New York Jets: Stephen Hill

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets wrapped up minicamp -- and the offseason -- with a 90-minute practice Thursday in a light rain. A few takeaways:

Smith
1. Quarterback hiccups: One day after his coaches lavished praise upon him for a terrific offseason, Geno Smith ended on a down note, throwing two interceptions in team drills. One was an ill-advised throw, a pass into double coverage. He was looking for Eric Decker, who was covered by CB Dee Milliner, and it was picked off by rookie S Calvin Pryor. Later, Smith (2-for-6 in team drills) was intercepted by Milliner on a deep ball that went off the hands of Decker. It's important to keep this in perspective. Two turnovers on the final day of minicamp doesn't change anything. As Marty Mornhinweg indicated Wednesday, it's Smith's job to lose. Michael Vick was 2-for-7, with a couple of overthrows.

2. Young ball hawks: Turnovers are always a good news-bad news story in practice. The good news is that the secondary, which produced very few big plays last season, came up big. In addition to Pryor and Milliner, rookie CB Dexter McDougle made a big play, intercepting Vick in a 7-on-7 drill. (Vick seemed upset; there might have been a miscommunication with WR Jeremy Kerley). Afterward, Rex Ryan praised McDougle as one of the standouts in minicamp. This will be the youngest secondary of the Ryan era. The upside is the improved team speed on the back end; the downside is the lack of experience, which will inevitably lead to mental errors.

3. Another Hill to climb: WR Stephen Hill, who could be fighting for his roster spot, finished with a terrific practice. This was a positive offseason for Hill, who needed a jolt after a second straight disappointing season. He worked with the starting base offense, with David Nelson replacing him in some three-receiver packages. Nelson, too, looked sharp, hauling in two completions from Smith. Unlike past years, the Jets actually have some depth at receiver. It'll be interesting to see which players separate from the pack in training camp.

4. Dawan is da man: Veteran S Dawan Landry became the forgotten man in recent weeks, especially with Pryor and Antonio Allen working exclusively with the first team. After practice, Ryan tossed a bouquet to Landry, mentioning him as one of the standouts in minicamp. Ryan also revealed that Landry won an "Iron Jet" award for his exploits in the conditioning program, noting that he reported to the offseason program in superior condition. Funny how that works; they draft a safety in the first round and the aging incumbent shows up looking better than ever.

5. Attendance report: LB David Harris (hamstring tightness) and TE Jeff Cumberland (undisclosed) sat out. As expected, RB Chris Ivory (ankle) didn't participate. With Chris Johnson (knee) also out, Bilal Powell and Alex Green had busy days.

6. Have a nice summer: The offseason program is over. The team won't be together again until training camp. Reporting day is July 23 in Cortland, New York.

WR situation: Decker and question marks

June, 16, 2014
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Interesting battle brewing for the No. 2 job at wide receiver -- aka The Guy Opposite Eric Decker. Will it be Stephen Hill? David Nelson? One of the rookies? It certainly will be one of the things to watch this week during the New York Jets' three-day mandatory minicamp, which opens Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Kerley
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesJeremy Kerley did much of his damage last season from out of the slot.
Based on experience and production, the job should go to Jeremy Kerley, who led the New York Jets last season with 43 receptions. But here's the thing: Kerley is more efficient in the slot. Like a lot of 5-foot-9 receivers, his efficiency declines when he lines up on the perimeter.

In 2013, 29 of his 43 receptions came from the slot, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Let's take it a step further: Kerley was targeted 47 times in the slot, giving him an impressive catch rate of 62 percent. All told, he ran 206 routes from the slot.

When lined up wide left or wide right, Kerley ran only 60 pass routes and was targeted just 21 times. The significance? Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg played to Kerley's strength, finding ways to get him the ball in the slot even though he was often considered the No. 1 or No. 2 receiver on the field because of injuries to Santonio Holmes, etc. Look for more of the same in 2014.

Now, in the interest of fairness, we have to point out that Kerley did well with his limited opportunities on the outside. In fact, he caught 14 passes on those 21 targets (67 percent), although many of those were short, high-percentage throws. He made seven catches on seven targets on throws to the right, but the average throw was only 4 yards.

We just threw a bunch of numbers at you, and we all know numbers don't always tell the entire story. Here's the bottom line: The Jets can use Kerley and Decker in two-receiver sets while putting Kerley in places where he's most effective -- i.e., the slot. Mornhinweg has a myriad of ways to attack, especially with the addition of rookie Jace Amaro, a "flex" tight end who can line up just about anywhere.

The idea is to put the best players on the field, so, no, the Jets won't force a receiver into action simply to have a traditional starting lineup. Chances are, it'll be a committee approach, with Decker and a host of role players -- unless, of course, someone steps up in training camp and blows away the competition.

Twitter mailbag: Was Coples trade bait?

June, 7, 2014
Jun 7
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Practice report: Geno vs. Vick, Round 1

May, 28, 2014
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets held their second OTA practice (first open to the media) Wednesday. A few thoughts and observations:

Vick
Vick
Early look at the QB competition (or is it a competition?): Rhetoric and semantic nonsense aside, the quarterbacks -- Geno Smith and Michael Vick -- performed well in the two-hour practice. Smith, in particular, was sharp, completing eight of 10 passes (plus two sacks) in team drills. One incompletion came when he intentionally "dirted" the ball. Vick completed only three of seven, but he was victimized by two drops. Watching him up-close for the first time, the aspect of his game that jumps out is how effortlessly he can throw the long ball. He can really spin it, as they say in the biz. Smith worked ahead of Vick in the rotation, but they basically shared the reps. By my count, Smith got 14, Vick 12.

Decker
Receivers, new and old: Plenty of interesting developments here. As you would expect, Eric Decker stood out, impressing with his route running, his hands and his overall size. This is a new offense for him, but you can tell he knows where he needs to be. He connected once with Smith, once with Vick. The other newcomer that impressed was Jacoby Ford, who hooked up with Smith a couple of times. Ford is fast, we all know that, but you don't realize how fast until you witness it in person. He could be a real wild card in the competition at receiver.

And let's give some props to Stephen Hill, who appears recovered from his knee injury and demonstrated sure hands. There was a borderline drop on a crossing route (tough to tell from our angle on the sideline), but it still was a solid practice for Hill, who faces legitimate competition for the first time. On the downside, Jeremy Kerley and Saalim Hakim dropped well-thrown long passes by Vick.

Medical report: Players who sat out included RG Willie Colon (knee/biceps), RB Chris Johnson (knee), S Calvin Pryor (toothache), RB Daryl Richardson (lingering turf toe), rookie CB Dexter McDougle (shoulder), rookie WR Quincy Enunwa (undisclosed) and LB Antwan Barnes (knee). WR David Nelson (illness) wasn't at practice. Remember, these sessions are voluntary. RB Mike Goodson (knee) also didn't attend. Rookie WR Shaq Evans had a school obligation.

Zach and Jace: Zach Sudfeld, a slightly taller, slightly thinner version of rookie Jace Amaro, will be an interesting player to watch over the next few months. Sudfeld (6-foot-7, 260) has the ability to make plays downfield, and he showed it with a nice catch on an intermediate crossing route. The key for him is staying healthy, a problem throughout his college career. Amaro (6-foot-5, 265) made one mental mistake, failing to turn on a seam route in a 7-on-7 drill drill. He ended up getting doinked by a Vick pass.

On guard: The Jets have an issue at right guard. Colon (knee scope) is out until training camp, and there is no clear-cut replacement on the roster. Second-year tackle Oday Aboushi, who saw no game action last season, practiced for the second straight day at Colon's spot. He "looked pretty good," according to Rex Ryan. At some point, perhaps in the preseason, they might have to import an experienced guard because they are thin at that spot. Colon is in a tough spot because he will be rehabbing two injuries -- the knee and his surgically repaired biceps, hampering his ability to do upper- and lower-body conditioning in preparation for camp. Tough break.

Odds and ends: The rookies that received the most work were Amaro, WR Jalen Saunders, LB Jeremiah George and OLB IK Enemkpali. QB Tajh Boyd split a handful of reps with Matt Simms. CB Brandon Dixon and LB Trevor Reilly came in late. Dixon was promptly burned on a deep pass. ... DE Leger Douzable had a sack. ... CB Ellis Lankster made a nice pass break-up. ... Ryan on OTAs: "It's not football yet, but it's close, closer than what we've had." He said he challenged the players to not only improve individually on a daily basis, but to help make their teammates better.

Five players to watch in OTA's

May, 28, 2014
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Players not named Geno Smith with the most on the line in the New York Jets' OTA's, which continue Wednesday (open to the media):

1. Stephen Hill, wide receiver: If his balky knee cooperates, Hill needs to reinvent himself this spring and summer, validating the first-round grade he received from the Jets as a talented but unpolished wideout who came out of Georgia Tech in 2012. If all goes well, he could start opposite Eric Decker. If he remains an enigma, he could jeopardize his roster spot.

2. Jacoby Ford, wide receiver: Overshadowed by Decker and the three rookies at receiver, Ford has quietly impressed the coaching staff. People forget he was an ascending player for the Oakland Raiders in 2010 -- until injuries hit. If healthy, Ford could be a factor at receiver, not to mention a scary kickoff returner -- or just a tease.

3. Kyle Wilson, cornerback: After four years, the Jets know what the former first-round pick can do, but it'll be interesting to see if they can find anyone to do it better. They imported competition in the slot. If a newcomer jumps out (perhaps Johnny Patrick or rookie Dexter McDougle), Wilson -- always a notch below expectations -- could be expendable in the preseason.

4. Zach Sudfeld, tight end: A late arrival last season after being dropped by the New England Patriots, Sudfeld flashed potential as a receiver in limited action. The coaches like his upside, but they still drafted Jace Amaro in the second round. It's time to turn upside into production.

5. Quinton Coples, outside linebacker: These next few weeks aren't make or break for the former first-round pick, but Coples can establish a positive tone for the season by making big strides. This is his third season, and he acknowledged recently it's time to be more productive and assertive. We already know how Joe Klecko feels about him.
Saturday's drops notwithstanding, Rex Ryan likes the look of his 2014 receiving corps. The New York Jets spent money ($15 million guaranteed for Eric Decker) and draft picks (three) to improve the weakest position on the team.

"From top to bottom," Ryan said, "it’s a much better group of receivers than we had probably at any point last year."

[+] EnlargeShaq Evans
Bill Kostroun/AP PhotoPerhaps rookie Shaq Evans could develop into the Jets' No. 1 receiver role this season.
Let's examine that statement.

The high point last year, if you could call it that, was the start of the season, when the Jets' top three wideouts were Santonio Holmes, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley. (Incredibly, the trio played only one game together -- the opener.) You could argue they ended the season in better shape, with the surprising David Nelson replacing the injured Hill. Either way, the narrative is the same: It was a deficient receiving corps that lacked speed, depth and a true No. 1, because even when Holmes was healthy, he wasn't really healthy. Clearly, he was a diminished player because of his surgically repaired foot from 2012.

You know what? For the sake of comparison, let's drop the "at-any-point" qualifier and look at the group as a whole. The top receivers last year, in my opinion, were Holmes, Kerley, Nelson, Hill, Clyde Gates, Greg Salas and Josh Cribbs, who really didn't play much receiver. The latter three are marginal NFL players.

The top receivers this year, as of now, are Decker, Kerley, Nelson, Hill, Jacoby Ford, Gates, Shaq Evans, Jalen Saunders and Quincy Enunwa. This time, the latter three are rookies with varying degrees of upside. Based on what I saw from rookie camp, and from talking to talent evaluators around the league, Evans has the best chance to make an immediate contribution among the rookies. His skill set is more complete than the others.

"We’ll see what kind of receivers we have," Ryan said, "but you could put out an unbelievable (4x100) relay team."

To me, Decker is an upgrade over Holmes, although there are many who question whether Decker is a legitimate No. 1 receiver. Beyond Decker, the top four could be the same as last year, with Kerley, Nelson and Hill filling out the top spots. The Jets still lack a home-run hitter, a need they failed to address in the offseason. Someone has to develop into that guy and crack the top three. Maybe it can be Hill -- if he's healthy and consistent. Maybe it can be Ford -- if he's healthy and can recapture the promise he showed as a rookie with the Oakland Raiders in 2010. Maybe it can be one of the rookies.

So, yes, I'd agree with Ryan's statement that it's a better overall unit than last season, but I wonder whether it's as good as it needs to be.

Did Jets drop ball at wide receiver?

May, 12, 2014
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One of the lingering questions involving the New York Jets is whether they adequately addressed their wide-receiver need in the draft.

Amid the endless pre-draft hype, they were linked to big-name prospects such as Odell Beckham Jr., Brandin Cooks and Marqise Lee. They went hard after receivers on the third day, selecting three wideouts, but it's never a sure thing when you're relying on middle- and late-round picks. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay agrees, claiming the Jets' draft strategy underscores their belief that Eric Decker -- the No. 2 receiver with the Denver Broncos -- will be their top dog for the foreseeable future.

"Outside of (the three picks), I don’t think they were really able to solve their problem at wide receiver," McShay said Monday on a media conference call. "You have to believe Eric Decker is your No. 1 if you’re going to spend that money" -- meaning the five-year, $36.25 million contract.

Amaro
The Jets drafted Jalen Saunders (fourth round), Shaq Evans (fourth) and Quincy Enunwa (sixth), but their key draft pick is tight end Jace Amaro (second). McShay described Amaro as a "big wide receiver" who needs to make an immediate impact. To me, he's the key to the draft.

"Ultimately, you need Amaro to come in and contribute, and you need more from Stephen Hill and you need Eric Decker to play the way he was paid," McShay said. "Hopefully, between Saunders, Evans and Enunwa, if you hit on one of those guys, you'll fill out the depth a little bit."

McShay believes the Jets got good value with their first two picks, safety Calvin Pryor and Amaro, but he wonders if they reached for need in the third round, taking cornerback Dex McDougle. No matter how team officials try to spin it, this was a "need" draft for the Jets. It's the kind of strategy that results in reaches, which end up being bad picks.

"Could they have gone wide receiver there? Yeah, sure, there were some better players at wide receiver available (in the third round), but they’re still trying to fill in that secondary and get the right guys there," McShay said.

Pryor
McShay offered a few other takeaways on the Jets' draft. He sees Pryor as a great fit in Rex Ryan's defense, but he wonders if he'll have to dial back his aggressive ways to conform to the new safety rules.

"I know some Jets fans were frustrated they went with (him) at 18, but he was just a really good value and he fits what they want," McShay said. "They want a guy who’s going to set a tone physically, who’s tough. He's got enough range to cover the deep third and the deep middle of the field. He’s never going to be a matchup safety, but he can cover in zone, he’s capable of playing in the box and he’s going to fill the alley hard. I mean, he knocked some guys out. He’s probably going to wind up with some fines in the league, and he may have to adjust his mentality a little bit, but he’s a perfect Rex Ryan-type football player."

The criticism of Amaro is he's a below average blocker. Doesn't matter, according to McShay.

"He can block a little bit, but ultimately all they did was draft a big wide receiver they can flex out and put in the slot, even split out wide at times and try to create some mismatches," he said. "I really like that pick for the Jets."

McShay's take on the next three picks:

McDougle: "I like his tape. He has durability issues, but I thought he was one of the under-rated players in this draft. When you studied what he did in 2012 and his first couple of games this season, he’s got a lot of potential. They obviously love drafting defensive backs."

Saunders: "He’s quick. He’s a good slot receiver, he makes plays and he create after the catch."

Evans: "We had him in that fourth/fifth-round range. He doesn’t have explosive burst. He’s not going to stretch the field much vertically, but he has good hands and I thought he had a really good performance at the Senior Bowl. He’s got a chance to stick maybe as the No. 4 or No. 5."
Keyshawn JohnsonAP Photo/Wally SantanaKeyshawn Johnson is the last wide receiver drafted by the Jets who reached multiple Pro Bowls.
Many experts are calling this the deepest draft for wide receivers in recent memory. In theory, this should bode well for the receiver-needy New York Jets, who haven't drafted a star pass-catcher since Al Toon (only a slight exaggeration), but there's an alarming trend that could blow up the plan.

The bust rate at receiver is rising.

Because of changes in the college game, where wide-open, up-tempo passing attacks create distorted receiving statistics, it's not easy to pick a winner at wide receiver. What's more, the odds of finding an immediate impact player are remote. Of the last 12 receivers picked in the first round, dating to 2010, only one reached 1,000 yards in his rookie season -- the Cincinnati Bengals' A.J. Green.

Fans starved for offense probably will rejoice if the Jets select Odell Beckham Jr. or Brandin Cooks with the 18th pick, but it's important to keep expectations in the proper perspective. When it comes to receivers, it rarely happens overnight. Sometimes, it doesn't happen at all.

The proliferation in college passing puts the onus on NFL scouting departments to separate the real prospects from the faux prospects. It's a complicated task. Scouts have to weigh myriad factors, including style of offense, level of competition, the proficiency of the quarterback, etc.

Example: USC's Marqise Lee, who won the Biletnikoff Award in 2012 as the nation's top receiver, fell off dramatically last season. But how much of that can be attributed to instability at the quarterback position? He dropped 12 percent of the passes thrown to him, but was he hampered by a knee injury?

It goes both ways. Some teams may look at Cooks, who caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards at Oregon State, and decide he was a product of the system.

"There is no question, it's a different game," said Terry Bradway, the Jets' senior director of college scouting. "But the one thing we've tried to do -- and I think we get a little bit better at it every year -- is evaluate the player and the person. You try to tie them together as best you can, and I think that can give you a pretty good indicator of what kind of success they might have."

A longtime personnel executive, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he puts an emphasis on toughness and intelligence when evaluating wide receivers.

"Intangibles are important," he said. "You can't be dumb. In college, you can be as dumb as a box of rocks and still be good. In the NFL, if you're not mentally sharp, it slows your progress. I look at toughness, too. I'd never take a receiver unless he has toughness. If you have a Ferrari, you don't want it spending time in the garage."

He mentioned two former Jets, Keyshawn Johnson and Jerricho Cotchery, as examples of what he covets in a receiver. Neither was known for speed coming out of college, but they were smart and fearless, leading to long careers.

Size is important, too. If you look at some of the top young receivers -- Green, Julio Jones, Alshon Jeffery, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant -- they're all taller than 6-foot-1. Of the top five prospects in this year's draft, only one tops the 6-1 mark -- Texas A&M's Mike Evans.

Nick Caserio, the New England Patriots' director of player personnel, said two aspects of the college game make it harder to evaluate receivers: The up-tempo style and the lack of press coverage. Teams run plays so frequently, he said, that receivers often return to the same spot and run the same play. Defenses stay vanilla with their coverages in an attempt to combat the pace of the offense. Caserio also said a "very small" number of teams use press coverage.

"The majority of the time, the defender is 5, 6, 7 yards off, so [the receiver] has free access into the defense [and] there’s less that he has to deal with at the line of scrimmage," he said. "Now you fast forward [to the NFL]. I would say the majority of the time you’re going to have a defender in your face at the line of scrimmage."

Some of the best receivers in the NFL were lesser-known players coming out of college. Of the top 20 wide receivers last season, based on number of receptions, only seven were first-round picks.

The Jets, of all teams, know how hard it can be to find a quality receiver. In 2012, they were so impressed with Stephen Hill that he received a mid-first-round grade on their draft board, prompting them to trade up in the second round. They figured his impressive size-speed ratio would compensate for his lack of experience in a pro-style offense. They figured wrong. Some in the organization were surprised by his inability to get off the line of scrimmage.

It's not just a Hill thing, it's a Jets thing. They've been trying for decades to find the next great receiver, but their strikeout rate is Dave Kingman-esque. Since Toon in 1985, they've drafted 28 receivers. Do you know how many have reached multiple Pro Bowls?

One.

Keyshawn.

Starting Thursday, the Jets will step into the batter's box again. Maybe, just maybe, they'll finally connect.

Twitter mailbag: Rex's draft power

May, 3, 2014
May 3
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Our last Twitter mailbag before the draft. Here we go.

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Twitter mailbag: Trade up for cornerback?

April, 12, 2014
Apr 12
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Your questions, my answers:

Sunday notes: The Jets' new reality-TV star

March, 16, 2014
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A few thoughts and observations on the New York Jets:

1. Reality bites: The irony of the Eric Decker signing is that general manager John Idzik, who has spent a year trying to eliminate the Jets' "Hard Knocks" image, took on a player with his own reality TV show. Decker and his wife, country singer Jessie James, are preparing for their second season on E!'s "Eric and Jessie: Game on." The season premiere is March 30. His former team, the Denver Broncos, said last year it had no problem with Decker doing the show. "To each his own," team exec John Elway said.

[+] EnlargeEric Decker
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliIt doesn't appear that new Jets receiver Eric Decker's reality show was a huge deterrent in the team's decision to sign him.
Privately, the organization wasn't thrilled, especially when Decker's impending free agency was mentioned in one of the early shows. It wasn't a distraction to the team because there were no cameras at the facility. Obviously, it didn't affect Decker, as he finished with 87 receptions for 1,288 yards. It was one if E!'s top-rated new shows, so they booked another season -- obviously, long before he signed his five-year, $36.25 million contract with the Jets. The network didn't waste any time jumping on the New York angle, releasing new promos: "New Team, New City (and coming soon), New Baby."

Some people wonder if Decker picked the Jets over the Indianapolis Colts because he wanted to raise the show's profile by playing in the No. 1 media market. He downplayed that notion, saying he picked the Jets with football in mind. As for his wife's input, Decker said, "She obviously wants what’s best for me in my profession. She spent a lot of time in New York with her career when she was younger, and she's excited again to have an opportunity to work now again and to be able to have some resources and things. I think that overall it is a great decision and place for us as a family and career wise."

Idzik isn't a show-biz kind of guy, and I find it hard to believe he likes the idea of a player having his own show. It creates the perception that he's bigger than the team. But in the end, the No. 1 reality was this: Idzik was willing to put aside any concerns to land their top-rated free-agent receiver. The GM hasn't been made available to comment on any of his signings.

2. Decker vs. Holmes: Not to pick on Santonio Holmes or anything, but ...

Decker produced five 100-yard receiving games last season, one more than Holmes managed in four years with the Jets. Decker is counting $4 million on this year's cap, $6.5 million less than Holmes would've counted. Just saying.

3. Strength in numbers: The Jets have six experienced wide receivers under contract, and they could add another two through free agency and the draft. Overkill? Not really. Teams always look beyond the current year when making personnel moves, and when the Jets look at 2015, they see only two of those six receivers under contract -- Decker and Stephen Hill. That's why stockpiling makes sense.

4. Go west, men: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg , accompanied by two members of the scouting department, attended two important pro days on the West Coast -- USC and Oregon State. The main attractions were wide receivers Marqise Lee and Brandin Cooks, respectively. In each case, the Jets' contingent spent private time with the players. It's not unusual for Mornhinweg to scout on the road. In fact, he attended Geno Smith's pro day last year, taking him out to dinner the night before. With the 18th pick, the Jets are thinking strongly about a receiver.

5. Revis Inc.: Darrelle Revis' contract with the New England Patriots sheds light into his thinking as a player/businessman. Technically, it's a two-year, $32 million deal, but the second year is bogus because of a $25 million cap charge. They added a second year for cap purposes and because Revis is hellbent on a $16 million-per-year average. Has been since 2010, when he staged his second holdout with the Jets. At the time, he proposed a 10-year, $160 million deal. He refused over the years to bend on the APY, finally finding a team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) willing to pay it. Why $16 million? I think it goes back to Nnamdi Asomugha's $16 million-a-year deal from the Oakland Raiders in 2009. As soon as Revis surpassed Asomugha as the top cornerback, in the eyes of many, he considered $16 million his birthright.

For an interesting take on the Revis contract from the Patriots' perspective, check out ESPN.com colleague Mike Reiss.

6. California dreaming: The quarterback-needy Raiders are targeting two players likely to be released -- Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez (in that order), according to a report by ESPN.com colleague Paul Gutierrez. Sanchez makes a lot of sense. Joey Clinkscales, the team's director of player personnel, is a former Jets executive and was heavily involved when they drafted Sanchez in 2009.

The Jets are running out of time to make a decision on Sanchez, who's due a $2 million roster bonus March 25. If they don't sign another quarterback (Michael Vick?) before then, what then? Do they turn to Sanchez, trying to get him to take a major pay cut? If Sanchez balks, he will be released -- unless the Jets pay the $2 million, buying more time. It's not Idzik's style to cut a player before his replacement is on the roster. It hurts leverage. If the Raiders want him badly enough, maybe they'd be willing to make a trade.

7. Tony the recruiter: Former Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano, now the Raiders' offensive-line coach, was instrumental in recruiting right tackle Austin Howard. Said Howard: "I really love his style of coaching. Once we got that call, it was honestly a no-brainer decision to get on the plane and make the trip out to Oakland.” Obviously, the five-year, $30 million contract had something to do with it, too. Sparano was a key Howard ally in the summer of 2012, when the Jets replaced Wayne Hunter.

8. A tale of two kickers: Nick Folk was the only kicker this year to receive a franchise-tag designation, which usually translates to a top-of-the-market contract. In Folk's case, his four-year deal is actually similar to what Dan Carpenter just landed from the Buffalo Bills -- at least in terms of first-year compensation. Folk gets $3.6 million in total compensation (the amount of the franchise tender), Carpenter scores $3.425 million. Carpenter was given a chance, albeit brief, to take Folk's job last preseason, but he lasted only a few days. Now he's making nearly as much as him.

9. DRC on ED: Came across this quote from Super Bowl week. Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was asked which of his team's receivers is the hardest to cover. His answer: Wes Welker. "Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are great receivers, but you can kind of break their moves down," he said. "Wes, he does too much." DRC could end up reunited with Decker.

10. Hurting at OLB: It didn't get any attention, but the Jets decided not to tender restricted free agent Garrett McIntyre, making him unrestricted. It would've cost them $1.4 million. It came as a surprise because McIntyre was a decent backup, good for about 20 defensive snaps per game. With Calvin Pace also an unrestricted free agent, the Jets are perilously thin at outside linebacker.

Heeere's Johnny: Idzik's time to shine

March, 7, 2014
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John Idzik showed last year what he can do on a shoestring budget. Now, to use a variation of a Lou Carnesecca line, the New York Jets' general manager gets a chance to shop in Macy's window.

The free-agency season is upon us, and the Jets have about $23 million in cap space, which will grow to more than $40 million if/when they dump Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie and Mark Sanchez. It's "go" time for Idzik, whose long-term plan -- presented to owner Woody Johnson when he was hired 14 months ago -- is predicated on stockpiling talent in 2014.

[+] EnlargeIdzik
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJets GM John Idzik will enter the free-agency period with money to burn; so, how will he spend it?
The story last March was the "Rex-odus," five starters bolting the Jets. Now Idzik has roster flexibility, and we get to see how he attacks the team's weaknesses. A man with money doesn't always translate to success, as we've seen plenty of teams over the years spend money foolishly, wrecking their future cap. No championships are won in March. If they were, the Jets would have more Lombardi Trophies than the New England Patriots.

People who know Idzik say he won't take a "shop-till-you-drop" mentality into free agency. They say he will spend, but won't forget his core principles. He won't give lucrative, long-term deals to players over 30 or those with injury concerns. He won't sell out to sign "the big star." He won't deviate from his "the-draft-is-our lifeline" philosophy. He won't pay top-dollar prices for middle-of-the-road players.

Pardon me, but I'm skeptical of the last one, because most teams overpay in free agency. Do you think starting-caliber receivers will be beating down the Jets' door to play with Geno Smith and the 31st-ranked passing offense? Of course not; the Jets will have to pay to attract the top talent.

Former longtime NFL GM Bill Polian, now an ESPN analyst, cautioned that free agency isn't a cure-all.

"The best players are signed,” he said on a media conference call. “These (free agents) are essentially ‘B’ players whose agents are looking for ‘A’ money. That, in itself, is not the best of buys. You recognize that as a general manager.”

Ideally, you want to use free agency to fill needs, allowing you to take a best-available-athlete approach in the draft. It's easy to preach that, but quite another to practice it. When the bidding starts and the money starts flying, it's easy to get sucked into the madness of free agency. Idzik is known for his deliberate approach; we're about the find out how deliberate. The "legal tampering period" begins at midnight; the signing period commences at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

A few thoughts on what to expect from the Jets:

1. Keeping their own: Unlike last year, the Jets are actually trying to retain some of their free agents-to-be, namely RT Austin Howard and TE Jeff Cumberland. They're deep into negotiations with both players. It wouldn't be a surprise if both re-up by Tuesday. They're interested in keeping LB Calvin Pace, 33, but they won't shower him with money because of his age. They told RG Willie Colon, almost 31, he's free to test the market. Once again, it's the age factor. Former second-round pick Vladimir Ducasse also is unlikely to return. In his case, it's not age, it's a talent thing.

2. Resolve the QB situation: If I were Idzik, I'd address this ASAP. How can you convince free-agent receivers to sign if you're selling the still-unproven Smith and a bunch of question marks at quarterback? They should make an immediate run at Michael Vick, with Josh McCown the No. 2 option. Vick isn't what he used to be, but he has more credibility than Smith at this point. If Idzik strikes out in free agency and the trade market, he might have to turn to Sanchez, whose cap charge ($13.1 million) and surgically repaired shoulder make him a less-than-ideal option.

3. Go wide: There are two ways to approach the wide-receiver search. Idzik can go long and invest significant money in Golden Tate, a solid No. 2 receiver, or he can go short and take a chance on Hakeem Nicks, who might be ammenable to a one-year deal. Nicks has No. 1 talent, but he hasn't played like a lead receiver since 2011. Obviously, there are other options as well, including Emmanuel Sanders. Stay away from Eric Decker; he'll cost too much and he's not a true No. 1. If the Jets can sign a No. 2, pairing him with Jeremy Kerley, Stephen Hill and David Nelson, they'd be in position to look for a No. 1 in a receiver-rich draft.

4. The big splurge: Even though the Jets have a ton of cap space, I can't see Idzik spending franchise-type money for one player -- unless he makes an exception for S Jairus Byrd. Even that would be a long shot. With the possibility of 12 draft choices (counting possible compensatory picks), Idzik can afford to be relatively patient, building for sustainable success and avoiding the quick fix. The goal should be to build around Smith, letting him grow with those around him. That was part of the problem for the previous regime. They put Sanchez in charge of a win-now team and, by the time Sanchez was ready to take the next step, the talent around him had eroded. They couldn't get it going at the same time. This is Idzik's chance to make that happen.

Stephen Hill (knee) out for New York Jets

December, 8, 2013
12/08/13
11:57
AM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jets wide receiver Stephen Hill (knee) is inactive for Sunday's game against Oakland. Hill practiced fully on Friday and was originally listed as probable for the game, but was downgraded to questionable later that day. Sunday will be the first game he's missed.

Hill has struggled in his sophomore campaign as he's caught just one pass for 2 yards in his last four games. He has 24 catches for 342 yards and one touchdown on the season.

The Jets are healthy aside from Hill. Receiver Jeremy Kerley will return after missing the last three games with an elbow injury. The rest of the inactive players are: quarterback David Garrard; linebacker Jermaine Cunningham; guard Will Campbell; tackle Ben Ijalana; tackle Oday Aboushi; and tight end Chris Pantale. There are no surprises on that list.

The Raiders, however, are not so injury free. They will be without running backs Darren McFadden, Rashad Jennings and Jeremy Stewart, as well as top receiver Denarius Moore. Safety Tyvon Branch is also inactive. Marcel Reece will start at running back.

Considering the injuries the Raiders are dealing with, the Jets certainly have the breaks going their way before kickoff.

Game recap: What we learned

August, 25, 2013
8/25/13
11:03
AM ET


Ten takeaways from the Jets' costly win over the Giants:

1. Geno Smith isn't ready: He made a lot of rookie mistakes in his first extended action, but guess what? He's a rookie. Smith saw a lot of things for the first time -- a six-man rush on his second interception and a defensive lineman in coverage on the third pick. The safety was inexcusable, just a mental lapse by a young player lost in the moment. Two things I noticed: He stared down receivers and held the ball too long. On the positive side, he completed his last six passes (five against the Giants' backups), showing the ability to drive the ball on intermediate routes.

2. Rex Ryan didn't trust his instincts: Yes, Ryan announced Thursday that Mark Sanchez would play in the game, but he should've altered the plan on the fly once he saw how the game unfolded. Because of Smith's struggles, it was clear that Sanchez would be the opening-day starter. Ryan shouldn't have played him unless it was behind the first-team line, not behind the likes of Caleb Schlauderaff and J.B. Shugarts. You have to wonder if Ryan was following orders from GM John Idzik.

3. Stephen Hill needs to grow up: He has a lot of talent inside that big body, but he tends to lose his cool. He took a swing at LB Jacquian Williams, resulting in a personal foul, and he lost a fumble a couple of plays later, failing to secure the ball. That he was in the game was another mistake by Ryan, who should've taught him a lesson by benching him after the dumb penalty.

4. They need Santonio Holmes more than ever: Aside from Hill's shenanigans, the Jets dropped three passes, shades of the daily drop-fests in minicamp. The best receiver was rookie free agent Ryan Spadola, who caught three passes for 110 yards. On the positive side, newly signed Mohamed Massaquoi got into the game and made two nice catches. If I'm Braylon Edwards, I'm worried about my roster spot. By the way, Holmes looked fine in pre-game warmups. You have to think he'll be ready for Week 1.

5. Perimeter run defense is still a concern: This was an issue last season, and it didn't look any better in this game -- see David Wilson's 84-yard TD run. Interestingly, the defense came out in a 4-3 look, with three linebackers stacked behind the line. It resembled the old Tampa-2 defense. The Jets seemed a bit confused by the Giants' twin-fullback look. LB Demario Davis got caught in traffic, S Antonio Allen blew his gap assignment, and CB Antonio Cromartie and LB Garrett McIntyre couldn't get off their blocks. In a heartbeat, Wilson was gone, too fast for anyone on the Jets' D.

6. The defense got mad: To its credit, the defense responded nicely after the Wilson TD. Despite bad field position, courtesy of Smith's three interceptions, the Jets held the Giants to three points on the next eight possessions, including a goal-line stand. They dominated the Giants' patchwork line, with DT Sheldon Richardson (one sack, two QB hits) and NT Damon Harrison (seven solo tackles) generating inside pressure. Richardson lined up in several different spots before leaving with an undisclosed injury. They have to be encouraged by their young linemen.

7. They miss Darrelle Revis: Kyle Wilson is entering his fourth year, yet he still makes the same mistakes he did as a rookie. He still lacks awareness when the ball is in the air. In this game, the result was three pass-interference penalties. This is why he was moved back to his nickel-back role as soon as rookie Dee Milliner reported to camp. Milliner didn't play because of an injury, but he hasn't lit it up. The Jets will be vulnerable against opponents with good No. 2 receivers.

8. Brian Winters really exists: The third-round guard, hampered by an ankle injury throughout camp, made his preseason debut. Winters replaced LG Vladimir Ducasse (leg injury) early in the game and ended up making a nice pulling block on Bilal Powell's two-yard TD run in the third quarter. Winters is the future at left guard. For now, it'll be Ducasse or Stephen Peterson, who played center with the second unit and allowed a sack.

9. Nick Folk keeps it interesting: Now we know why they keep importing competition for Folk. In overtime, he was wide right on a 39-yard FG attempt. A few minutes later, challenger Billy Cundiff won it with a 32-yarder. It looks like the kicking battle will last a little longer.

10. Mayday Malone responds: With his job in jeopardy, incumbent P Robert Malone had a fantastic game, putting all three punts inside the 20. Challenger Ryan Quigley, who had been having a solid camp, suffered a poor game. This could be over.

Practice report: Geno struggles

August, 19, 2013
8/19/13
6:45
PM ET
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The Jets may have moved training camp to a new venue for Monday’s practice, but the quarterbacks were beset by the same issues. Mark Sanchez again outplayed Geno Smith, who didn’t seem hampered by the ankle that kept him out of Saturday night’s game against the Jaguars.

Sanchez, playing for the second-team offense, was 7-for-10 passing, with a sack, a drop and a fumbled snap. The bonus about that for Sanchez, at least on Monday, was that he wasn’t throwing the ball to WR Stephen Hill.

Hill had two drops playing with Smith, both on deep, well-thrown balls. But even those drops didn’t account for the 1-for-6 performance, which included a sack and an interception by DeMario Davis. Smith started well enough, but his play went downhill as practice wore on.

Even though Smith’s ankle seemed better, the rookie didn’t advance his case for the starting job in the Jets' quarterback competition, and time is running out. The team had hoped to have a settled starter for the Giants game this Saturday, but has extended the competition.

That extension doesn’t mean much if Smith continues to play like he has when given opportunities with the first-team offense.

COPING WITHOUT COPLES: Quinton Coples will have a medical procedure Tuesday on his injured ankle and will be out indefinitely. He was not at practice, and although Antwan Barnes is technically listed as his backup, Garrett McIntyre was used at outside linebacker in his place.

Also on the defensive line, Kenrick Ellis missed practice, presumably with the back issue he’s been dealing with. Damon Harrison filled in for Ellis.

FIRST ON SECONDARY: Safety Antonio Allen was back with the first-team defense after Jaiquawn Jarrett was tapped to start last Saturday against the Jaguars.

ATTENDANCE REPORT: Ellis and Coples were out, C Dalton Freeman, WR Braylon Edwards and TE Kellen Winslow Jr. rode the stationary bike. Joe McKnight wore a red jersey.

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