FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Win now or else: Some people are calling him a two-faced backstabber; others see him as a misunderstood genius trying to save a losing organization from itself.
Only four months on the job, coach Adam Gase has polarized the fan base and media. His honeymoon was shorter than a Poconos getaway, but you know what? It doesn’t matter. The fans, desperate for a Super Bowl after a 50-year drought, would embrace Hannibal Lecter as their head coach if he proved capable of dethroning Tom Brady & Co. Gase knows this, which is why he wants to be judged on performance, not his power-play victory over former general manager Mike Maccagnan.
“I think our fans care if we win or lose,” he said. “If we win games, no one is going to remember this, I know that. Our job is to win. Our job is to win. That’s it.”
Basically, Gase has issued a win-now mandate for himself, dialing up the pressure. If he turns quarterback Sam Darnold into a star and leads the Jets to their first playoff appearance in nine seasons, he will be a hit in New York/New Jersey, an area that appreciates power-hungry tough guys. (Tony Soprano, anyone?) If he fails — if the dysfunction continues on his watch — Gase will get the John Idzik treatment, with airplanes flying over practice.
Gase has left himself little or no margin for error, but you get the feeling he doesn’t give a you-know-what.
“That’s fine, that’s what I get paid for,” he said of the criticism. “I get paid to take all the bullets.”
Gase is a “normal dude,” according to Darnold, but he’s actually a hard dude to figure out. His track record in Miami doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence — a 23-25 record with a roster he controlled — but he possesses an innate leadership quality and, well, chutzpah. The Jets, kicked around for years, could use some of that. They haven’t had a leader like that since Rex Ryan, whose big personality bought him extra time when the winning stopped.
On the flip side, Gase will lose the players if his lack of public trust in others extends to the locker room, an issue late in his Dolphins tenure. It’s interesting to note that, during Thursday’s open practice, he spent several minutes talking to linebacker C.J. Mosley, whose massive free-agent contract reportedly irked Gase. For the record, those reports were false; he was a strong proponent of signing Mosley. (FYI: Gase and Mosley have the same agent, Jimmy Sexton, which might explain some things.) Still, maybe Gase felt the need to smooth things over.
There’s an old saying, “Winning is the best deodorant.” Gase, more than any Jets coach in recent memory, needs a healthy swipe of extra protection.
2. GM search will ramp up: The Jets are in the early stages of their search and have yet to interview any candidates, but the process will pick up steam after the holiday weekend. Right now, they’re finalizing their list and formulating a game plan. Gase, who is involved, said, “We’re just trying to do a good job of putting everything on paper and then talking through everybody.” He stressed that CEO Christopher Johnson will have the final decision, but you’d have to be naive to think Gase — the interim GM — won’t have a big say.
Joe Douglas (Philadelphia Eagles), Champ Kelly (Chicago Bears), George Paton (Minnesota Vikings) and Adam Peters (San Francisco 49ers) — all high-ranking personnel executives with their respective teams — have been mentioned as possible candidates, although one source said Paton is unlikely to leave.
I talked to one general manager who predicted the Jets’ uncertain ownership situation could be a factor for GM candidates. Owner Woody Johnson’s term as the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom likely hinges on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Christopher Johnson has said he’d like to remain in a significant role once his brother returns to the U.S., but when will that be? To whom will the new general manager report? The GM I spoke to suggested the top candidates should demand a five-year contract to provide security.
3. Sam’s bodyguard, past and future: One of the Jets’ boom-or-bust draft picks is former USC tackle Chuma Edoga, selected in the third round. High-ranking officials from two different teams told me he fell off of their draft board because of character concerns. The Jets felt comfortable with the gamble after taking a deep dive (pardon the Christopher Johnson-ism) into his background. They believe his attitude problem stemmed from a clash with a coach at USC.
Edoga has physical talent, there’s no doubt about that. In fact, he was a five-star recruit in the same Trojans class that included Darnold (a four-star recruit).
“I see him really excelling in the NFL,” Darnold said. “It’s awesome to have a teammate I had in college come with me to the NFL — that’s great — but I’m just really excited for him as a friend. For him to get drafted where he was, for us to take a chance on him, I think it’s going to pay off for this organization in the future.”
Edoga can play left and right tackle, but he worked on the right side last week in practice. Incumbent right tackle Brandon Shell, who underwent knee surgery after the season, is participating fully in practice.
4. Bet you didn’t know: ESPN now has full access to the NFL Next Gen Stats database, which contains a head-spinning amount of material. Every so often, I’ll toss out a random nugget. Let’s start with this: Can you name the five fastest players on the Jets last season (based on maximum speed)? Check the answer below.
5. Hole in the middle: One of the biggest issues for the Jets is the center position. Gase has talked up incumbent Jonotthan Harrison, who replaced the ineffective Spencer Long last season, but you have to wonder if Harrison is the right guy for the job.
Statistics aren’t everything, especially with an offensive lineman, but they tell a clear story in this case.
In Harrison’s starts, Weeks 10 to 17, the Jets’ success rate on running plays (41.9 percent) ranked 32nd, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Their success rate on inside runs (40.5) also ranked 32nd. The numbers were nearly identical in Weeks 14 to 17, when the offense showed signs of life during Darnold’s late-season rally. (By definition, the success rate is the percentage of run plays resulting in a successful play based on the yards-to-go by down — 40 percent on first down, 50 percent on second, a conversion on third/fourth.)
Harrison’s performance on passing downs was similarly concerning. His pass-block win rate (plays in which a player holds his block for at least 2.5 seconds) was only 71 percent, eight points below the league average for centers, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Look, it’s possible Harrison will excel in the new scheme. That’s one of the great variables in football; so much of performance is dictated by scheme. Still, the numbers have to be a red flag. Problem is, it will be tough to find a starting-caliber replacement at this late stage of the offseason. The Jets showed interest in Matt Paradis during free agency, but they backed off because they felt he was too rich for their blood. He signed with the Carolina Panthers for three years, $27 million.
6. Strange, but true: The Jets have more players from Appalachian State (three) than Clemson (two), the defending national champion.
7. Look, you’re on TV! Thursday’s practice was open to the media, and one of the things that jumped out was a giant flat-screen TV at one corner of the field. It showed a live feed of practice, giving players the chance to rewatch video without having to wait until after practice in the film room. Smart idea; players can learn from their mistakes as soon as they happen.
8. Bet-you-didn’t-know answer: The five fastest players were running back Trenton Cannon (22.15 mph), cornerback Parry Nickerson (21.89), wide receiver Robby Anderson (21.78), cornerback Darryl Roberts (21.74) and kick returner Andre Roberts (21.31).
9. The last word: “His tenacity in the classroom brings the dog out of us to want to get out on the field and do good for him and do good for each other.” — Mosley on fiery defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.