New York Jets

The challenges Le’Veon Bell will face with the New York Jets

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J.—Four Jets thoughts:

1. This ain’t the Pittsburgh offensive line. Interesting watching the Jets practice on Thursday. It was an “all-eyes-on” practice. As in, “All eyes on Le’Veon Bell.” He hadn’t been on a football field for a real practice or game in 18 months, since he finished his Steelers career and entered a rancorous holdout season. In 2017, he averaged 27 touches a game, 406 in all, behind one of the two or three best lines in football, with one of two or three best line coaches (Mike Munchak) in football. Here, he’ll line up behind a suspect line—PFF ranked the five Jets starters, left to right, 81st, 51st, 39th, 68thand 104that their positions in 2018—and his trademark style will be tested. His line coach is Frank Pollack, who doesn’t have the resume of Munchak (though few do). Bell is the most patient runner in football. It’s his trademark. When he took one handoff from Sam Darnold in practice here, he looked precisely the same as in his Pittsburgh days, pausing and waiting till his crease developed, then rushing through the right guard/tackle hole. But no one was tackling him on this play-installation day. If the biggest question on the Jets is whether Bell’s rust will show in 2019 (“if I’m rusty, I don’t feel it,” he said), next is whether he’ll be able to shine with a line not on the same level as Pittsburgh’s.

2. Gase’s interesting plan. Bell says he’s willing to touch the ball 500 times if that’s what he’s called to do. (That’s not happening, of course.) I asked the first-year Jets coach, Adam Gase, his plans for Bell. “I keep telling him, ‘We’ll keep stretching this thing, trying to find as many things that possibly you haven’t done before.’ Pass game, run game, all those types of things. He’s so open to anything, which is great.” Gase isn’t giving away anything, but I wonder if that might be a regular turn at receiver, particularly with the Jets’ intermediate game taking a hit with the four-game suspension of tight end Chris Herndon to start the season. That’ll be interesting watch. For now, Gase will study Bell’s style the way Bell studies the defenders he’s trying to evade. “When he stands behind the quarterback, he’s talking—about whether to cut, where to cut, or how the ‘backers flow or how the D line’s working and how the pressure is coming. That’s happening in real time. The way he thinks, you understand if he’s talking like that, I can’t imagine what’s going on in his head when he’s actually running the ball. I mean, at that point of the play, the game is slow for him.” I have to say I’ve never heard that about a back.

3. Now this is interesting. The weirdest coaching triangle in the NFL is here. Gase, the head coach and son-in-law of Joe Vitt, hired Vitt to be a senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers. Gase also hired Gregg Williams to be his defensive coordinator, and to be Vitt’s boss. At one point, Vitt and Williams were on the same Saints staff that got whacked by the league office for the Bountygate scandal in 2012; Vitt was suspended six game and Williams whacked for the season. Vitt and others blamed Williams for ratting out the team to league investigators. “Joe actually recommended Gregg to me in Miami when [Vance Joseph] left our staff for Denver,” said Gase, “but I’d already gone in a different direction. He said to me, ‘This guy’s the best for you.’ That’s interesting. Kind of put a thought in my head.” I expressed surprise, and Gase said what’s past is past, they’re close now, and they even have offices next to each other at the Jets facility. Interesting to see how this will work, obviously.

4. Man, Sam Darnold is impressive for 22—or any age, for that matter. “He’s so fun to work with that I want to hurry to the facility every day to get going with him,” Gase said. When we spoke, Darnold said to me, “I like your podcast. I’ve listened to all the quarterback ones, trying to learn something.” He also told me he’s grateful for his year with Josh McCown, the retired longtime NFL backup who mentored Darnold the rookie in 2018, because it taught him not just how to learn the pro game, but how to study it. One of the good things for Gase is he’s finally got a guy, after three shaky-QB years in Miami, to grow with. Good for the franchise too.

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Why the New York Jets deserve the controversy, dysfunction surrounding them

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1. I think the Jets architecture job is not the one to take if you want to run a franchise, Peyton Manning. To be charitable, the Jets are not close to contention.

2. I think I won’t be the first to use this rationale for my opinion about what happened when Mike Maccagnan got dismissed the other day as Jets GM, but it’s the first thing that occurred to me: The Jets truly deserve this controversy. A few points:

• I have no sympathy for Maccagnan, who lorded over a 14-35 team since New Year’s Day 2016. Only Cleveland and San Francisco have won fewer games since then. But by my math, Maccagnan just spent $235 million in free agency this offseason, a gargantuan sum. He just had the keys to the draft and, apparently with minimal input from the head coach, made Quinnen Williams the third overall pick in the draft. He was fired 19 days after the draft. What owner in his right mind allows a GM he figures he may well fire run a crucial off-season? Christopher Johnson, that’s who.

• Adam Gase is going to have a major say on who becomes the next GM of the Jets. Gase was 23-26 in his three-year stint coaching the Dolphins, and, though the quarterback position was plagued by injuries while he was there, he’s supposed to be a quarterback guru, and the Dolphins, again, are starting from scratch at the position after firing Gase four-and-a-half months ago. I like Gase well enough. But what exactly has he done, first, to earn a head-coaching job after his three years in Miami … and, second, to play a significant role in picking the architect of the new Jets?

• I assume the reports of Gase not wanting Le’Veon Bell for $13.5 million a year are true. (I don’t blame him.) But the leaks in that building are never-ending, and in this case, the leaks could drive a wedge between a guy who doesn’t seem very happy to be a Jet in the first place, Bell, and the guy who’s going to be calling his number this fall. Gase better figure a way to tamp that down. I don’t know if he can.

• How do you have faith in the Jets to get this GM thing right now? And what smart GM-candidate type (Joe Douglas or Louis Riddick or Daniel Jeremiah) would want to take his one shot—because most GMs get one shot at running a team—working for Christopher Johnson?

• If I were Mike Greenberg, I’d be burying my head in my hands this morning, wondering why oh why did I get stuck loving this franchise? How can season-ticket-holders send in their money this year thinking they’re going to see the turnaround season of a team that’s won 5, 5, and 4 games the past three years?

• Sam Darnold doesn’t coach.

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Who gets Antonio Brown? Peter King thinks it’s one of these 5 teams

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I’ll take a crack at Antonio Brown’s landing spot here, keeping a few things in mind: He’s significantly hurt his market value (no kidding) since going AWOL from the Steelers the last week of the regular season and since going all scorched-earth on the Steelers in the last six weeks. The fact that GM Kevin Colbert would say he’s had three teams reach out about trading for the first player in history to catch 100 balls six years in a row tells you the market on Brown will be limited. (Three? If Brown didn’t have his baggage, it’d be 13.) But here’s my top choices for his smartest landing spot:

• Carolina. New owner David Tepper, a Pittsburgh guy, went to Pitt and then Carnegie Mellon, and donated $55 million to CMU, which now has a Tepper School of Business in his honor. He bought a 5 percent stake in the Steelers in 2009, preceding his purchase of the Panthers last year. So he’ll know the holes in Brown’s persona, but he’ll also know the difference Brown could make in a passing game that needs a downfield threat. Brown has averaged 114 catches and 1,524 yards a year for the past six years with the deep-armed Ben Roethlisberger, and he’ll be motivated to keep the distractions to a minimum so he can earn a new deal. Tepper is motivated to inject new life into a 24-25 team since Carolina’s Super Bowl appearance three years ago. Though GM Marty Hurney is a conservative type by nature, I think he could be convinced to take a shot on this get-rich-quick scheme. It’d thrill Cam Newton too.

• Washington. A smart guy in the league told me the other day: “Look for the desperate teams with Brown.” What team is more desperate than Washington, which is hemorrhaging fans, has no idea who the 2019 quarterback will be, has no idea who the 2020 coach will be, hasn’t won a playoff game in 14 years, and has an embattled owner searching for anything that will get his team out of the muck and mire of mediocrity? This also fits the Pittsburgh plan of wanting to send Brown out of the AFC. The problem, obviously, would be finding a quarterback to get the ball to Brown. But Washington’s a team that loves to win the offseason and hasn’t done so in a while. I’d be surprised if Bruce Allen and Kevin Colbert don’t talk about Brown.

• Tampa Bay. Dot-connecting. DeSean Jackson wants a new start out of Tampa. The new coach of the Bucs, Bruce Arians, was the Steelers’ play-caller in 2011, when Brown had his breakout NFL season. Arians wants to throw the ball deep more than any head coach in football. Makes sense to me.

• New York Jets. Makes a ton of sense, because the Jets aren’t averse to spending big in free agency so why would they be averse to making a big deal? I’ve maintained that Robby Anderson and a fairly high pick would be a fair trade, because it would rid the Steelers of the Brown headache and, though the Jets and Steelers meet this fall in New Jersey, wouldn’t mean the Steelers would be dealing him to anything but an occasional on-field rival. This is the franchise where Santonio Holmes went to disappear nine years ago. Anderson and JuJu Smith-Schuster would be a formidable receiver duo for the next few years too.

• Oakland. The Raiders have five first-round picks in the next two drafts (their own two, Chicago’s in 2019 and 2020, and the Cowboys’ this year), and Jon Gruden is a trading machine. Though it’s an AFC team, they don’t play each other till at least 2020.

• The others. I don’t see San Francisco, unless Jerry Rice gets hired as GM … Arizona could send the first pick in the second round this year, straight up, which seems like a fair deal … Green Bay could make Brown the receiver very happy. Not impossible, but hard to see such a straight-laced organization with a young head coach trying to find his footing taking the plunge.

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