Jets enter offseason with optimism

Jan 2, 2018 - 1:14 AM FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets linebacker Jordan Jenkins said something most people would deem odd after New York finished its second straight five-win season with a loss in New England on Sunday.

"The gap is not big at all," Jenkins said comparing the Patriots, the top seed in the AFC playoffs, with his Jets, the last-place team in the AFC East for the second year in a row.

But that attitude epitomizes the type of season it was for Gang Green. They were supposed to be horrible, with some predicting a no-win season. Instead, they were just good enough to get a worse draft pick (No. 6) than most fans would have liked.

Close to the Patriots? No. But the players believe the team is turning the corner. So, too, does ownership, as seen in the two-year extensions given to head coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan last week.

At the Jets' first home game, there were a handful of green "Darnold" jerseys, as in current USC sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold. New York was 0-2 at the time, and many believed it was headed for the top pick in the draft.

But the Jets dominated the Dolphins on that balmy late September afternoon, the first of a three-game winning streak that had the same delusional fans starting to talk playoffs.

Josh McCown, the team's 38-year-old journeyman quarterback, galvanized a ragtag group on offense that provided some entertaining moments, especially at MetLife Stadium. But the Jets still lost nine of their last 11, and the wheels completely fell off when McCown broke his hand in Week 14 in Denver and was replaced by Bryce Petty.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Jets took a flier on McCown, signing the 15-year veteran to a one-year, $6 million contract in the spring. He paid off, with career highs in passing yards (2,926) and passing touchdowns (18) before breaking his hand, and the 11th best passer rating in the league (94.5). He also developed a strong deep-ball rapport with Robby Anderson, as the receiver had 17 receptions of 20 yards or more, 12th best in the league. Also, the Jets played well at home, going 4-4, with all four losses coming by one possession.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Closing out games. The Jets were outscored 140-64 in the fourth quarter, and they lost two games in which they held 14-point leads and three in which they had a lead in the fourth quarter. Their minus-4 turnover differential was tied for seventh worst in the league, and their only road win came against the winless Browns by three points.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: Linebacker Demario Davis was brought back to the Jets after a year in Cleveland in a June trade for draft bust Calvin Pryor. It proved to be a spectacular move for New York. The 28-year-old, who played his first four seasons for the Jets after they drafted him in the third round out of Arkansas State in 2012, had a career-high 135 tackles (sixth best in the league) and five sacks. Pryor was released by the Browns in September after getting into a fight with a teammate.

Honorable mention in this category goes to wide receiver Jermaine Kearse, who the Jets got in a trade with Seattle for Sheldon Richardson just before the start of the regular season. Kearse, a six-year veteran, had career highs in receptions (65) and receiving yards (810), and tied his career high with five touchdowns.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was repeatedly late to team meetings, earning him a suspension for the New Orleans game and a likely release in March. The 28-year-old finished with 3.5 sacks, his lowest total since his rookie season in 2011, and was inactive the last two games because the five-year, $86 million contract he signed before last season is guaranteed for injury.

Running back Matt Forte earns honorable mention here. Beset by toe and knee injuries, the 10-year veteran rushed for only 381 yards, more than 400 yards less than his previous career low.

ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Offensive coordinator John Morton will be a candidate for the same position with the Raiders should they hire Jon Gruden, according to a report in The New York Daily News. Though the Jets finished only 28th in total offense based on yardage in Morton's first year with the team, Gruden apparently favors his West Coast system. Morton also worked in the personnel department during Gruden's first stint as Raiders head coach and views Gruden as a mentor. When asked about the report on Monday, head coach Todd Bowles said, "I don't deal in rumors."

--It's anyone's guess who the Jets' quarterback will be in 2018.

They could take one with the sixth pick of the draft. They could sign a prized free agent with their ample cap space. They might even bring back Josh McCown, should the 15-year veteran opt to play another year.

McCown, who will be 39 at the start of next season, was not available to the media on Monday because he is on injured reserve. But head coach Todd Bowles, a big fan of McCown, said he'd be interested in bringing McCown back next season.

"It's contingent on a lot of things," Bowles said about the team re-signing McCown. "Josh had a great year. It would be great to have him back. (But) it's business in this league. He has decisions to make, we have decisions to make. Hopefully, they can meet and we'll go from there."

McCown tied his career high with 13 starts before breaking his non-throwing hand in Denver on Dec. 10. He's expressed interest in coaching, and helped serve in that capacity while he was injured.

Backup Bryce Petty, entering the last year of his contract, could easily be cut this offseason, and 22-year-old Christian Hackenberg hasn't played a single snap of regular-season football in two seasons.

Hackenberg is one of only three quarterbacks in the modern era (since 1967) to be drafted in the first two rounds and not play in his first two seasons. Gene Bradley, taken in the second round by the Bills in 1980, was the first, and Jim Kelly, taken in the first round by the Bills in 1983, was the second. Kelly, however, was playing for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL during that time.

Said Hackenberg after Sunday's game, about not playing: "I don't think 'disappointed' is the right word. That question has been thrown at me four or five times over the last three weeks. That's a really bad way to look at it."

--In addressing his team for the final time on Monday, head coach Todd Bowles said next season won't be about being competitive and losing by close margins. It'll be about winning.

"You win games or you don't," he said about his message to the team afterward to reporters. "It's not 5-11, but you played a couple games close. It's not so-and-so got hurt or so-and-so wasn't here. You win in spite of, and that's the only thing I was trying to convey going into the offseason."

Nose tackle Steve McLendon also had a message for the team: "Watch the playoffs, watch the Super Bowl and take it all in. And imagine yourself in those shoes next year."

NOTES: TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had a career high 50 catches for 357 yards in 13 games played (also his most in a season), is a free agent. He said Monday he's talked to the Jets about a new deal, but they stopped because he is changing agents. ... WR Jermaine Kearse, with five catches for 59 yards in Sunday's loss to the Patriots, earned $300,000 in incentives for hitting 65 receptions for the season. He already got $250,000 for reaching 750 receiving yards, so he made $550,000 on top of his $2.2 million base salary. Kearse had two short catches on the Jets' final drive on Sunday. ... WR Robby Anderson had only one catch for 2 yards on Sunday before suffering a concussion, leaving him 59 yards short of 1,000 for the season.

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!