FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Intriguing option, but …: The best way for the Jets to address their cornerback problem — aside from, you know, getting a good cornerback — is to strengthen the pass rush. As everybody knows, a great pass rush can make pedestrian corners look competent. This brings us to Houston Texans star Jadeveon Clowney, who could wind up on the trading block because of a messy contract situation. He’s sitting out of training camp because he hasn’t signed his franchise tender.
There’s a lot of chatter on social media about whether the Jets should be interested in a trade. My initial thought: There are more cons than pros.
By rule, Clowney can’t sign a long-term contract until after the season; the deadline was July 15. In essence, he’d be a one-year rental ($15.967 million) with the option of tagging him after the season. Because of that, the Texans’ return will be less than what it would have been if they had traded him before July 15. That alone makes a trade unlikely.
Let’s say the Texans get desperate and decide to move him. The Jets have only $14.7 million in salary-cap space, per overthecap.com, so they’d have to cut players and/or rework contracts. A trade also could set the stage for a Clowney-or-Leonard Williams decision next offseason, as both would be candidates for the franchise tag.
No doubt, Clowney, 26, would represent as an upgrade at defensive end or outside linebacker. He would give them a much-needed presence on the edge, but let’s be clear: He’s not an elite pass rusher, à la Khalil Mack. Clowney recorded nine sacks last season, but only 5.5 came from the edge, per NFL Next Gen Stats. He generated 31 quarterback pressures as an edge player, barely ahead of current Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland (29) — and Clowney had 156 more chances than Copeland. He also had serious knee issues early in 2014 and has played 16 games only once in his career.
The most intriguing aspect of a potential Clowney trade is the Jets could use him for a year, then flip him with a tag-and-trade next March, perhaps recouping what they surrendered in the original trade. This would make a trade worth considering if it doesn’t include their 2020 first-round pick (and if they’re willing to gamble with Williams and free agency), but the whole thing seems unrealistic unless Houston holds a fire sale.
2. The more, the merrier: One of Gregg Williams’ core beliefs is he likes to rotate players, especially defensive linemen, to keep them fresh. The Jets’ defensive coordinator, perhaps tweaking a former rival, said ex-Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson “copied” that approach from him.
“You can’t expect defensive linemen to play 100 percent of the snaps,” he said. “It’s a fist fight in a phone booth for three hours. How are you going to do that?”
The Cleveland Browns‘ stats from last season don’t support the Williams Way — defensive end Myles Garrett played a whopping 86% of the snaps — but Williams explained that by saying he didn’t feel comfortable with his backups. That, he said, won’t be the case this season. He said his objective is to have “an even number of snaps” for every player. That could really help Leonard Williams (78%), whose fourth-quarter production was lacking perhaps because of fatigue.
Gregg Williams will use his bench, and he will deploy players in more than one position. He said it’s “mandatory” every player learns two positions. For some, it’s three positions. This is very Belichick-ian — and that’s a good thing because it means they should be prepared to adjust on the fly when injuries occur.
3. Thick skin required: You’ve probably heard a lot about Gregg Williams and his high level of accountability. If you mess up, you’re going to get called out. If you complain about getting called out … well, there’s a penalty for that, too.
It’s called “the feelings report,” according to safety Jamal Adams. They actually have a board in the defensive meeting room that tracks the transgressions. If a player gets hit with a “sensitive fine,” per Adams, his name goes up on the board.
This Gregg Williams will be an interesting guy to cover.
4. Random rant: Quarterback Sam Darnold had a few hiccups in practice last week, then played as if the hiccups never happened. Gamer. … If defensive end Bronson Kaufusi doesn’t make the team, they need to re-examine the roster-picking process. … How many general managers does it take to screw up a kicking situation? … Player who has raised his stock the most over the past week: Defensive tackle Folorunso Fatukasi. … Another riser: Outside linebacker Tarell Basham. He’s an “ascending” player with “twitch and bounce,” said position coach Joe Vitt. Twitch and bounce are good things. … Coach Adam Gase keeps talking about the quick tempo on offense as if it’s some sort of staple in his coaching career. Fact: The Miami Dolphins had the second “slowest” offense last season, averaging one play every 30.7 seconds, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Indianapolis Colts were the fastest at 27.0 seconds.
5. Did you know? Only two of the 10 highest-paid players on the team (based on 2019 cap charge) were drafted by the Jets — Leonard Williams (first, $14.2 million) and Darnold (10th, $6.9 million). That’s messed up. That will adversely impact the team in the coming years unless GM Joe Douglas can draft his rear end off.
6. The Voice: One of the rookie rituals is having to stand in front of the team and sing a song of your choice. If your vocal styling doesn’t measure up, a siren will sound and you have to leave the stage. Rookie running back Valentine Holmes, the former Australian rugby star, chose to sing “Just a Friend” by Mario. How’d it go?
“Good and bad,” Holmes said. “They kept me up there, but that meant I had to keep singing.”
7. The new Robby: You have to be encouraged by Robby Anderson‘s performance in the Jets’ second preseason game. For months, the coaches have been talking about how they’re going to expand his route tree and make him more than a vertical receiver. That showed up against the Atlanta Falcons, as two of his three receptions came on underneath throws against tight coverage.
“In this offense, he will not be known as just a speed guy,” receivers coach Shawn Jefferson said.
It will be a balance, of course, because the last thing you want to do is shut down your best home run hitter.
8. Tough call: The most intriguing decision for the roster cutdown will involve longtime vet Bilal Powell. They have a crowded backfield, with Powell, Elijah McGuire and Trenton Cannon fighting for the third and fourth spots.
Powell is a 30-year-old back, coming off neck injury, and he doesn’t play special teams. He showed nice field vision and burst on his first preseason carry, an 18-yard run against the Falcons, but could they justify a roster spot as the RB3 behind Le’Veon Bell and Ty Montgomery? Cannon is excellent on special teams and is the leading candidate to return kickoffs. McGuire is a younger version of Powell, a versatile back who doesn’t do special teams. They could keep all five, but they probably will need that roster spot elsewhere.
9. The last word: “I wouldn’t say worry. That’s kind of a word that I don’t like to use. It’s an issue. You want to work together and have chemistry. But this is pro football. They’re pros. … You’d love to just have five guys be in there for 20 years, but that’s not realistic. I live in the real world. I don’t live in fantasy land with unicorns and rainbows.” — offensive line coach Frank Pollack on the prospect of not having his starting five together until the regular season.
10. The last word, part II: “Kill a gnat with a sledgehammer. That’s his mentality.” — linebackers coach Frank Bush on Gregg Williams.