The 2023 New York Jets were supposed to be a contender in the AFC. They were supposed to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs as the team to represent the conference in Las Vegas for Super Bowl LVIII.
Slowly but surely, those dreams started falling apart and Sunday, they may have broken down completely. The Jets are 4-6 and just benched their quarterback and have a plethora of problems on the offensive side of the football.
And it all stems from their offseason plan of focusing on one player and building the team around that one player.
The Jets, namely head coach Robert Saleh and general manager Joe Douglas along with owner Woody Johnson, spent most of the offseason groveling at the feet of then-Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was ready to leave Green Bay and had strongly contemplated retirement. He even told Pat McAfee he was “90 percent retired” before he went into his darkness retreat.
Yet the Jets were able to convince him to postpone his retirement and be willing to be traded to the Jets. That included hiring former Broncos head coach and Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and their new offensive coordinator, replacing Mike LaFleur, now the Rams offensive coordinator and the brother of Packers head coach Matt LaFleur.
After weeks of trade talks, the Jets finally agreed to swap picks in the first round and send a conditional second-round pick that could become a first to Green Bay for the four-time MVP.
New York then spent the offseason building the offense around Rodgers. Their big free-agent catch was signing wide receiver Allen Lazard, a former Packer, to a deal that averages $11 million per year. They also signed wide receiver Randall Cobb, yet another former teammate of Rodgers.
Rodgers scoffed when the topic was raised that he had a “wish list” of players he wanted the Jets to sign. But with who the Jets signed in free agency, namely a slew of former Packers, one can only wonder if there really was such a list.
Lazard, Cobb, Billy Turner, Adrian Amos (following the injury to Chuck Clark), Malik Taylor, Tim Boyle all joined the Jets this season. All, at one point or another, spent time with Rodgers in Green Bay. Matt LaFleur even called the team “Green Bay East”.
So the Jets and Hackett tailor made their offense around Rodgers. Rodgers even took part in OTAs, something that became a rarity in Green Bay. All was looking right in the world for the Jets. Even the short stint in the field in their preseason finale against the New York Giants gave the Jets hope.
Then Week 1 happened.
It took all of four plays for the Jets to watch their offseason master plan fall apart as Rodgers suffered a torn Achilles. The world stopped for a second. How could this happen? Did the Jets season end just five minutes in?
The best part now for the Jets? They had to turn to the quarterback they completely alienated during the offseason. Sure, they could say all the right things they want about Zach Wilson, but after they benched him before Week 12 of last season and then flirted with and bought Rodgers all the drinks he wants during the offseason, they had to go back to Wilson.
Let’s also remember that the Jets were starting an offensive line group that had only practiced together for about two weeks before this game as Duane Brown didn’t practice until the final preseason week due to a shoulder injury. Turner was operating as the left tackle, you know, one of Rodgers’ buddies. He was, how do you say, not good.
Even Mekhi Becton had to work his way back into the starting lineup because they were running Max Mitchell at right tackle and he wasn’t all that good either. The Jets had a big mess in their hands.
So Wilson comes in and somehow beats the Buffalo Bills on opening night, though that was thanks to the defense — safety Jordan Whitehead picked off Bills quarterback Josh Allen three times — and special teams — undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown in overtime.
Wilson has had his moments such as nearly beating the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. But overall, it was the defense that got the Jets back to a winning record at 4-3 while the offense was scrambling for answers.
Hackett has struggled building the offense around Wilson because he was so focused on Rodgers that the Jets didn’t seem to care to build a plan for Wilson in case of an emergency.
The offensive line has already started seven different combinations this season as injuries have once again derailed their continuity. And with Becton leaving with an injury Sunday, that number may become eight on Friday. Even if/when Brown does come back to start — the Jets have until Thanksgiving to activate him from injured reserve — the Jets are still piecing together an offensive line.
Alijah Vera-Tucker went down with an Achilles injury in Week 5 at Denver, his second straight season suffering a season-ending injury in the Mile High City. Connor McGovern (knee) and Wes Schweitzer (calf) both suffered injuries in Week 8 against the Giants. Both are eligible to come back in Week 13 against the Atlanta Falcons.
So the Jets have had to piece together an offensive line over the past few weeks. Xavier Newman and Chris Glaser have started at right guard over the last few weeks while Turner and Mitchell have filled in at right tackle. Newman even had to play center cold in that Giants game and Turner played right guard.
The injuries have caused plenty of inconsistency and major struggles against defensive fronts in recent weeks.
Wilson was sacked eight times against the Chargers — Joey Bosa had 2.5 sacks — twice against the Raiders and five times against the Bills — Leonard Floyd had 2.5 sacks.
Injuries and a lack of backup plans up front have once again caused a derailment, similar to last season. It somehow feels worse this year as Wilson is constantly running for his life.
It’s not just the offensive line, however. The receivers have not helped either. In particular, the aforementioned Lazard.
New York’s $44 million wide receiver currently has 20 catches for 290 yards and a touchdown. He is currently fourth on the team in receiving.
For comparison, former Jet Elijah Moore, whom the Jets traded in March, has 40 catches for 374 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers would put him second in catches and third in yards for the Jets.
Moore is making $1.47 million this season. The Jets paid Lazard $12 million this year. The Jets are laying Lazard to struggle on the field and struggle holding on to the football.
Unfortunately for the Jets, Garrett Wilson is also having similar issues. Even Sunday against the Bills, Wilson lost a fumble.
After those two, the Jets haven’t had much depth behind. Gipson worked his way into the No. 3 role in part because the Jets took way too long to realize Cobb should not have been the slot receiver. Corey Davis also walked away during the summer due to personal reasons.
The Jets went on to keep two undrafted rookies at wide receiver — Gipson and Jason Brownlee. Gipson has been the main returner all season but was replaced as the kick returner during Sunday’s game by fifth-round pick Israel Abanikanda. Brownlee was active Sunday for only the second time as the Jets tried to start a youth movement on offense.
The receivers as a whole have not helped Wilson all that much. It’s hard to throw to receivers when they’re not open.
So let’s circle back to Sunday against the Bills. The offense hits rock bottom, Zach Wilson gets benched and the Jets lose 32-6. Even when Tim Boyle was in, the offense still struggled because the offensive line was giving Boyle no time to throw the ball, similar to Wilson.
Even with all the quarterback and offensive problems throughout the season, the Jets still had a chance to make amends by trading for a quarterback before the deadline. Instead, they sat on their hands while Minnesota traded a mere sixth-round pick for Josh Dobbs. Dobbs has four touchdown passes in three games with the Vikings. Wilson has six all season (10 games). Even a move for Kirk Cousins (before his injury) or Ryan Tannehill would have sufficed. Not a single move was made, compounding the problem.
They sit at 4-6 and have the Dolphins on Friday. Their playoff hopes are fading fast. They sit 14th in the standings. They’re more likely now to get a top-10 pick than a playoff spot. And it’s all because the Jets had one plan and one plan only and it blew up in their face in a major way.
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Title: Jets’ lack of contingency plan behind Aaron Rodgers derails 2023 hopes
Author: Billy Riccette