Lichtenstein: Looking Ahead To The 2020 Jets — The Offense 

Quarterback Is Set, But Not Much Else

Steve Lichtenstein
December 06, 2019 - 5:07 pm
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Media reports from Wednesday’s Jets practice noted that an inflatable Santa display meant to perk up the facility with holiday spirit was slumped over a trash can.

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The members all agreed that it was an appropriate metaphor for the overall conditions at One Jets Drive, where the air has left the building following last Sunday’s humiliating 22-6 loss to the previously 0-11 Bengals.

At 4-8, there’s no more chatter about making a playoff run, however silly that was. No more talk about “meaningful games in December,” as coach Adam Gase had hoped when he took over before this season.

Instead, the Jets will start limping through the final quarter of yet another depressing season by hosting Miami on Sunday. At this stage, I couldn’t care less about revenge from the Dolphins’ earlier 22-17 victory when they were also winless at the time.

Jets quarterback Sam Darnold hands off to running back Le'Veon Bell during a game against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 8, 2019, at MetLife Stadium.
Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Images

It’s all about next year. With 15 players on season-ending injured reserve (totaling approximately $61.5 million of inactive salary cap space) and a host of others expected to be too wounded to play, the Jets are in audition mode, if not pure tank mode.

Who should general manager Joe Douglas bring back next season? Let’s take a look, position-by-position, starting with the offense:

QUARTERBACKS

Sam Darnold had his ups and downs this season, but he’s the franchise. Case closed. Behind him, there’s a blank slate. Trevor Siemian tore ligaments in his ankle in his second quarter of action when Darnold was out three games with mononucleosis. A prospective free agent, Siemian wasn’t all that good anyway. Luke Falk followed Siemian and stunk, so he was cut. David Fales is the current backup. If he’s somehow forced into playing, turn the channel. Douglas will have backup QB on his lengthy to-do checklist this offseason.

RUNNING BACKS

The Jets, thanks to prior GM Mike Maccagnan’s misallocation of resources, have always been deepest at the least-valued positions on the field. Of course, Gang Green is loaded at running back. They’re also 28th in the NFL in points per game. Maccagnan spent large to sign Le’Veon Bell in free agency. As skilled as Bell is and as hard as he’s played, it hasn’t made a lick of a difference. 

A trade this offseason could be beneficial to everyone, even if the Jets have to eat some of Bell’s remaining $13 million guarantee. Whether Douglas can finagle a high enough pick (at least a second-rounder) is an open question. Too bad the Giants already have a feature back. 

Playing behind Bell, Bilal Powell and Ty Montgomery, both of whom were signed to affordable one-year deals for this season, have been criminally underutilized by coach Adam Gase. No need to keep both — Montgomery seems like the more superfluous player, especially since I expect IR’d special teams ace Trenton Cannon to return. 

Josh Adams has had even fewer opportunities and hasn’t shown much (1.5 yards per carry) when he got them. He’s cheap and under contract (nonguaranteed) for next season, so giving him a preseason showcase won’t hurt.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Robbie Anderson spoke to the media Thursday about his pending free agency. If he truly envisions a payday equivalent to No. 1 receivers around the league, adios! His speed is tantalizing, but his tenure here was pockmarked with as many half-hearted efforts and immature offenses as big plays. 

The bigger problem? The remaining healthy receivers under contract for next season — Jamison Crowder, Braxton Berrios and Vyncint Smith — plus IR’d Quincy Enunwa and Josh Bellamy are underwhelming. 

Crowder is the only legitimate starter. Enunwa, who signed a four-year, $36 million extension last December, has had two serious neck injuries. He told the New York Post that the odds of his return to action are 50/50. He could start the 2020 season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. 

Bellamy was a $2.75 million waste — he was even graded as a below-average special teams performer, per ProFootballFocus.com. He can be cut without any cap consequences. 

Berrios and Smith can compete for return gigs next preseason. Smith may have more upside if he can develop as a receiver. As for Gase favorite Demaryius Thomas, he can come to training camp if it’s on a new team-friendly deal. Thomas’ days as a big-time receiver are over. It would be nice if the Jets could draft one.

TIGHT ENDS

Chris Herndon was expected to be Darnold’s security blanket this season. Between his PED suspension and injuries, he played one game. He’ll get a mulligan. Ryan Griffin took advantage of Herndon’s absence to snare a team-high five touchdown passes and a new three-year, $10.8 million contract extension. Trevon Wesco, the rookie fourth-rounder, will be back to continue his development as the third tight end. Free agent-to-be Daniel Brown should be the odd man out.

OFFENSIVE LINE

If there was a way for Douglas to seamlessly bring in five new starters this offseason, he should. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem possible. 

Despite a putrid game last Sunday in Cincinnati and earlier versus Cleveland, Kelvin Beachum should be extended soon. Quality left tackles are hard to find in the free-agent market, and a rookie might not be able to step in right away. Other pending free agents (center Ryan Kalil, tackles Brandon Shell and Brent Qvale, and guards Alex Lewis and Tom Compton) are less essential. 

Of those under contract for 2020, the Jets would be crazy to bring back oft-injured guard Brian Winters when they can shave $7.2 million off the cap. That would leave center Jonotthan Harrison and tackle Chuma Edoga as the only other holdovers for next season. So, given all that, Douglas has to be on the lookout for at least three starters and about three backup guys this offseason. Piece of cake.     

KICKER

Sam Ficken doesn’t deserve to survive this season, let alone next.  

Coming soon: The Defense

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.