FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Buddy system: Zach Wilson had no idea the Jets would be trading for Aaron Rodgers when he told reporters at the end of the season that he would welcome a veteran replacement, vowing, "I'm going to make that dude's life hell in practice every day."
Rodgers, aware of the comment, couldn't help but smile when asked about Wilson.
"He’s going to make my life hell in practice," Rodgers said two days after the trade, "and I’m going to make his life heaven off the field."
The Jets' new QB1 said he wants to mentor the third-year quarterback, who lost his job and now faces the prospect of at least one season as Rodgers' caddie. This is part of the Jets' grand plan: Rodgers plays for two years (they hope) and passes the baton back to Wilson, who, after learning at the side of the master, becomes the quarterback they envisioned when they drafted him No. 2 overall in 2021.
It's unconventional, to be sure. Wilson has only two years left on his contract, so they might be grooming him for another team, but they're going to give it a go and see what happens.
"I think being around me and seeing how I go about my business, seeing how I lead, how I interact with the guys, I think there are some things he can pick off from that," Rodgers said. "Part of my opportunity here is to be a great mentor to him, and to teach him fundamental stuff, to allow him to be around me and, through osmosis, just pick up some things that can help him in his career. That’s what happened to me, being around Brett [Favre]."
Rodgers and Wilson became friendly two years ago when Wilson went pro and was recruited by Rodgers to sign with his agent. They reconnected at the Jets-Packers joint practices in 2021 and have remained texting buddies. Wilson grew up idolizing Rodgers, so there's a deep respect.
The four-time MVP believes Wilson, despite two difficult seasons, has a chance to be special.
"I love him, I really do," Rodgers said. "I feel like part of my role here is to help get his confidence back."
2. Betting on Becton: The Jets came out of the draft without addressing their No. 1 need -- offensive tackle -- until the fourth round (Pitt’s Carter Warren), which means they're putting a lot of faith in the oft-injured Mekhi Becton. Because of two surgeries on the same knee, he has played only one game since 2020 and is entering the final year of his contract. (The team isn't expected to exercise his fifth-year option for 2024.)
Coach Robert Saleh said the entire line is a work in progress, with new line coach Keith Carter getting his first opportunity Monday to coach players on the field.
“It’s got a chance to be a really good group, but we’ve got to figure out how best to utilize each player,” Saleh said. “It’s going to take time between now and training camp.”
Cincinnati Bengals tackle Jonah Williams could be available because of his recent trade request, but a move to the Jets seems unlikely unless he renegotiates his contract. He has one year remaining at $12.6 million (fully guaranteed).
After all the time and resources they invested in Rodgers, it would be a shame if the Jets' tackles break down again like last season.
"You really hope the offensive line can stay healthy," former Jets great Joe Namath told ESPN. "That's where I go when I think this thing through. This has the potential to be sensational, but Lady Luck has to smile on us and that O-line needs to stay healthy, if possible."
3. All about the QB: The NFL is a quarterback-driven league -- everybody knows that -- and the Jets proved it with their first two selections. They used their first-round pick on a player whose job will be to put the quarterback on the ground: Iowa State pass-rusher Will McDonald IV. They used their second-round pick on quarterback protection: Wisconsin center Joe Tippmann. And of course, they secured their quarterback six days ago with a blockbuster trade. It was a good week for the Jets.
4. In the trenches: The Jets’ first three picks were linemen -- McDonald, Tippmann and Warren -- continuing a trend that began with the hiring of GM Joe Douglas. In four drafts (33 picks), he has picked 11 offensive and defensive linemen, including four in the first round. His predecessor, Mike Maccagnan, had a different approach. In five drafts (34 picks), he selected eight linemen, including only two first-rounders. One of them, defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, made All-Pro.
5. Can't miss: The draft felt anticlimactic in the aftermath of Rodgers' arrival, but its importance shouldn't be minimized. Remember, they might not have a first-round pick in 2024. If Rodgers plays in 65% of the Jets' snaps next season, the conditional second-rounder going to the Packers becomes a first-rounder.
That's a big hole in the draft. It becomes a Grand Canyon-sized hole if, for some reason, they need a quarterback. It also will be hard to find a blue-chip left tackle without that pick, although they’re hoping Warren can develop into a starter.
6. Jumping, Part I: McDonald has a bizarre hobby -- car jumping.
He's such a gifted athlete that he's able to leap parked cars in a single bound, proving it to the world with videos on social media. He started with a sedan and graduated to a Mazda SUV. The man has serious hops, evidenced by his 11-foot broad jump at the scouting combine -- tied for 13th among 300-plus participants.
McDonald said his car-jumping days are over.
"The next thing I'll be jumping over is just [offensive] tackles," he said, smiling. "I'm officially retired from jumping over cars."
Its always a part 2 🚙 pic.twitter.com/UgKl4R83w8— Will McDonald (@WILL_JUN1OR) January 2, 2023
7. Jumping, Part II: Douglas' first three drafts were fairly predictable, as he selected players in the top rounds that were linked to the Jets in mock drafts. No one had them taking McDonald in the first round, sparking criticism from some fans. To borrow a line from the new quarterback, "R-e-l-a-x!"
McDonald is well-regarded in the scouting community. ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. listed him as one of his favorite picks in the first round. A scout from an NFC team had this to say about McDonald: "Of all the pass-rushers in the draft, if I had to pick one to get me off the field on third down, he'd be the best one to do that."
He recorded 34 career sacks at Iowa State, breaking Von Miller's Big 12 record. With long arms (35 inches), he was able to produce 10 forced fumbles. He didn't run a great 40-yard dash (4.69 at his pro day) and his 10-yard split (1.63) isn't all that eye-popping, either, but scouts say he has a trait that can't be measured: bend. All edge rushers need that ability to get around the corner and close on the quarterback, and scouts rave about his "bend."
But because McDonald didn't receive a lot of pre-draft hype, the pick caused a stir. Know this: He was high on their draft board and one of the players they targeted going into Round 1.
8. (Not so) Big Mac: McDonald's size is a concern for some -- 6-foot-3 5/8, only 239 pounds at the scouting combine. He was up to 245 pounds at his pro day, where he measured 6-foot-4 1/4. (Growth spurt?) It's uncommon for undersized rushers to put up big sack numbers in the NFL.
Only four players at 240 pounds or less recorded more than 5.5 sacks last season: Philadelphia Eagles' Haason Reddick (16 sacks), Los Angeles Rams' Leonard Floyd (nine), New Orleans Saints' Kaden Elliss (seven) and Carolina Panthers' Frankie Luvu (seven). Only five players in the 240-and-under category, including Reddick and Floyd, got more than 200 pass-rushing snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information data.
McDonald will be an outlier if he becomes a prolific pass-rusher, but the game is changing toward situational speed. Jets officials, confident in Rodgers, expect to hold more second-half leads than last season. Hence, more pass-rushing opportunities.
9. Big man in the middle: Tippmann is the opposite of McDonald in that he's unusually big for his position. At 6-6, he's the tallest center in Jets history, according to the team. In 2022, only four full-time centers measured at least 6-6, most notably Ethan Pocic (Cleveland Browns) and Mitch Morse (Buffalo Bills).
10a. The last word, Part I: "He makes things fun. We used to hug before every game [in Green Bay] and my message to him for three years was, 'Thank you for making this fun again.'" -- Rodgers on offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
10b. The last word, Part II: "Fired up to add big Joe [Tippmann] to the team and his Wisconsin waterfall. Probably the best mullet in the draft right now." -- Douglas