FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- On Sunday, the New York Jets will look across the field and see what they wanted. What they still want.
A dynamic edge rusher.
In this case it's Khalil Mack, whom they tried to acquire when the Oakland Raiders started dumping talent on Sept. 1. The Jets offered a package that included their 2019 first-round pick, but it wasn't good enough to overtake the Chicago Bears' bid -- four draft picks, including two first-rounders. In return, the Bears received a second-round choice and one of the most feared pass-rushers in the sport.
The Jets' search continues.
While the Bears landed a queen's jewel, the Jets are working with flea-market diamonds. They overhauled their outside linebacker position, flushing away blown draft picks and bringing in minimum-salary players with the hope of uncovering a keeper -- or, at least, someone who can hold the fort until they can spend big bucks in free agency or use a first-round pick.
It's a fascinating study in how a personnel department constantly churns the roster, looking for talent. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum used to say his job was to "look under every rock" for players. Essentially, the current regime is doing the same thing, particularly at outside linebacker. They've used pro free agency, college free agency and the waiver system.
The only holdover from last season is former draft pick Jordan Jenkins, who leads the group with 2.5 sacks. The other four players on the current roster have been cut at least once by an NFL team. Their five linebackers aren't busting the salary cap, that's for sure. They're making a combined $4 million this season, compared to Mack's $41 million.
The Jets have assembled a group of try-hard players, and the results have been predictable. As a team, the Jets are tied for 20th in sacks (15), 26th in pressure percentage (25.6) and 23rd in quarterback-contact percentage (11.5). At times, they impress. Other times, they make you think they should've ponied up more for Mack.
"He definitely wouldn't hurt," Brandon Copeland said of Mack. "We couldn't take that away because he's a great player. But I also know, us in our room, we're prideful as well, and we know we have value. We're trying to prove that week in and week out because we hear what everybody is saying."
The Jets have engaged in a seven-month treasure hunt, one that has encompassed 14 (!) transactions in the 2018 league year. They've improved the position from last year, but there's a long way to go.
Let's retrace the steps:
March 20, Copeland signs. This move didn't make any headlines, but Copeland has turned into a nice player. He signed a modest free-agent contract (one year, $1.2 million) after being released six times by three different teams from 2013 to 2017. The Jets' personnel people saw an intelligent player (a Penn graduate) with underrated speed, someone who could at least contribute on special teams. He has exceeded expectations. Copeland has two sacks and is tied for the team lead with 12 quarterback hits.
March 30, David Bass re-signs. He was an in-season pick-up in 2017 and led the outside linebackers with 3.5 sacks.
May 7, Frankie Luvu signs. The Jets didn't pick any edge players in the draft, so they signed the former Washington State pass-rusher as an undrafted free agent. Luvu, who grew up in American Samoa, posted decent college numbers, but he was considered a 'tweener for the NFL -- not fast enough to be an outside linebacker in a 4-3 scheme and not big enough (6-foot-3, 236 pounds) to play in a 3-4. He immediately impressed the Jets with his relentless motor.
June 6, Freddie Bishop released. The Jets plucked him out of the CFL, gave him a two-year audition and finally gave up.
Aug. 31, Bass released. Evidently, the Jets didn't think he could build on last year's sack total. Adios.
Aug. 31, Obum Gwacham released. He's a size-speed guy who arrived midway through last season. He never became a factor.
Sept. 1, Lorenzo Mauldin released. This one hurt. A third-round pick in 2015, Mauldin declined steadily after a promising rookie year. The Jets really thought they had something, but injuries and scheme fit doomed him. He fell so far out of favor that he couldn't get any preseason reps this summer, prompting him to express his frustrations on Twitter. No team picked him up, which is telling.
Sept. 1, Dylan Donahue released. Another draft pick bites the dust. The Jets reached for the productive small-school pass-rusher, taking him in the 2017 fifth round. Outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene lobbied for the pick, saying he saw a lot of himself in Donahue. As it turned out, Donahue was too small, too slow and too reckless. He has pleaded guilty to two drunk-driving charges and is now serving a 14-week suspension.
Sept. 1, Luvu released. A surprise. After an impressive training camp, Luvu was thought to be a shoo-in to make the team.
Sept. 2, Luvu re-signs. He cleared waivers and returned on the practice squad.
Sept. 3, Jeremiah Attaochu signs. When he came out of Georgia Tech in 2014, Attaochu was a highly-regarded prospect, going to the Chargers in the second round. He looked like a player on the rise with a six-sack season in 2015, but he couldn't stay healthy. The Jets checked their old scouting reports and believed he was a worthwhile reclamation project at a cheap price ($1.25 million for one year). He's averaging about 25 snaps per game as part of a linebacker rotation.
Sept. 9, Luvu signs. Needing an extra body on defense before the season opener, Luvu was added to the 53-man roster at the 11th hour. He wound up playing 35 of 70 snaps in the game, making three tackles. After going up and down between the practice squad and roster, his yo-yo days appear over.
Oct. 1, Josh Martin on injured reserve. After missing five weeks due to a concussion in the preseason, Martin returned to action and promptly suffered another, ending his season.
Oct. 5, Tarell Basham claimed on waivers. He was the Colts' version of Mauldin -- a third-round pick (2017) who climbed draft boards because teams are desperate for pass-rushers. He didn't fit as a defensive end in the Colts' 4-3 front, so they released him, perhaps hoping to bring him back on the practice squad. The Jets spoiled that, taking a flyer on Basham because he has some intriguing traits as a pass-rusher.
Looking into the future ...
April 25, 2019, NFL draft. Mel Kiper's latest big board is loaded with defensive studs, including a number of edge players -- namely Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Rashan Gary (Michigan). You can bet the Jets will be looking for the next Khalil Mack.