide-receiver situation was so dire that they opened the season with Chris Hogan in the starting lineup — the same Hogan who is now playing professional lacrosse. The position has improved to the point where — this might sound crazy — leading wide receiver Jamison Crowder is expendable.
The additions of Corey Davis, Keelan Cole and rookie Elijah Moore, one of the best players on the field during the three-week period of organized team activities, have given the Jets a surplus that could trigger other roster moves. They’re loaded in the slot, with Crowder, Moore and Braxton Berrios, who also shined during OTAs. Cole, too, has plenty of experience in the slot.
Crowder’s future is uncertain. The Jets want him back, according to coach Robert Saleh, but they’re trying to get him to take at least a 50% pay cut on his $10 million salary (non-guaranteed). He skipped the voluntary OTAs because of the contract squabble. This week’s minicamp is mandatory. Saleh said he expects Crowder to attend, but he didn’t sound certain.
The Jets have options. They can release Crowder if he doesn’t agree to the pay cut, using some of the $10 million savings to sign free agent Morgan Moses, who would be an upgrade over George Fant at right tackle. Fant could be the backup swing tackle, an important insurance policy with Mekhi Becton dealing with a foot issue (plantar fasciitis). The Jets remain interested in Moses, who visited recently.
Technically, New York has enough cap room to keep Crowder and sign Moses, but they could be looking to save some cash after doling out nearly $80 million guaranteed in free agency.
If the Jets and Crowder agree to a restructured contract, it won’t preclude them from trading him. If Moore continues to impress, what’s the point of keeping Crowder? Saleh called Moore, drafted 34th overall, a “dynamic young man” with excellent versatility.
Crowder, who turns 28 on Thursday, is a good player, but he’s coming off a 699-yard season and has the 16th-highest cap charge ($11.4 million) among wide receivers. He’s in the final year of his contract and will leave as a free agent after the season. If the Jets can get something for him, they should do it, clearing the way for Moore.
Perhaps trying to control the hype, Saleh tapped the brake when asked to give a progress report on the No. 2 overall pick. He said he couldn’t give an accurate assessment because everything is peachy now and the “best learning comes through adversity and conflict. … Until we hit adversity will we be able to learn more about each other and how we handle things.”
Back in the day, former coach Bill Parcells expressed a similar sentiment a different way: “Let’s not put him in Canton yet, fellas.”
Wilson, taking all the first-team reps, was solid, if not stellar in OTAs. Not once in the five practices open to the media did he look like an overwhelmed rookie — and that’s encouraging. With no veteran quarterbacks on the roster, the Jets are in full “Get-Wilson-ready-to-start” mode.
Carl Lawson on Goal Setting: “The sky is the limit.” pic.twitter.com/7AT52Qauz9
— New York Jets (@nyjets) June 11, 2021
3. Out of this world: Defensive end Carl Lawson, who received a big contract (three years, $45 million), has big, big expectations for himself. He wouldn’t share his specific goals, except to say he wants to be “otherworldly.” Yeah, he said that.
“I feel like the sky’s the limit, but this is life,” Lawson said. “Not every goal you set is going to happen because there are external factors, but I will do everything in my power to reach my highest level of potential and what I think I can possibly be, which is otherworldly.”
Otherworldly would mean producing more than he did with the Cincinnati Bengals — 20 sacks in four years. That’s a pedestrian number, but his pass rush win rate in that span (18.9%) was impressive and ranked 29th, per ESPN Stats & Information. That was a shade below Chicago Bears star Khalil Mack (19.3%). The Jets expect him to turn some of those “wins” into sacks.
4. Under the radar: A handful of non-starters stood out in the OTAs, including defensive end Bryce Huff, safety J.T. Hassell, rookie cornerback Isaiah Dunn, defensive tackle Tanzel Smart and wide receiver Manasseh Bailey. Defensive end Jabari Zuniga, whose rookie season was a washout because of injuries, flashed on occasion. With added competition on the defensive line, his roster spot isn’t a gimme.
Another 2020 draft pick, safety Ashtyn Davis, didn’t participate due to a significant foot injury last season. He attended meetings, but missed out on much-needed practice reps. Davis, who started six games as a rookie, probably is looking at a backup role.
5. Survivor: In a transient profession, special teams coordinator Brant Boyer is an outlier. He’s in his sixth year with the Jets, which means he’s working for his third head coach.
After last season’s 2-14 disaster, which resulted in coach Adam Gase’s ouster, Boyer went fishing for five days in Nevada. When he heard Saleh had been hired in late January, he flew back to New Jersey, figuring it would be a good idea to get some face time with the new boss and interview to keep his job.
“I’m pretty damn lucky,” Boyer said of his longevity.
Lucky and good.
6. Did you know? The Jets have gone five straight years without a 1,000-yard receiving season by an individual — the longest active drought in the league. They have a few “longest active droughts.” Maybe we should call them LADs.
7. Quiet, please: For two years under Gase, the loudest voice on the practice field belonged to that of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who wasn’t shy about raising the decibel level. His successor, Jeff Ulbrich, isn’t the yelling type. Truth be told, Saleh doesn’t want his coaches to be yellers.
Count that as Difference No. 136 between the current and previous staffs.
Here’s another one: Unlike Gase and Williams, who were joined together in an arranged marriage by the previous front office, Saleh and Ulbrich are old friends who share a similar defensive philosophy. The “secret sauce,” as Ulbrich put it, is simplicity and players first. In other words, there will be player-friendly schemes that aren’t difficult to master, that emphasize fundamentals and technique over smoke and mirrors.
This is a departure from the Williams way, which relied on exotic fronts to confuse opponents. He liked to brag he had more than 40 different fronts in his playbook. It worked pretty well in 2019 before everything went sideways last season.
The Saleh/Ulbrich method is good because it should allow them to integrate young players quickly into the season, and we all know the Jets have a lot of young players. The downside: Simple works if you have the horses, but the Jets still don’t have enough to win on talent alone. This will be a process, and there will be growing pains.
What’s important is getting the players to buy in. So far, so good, according to linebacker Jarrad Davis. Speaking of Ulbrich and the defensive assistants, Davis said their enthusiasm is “just leaking out of them, oozing off them. When we’re itchy, they know what to scratch.”
8. The last word: “He’s a dog, man. I like Zach Wilson. He has a lot to learn and there’s going to be a lot of pressure, but he’s good with it and he’s slinging the ball.” — Jets running back Tevin Coleman.