FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. In Zach They Trust: They didn't get WR Tyreek Hill. Or DE Chandler Jones. Or WR Amari Cooper. Or S Marcus Williams. The Jets' biggest free-agent splash was a guard, and we all know a guard isn't going to excite the masses or tilt the Vegas odds in their favor.
Their patient and methodical approach can be frustrating for fans, especially with so many AFC teams making blockbuster moves. The folks on the inside -- the decision-makers at One Jets Drive -- aren't in panic mode, but the events of the last two weeks have reminded them of an undeniable truth.
More than ever, everything hinges on Zach Wilson.
If the quarterback follows the career trajectory of Buffalo Bills star Josh Allen, who improved dramatically in Years 2 and 3, the Jets believe they will be among the AFC elite. If he sputters again or peaks at average, they're doomed to mediocrity and another rebuild in a couple of years.
General manager Joe Douglas and coach Robert Saleh knew their future was tied to Wilson as soon as they drafted him second overall last year, and now that is magnified because of the crazy new landscape in the AFC. There's a Catch-22 element to this because it's unfair to expect him to be a savior without a game-changing weapon. Hill, at an exorbitant cost, would've been that guy.
Under normal circumstances, the Jets would be in trouble, but this isn't normal because they're loaded with draft picks -- nine total, including four in the top 38.
They have the draft capital to get better. What they really need is a capital improvement from Wilson.
2. Mini-mock draft 1.o: Here's my first stab at it. To use a oft-used Bill Parcells line, I reserve the right to change my mind:
Jets: DE Travon Walker
Giants: DE Jermaine Johnson II
Jets: WR Garrett Wilson
3. What the Hill happened? For 84 minutes Wednesday on social media, Jets' fans were teased by the possibility of trading for Hill. Was it real or just one of the many Jets' flirtations that ends up as a sweet nothing?
Agent Drew Rosenhaus, who had permission from the Kansas City Chiefs to speak with teams about a contract, told reporters in South Florida Thursday that he was in negotiations with the Jets and it was "almost a done deal." This was Monday, when the Jets were the only team that had an agreement with the Chiefs on trade compensation, Rosenhaus said.
With talks heating up, he said he notified other teams to let them know where things stood, successfully luring the Miami Dolphins into the mix. That led to an all-night negotiation session with the Dolphins, who eventually landed the prized wide receiver.
Was Hill-to-the-Jets really that close? Did Rosenhaus use the Jets for leverage? We'll probably never know the truth. Rosenhaus has been in the business for a long time, and good poker players never reveal their hands if they don't have to. Hill certainly made it sound like he never seriously considered New York.
Tyreek Hill is asked how close he was to picking the Jets:— Jets Videos (@snyjets) March 24, 2022
"Who? The Jets? Nah, man. I knew I was going to pick Miami no matter what." pic.twitter.com/cFuol3v9bv
I can tell you this: General manager Joe Douglas was very interested, but the Jets always felt Hill preferred Miami, figuring he'd opt for South Beach if the money was close. Sure, they could've increased their offer, but they didn't want to be reckless. They were venturing into reckless territory as it was, considering what he got from Miami -- a three-year, $75 million extension.
4. Next receiver up: The Jets will have to address their wide-receiver issue with a high draft pick ... unless another Hill situation arises. A handful of star receivers are entering the final year of their rookie contract, including DK Metcalf (Seattle Seahawks), A.J. Brown (Tennessee Titans) and Deebo Samuel (San Francisco 49ers). The market is blowing up, which might make it harder for their teams to re-sign them.
The Jets have ties to all three. Receiver Elijah Moore played with Brown and Metcalf at Ole Miss and remains close friends with Brown. The coaching staff knows Samuel from its time in San Francisco. To say the coaches have an affinity for Samuel would be an understatement. At this point, there's no indication that any of them are available, but the Jets are keeping an eye on the situations, just in case.
Know this: It's harder for a fourth-year player to force a trade, compared to an older, more expensive player like Hill. But, hey, you never know. The Jets traded safety Jamal Adams after three years, didn't they?
5. (Can't) catch a rising star: The Jets wouldn't be in this wide-receiver pickle if Denzel Mims wasn't such a disappointment. The 2020 second-round pick, who has yet to score a touchdown in two seasons, isn't even a lock to be on the team in September.
In the Age of the Wide Receiver, the Jets have continually whiffed in the draft. Their last draft pick to have a 1,000-yard receiving season was Jerricho Cotchery, who was selected in 2004. That is crazy. Receivers are available everywhere in the draft. Of the seven largest receiver contracts this month, only one was a first-round pick -- Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers).
6. New bookkeeping: The Jets have handed out seven multi-year contracts (six new players, plus wide receiver Braxton Berrios), with an obvious trend in the structure of the deals: The cap charges are backloaded. In other words, it's a bare-bones cap charge in Year 1, followed by hefty charges in the ensuing years. It's a departure from last year's approach.
Those seven contracts are counting only $27.4 million on this year's cap, but that number balloons to $75 million next year, including big numbers for guard Laken Tomlinson ($17.4 million) and cornerback D.J. Reed ($14.2 million). The reason for the strategy, according to a source, is two-fold:
New TV revenue will come pouring in next year, which will result in a significant cap increase. The Jets also want to maintain flexibility this year, allowing them to pursue pretty much any player they want. (See: Tyreek Hill.) It hasn't resulted in a big score yet, but the offseason isn't over. The Jets aren't alone; many teams are backloading deals.
In case you're wondering, the Jets have about $17 million in cap room, $13 million of which needs to be set aside for the draft. Don't get caught up in cap space, though. If they really want a player, they can make the numbers work.
7. What's next? The Jets expect to be relatively quiet on the free-agency front over the next few weeks, focusing their efforts on the April 28 draft. This remains a team with many needs, namely wide receiver, safety, defensive tackle and edge rusher, among them. On the positive side, receiver and edge rusher are among the strongest positions in the draft.
8. Check-up: There was a rumor that defensive end Carl Lawson had suffered a setback in his Achilles' rehab, but I'm told he's still on schedule for training camp.
9. Armed and dangerous: The defense, ranked 32nd last season, needs to be a whole lot better in 2022. Have you checked out the lineup of opposing quarterbacks? The Jets face Josh Allen (twice), Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and Deshaun Watson.
10. The last word: "I understand that some people don't see that, but to that point, I would say look at Cincinnati at the end of the day, their turnaround and what they were able to do." -- Berrios on how the Jets can quickly become a winning organization