<
>

Months into Jets job, Robert Saleh's character-building put to the test

play
30 for 30: The Two Bills - Super Bowl XXI (2:09)

Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick lead the 1986 Giants to Super Bowl victory. (2:09)

A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:

1. Curses! Crisis management is a big part of every NFL head coach's job, especially the HC of the NYJ. For some reason, bad stuff happens a lot to the Jets. When the Carl Lawson injury news broke Thursday, one ex-Jet texted me: "Maybe that [Joe] Namath curse s--- is real. Geezzz."

Welcome to New York, coach Robert Saleh.

Lawson's season-ending Achilles injury is the first significant downer on Saleh's watch. He knew something bad was coming, because it always comes in the NFL. Now we will start to learn about the character of this Jets team. When Saleh talked in June about finding the team's identity, he said he wouldn't know the answer until it had to deal with adversity.

Well, they just lost their best pass-rusher. Now it's on Saleh to maintain the morale, adjust the personnel and tweak the scheme in an effort to compensate for Lawson's absence.

"I've said it before: The NFL train stops for nobody," Saleh said Saturday night after a 23-14 win against the Green Bay Packers. "If someone falls off the train ... it's another opportunity for someone to jump on the train. There are a lot of men on this football team, especially at that D-end spot, that are champing at the bit to get an opportunity -- and they got it."

Saleh has been down this road before.

As the San Francisco 49ers' defensive coordinator in 2020, he lost top pass-rusher Nick Bosa to a torn ACL in Week 2 (against the Jets) and several other starters throughout the course of the season, yet still managed to finish 17th in yards allowed and fifth in points allowed. He's not a big believer in blitzing, but he deviated from his philosophy by increasing the blitz rate to keep the pressure on. Look for him to repeat that plan sans Lawson. Saleh's ability to overcome last year's injury plague is one of the things that attracted the Jets.

Saleh feels awful for Lawson, saying, "You couldn't ask for a more perfect, big-money free agent. ... Despite getting paid, he still wanted more."

2. Big bucks, no bang: Check out the Jets' last three big free-agent signings on defense:

  • Lawson (2021): Three years, $45 million ($30 million guaranteed). Misses his first season.

  • C.J. Mosley (2019): Five years, $87.5 million ($43 million guaranteed). Plays only two games in two seasons.

  • Trumaine Johnson (2018): Five years, $72.5 million ($34 million guaranteed). Only 17 games in two seasons before being released.

Never in Jets history has so much been spent for so little in return.

3. Adams fallout: Safety Marcus Maye congratulated former teammate Jamal Adams on his four-year, $70 million contract extension with the Seattle Seahawks, saying on his Instagram story, "I love it for you dawg!"

All safeties will love it, because it raises the financial bar -- and that will have an impact on the Jets' ability to sign Maye to a long-term deal after the season.

Adams' average per year ($17.5 million) far exceeds the Denver Broncos' Justin Simmons ($15.25 million) for tops at the position, so now the next group of safeties up for new deals will be looking to capitalize. Aside from Maye, there's the Kansas City Chiefs' Tyrann Mathieu and the Cincinnati Bengals' Jessie Bates III.

"Basically, [Adams] sets a new standard for expectations for a franchise player at the position," said contract expert Jason Fitzgerald of Over the Cap.

Maye, unable to strike a deal with the Jets before the July 15 deadline, is playing on the franchise tag -- $10.6 million. If he has another good season, there's a chance he will get tagged again at $12.7 million (120% of his current salary). I have my doubts about a long-term agreement. If the Jets were reluctant this year, why would they have a change of heart next year when he's 29 and his asking price is higher?

Back-to-back tags would be a team-friendly situation (two years, $23.3 million), considering what Adams ($34.4 million) and Simmons ($32.1 million) are making in their first two years. Maye is not on their level as a player, but that much of a financial disparity is not likely to sit well with the Maye camp. I wouldn't be surprised if his camp takes a page from the Adams playbook and tries to make it ugly if he's tagged again. He didn't rule out a trade request in his last interview about his contract.

There could be fireworks next offseason.

4. No second-guessing: By the way, the $17.5 million-a-year is what Adams wanted from the Jets last year. He wanted to surpass Mosley ($17 million) as the highest-paid defensive player. Kudos to Adams for getting that much from the Seahawks, but it doesn't change my opinion of the trade. It was an excellent deal for the Jets -- still.

5. Becton's slow start: Offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur's comments about left tackle Mekhi Becton raised eyebrows: "Mekhi is going through some things right now. He's not playing at his best."

Here's the story: It's not about him being overweight or out of shape. He's just rusty, having missed the entire spring with a foot injury. It's a new system that requires movement for the Jets' offensive linemen, and he's navigating the transition. Becton needs to figure it out quickly because failure to perform could be hazardous to the health of the quarterback.

6. For their eyes only: One of the benefits to joint practices is the ability to scout the opposing team. The Jets' staff got a good look at the Green Bay Packers, just as it will this week with the Philadelphia Eagles visiting the Jets' facility on Tuesday and Wednesday. The information they compile is invaluable and could factor into personnel decisions as they pare the roster. Don't be surprised if a player or two from those teams winds up on the Jets -- and vice versa.

Sometimes teams are paranoid about joint practices because they fear the other side will leak the practice tape to another team, but there was a trust factor between the Jets and Packers. Saleh and coach Matt LaFleur are BFFs. The brotherly connection between the Packers' coach and Mike LaFleur also helped make for a smooth collaboration.

7. Sponges: Quarterback Zach Wilson spent time picking the brain of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who offered tips on how to run a two-minute drive. Mike LaFleur also had some time with Rodgers. When a future Pro Football Hall of Famer speaks, you listen.

"I wanted to give them a couple of things to maybe think about in their own room," Rodgers said. "He's a first-time coordinator, he's a first-time starter. There's just some things in the operation I felt like I could help with."

Especially since the two teams run pretty much the same offense.

8. Farewell, coach: The passing of former Jets coach Joe Walton, 85, struck an emotional chord because he was the first coach I covered on the beat. I had dinner with Walton and his wife before the 1989 season (my first, his last), which became the basis of a 2,700-word profile in Newsday. Walton was so relaxed, so candid that night, telling stories and twisting my arm into joining him for a shot of Sambuca. It's a wonderful memory.

Walton was fired after that season, but he always reminded me of that newspaper story whenever I called him in the ensuing years. He always started the conversation the same way: "That's the nicest thing anybody ever wrote about me." It was good to hear, but it was bittersweet because I always knew there weren't many nice things written about Walton, whose seven-year run as coach (53-57-1) was marked by incessant "Joe Must Go!" chants by the fans and tension with his own players.

"He found his niche at the end of his life," said former Jet Marty Lyons, referring to Walton's run at Robert Morris University from 1994 to 2013. "He went back to college and built a program. He took young men and developed them into great leaders and was well-respected. They named the stadium after him. I think that's what people should focus on, more so than his body of work with the Jets."

9. Happy birthday, Tuna: Speaking of former Jets coaches, Bill Parcells celebrates his 80th birthday Sunday. He always will be remembered for his championships with the New York Giants, but his impact on the Jets was immeasurable.

10. The last word: Rodgers had some funny lines on a couple of Jets' players -- former teammate Greg Van Roten and former NFC North rival Jarrad Davis, an ex-Detroit Lions linebacker.

On Van Roten: "I've had some good nicknames for him over the years. Greg Van Rotten. We have some good videos of him. Quite the dancer."

On Davis: "[He] inflicted a lot of concussions on our guys ... Mr. Davis has one of the hardest heads in NFL history."