New York Jets: Muhammad Wilkerson

Jets camp report: Reporting day

July, 23, 2014
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CORTLAND, N.Y. -- A few hot topics from Wednesday at the New York Jets' training camp:

You can't have too many pass rushers: The Jets made a smart move, signing the well-traveled Jason Babin to a two-year contract -- assuming the money isn't ridiculous. Obviously, the 34-year-old Babin is on the downside of his career, but he led the Jacksonville Jaguars in two important categories last season -- sacks (7.5) and snaps among the defensive linemen (772). One of the Jets' goals this summer was to identify another edge rusher to add to Calvin Pace, Quinton Coples, etc. If healthy, Antwan Barnes would be that guy, but he's not close to returning from last year's knee surgery. Rex Ryan, explaining the importance of pass-rushing depth, mentioned two recent Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks and New York Giants. Yep, it's a copycat league. That the Jaguars cut Babin three months after giving him a $500,000 signing bonus is a bit curious, but that's hardly a concern for the Jets.

CJ2K is back: The most important development of the day, though not surprising, was Chris Johnson's proclamation that he's been cleared by Dr. James Andrews to participate in training camp. He spent the last month training in Orlando and showed up Wednesday in terrific shape, "flying" in the conditioning run, according to Ryan. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: Of all the new additions on offense, Johnson is the one with the potential to make the greatest impact. When healthy, he's one of the fastest running backs in the league, and the Jets need speed in the backfield.

Where have you gone, Joe McKnight? Apparently, there are no McKnights on this season's roster. You might recall that McKnight started to play his way off the team last summer by flunking the mandatory conditioning run. This year, no one failed the test, according to Ryan. That, he said, never happened before in his head-coaching tenure. Presumably, this means the Jets reported to camp in tip-top shape. Barnes and guard Willie Colon (knee) passed the conditioning test, yet they still landed on the physically-unable-to-perform list. Don't worry about Colon; he's not that far away from being activated. Barnes? That could take some time.

The anti-Revis: Not that there was any doubt, but defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson did, in fact, report to camp, backing up previous statements in which he vowed not to stage a contract holdout. He said he never considered a holdout for a second, claiming he wouldn't be acting like a team leader if he pulled a no-show. Truth be told, he doesn't have much leverage to get a new contract, considering he's signed through 2015 and the daily fine would've been $30,000. But give him credit for taking the high road, trying to be a team player -- something Darrelle Revis never did in the past. Now we'll see if Wilkerson's anti-Revis approach has any sway with the powers-that-be.
Rex Ryan showed his new boss last season that, even when speaking softly, he still carried a big enough stick to squeeze eight wins out of a team with modest talent. The New York Jets' coach received a well-deserved contract extension.

Now, with the Jets reporting to training camp Wednesday in Cortland, New York, for Year 2 of the Ryan-John Idzik era, we start to learn a lot more about the other half of the leadership tandem, the quiet man who prefers to stay out of the spotlight.

This is Idzik's time.

[+] EnlargeMilliner
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDee Milliner is one of John Idzik's draft picks that needs to produce for the Jets.
It's impossible to evaluate a general manager after one season, especially in a rebuilding situation, but the landscape changes after two drafts and two rounds of free agency. In the NFL, that’s enough time to get a team from the 6-10 mess that Idzik inherited into the playoffs.

Idzik's predecessors, Terry Bradway in 2001 and Mike Tannenbaum in 2006, reached the postseason in their first seasons as GMs. Go back further, and you will remember that Bill Parcells made it to the AFC Championship Game in his second year as the GM/coach.

Even though Idzik is operating on a long-term plan, evidenced by his emphasis on the draft and his deliberate approach in free agency, an 0-for-2 start wouldn't look good on his résumé. He shouldn't be on the New York Mets' Sandy Alderson timeline, meaning he has to move faster than a glacier. It's just the way of the NFL.

Idzik has been around long enough to put his stamp on the team. He signed, re-signed and drafted most of the projected starters. In fact, only seven starters can be considered true holdovers from the previous administration: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Nick Mangold, Muhammad Wilkerson, David Harris, Damon Harrison, Quinton Coples and Demario Davis.

It's easy to notice they're the best guys on the team, Tannenbaum guys. Idzik needs to get some of his guys on that list. He already has Sheldon Richardson. By the end of the season, the list of top homegrowns should also include Geno Smith, Dee Milliner and Calvin Pryor. If Smith and Milliner are missing, the Jets will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season, which won’t bode well for Ryan's job security.

Idzik has the Jets pointed in the right direction, and the strides they made last season can't be dismissed. But let's be honest: They overachieved. They were one of the softest 8-8 teams in history, and you can look it up. Their point differential was minus-97, the largest since the 1970 merger for any team with at least eight wins.

The talent base should be improved this season, especially with the additions of Eric Decker and Chris Johnson. Decker was Idzik's one big splurge in free agency, his one Tannenbaum-like move. Johnson and Michael Vick will be one-and-done players, worthwhile Band-Aids who won't ruin the master plan if they fizzle. The offseason proved, once again, that Idzik won't deviate from his script no matter how much salary-cap room he has at his disposal. For the record, there's about $22 million as of today.

Idzik is doing it the right way, avoiding the temptation of the quick fix. That will pay off in the long run, but there will be problems along the way. For instance: Failing to sign a top cornerback in free agency was a mistake that could be exposed early in the season, when they face several elite quarterbacks. The cornerback issue will be exacerbated if Milliner fails to develop as hoped.

The Jets believe Milliner, drafted ninth overall, will be a special player, basing much of their opinion on his strong finish. The same theory can be applied to the quarterback situation with Smith. They're placing a lot of weight on those last four games, and that can be dangerous when you consider the competition. They beat three also-rans, three teams with mediocre (at best) quarterbacks: the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Miami Dolphins.

Now, after seven months of positive mojo, the Jets can prove it wasn't a mirage. If Idzik's investments mirror the stock market, they'll be a playoff team. If it goes the other way, he'll hear the criticism, good and loud. The honeymoon is over. This is Idzik's time.

Training camp preview: Defensive line

July, 19, 2014
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Breaking down the New York Jets' roster, unit by unit, in preparation for training camp, July 23:

Position: Defensive line

Projected starters: Muhammad Wilkerson (DE), Damon Harrison (NT), Sheldon Richardson (DT)

Projected reserves: Leger Douzable, Kenrick Ellis

[+] EnlargeSheldon Richardson
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesSheldon Richardson, the 2013 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, still sees plenty of room for improvement.
Player to watch: Richardson. What can he do for an encore? After winning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Richardson doesn't have to prove last year was an aberration -- it wasn't -- but he must become a more complete player in 2014. That means producing more as a pass rusher. He managed only 3.5 sacks in 509 pass-rushing opportunities last season, according to Pro Football Focus. Ordinarily, defensive tackle isn't a high-sack position, but Richardson isn't your ordinary defensive tackle. He's explosive and versatile, lining up in multiple spots. He should be able to do more damage now that a shoulder injury, which hampered him most of last season, is healed. Rex Ryan: "This guy wants to be great. He was probably disappointed in the fact that he was only rookie of the year."

Top storyline: Wilkerson's contract situation. He won't become a Darrelle Revis-type distraction -- Wilkerson vowed not to stage a holdout -- but the topic is bound to come up in his dealings with the media. He has two years remaining on his deal, making a ridiculously low $1.2 million in 2014. The Jets have time (and leverage) on their side, so they won't do a deal unless it makes sense for them. With more than $20 million in cap room, why not do it now? It would send a positive message, showing the organization is committed to keeping its own. That hasn't always been the case. See: Revis.

Training camp will be a success if: The top five avoid injuries. Obviously, this could apply to any position, but it's particularly important for the defensive line, which doesn't have much depth beyond the returning five. (It's six, if you count "rush" linebacker Quinton Coples.) The Jets were extraordinarily lucky last season with injuries, with the same five linemen playing in every game. What are the odds of it happening two years in a row? Keep an eye on rookie Kerry Hyder, an undrafted free agent. The coaches like his upside.

Wild card: Ellis. He was "Wally Pipped" last summer by Harrison, and now it's time for Ellis to step to the forefront. It's his last chance, as he will be an unrestricted free agent after the season. The big fella has the size and the raw talent, but he has been slow to develop. If he does, the defensive line will strengthen its hold as the best position group on the team.

By the numbers: Wilkerson had 10 sacks after 11 games, but only a half-sack in the final five. The coaches need to do a better job of preserving him early in the season, perhaps scaling back some of his reps.
One of the refreshing things about Sheldon Richardson is that he's not afraid to speak his mind. He'll give an opinion on just about anything, whether he's talking about Michael Sam (a former college teammate) or his belief that he should've been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft. Love the candor.

Last week, the New York Jets defensive tackle apparently ventured into a no-fly zone, commenting on teammate Muhammad Wilkerson's contract situation. He lobbied for his linemate, telling the New York Post, "Hopefully, they do the right thing and pay the man." Well, that didn't sit well at One Jets Drive.

"Someone asked me a question, and I gave them an opinion," Richardson said Monday on the NFL Network's "NFL AM" show. "He’s been turning questions down. [John Idzik has] been turning them down, too. So I’m about to start doing the same thing. I didn’t know at the time, but it’s going to get handled."

It's not clear if the directive came from Idzik, Wilkerson or someone else, but Richardson evidently intends to stay mum on contract talks that don't involve him. He touched on a few other topics during the interview, such as:

Geno Smith's development in Year 2: "He just picked it up. He’s a lot more intense. He’s got a little more control over the offense now. The playbook’s opened up a lot for him. He’s been putting them on the money. He’s made a few bad throws here and there, but there’s competition so it’s going to happen."

Michael Vick's presence in the locker room: "[He's] a tremendous help to the team, especially to Geno because he’s real comfortable with the playbook. He’s real laid back [and] a good guy. I love him. I love him being here. I wanted to take a picture when he first got here. It’s Mike Vick. That’s how I looked at it at first. Growing up, that was somebody you watched and somebody you wanted to be like. I’m glad he’s here."

Rookie safety Calvin Pryor and whether he has a chance to win NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year: "He does. He’s learning the playbook real well, probably faster than when I learned it. [He's] making his adjustments and reads real quick, not making too many mistakes. He’s being a real pro right now."

Wilkerson places 42nd in NFLN top 100

June, 12, 2014
Jun 12
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Muhammad Wilkerson wasn't good enough to make the Pro Bowl team, chosen largely on player input, but he was good enough to land in the No. 42 spot on the NFL Network's top 100 list, voted by the players. Go figure.

On Wednesday night, the NFLN revealed 41 to 50 on its countdown. The New York Jets defensive end finished ahead of nine other defensive linemen who made the top 100, including Haloti Ngata (45), Geno Atkins (48), Jared Allen (68) and Justin Smith (69). Wilkerson's teammate, Sheldon Richardson, placed 94th.

Wilkerson was a second-team All-Pro selection (picked by the media), making it as a defensive tackle -- a honor consistent with his place in the NFLN top 100. The reason he didn't make the Pro Bowl (just one man's opinion) is that he was listed as a defensive end, a highly competitive position. Wilkerson is a hybrid in the Jets' scheme, playing inside and outside. Come contract time, though, he'll probably want to be regarded as a defensive end. They make more than tackles.

Jets remain among leaders in cap space

June, 10, 2014
Jun 10
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Some teams leave salary-cap space for a rainy day. The New York Jets have enough space for a month of monsoons.

As of Monday, the Jets had $22.5 million in available cap room, according to ESPN Stats & Information. If that sounds like a lot, it's because it is. Only three teams boast more space -- the Jacksonville Jaguars ($28.5 million), the Cleveland Browns ($25.9 million) and the Cincinnati Bengals ($24.6 million). The Bengals, of course, will lose a chunk of that because they have two big contracts coming up, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green.

The Jets have 11 of their 12 draft choices under contract, and the lone unsigned player -- third-round pick Dexter McDougle -- won't have a significant impact on the cap. Barring something unforeseen, they will go to training camp with more than $20 million in cap space. But don't forget, they have to save about $1 million for a practice squad and almost another $1 million when the roster goes from 51 to 53 (for cap purposes). You also have to anticipate costs for injury settlements and injury replacements.

They also can try to utilize the space by re-upping with players who have expiring contracts in 2015, structuring the deals in a way that would allow them to absorb a chunk of the cap hit in 2015. The most talked-about possibility is Muhammad Wilkerson, but, remember, he's signed through 2015 after his fifth-year option was exercised recently. Of course the Jets would like to lock up Wilkerson, but there's no sense of urgency to get it done this year. It would have to be a team-friendly deal for the Jets to act now.

In the end, they can carry the unused cap space into next year and we can do this all over again.
You haven't heard too much about Antwan Barnes since he wrecked his knee last October in Atlanta, but his name came up Wednesday in Rex Ryan's news conference -- and not in a positive way.

Ryan provided an ominous prognosis, saying the recovery from major surgery has been "slow" and that Barnes has encountered "some different issues." Ryan said Barnes will miss the remainder of the offseason (OTA practices and the minicamp), adding that he's hopeful, but not certain the veteran outside linebacker will be ready for the start of training camp on July 23.

When a coach acknowledges that much publicly, it usually means the player's situation is worse than he's letting on. If that's the case here, it's unfortunate for Barnes and the Jets, because he was an underrated player last season, the closest thing they had to a true speed rusher on the edge.

In five games, Barnes -- used primarily as a third-down rusher -- played a total of 145 defensive snaps. Despite the small body of work, he produced 16 quarterback hits (according to the team stats) and two sacks. His speed provided a nice change-of-pace to power rushers such as Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson.

Third down is an area that must improve. The Jets recorded sacks on 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. And that was with a career year by Calvin Pace. What are the chances of notching another 10-sack season at the age of 34?

If Barnes isn't 100 percent by the regular season, the Jets' depth at outside linebacker will be suspect. Remember, they didn't address the position in the draft until the later rounds, when they picked IK Enemkpali (a converted defensive end) and Trevor Reilly in the sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. The returning backups are Garrett McIntyre and Jermaine Cunningham, a former Patriot who has worked with the starting nickel unit in OTAs.

Clearly, the Jets need more production out of Quinton Coples and another good year out of Pace. But, again, we're talking about players that rely on more power than speed. They'll lose something if Barnes isn't Barnes. If his struggles continue, his roster spot could be in jeopardy. He's due to make $1.2 million (cap charge: $1.5 million), and they could save $900,000 by releasing him.

Jets notes: QB job should be 'open'

June, 1, 2014
Jun 1
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Thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Another QB question to ponder: With everyone engaged in a semantic debate on whether the Jets' quarterback competition is open or closed (let's call it semi-closed), let me pose this question: Why not make it a truly open competition and bill it as such?

Yes, Geno Smith showed promise at the end of last season, but he doesn't have enough pelts on the wall to be granted front-runner status. True, Michael Vick arrived in town with baggage (age, durability and turnover concerns), but his body of work warrants a 50-50 shot at the starting job. Not only would an open competition eliminate confusion, but it would create a "best-man-wins" scenario.

The Jets are traveling down a slippery slope by tilting it in Smith's favor, because there's a good possibility Vick will outplay him in the preseason. Then what? Everybody knows the expression, "You can't have your cake and eat it, too." It applies to the Jets' quarterback situation. In their case, you can't have your competition and have a predetermined favorite, especially when the other guy might be better. You're just asking for trouble.

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
AP Photo/Julio CortezMichael Vick has proven to have the respect of his Jets teammates during offseason workouts.
2. Low-budget signings: The Jets didn't exactly break the bank with their undrafted free agents. Teams were allocated to spend up to $80,362 in signing bonuses, but the Jets doled out only $4,000, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Defensive end Anthony Grady ($2,500) and fullback Chad Young ($1,500) were the only UDFAs to receive a signing bonus; the other five got zilch. The size of the bonus often indicates the quality of the player. When multiple teams are bidding, top UDFAs have been known to land more than $10,000. Two years ago, nose tackle Damon Harrison received a $7,000 bonus from the Jets. Because of their unusually large draft class (12), the Jets placed less emphasis on the UDFA market. Basically, it was an afterthought.

3. Rex tweaks Tim: Ryan took a veiled shot at Tim Tebow the other day. Trying to defend Eric Decker against the perception that he's a Peyton Manning creation, Ryan reminded us that Decker caught touchdown passes from Tebow in 2011. "I think that's pretty impressive," Ryan said, thinking it was eight scoring catches (it was actually four). The inference was clear: If Decker scored with the scatter-armed Tebow, he can score with anyone. Ryan neglected to mention that Decker had no receptions and two drops in five targets when he and Tebow faced the Jets in that same season.

4. Where's the depth?: Right guard Willie Colon (arthroscopic knee surgery) is expected to return before training camp, so there's no reason for the Jets to panic, but the injury casts a harsh light on their offensive line depth. Their nine backups have played a combined total of 14 regular-season snaps -- all by center/guard Caleb Schlauderaff. That's a bit troubling, no? Considering Colon's durability issues (four surgeries in the last four years), the front office should sign some veteran insurance. Never thought I'd say this, but ... where's Vladimir Ducasse when you need him?

4a. New kind of surgery: Loved this tweet from one of my followers, @MisterRoberts, who refers to Colon's surgery as a "Colon-oscopy." Brilliant.

5. From enemies to comrades: Four months ago, Decker and Breno Giacomini played on opposite sides of one of the most lopsided Super Bowls in history. Giacomini's Seattle Seahawks embarrassed Decker's Broncos, 43-8. Now they're teammates. I asked Giacomini if they've talked about the game. A little trash talking, perhaps? He said there was a brief lunch-room conversation. Giacomini said he asked Decker about the first play of the game, the errant shotgun snap that resulted in a safety. Decker chalked it up to the noise generated by the pro-Seattle crowd at MetLife Stadium. And that was the end of the conversation. Touchy subject, obviously.

"I didn't want to say anything else to him," Giacomini said. "That's behind us, we're teammates now. Hopefully, we can reach it again -- together -- and win another one."

6. The Fridge, Part II?: You have to love Sheldon Richardson's candor and sense of humor. Asked if he hopes to continue in his role as a goal-line running back, Richardson said, "It was a fun experience. Hopefully, they call my number again." He quickly added, "Hopefully not, because it means the offense is doing what they're supposed to do."

There's some truth in his humor; this was a problem area last season. Richardson (two) and Geno Smith (six) combined for eight of the 12 rushing touchdowns. For all his power, Chris Ivory scored only one touchdown on six attempts on goal-to-go runs from the 5-yard line or closer, per ESPN Stats. That's not Chris Johnson's forte, either. He received only one such carry last season (a 3-yard touchdown). Be ready, Sheldon.

7. Respect for elders: Ryan has been around football for his entire life, which means he has seen and heard just about everything. One day recently, though, he heard something from the offensive huddle that struck him as unusual. Vick told one of the young fullbacks to run a certain pass route and the player (Ryan wouldn't identify him) responded with, "Yes, sir." They have only two fullbacks, so it was either Tommy Bohanon or Chad Young. Said Ryan: "I don’t know if I’ve heard that in a long time with a teammate talking to another teammate. [Vick] certainly has that kind of respect in the locker room."

8. Pinocchio Island: Did anyone check to see if Darrelle Revis' nose was growing when he spoke glowingly the other day about Bill Belichick and the Patriot Way? Once upon a time, Revis called Belichick a "jerk." Yes, free agency makes for strange bedfellows.

9. Broadway Joe to Hollywood Joe: A movie on the life of Joe Namath is in the early stages of development. James Mangold, who directed the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic "Walk the Line," already is on board as the director, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Here's hoping they get Ann-Margret to play herself.

10. The Mo, the better: Kudos to Muhammad Wilkerson, who will present five student-athletes from New Jersey and Long Island with $1,000 college scholarships. Wilkerson, giving back to his local roots, grew up in Linden, N.J. He's making the donations through his T.E.A.M 96 Foundation.

11. Futbol and football: Portugal's national soccer team, led by global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, will train at the Jets' facility from Tuesday through June 9 in preparation for the World Cup. The team's stay in the area will be capped by a June 10 exhibition against Ireland at MetLife Stadium. Paulo Bento, the Portugal coach, already has visited the Jets' facility in Florham, N.J., declaring "the pitches are very good." With the World Cup approaching, I wonder if Bento still has open competition for each starting job.

Jets draft preview: Defensive line

May, 5, 2014
May 5
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This is the seventh installment in a position-by-position analysis of the New York Jets as they prepare for the draft:

Position: Defensive line

Current personnel: Muhammad Wilkerson (signed through 2015), Sheldon Richardson (2016), Damon Harrison (2014), Kenrick Ellis (2014), Leger Douzable (2014), Tevita Finau (2016), T.J. Barnes (2016).

Projected starters: Wilkerson, Richardson, Harrison.

Newcomers: None.

Departures: None.

Top salary-cap charge: Richardson, $2.3 million.

Scouting report: The gang is together again, which is a good thing. No doubt, the defensive line is the strength of the team, which is what happens when you pick a first-round lineman in each of the last three drafts -- Wilkerson, Quinton Coples (now a linebacker) and Richardson. This group has a chance to be special for many years, as long as injuries, money and ego don't get in the way. It's already a top run-stopping line, as the Jets allowed a league-best 3.35 yards per attempt. Because it's a base 3-4, the Jets don't rely on the linemen to spearhead the pass rush, but there's still room for improvement, especially from Richardson (3.5 sacks), who has the skill set and tenacity to be a double-digit sacker. Wilkerson's production faded toward the end of the season, probably because he was gassed. He played 94 percent of the defensive snaps (988 of 1,048). The coaches must do a better job of rotating and using the depth.

Last DL drafted: Richardson was chosen 13th overall last season, with a pick acquired in the Darrelle Revis trade.

Potential targets: Rex Ryan joked that he and John Idzik will get run out of town if they pick another defensive lineman in the first round. Rest assured, that won't happen, but they could be looking that way late in the draft. Backups Ellis and Douzable will be unrestricted free agents, Harrison a restricted free agent, meaning long-term depth is an issue. They haven't brought any big-name linemen into town for visits, which is telling. They have expressed interest in undersized defensive end Michael Sam (Missouri), who projects as an outside linebacker or situational pass-rusher in the Jets' scheme. Sam, who could be the first openly gay player on an NFL team, will be a huge story wherever he lands -- especially in New York. A late-round possibility is Beau Allen (Wisconsin), in whom the Jets have showed interest.

Need rating (scale of 1 to 10): 2.
Four more days until the New York Jets are on the clock ...

1. The target list: It's impossible to predict the Jets' pick at No. 18 because so many things could happen in front of them, but I'm going to narrow the options and rank them based on interviews with scouts and talent evaluators. This is my ranking based on what I think the Jets should do, weighing their needs and the best players likely to be available:

a. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: Coach Rex Ryan needs a man-to-man corner, and he's the best in the draft.

b. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech: A football player. Not the flashiest, but he can play Ryan's scheme.

c. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State: Picture a young Antonio Cromartie -- tremendous talent, but he's a finesse player.

d. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU: A fast, all-around receiver with return ability. Strong character.

e. Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State: Speed is the offseason theme on offense, and Cooks is a blur.

f. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: Has a high ceiling, but he doesn't block and there are questions about his attitude.

g. Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Coming off a mediocre year and lacks that extra gear.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite a shaky rookie year, the Jets have been quick to praise QB Geno Smith this offseason.
2. Double talk: The Jets are engaging in a ridiculous game of semantics with regard to the quarterback position. They refuse to say Geno Smith is the starter, but they talk about him as if he's the starter. They say Michael Vick is here to "push" Smith, adding they don't want to do anything to impede his progress. Sure sounds like a starter to me, except they're afraid to use the "S" word because it's not allowed in Idzik World. Ironically, the only person who uses it is Vick, who reiterated Saturday in an interview with NJ.com what he said on the day he signed in March: Smith is the starter. This may sound like a small thing, but it sends a mixed message, blurring the lines in a quarterback competition (are we allowed to call it that?) that could turn into a controversy.

3. Ulterior motives: The Jets have hosted at least three quarterbacks on pre-draft visits -- Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Savage and Logan Thomas -- fueling speculation they could be in the market. Yes, they could be, but there's another reason for the interest: Gathering information for future use. Like every team, the Jets keep a dossier on each prospect. Some day, they may have to face Garappolo in a game, at which time they can refer to their notes on him. The New England Patriots are known for this practice.

"All those reports and the work that's done going into the draft, we look at that as the start of his library, and you will definitely tap into that as he progresses through his pro career," GM John Idzik said.

4. The Dirty Dozen: If the Jets wind up picking 12 players, it'll be their largest draft class since 1998 -- another 12-pick year. Quantity doesn't always ensure quality, as that '98 draft proved. Only one of the 12 players ended up starting in the NFL -- OT Jason Fabini (fourth round). The Jets were hurt by not having a first-round pick (sent to the Patriots as part of the Bill Parcells compensation package), but it still ranks as one of the worst drafts in team history. And there were a lot of smart people in the draft room -- Parcells, personnel director Dick Haley and three future GMs, Mike Tannenbaum, Scott Pioli and Trent Baalke. Like people always say, the draft is a crapshoot. The Jets still reached the AFC Championship Game, in large part, because they assembled one of the best free-agent classes in history -- Curtis Martin, Vinny Testaverde, Kevin Mawae and Bryan Cox.

5. Gang of New Yorkers: New York isn't known as a football hotbed, but there are four intriguing defensive-line prospects from the area. The top guy is Staten Island's Dominique Easley (Florida), a first-round talent coming off his second ACL surgery. He held a late pro day and impressed scouts to the point where he could sneak into the second or third round. Other locals are Flushing's Jay Bromley (Syracuse), the Bronx's Caraun Reid (Princeton) and Nyack's Terrence Fede (Marist).

6. The truth hurts: Former Jets great Joe Klecko was on the money with his assessment of OLB Quinton Coples, whom he said "looks like Tarzan, plays like Jane." Coples has tested the patience of the coaches from the day he arrived, giving inconsistent effort. The talent is obvious, which explains the frustration level in the organization. He finished last season on an upswing (3.5 sacks in the last five games), so maybe he turned a corner. As for Klecko's comments about Muhammad Wilkerson, suggesting he doesn't give maximum effort on every play, I haven't heard anyone around the team question his motor.

7. Goodson soap opera: Coming off an ACL injury, and facing charges for gun possession, Mike Goodson's future with the team is murky. Remember, he still faces the possibility of another suspension; this time it would be for violating the league's personal-conduct policy. Idzik said they've approached this offseason with the idea that Goodson will be on the team. "We assume that Mike is a Jet," Idzik said. "We've always made that assumption." He has another court date, May 19. If they draft a running back, it could be curtains for Goodson.

8. Scouting shake-up: Last year's draft was widely considered a success, yet some of the unsung people who contributed -- a handful of area scouts -- were replaced. This will be Idzik's first draft with his scouting staff in place. For the record, the new scouts: Chris Prescott (Virginia to Louisiana), David Hinson (Midwest), Dave Boller (West) and Rick Courtright (national combine scout). Former player Aaron Glenn, who worked in pro personnel in 2012, became an area scout for the first time, working Texas to North Dakota.

9. Numbers game: Vick should be changing his number again in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

10. Richard the Reclusive: The last time an Alabama quarterback was drafted in the first round was ... you have to go back, back, back to Richard Todd in 1976 -- sixth overall by the Jets. The 38-year drought is "kind of sad," according to Todd, who is hoping AJ McCarron will end the slump (he won't). Todd doesn't do many interviews, so it was interesting to read his comments last week on his initial experience with the Jets.

"I was kind of thrown to the wolves when I was drafted," Todd told Alabama.com. "I thought I'd back up Joe (Namath) for two or three years and it took about two or three games, and I was kind of thrown into it. We threw the ball about six times a game my senior year (in the wishbone), so it was totally different.''

Two words, Richard: A.J. Duhe.

Sunday notes: Jets' endless star search

April, 27, 2014
Apr 27
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Checking up on the New York Jets:

1. Woe-ffense: For too long, the Jets have been playing offense with hand-me-downs from other teams -- free-agent pick ups, trade acquisitions and an assortment of castoffs. The list is long: Brett Favre, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, etc. The Jets' best offensive player of this generation, Curtis Martin, came from the New England Patriots. Eric Decker, Chris Johnson and Michael Vick are the latest to join the recycled crowd, although Decker was a premium free agent. There's no law that says you can't build this way, but the lack of homegrown talent is both alarming an mind-boggling.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron, Antonio Crawford
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCould North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron be the homegrown skill player the Jets desperately need?
Try to wrap your brain around this: The last-drafted skill-position player to make the Pro Bowl on offense was wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson, the first overall pick in 1996. As Keyshawn himself would say, "Come on, man!" They've drafted some "almosts" over the years, players such as Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene and Dustin Keller, but they never hit it big for various reasons. Santana Moss and Laveranues Coles made the Pro Bowl, but they did it with the Washington Redskins. The point is, the Jets never will escape also-ran status until they draft and develop their own stars. They should keep that in mind when they start drafting in 11 days.

2. Dreaming of a tight end: The Jets really like North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron. They see him as a wide receiver/tight end hybrid that would be a matchup nightmare in a flexed position. Problem is, it's hard to imagine him falling to 18th. The Buffalo Bills (ninth) and New York Giants (12th) need a tight end and could take Ebron. If he gets past the Bills, what would it take to get ahead of the Giants? According to the draft value chart, the Jets would have to trade their third rounder and their two non-compensatory fourth-round picks to move up to the 11th spot, currently held by the Tennessee Titans. That's a lot to give up for a tight end.

2.a. Scouting term of the week: In a conference call with the NFL Nation reporters, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay used the term "buffet blocker." What is a buffet blocker? "He kind of picks and chooses when he wants to get interested," McShay said. In case you're wondering, he was referring to Ebron.

3. The Fab Four: If I had to select the four most likely picks for the Jets at 18, I'd say: wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr., and cornerbacks Darqueze Dennard and Justin Gilbert. That could change by draft day, of course, but that's what I'm hearing right now.

4. Don't forget the D: For those who believe the Jets absolutely must go heavy on offense in this draft, consider this: The Jets recorded sacks on only 4.6 percent of third-down dropbacks, the only team in the league under 6.5 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information. You know what that tells me? The "Sons of Anarchy" could use some help.

5. Q's time is now: The Jets made the no-brainer decision by exercising the fifth-year option for Muhammad Wilkerson ($6.97 million). Next year, the decision might not be so cut-and-dried with 2012 first-rounder Quinton Coples, who has yet to approach his potential. The fixed salary won't be set for another year, but they're looking at about $7 million for Coples. They're expecting big things this year from Coples, whose development was impeded last season with the switch to rush linebacker.

6. Double rejection: Rex Ryan is popular coach, evidenced by his fourth-place finish in a 2013 ESPN.com survey that asked players across the league to name the coach they'd most like to play for. But the notion all players are dying to play for Ryan and the Jets is a bit ridiculous. For instance: They were spurned by two free agents that took less money to play for other teams. Wide receiver Sidney Rice, who recently visited with the Jets, said he decided to return to the Seattle Seahawks (one year, $1.4 million) even though the Jets offered him more. Safety Kurt Coleman, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings (one year, $900,000) after visiting the Jets, said the Jets offered some guaranteed money. The Vikings didn't, but he opted for them anyway. Apparently, some players can resist Ryan's charm and the Jets' money.

7. Cornering the market: If the Jets don't pick a cornerback in the first round, I wouldn't be surprised if they explore the possibility of acquiring a veteran, perhaps in a trade. There has been speculation about the Dallas Cowboys trying to deal the disappointing Morris Claiborne, the sixth overall pick in 2012, but they'd take a major cap hit. Right now, his cap charge is $4.4 million, but it would explode to $9.6 million if they trade him, counting the bonus acceleration. The Cowboys would have to receive an offer they can't refuse to absorb that kind of hit.

8. From the what-if dept.: This never became public, but the Jets showed interest in wide receiver Julian Edelman during free agency. Ryan, in particular, was intrigued by the idea of stealing a weapon from the rival Patriots. Edelman ended up re-signing with the Patriots for $17 million over four years. Landing Edelman would've been quite a coup.

9. Sign of the times: In 2014, the Jets will pay kicker Nick Folk ($3.6 million) almost as much as running back Chris Johnson ($4 million), once regarded as one of the elite players in the league. It's a tale of two markets: Kicker salaries are increasing, running-back prices are plummeting.

10. Not what you think: I've heard coaches over the years say they prefer to face teams with new head coaches early in the season, figuring they still will be getting acclimated to new schemes. This may surprise you, but there's no evidence to suggest those particular teams are more vulnerable early in the season than late. Since 2000, new head coaches have a .453 winning percentage in the first month, followed by .427 in October, .455 in November and .451 in the final month, per ESPN Stats & Information. The Jets play three teams with new coaches, only one of which comes early -- the Detroit Lions (Sept. 28). They also have the Minnesota Vikings (Dec. 7) and Tennessee Titans (Dec. 14).
Say this for Muhammad Wilkerson: He's consistent when it comes to discussing his future with the New York Jets. He's sticking with the "Jet-for-life" stance, which probably sends shivers through the fan base because Darrelle Revis used to say the same thing -- and look what happened to him.

"I told (the front office) at the end of the year last year that I want to be a Jet -- a Jet for life,” Wilkerson told the New York Post on Thursday. “I’m from the area (Linden, N.J.), I’m a local guy, so I would love to be here and finish my career here.”

[+] EnlargeMuhammad Wilkerson
William Perlman/The Star-Ledger/USA TODAY SportsWith the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, the Jets have one of the better defensive lines in the NFL.
Back in October, Wilkerson gave the same response, almost verbatim, in an interview with ESPNNewYork.com. Like we said, he's consistent. Some might say he's hurting his leverage by professing his devotion to the Jets, but that's not the case at all. It's actually a smart approach from a public-relations standpoint because it shifts the focus to the Jets, who, in terms of public perception, bear the onus of making him a Jet for life.

So what are the chances of them locking up their best player to a long-term extension before the start of the season? Let's examine the situation:

Wilkerson is entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, due to make $1.2 million. By May 3, the Jets are expected to exercise a fifth-year option that will set his 2015 salary somewhere in the $5 million to $6 million range. (For players drafted from 11th through 32nd in 2011, the fifth-year salary is the average of the 25 highest-paid players at the position, excluding the top three.)

In essence, the Jets are under no sense of urgency to renegotiate Wilkerson's deal because they will have him under contract for two more years. Actually, you might say three years because they can slap him with the franchise tag in 2016. Do the math, and it comes out to three years for about $19.8 million, based on the current franchise-tag amount for a defensive end. For the Jets, that's a heck of a bargain for one of the top, young defensive players in the league.

The only motivation for the Jets to re-work his contract this year is if he accepts a team-friendly deal. Wilkerson's only leverage is to stage a holdout, but he reiterated in his interview with the New York Post that he has no intention of going that route. (Unlike his Jet-for-life comment, his recent no-holdout statements have weakened his bargaining power.) He'd be taking a risk by playing for $1.2 million because the fifth-year option isn't fully guaranteed until the fifth day of the 2015 league year. It's partially guaranteed (for injury only) as soon as the team picks up the option. General manager John Idzik hasn't revealed his plans, but it's a no-brainer.

Even though Wilkerson is operating under a different set of rules (the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011), his situation is similar to the Revis drama of 2010. Entering his fourth season, Revis refused to play for $1 million, staging a long and nasty holdout.

Wilkerson reiterated that he won't pull a Revis.

“I’m not holding out," he told the Post. "My agent is talking with Idzik, and that’s all I can say. I have nothing to do with that. I’m just going to let him take care of that. That’s his job. I’m just here to play ball."

The Jets should do the right thing and take care of Wilkerson before his contract becomes an issue, taking advantage of their significant cap space, but it's a bottom-line business. Teams are rarely motivated to make their players happy unless they get something out of it as well.

Teammates: Wilkerson is Jets' MVP

December, 24, 2013
12/24/13
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson won the Curtis Martin Team MVP Award for the 2013 season, as voted on by his teammates. It's Wilkerson's first team MVP award, and he's the first Jet to win it in his third season with the team since Darrelle Revis in 2009.

Wilkerson
"It's great. That's an accomplishment I think I worked hard for," Wilkerson said. "I want to celebrate this award with my teammates. I wouldn't have it without them."

Wilkerson has developed into one of the top defensive linemen in the NFL, with Jets coach Rex Ryan saying earlier this year the Jets "may have the best defensive player in the league right now."

The 2011 first-round pick has a team-high and career-best 10.5 sacks, and 62 combined tackles. The 10.5 sacks are 2.5 more than he registered in his first two seasons combined. Wilkerson has also forced two fumbles and recorded an interception.

Wilkerson said it meant a lot to have his teammates honor him with this award. He's just the second Jets defensive lineman to win it, joining John Elliott, who won in 1970. Antonio Cromartie won the award last season, and a defensive player has won it each of the past five years.

"It basically means those guys thought I pretty much helped the team out a lot," Wilkerson said. "I'm always going to share my awards with my teammates because I feel if it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have gotten the award."

Wilkerson is part of a stout Jets defensive front that has clearly been the strength of the team. Along with fellow linemen Damon Harrison and Sheldon Richardson, Wilkerson has helped the Jets be the NFL's No. 3 rush defense (88 yards per game). The Jets are tied for 11th with 41 sacks. Wilkerson is tied for 11th individually in sacks.

Wilkerson credited Richardson for helping him excel. Richardson, a 2013 first-round pick, has had a stellar season and might win the Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

"Helping me out, just being the character, the guy he is," Wilkerson said. "Talking and saying he's the best, I push myself because I feel I'm the best. It's good to have friendly competition."

Said Ryan: "I think Mo will tell you he gets pushed by his teammates. They challenge each other over there. It's a great group, it's a young group, and they push each other to be the best."

In addition to Wilkerson, the Jets handed out the following awards:

• Dennis Byrd Award for most inspirational player (teammates vote): Linebacker Demario Davis

• Marty Lyons Award for community service (Jets staff vote): Cornerback Kyle Wilson

• Ed Block Award for most courageous player (teammates vote): Cornerback Isaiah Trufant

• Kyle Clifton Good Guy Award (Jets staff vote): Kicker Nick Folk

• Bill Hampton Award for a rookie who acts like a professional in the locker room (equipment staff vote): Fullback Tommy Bohanon

Sunday notes: Could Revis stay, Cro go?

January, 27, 2013
1/27/13
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A quick take on the Jets (the Revis edition) and the rest of the NFL:

1. Revis or Cro?: Instead of shopping Darrelle Revis, maybe the Jets should put fellow CB Antonio Cromartie on the trading block. Don't laugh, it's not such a far-fetched idea. There's a small segment of the organization that would rather trade Cromartie than Revis, according to a source.

Let's think about this for a second: Cromartie's trade value never will be higher; he's coming off arguably his best year. A Cromartie trade would clear $8.2 million in cap room (only $2.5 million in dead money); a Revis trade would actually cost the Jets cap room ($12 million in dead money, as opposed to his current cap charge of $9 million).

[+] EnlargeAntonio Cromartie
Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsAntonio Cromartie earned his second Pro Bowl invitation this season.
The Jets would have to move fairly quickly because Cromartie is due a $2.3 million roster bonus on the third day of the league year (March 15); Revis is due a $1 million roster bonus on the fifth day. It would take some handiwork from new GM John Idzik, because he'd have to sign Revis to a long-term extension before dealing Cromartie. It can't be the other way because Idzik would be giving more leverage to Revis. Food for thought. Rex Ryan would disagree, but it might be a stretch to have two corners counting $20 million on the cap.

2. The price of Revis: I spoke to a personnel executive from another team and he said the Jets should be able to recoup at least a first-round pick for Revis. Said the executive: "I wouldn't be surprised if he merited a first-rounder and something else in the second year that was good, too." Another executive said any deal probably would have to include a conditional pick in 2014, based on Revis' performance in 2013. That would protect both teams. Frankly, I wouldn't trade him unless I got a top-10 pick in return. Another thing to keep in mind: The Jets would get a third-round compensatory pick if Revis walks next year as a free agent.

2a. Same Old Jets: Typical Jets luck. They have a legitimate bargaining chip and there are no franchise-type quarterbacks in the draft.

3. Let's make it real simple: Basically, the Jets have only two options: Pay Revis now or trade him now. Letting him play out the season makes absolutely no sense. They'd have a better chance of turning Tim Tebow into the NFL passing leader than re-signing Revis after the '13 season and before he hits the open market. And get this: Because of a quirk in the structure of the current contract, the Jets would get hit with $9 million in dead money in 2014 if he walks as a free agent -- the remaining, pro-rated portions of the $18 million option bonus he received in 2011. That would be an egg-on-face moment for the ages.

4. The untold story: Everybody seems to be focusing on what the Jets could get for Revis, but the trickiest part of a trade would be Revis getting what he wants from another team. He wants to be the highest-paid defensive player, which means $16 million per year and $50 million in guarantees -- Mario Williams money. (It should be noted that Williams landed that deal as a free agent; Revis is a year away from that.) Is there a team willing to pay that much for a cornerback coming off ACL surgery? His agents drive a hard bargain. If they don't get their price, they'll blow up potential trades and position themselves for a free-agent score next year. A trade can't happen unless Revis agrees to a long-term deal; no team would surrender significant compensation for a player whose deal voids in a year.

4a. The leverage game: Make no mistake, Revis has the leverage. He's only one year from the open market and the only way he can blow that is by holding out. That would cancel the voidable, keeping him under contract through 2016 at $3 million per year. The Jets, however, have a card they can play, according to an executive -- the injury card. The executive said they should "play that as hard as they can," trying to scare Revis into accepting less.

5. The whole truth: There was a report Saturday that said the Jets floated Revis' name in trade talks before his ACL injury in September. Here's what happened: Former GM Mike Tannenbaum talked to some confidantes around the league, discussing possible end-games to the Revis situation. Basically, he picked their brains, trying to get ideas and suggestions. He didn't dangle Revis in trade talks.

6. Woody bashing: This is how one longtime GM responded upon hearing the Jets are open to trading Revis: "Woody (Johnson) wants to wave the white flag. That's no way to do business." Basically, the Jets are trapped in a maze, except there's no way out in this maze. There's no clean escape, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

7. What a tweet: I wonder if Revis was as concerned about the feelings of Jets Nation during his two holdouts as he is now.

8. West Coast Offense 101: I read in the New York Daily News that QB Mark Sanchez reached out to former QB Jeff Garcia to learn Marty Mornhinweg's version of the West Coast offense. I'm still trying to figure out if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

9. Hot air: Had to laugh when I heard commissioner Roger Goodell, downplaying the cold-weather factor for next year's New York/New Jersey Super Bowl, said the temperatures are supposed to hit 50 this week in these parts. What are the odds of that happening next Feb. 2? According to the Farmer's Almanac, the average temperatures for Feb. 2 over the last five years were 35, 40, 40, 30 and 30.

10. Not that anyone cares, but ...: Despite numerous off-the-field incidents, Ravens CB Jimmy Smith was very much on the Jets' radar in the 2011 draft. The Ravens picked him 27th overall. Had they passed, the Jets would've taken him at 30. They ended up with Muhammad Wilkerson. I'd say the Jets got the better of it.

Stock watch: Risers and fallers

December, 30, 2012
12/30/12
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ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The good, the bad and the ugly from the Jets' 28-9 loss to the Bills:

THREE UP

1. Muhammad Wilkerson -- He finished up a strong season by beating up the interior of the Bills' offensive line. Big Mo recorded three quarterback hits and did a nice job of containing C.J. Spiller.

2. Shonn Greene -- It wasn't spectacular, but he grinded out 74 yards, giving him 1,063 yards for the season. Greene will be an unrestricted free agent. Chances are, he won't be back.

3. Mike DeVito -- He forced a fumble in Bills territory, which, of course, didn't amount to anything because the offense squandered yet another opportunity. But this was another solid game in a solid season for DeVito, who also will be a free agent. The Jets are nuts if they don't re-sign him.

THREE DOWN

1. Mark Sanchez -- He played a gutty game, bouncing back from a couple of bone-crushing hits, but he also made one of the biggest mistakes -- an interception returned for a touchdown. Opponents scored five defensive touchdowns against the Jets.

2. Tony Sparano -- You wake up in the morning to a report that you'll be fired and you're offense fails to score a touchdown against the softest defense in the league. That's not a good day.

3. Jets fans -- You deserved better than this, a 6-10 season that ended with three straight losses to bad teams. Here's something to look forward to: The Jets have the ninth pick in the draft.

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