Five Questions Heading Into New York Jets OTAs

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Via Last Word On Pro Football, by Shaye Mann

The New York Jets begin their offseason training activities (OTAs) on May 23, 2017. And after a confusing, uneven draft, the Jets are faced with a glut of questions as they begin their off-season program. Let’s take a look at the most pressing ones.

Five Questions Heading Into New York Jets OTAs

Who Will Be the Quarterback?

It feels like forever since the Jets had a quality starting quarterback. Last year was a disaster at the position, and gone are Ryan Fitzpatrick and Geno Smith. Third stringer, Bryce Petty, saw a fair amount of action last year but failed to impress. The team wouldn’t even let Christian Hackenberg – a second round pick – go near the field! So, who will get the first team reps?

With Petty and Hackenberg the only quarterbacks left on the roster, the Jets waited patiently and ultimately added Josh McCown to the mix. They gave him a one year, $6 million contract, clearly backup money. But is that how the Jets will use him? Early indications (from a franchise long known to be confounding) are that they have every intention of giving him the chance to start. Hopefully that’s just the “company line,” since having him start would be a huge mistake.

The Jets are in a full rebuild, and next year’s draft contains quarterback riches. Their roster is replete with holes and question marks, so much so that the playoffs shouldn’t be the goal. It should be player development and experience. If the Jets are convinced Bryce Petty isn’t the answer, then it’s time to hand the ball to Christian Hackenberg. Josh McCown is 37 years old, a career journeyman that’s had a few ups, but mostly downs. He’s the very definition of a backup quarterback: capable of winning a few games in a pinch, but not good enough to permanently run the show.

Rather, McCown is an excellent teammate and teacher, and the Jets should exploit those traits to groom Hackenberg. And if Hackenberg isn’t ready to see the field by year two, then the team needs to move on. The organization is focused on the future, and it needs to know what it has in Hackenberg, good or bad. Don’t waste precious snaps on a journeyman quarterback whose best days are long behind him.

What Will the Secondary Look Like?

Opposing teams last year posted 30 touchdowns through the air, and that’s downright unacceptable. Yet, the Jets were relatively silent in free agency, their only “splash” coming in the form of a one-year contract they gave to the oft-injured Morris Claiborne, formerly of the Dallas Cowboys. Most agreed that cornerback was the team’s biggest need this off-season, and that’s why their draft was confusing. They really didn’t address it.

Obviously, the Jets were thrilled when Jamal Adams, the safety from LSU, fell to them in the first round. Reminiscent of Leonard Williams slipping to number six two years ago, the Jets easily grabbed Adams, perhaps the best player in the draft. But their second round choice was a big head scratcher. Sure, Marcus Maye has talent, but he’s another safety. Don’t get me wrong – safeties are important, but the Jets need corners; one safety (at least in the early rounds) would’ve been sufficient.

The draft was filled with cornerback talent, and the Jets could’ve expertly addressed their need in the second round. But they passed. And passed. And passed, ultimately waiting until the sixth round before plucking two cornerbacks back-to-back, both of whom are developmental prospects. Don’t expect them to contribute right away. And so, the Jets are left with Claiborne, Marcus Williams, Juston Burris, and Buster Skrine to cover opposing receivers. That’s awfully thin. Hopefully, they’re closely dialed in to the waiver wire. What was Mike Maccagnan thinking?

The Wide Receiver Depth Chart: What Will it Look Like?

The Marcus Maye selection wasn’t the only curious one. In rounds three and four, the Jets went with back-to-back receivers in ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen. And both are talented players that should contribute fairly soon, but did they really need two receivers? More than other needs such as cornerback, linebacker, offensive line and so on?

While they did let Brandon Marshall go, the Jets still had Eric Decker, Quincy Enunwa, Robby Anderson, Charone Peake, and Jalin Marshall. Keep in mind that at the time of the draft, Devin Smith was also in the picture as he had yet to suffer his second torn ACL. Yes, Marshall has been suspended the first four games this coming year (drug violation), and Robby Anderson was recently arrested. But still, there’s more than enough talent in the group, such that the Jets should’ve addressed more important needs first.

The feeling here is that Decker was likely a cap casualty until the Jets lost Smith, and Anderson was arrested. Instead, he stays and starts alongside Enunwa, with Stewart fighting Anderson for the third spot. Peake and Hansen round out the five primary receivers on which the Jets will rely.

What Will Become of Sheldon Richardson and Calvin Pryor?

What would a Jets offseason be without a couple of difficult player situations to resolve? This year, it’s with two recent first round draft picks. Sheldon Richardson is a talented defensive lineman the Jets selected in the 2013 draft. The Missouri product subsequently won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, and was named to the Pro Bowl in his second season. On the field, it looked like the Jets had struck gold. Off-the-field issues, however, have virtually derailed Richardson’s career.

It started in July of 2015 when the lineman was suspended the first four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, relating to marijuana use. And then, just a couple of weeks later, Richardson was arrested in Missouri for drag racing at a speed in excess of 140 mph, while having, among others, a 12-year-old in the car (who some claim was not seat-belted). Richardson and his occupants reportedly smelled of marijuana and a loaded handgun was found under the driver’s seat – it wasn’t good. He was later suspended one game at the beginning of the 2016 season for his arrest.

Since then, Richardson’s level of play has tailed off. Publicly, he’s pledged to “right the wrongs,” but we haven’t seen it either on or off the field. Word leaked last season that Richardson had been involved in some locker room altercations and/or disruptions. He was also reportedly late to meetings, if he made them at all. It all suggests he’s become a “head case” of sorts.

Nevertheless, the Jets picked up Richardson’s fifth-year option for this upcoming season, after which he’ll become a free agent. They hoped his talent level would entice another team so the Jets could unload him, recoup a pick or two, and save $8 million in the process. But of course, there were no takers. Most teams aren’t willing to surrender valuable assets for a declining player with off-the-field issues.

The feeling here is that it’s good they didn’t trade him. There are just too many negatives associated with Richardson, such that it’s unlikely the Jets could do better than a fourth rounder for him (a fifth might even be more realistic). For that low a price, they’re better off keeping him and giving him every chance to finally turn things around. If he doesn’t, he walks. But if he does, the Jets will at least have options. Since Muhammad Wilkerson had a poor season (after signing his big contract last year,) the Jets are now concerned he’ll be a bust. But after this upcoming season, they can release Wilkerson with minimal cap implications. And so, if Richardson has a bounce back year and Wilkerson continues to decline, the Jets could actually release Big Mo’ and sign Richardson to a long-term deal. Truth is, many in the league believe Richardson is actually the more talented player of the two.

And if both have good years? Let’s just say it’s not a bad problem to have.

Calvin Pryor is another story. The 2014 first round pick was supposed to be that fearless, hard hitting safety to perfectly complement Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartiein Todd Bowles’ secondary. But it never materialized, as Pryor did not develop as planned. It’s not all on him. He wasn’t consistently utilized in a manner that would highlight his strengths. Still, his days with the Jets are clearly over – they didn’t draft just one safety this offseason, they used their first two picks on the position. Following the draft, the Jets cut the injured Marcus Gilchrist, and it was no secret they were shopping Pryor.

It’s practically unheard of for a team to use two consecutive high picks on safeties, and especially a team so lacking in talent. That the Jets did so was a clear indictment on the secondary. Following the draft, the Jets officially declined Pryor’s fifth year option, and so he will leave as a free agent after this season. The feeling here is that the Jets should continue to shop him and take the best available offer. Can they get a fifth or a sixth for him? If so, take it and cut your loss. Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye are the future, and they will most likely be playing immediately. If Pryor makes the roster, it’ll be as a backup. He likely won’t get the chance to play enough and showcase himself in a manner that would increase his trade value. Deal him now … if there’s a taker.

Are Mike Maccagnan and Tood Bowles on the Hot Seat Yet?

Okay, okay, maybe it’s a bit too early (this year) to ask this question but for Jet fans, the thought lingers. And for good reason. Maccagnan has largely failed to fill the roster with supreme young talent, while Bowles has failed to impress on any level.

Bowles’ demeanor virtually matches how he’s handled challenging situations: like a deer in headlights. The coach hasn’t made enough (any?) in-game adjustments, his clock management in tight games has been questionable, as has the way he’s handled outspoken veterans and troublemakers in the locker room. Yes, he was 10-6 his first year, but that season is perfect proof of the age-old mantra: it’s a quarterback-driven league. Two years ago, Ryan Fitzpatrick had a career year. That and an extremely weak schedule are the reasons the Jets went 10-6. Fitzpatrick came back down to earth last year (crashed is more like it) and while the schedule was certainly more difficult, the season was a disaster. One thing it highlighted, though, was Bowles’ gross inability to make a difference. Indeed, the coach’s tenure can best be characterized by a single word: nondescript.

To me, this is a no brainer. Unless Bowles does something truly special with this year’s team, the Jets need to move on. He just hasn’t shown enough for anyone to think that he’s capable of guiding a winner.

My feelings on Maccagnan are different. Building a winner in a city like New York is no easy task. Maccagnan was brought in to try and first win on the fly, but if it failed, build through the draft. He brought back veterans like Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie, made a strong trade for Brandon Marshall, brought in Matt Forte, and added to the offensive line, among others. The Jets nearly made the playoffs his first year, but the veteran explosion fizzled quickly and thrust the team into a full rebuild, one that will easily require several more years of adding talent. Unless Maccagnan’s past two drafts end up as colossal failures, he should get the chance to build this team further, albeit with a new coach.

Will it go down that way? Who knows, it’s the New York Jets … never a dull moment.