Robert Saleh is not concerned about the Jets handing over the keys to the franchise to a rookie quarterback. He sounds very comfortable with it.
This is the reality of the Jets’ situation after they traded Sam Darnold to Carolina for three draft picks. They are expected to take BYU’s Zach Wilson with the No. 2 pick in next Thursday’s NFL draft and work on developing him to be the starting quarterback.
Saleh, a first-time head coach, said it’s not just about a young quarterback. The Jets have to focus on assembling and developing an entire roster that can consistently reach the playoffs and Super Bowls.
"I don’t think there’s risk," Saleh said during a zoom call on Thursday. "It still comes down to having a good football team and building a good roster around everybody.
"There’s always pressure to put together the best football team we possibly can. I’m very comfortable with every decision that’s made and it’s our job to put him in the best position to be successful - not just the quarterback but every single player who takes the field."
Being a head coach is new for Saleh - one of the best defensive minds in the NFL - but this situation isn’t. At previous coaching stops in Texas, Jacksonville and Seattle, Saleh’s teams either had a young quarterback or rookie QB. But Saleh believes offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur’s system and his own defensive scheme will lead to players and ultimately the Jets being successful.
"The scheme that LaFleur’s bringing is the best scheme in the world from an offensive standpoint in my opinion," Saleh said. "Defensively, we’re a lot further along with regards to how we’ve evolved since those Seattle days. It’s kind of taken on a life of its own.
"We’re very confident in the systems that we’re bringing and we’re very confident in our ability to develop and help players reach their maximum potential."
Teams began their voluntary offseason program this week. While much of it is virtual and the Jets players released a statement that many of them won’t be in attendance, Saleh said there has been "such a strong presence here, much stronger than I had anticipated" at the practice facility.
Many free agents said they signed with the Jets because of Saleh, whose energy and passion are obvious and contagious. But Saleh credited general manager Joe Douglas for creating "a foundation and bringing in certain players who love ball."
"They see the things we’re doing in this organization," Saleh said. "You can always beat the narrative of ‘Same old Jets.’ But it’s not."
Saleh is excited about the additions on the defensive line in edge rusher Carl Lawson, tackle Sheldon Rankins and end Vinny Curry joining holdovers Quinnen Williams, John Franklin-Myers, Foley Fatukasi and Nathan Shepherd. Saleh called them "a cool group" and said they "have a chance to be pretty disruptive."
Saleh also said he’s looking forward to helping linebacker C.J. Mosley re-establishing himself. There have been rumblings that the Jets could try to trade Mosley, who opted out last year due to COVID and appeared in just two games the prior season because of injury.
"I think he’s one of those players that it really doesn’t matter what the scheme is, he’s going to fit," Saleh said. "He’s been a fantastic player his entire life and that’s not going to change just because a new coaching staff has come in.
"He’s a tremendous leader. He’s a tremendous football player, he hasn’t played in a couple of years, so you know he’s just chomping at the bit to get back on the football field. We’re excited to get a chance to work with him and help him get back to playing every day and being the star that he’s been."
Douglas was asked specifically what he thought about Wilson, but he wouldn’t divulge his thoughts on any prospect. "We don’t want to give everyone the answers to our test," Douglas said … The Jets still need cornerback help. Richard Sherman, who played for Saleh in Seattle and San Francisco, is a free agent. Saleh said, "I love Sherm," but he’s leaving the signings to Douglas.