Thank you, Mr. Cousins
Kirk Cousins rejecting a fully guaranteed three-year, $90 million free-agent contract may be the best thing to happen to the Jets. It led to them acquiring the No. 3 pick and potential franchise quarterback Sam Darnold, preserving a boatload of money and signing Teddy Bridgewater, who they dealt to New Orleans for a third-round pick. With a No. 1 and two No. 3s next year, GM Mike Maccagnan has assets that could help him land a much-needed edge rusher. The Jets also project to have more than $90 million in salary-cap room in the offseason.
It starts up front
The offensive line is a concern. Pro Football Focus ranked the Jets’ O-Line next-to-last even after they upgraded at center, signing ex-Redskin Spencer Long to replace Wesley Johnson. But health and depth is an issue. Long and right guard Brian Winters were banged up last season. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum was hobbled this preseason. Right tackle Brent Qvale had to play on the other side and he struggled. They lost backup tackle Ben Ijalana for the season with a shoulder injury. Maccagnan, who has drafted just two offensive linemen with 28 picks since 2015, will need to address this.
Leonard Williams, this is your defense now. The fourth-year end joined a stout front as a rookie that featured Muhammed Wilkerson, Damon Harrison and Sheldon Richardson, and now only Williams is left. He feels he’s better prepared to face double-teams, which he will see plenty of, and knows he has to improve as a leader. “I feel like I have that respect from my teammates,” Williams said. “I have that respect from my coaches. I should allow myself to step up and be more vocal.”
It's time to put up
The Jets’ secondary has its own nickname, “New Jack City,” and plenty to prove. “We want people to fear us when we walk out,” cornerback Morris Claiborne said. The best way to do that is to shut down receivers and make plays. The unit talks big, but the Jets had only 11 picks last year and ranked 21st in pass defense. Ex-Ram corner Trumaine Johnson, who had seven interceptions in 2015, should help improve those numbers. His presence on the back end could lead to Todd Bowles dialing up more blitzes to make up for the lack of an edge rusher. Big things are also expected from second-year safeties Marcus Maye and uber-confident and outspoken Jamal Adams, who is still looking for his first NFL INT.
Growth and improvement
That’s what this season is about for Darnold and the Jets. The schedule certainly will be a challenge for this young team. The Jets open with three games in 11 days, and three of their first four on the road. Welcome to the NFL, Sam. They play five of their last seven games against playoff teams from last season, including two against the Patriots.