MOBILE, Ala. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Who dey kidding? The Cincinnati Bengals went from 2-14 to 4-11-1 to the Super Bowl. The Jets went from 2-14 to 4-13, so that means ...
Let’s stop right there. Hold everything.
What the Bengals have accomplished in such a short time is not the norm. They’re an outlier, a way-outlier -- a 125-to-1 shot in the preseason to reach the Super Bowl, according to sportsoddshistory.com. They’re only the third team to go from the worst record to the Super Bowl in a two-year span, and their 2020 win total matches the fewest victories in the year prior to winning a conference championship.
It’s unfair to hold the Jets to that timeline, or any team for that matter. In the Jets’ case, it’s only the start of Year 2 for the tandem of coach Robert Saleh and GM Joe Douglas. Though no team official will say this publicly, they’re on a three-year rebuilding plan. They're trying to be smart and methodical, which is fine, but that could lead to a perception problem. They seem a bit wary of the Bengals’ quick turnaround, in a sense that it might fuel higher fan/media expectations for them in 2022.
“I know New York doesn’t like to hear it with time and all that stuff, but it is what it is,” Saleh told reporters at the Senior Bowl. “When you develop from within, you draft well, you select the right free agents, you build a culture you believe in, you stay with continuity ... and you don’t fall to peer pressure, you end up reaping the benefits of your patience.”
There's nothing wrong with that approach as long as there's tangible progress along the way.
2. Win for the ages: The Jets upset the Bengals in the regular season. The last time they defeated a team that wound up in the Super Bowl was 2010. They beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in December, then fell to them in the AFC Championship Game.
3. Senior Bowl scuttlebutt: There was a lot of buzz surrounding the Jets in Mobile -- hardly a surprise, considering they will be power players in the draft. They own four of the top 38 selections, including the fourth and 10th picks. Heard in the hallways and bleachers in Mobile:
Word has it they're high on Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton, projected as a top-10 pick. That might seem rich for a safety, considering it's a non-premium position, but Hamilton is viewed by some evaluators as a unicorn.
The Jets are looking to add another big piece to the defensive line. Saleh said, "It's something we're always looking at" -- and he wasn't blowing smoke. That could mean an edge player with one of the top picks. They would be hard-pressed to pass on Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux if he slips to No. 4, which is possible.
Don't rule out a defensive tackle in free agency, especially if they don't re-sign Folorunso Fatukasi. It’s a strong defensive-tackle class in free agency.
Some folks believe Douglas, who has building a strong offensive line in his DNA, will take a tackle at Nos. 4 or 10. There are a few good ones, but that could hinge on the George Fant-Mekhi Becton situation.
Don't be surprised if they leave Fant at left tackle and move Becton to the right side, where he played a little as a college underclassmen. That would reduce the need to draft a plug-and-play tackle. But know this: The Becton concern is real. The Jets aren’t ready to cut bait -- they still believe in his immense potential -- but they want to see a total commitment from him this offseason. And, yes, that means dropping some serious weight.
The organization really likes Fant, but there have been no contract-extension talks, as one report said. Fant still has one year left on his deal. Morgan Moses, a pending free agent, isn't completely out of the picture.
One of the most interesting internal discussions will involve the cornerback position. Some see it as an absolute need, yet Saleh sounds sold on his young trio (Bryce Hall, Brandin Echols and Michael Carter II), saying, “The challenge for those three is to find the ball. Once they do that, they’ll be right there with the upper echelon of the league.” That was a reference to their measly interception total (2). Stay tuned on that one.
The Jets-Braxton Berrios contract talks probably will get serious at next month’s scouting combine. It’s hard to predict an outcome because it depends on his asking price. One agent speculated that Berrios, a pending free agent, might be looking to be paid as one of the top slot receivers, which would put him at about $9 million per year. That would be a fantastic deal if he can get it. I doubt the Jets would go that high.
4. Glaring problem: Everybody knows the Jets need a pass-catching tight end; that hasn’t changed for about a decade. The question is, will they use one of their two second-round picks to fill the hole? If you draft a tight end that high, he’d better be an impact receiver.
Tight ends coach Ron Middleton spoke highly of Colorado State’s Trey McBride and Ohio State’s Jeremy Ruckert, both of whom played for the Jets’ coaching staff in the Senior Bowl. Middleton described McBride as a tough, competitive and “meat and potatoes” player. He called Ruckert a physical, sure-handed receiver with “a burst after the catch.”
At the same time, Middleton said McBride has to improve his blocking technique. As a receiver, he’s “not going to run away from anybody, by no means, but he’s going to make plays in the passing game,” Middleton said. Ruckert wasn’t featured in the Ohio State offense, creating questions about the extent of his route tree, according to Middleton.
In other words, the Jets have to do a lot more homework. There’s a good chance they look for a starter in free agency.
5. Smaller kitchen: The Jets had too many cooks in the quarterback kitchen last season. That won't be the case in 2022. As previously reported, senior offensive assistant Matt Cavanaugh won't be back. Neither will offensive assistant John Beck (Zach Wilson's personal coach), who will go back to private QB instruction. It leaves only two main voices -- coordinator Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rob Calabrese.
Calabrese had the same title last season, but the de facto quarterbacks coach was Cavanaugh. Over the final six weeks of the season, Calabrese became the primary voice in the quarterback room. He was groomed for this expanded role. A quality-control coach will be hired, as Saleh, who expects LaFleur to get a head-coaching job some day, looks to create a pipeline.
6. The OC: Longtime Jets fans might remember that Kevin O'Connell, who is expected to become the Minnesota Vikings' coach after the Super Bowl, had a cup of coffee with the Jets in 2009. They acquired O'Connell at the start of the season, trading a 2011 seventh-round pick to the Detroit Lions. He was on the roster for a year (they carried four quarterbacks), but never got into a game. Now he has risen to the top of the coaching profession at the age of 36. Who knew?
"Kevin has natural leadership ability and unusual intelligence," said former GM Mike Tannenbaum, who orchestrated the trade. "I think he has all the characteristics to be an outstanding head coach."
7. The last word: "I feel like I'm a guy, just like George (Kittle), that can do it all. I'm a run-blocking guy. I can catch the ball. Most of all, I'm a competitor. I'm a winner. Absolutely, I feel like I fit in a lot of offenses, but definitely that one." -- Colorado State's McBride on whether he can be a Kittle-type tight end in the Jets/San Francisco 49ers' system