Think about where the New York Jets were a year ago at this time. They had just released veterans David Harris and Eric Decker, surprising many and fueling the perception that the objective was to tank for the top draft pick (read: new quarterback). Frankly, they were a hot mess, seemingly headed into the abyss.
They're in a better place now. They're thinking bigger.
"We have to take that next step," tackle Kelvin Beachum said last week. "It's not about being competitive; it's about winning games. Talent is not a problem. We have the talent."
Yes, the talent base is better than last season's 5-11 squad, but there still are many questions as the team begins its three-day mandatory minicamp on Tuesday.
1. Who's the quarterback?
Kind of a key question, no?
Three-way competitions are rare in the NFL, so it'll be fascinating to see how the Josh McCown-Teddy Bridgewater-Sam Darnold situation is managed in the next three months. All three have a chance to win the starting job, which is a good thing -- or a bad thing, depending on your perspective.
If they use the OTA plan for minicamp, McCown will continue to work exclusively with the first team, with Darnold also getting some reps with the starters. In the three OTA practices open to the media, McCown took 48 reps (all first-team), Bridgewater took 36 (all second-team) and Darnold took 70 (including 17 with the first team). Come training camp, Darnold and Bridgewater figure to get most of the work.
Darnold made progress in the past three weeks. If he continues to trend in this direction, he'll definitely be in the conversation for the starting job. He can cap a positive offseason with a strong performance in minicamp.
2. Is there an edge rusher in the house?
Outside linebacker has replaced quarterback as the new perennial Achilles' heel. The Jets have a handful of marginal starters/backup types, none of whom strikes fear into opposing quarterbacks. Chances are they will take a "committee" approach, with Josh Martin, Jordan Jenkins, Lorenzo Mauldin, David Bass, Brandon Copeland and Dylan Donahue competing for spots in the rotation.
Memo to general manager Mike Maccagnan: If you swing another big preseason trade, it has to be for an edge rusher.
3. Do they have a pass-catching tight end?
The Jets didn't make a strong attempt to re-sign Austin Seferian-Jenkins because they felt confident in Jordan Leggett. (And because of Seferian-Jenkins' second-half decline last season.) To hedge their bet -- smart -- they drafted Chris Herndon, re-signed Neal Sterling and added veteran Clive Walford. This could be the most unproven tight end group in the league (only 96 career receptions), and that's a concern. It's hard to operate a West Coast-style offense without an over-the-middle presence.
This is a total rebuild, but the organization is high on Leggett and Herndon, both of whom have displayed athleticism on the practice field. Herndon was arrested recently on a drunken-driving charge, but it might take several months before the case is adjudicated, meaning any potential league discipline wouldn't hit until 2019.
4. Not counting quarterback, what's the most competitive positional battle?
The wide receiver situation is really interesting because of the numbers, injuries and potential league discipline for Robby Anderson, who is facing a reckless-driving charge from a January arrest. In OTAs, the top three were Anderson, Jermaine Kearse and Chad Hansen, arguably the most improved player on the team. Terrelle Pryor (ankle scope) and Quincy Enunwa (neck) sat out with injuries. Enunwa is expected for training camp; Pryor is a question mark. They also have former draft picks ArDarius Stewart, Devin Smith and Charone Peake.
You can't keep 'em all, but you also can't start dumping guys until there's clarity on Pryor, Enunwa and Anderson.
5. Which player not named Darnold will generate the most buzz in minicamp?
Bridgewater. He's having an excellent spring, and it should continue in the controlled, noncontact setting of a minicamp. For Bridgewater, he of the devastating 2016 knee injury, the real test will occur when he gets tackled in a preseason game. If he clears that hurdle, it would create one heck of an interesting decision-making process at quarterback.