Suddenly, the Carl Lawson injury forces NY Jets fans to revert back to pessimistic days of old
And just like that, everything changes.
No more playoff dreams that would shock the NFL world. No more happy thoughts, highlighted by a fresh new face at the quarterback position. No more feel-good vibes that severely contrast with the organization’s August 2020 version—even in what would have been a fictional pandemic-free world.
Pain, for having been raised a Jets fan and remaining one to this day. Foolishness, for believing it is indeed different this time around. Shame, for telling the world about your up-and-coming Jets.
Carl Lawson‘s ruptured Achilles sustained Thursday in Green Bay not only signaled one of the darkest practice days in recent Jets memory, but it also sent fans back to a familiar yet startling reality that should hit home.
No, the Lawson loss doesn’t signal the end of what still could be a surprising season. But it should remind the Jets universe that, although it’s tough to see at this very painful moment in football time, Joe Douglas‘s front office vision and Robert Saleh‘s on-the-field leadership have ushered this organization into a new era worth remaining glued to.
NFL free agency downright sucks
Yeah, that’s right; free agency sucks. Fortunately, the green New York football franchise’s general manager knows it.
It’s understandable why fans and even media members alike root for the Jets to scoop up mega free agents each March. After all, the more talent added to the depth chart, the better … right?
Not at all. Not in this limited cap world.
Lawson’s first Jets year is a prime example of why the NFL’s open market is so risky. Suddenly, a man who signed a four-year, $45 million contract is no more—as it pertains to the 2021 season. Future production ceilings endure the likelihood of a decrease for every guaranteed dollar attached to any one single player.
Is it even possible to believe he’ll return in 2022 at the same top-end form witnessed in 2020 when he finished fourth among edge rushers with 64 quarterback pressures? Who knows?
The Auburn product now looks to come back from a ruptured Achilles on top of two torn ACLs, one in each knee—2014 saw the left one cost him an entire collegiate season, while 2018 is when the right one happened in Cincinnati, costing him more than half the season.
Honestly and objectively, there should have been much more discussion around Lawson’s injury history this past March. Realistically speaking, however, the Jets’ decade-and-a-half EDGE drought made it more than warranted to ink the inarguable talent to a three-year deal with substantial guaranteed dough attached.
In any Lawson event, NFL free agency sucks. Look at recent free-agency history.
The NFL’s top free-agent spenders rarely play well the following season
The team that usually wins the offseason rarely wins the season that counts. Sure, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of last offseason can understandably be classified as an anomaly. They won a championship on the back of free agent Tom Brady and a host of other veterans.
Yet, the Bucs still ranked 14th in total money spent in 2020, per Spotrac. The AFC East rival Miami Dolphins dropped a cool $236.75 million on the open market in total, with $146.5 million of that coming in guaranteed form. Both figures finished first. And while the Fins put together a surprising 11-5 campaign, the organization is far from a proven consistent product.
The Bengals finished second last offseason, while the Las Vegas Raiders finished third, Carolina Panthers fifth and Detroit Lions sixth—all of which are hardly good football teams.
The Mike Maccagnan-led Jets of the 2019 hype-driven offseason (led by JB Smoove, Le’Veon Bell, C.J. Mosley and new uniforms) took the top spot in total free agency spending with $201.2 million. The franchise also finished first in the important category, guaranteed money doled out ($106.5 million).
A 7-9 season followed by 2-14 is what the immediate future held for that salary willingness. Detroit and the then-Oakland Raiders finished second and third, yet again allowing the worst-run franchises to usually finish near the top of the free-agency spending rankings.
The Jets took the top spot again in 2018. The Jacksonville Jaguars finished first in spending the two years prior to that (2016 and 2017). The Jets again appear at the top in 2015. Those defending Super Bowl champion Bucs led the way in 2014. The Dolphins took the green crown in 2013, while the Bucs again appear at the top in 2012, just after the Panthers outspent everybody in 2011.
The following-year results for these king of the hill paper pushers aren’t too pretty.
|Offseason Year||Team||Following-Season Record||Two Years After Offseason|
|2019||New York Jets||7-9||2-14|
|2018||New York Jets||5-11||7-9|
|2015||New York Jets||10-6||5-11|
|2014||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||2-14||6-10|
|2012||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||7-9||4-12|
Obviously, it makes sense when dissecting the league’s hard salary cap. The teams that don’t draft well tend to have extra money to spend on open-market players, whereas the excellent-drafting teams are always playing with a leg-up thanks to the value that comes with rookie contracts.
Also, the top free-agent spenders hardly correlate to that of Lawson’s single contract. Nonetheless, the overarching theme that “free agency sucks” needs to move to the forefront in a much more rapid fashion.
Why does the free-agency season always generate an uneven and unwarranted craving for star players? Is it the NBA/social media “buzz” mindset? Do fans simply want to see those big names in Madden?
No matter the answer, Jets fans should feel lucky that this new Jets regime completely understands this tricky and intricate NFL front-office game—even with the lost Lawson money and 2021 campaign.
Jets fans should count their lucky stars that the three-year, $45 million deal ($30 million guaranteed) is just about as far as Douglas would go in free agency—especially during this critical early stage of the program-building phase.
NFL free agency has a legitimate place in the team-building process and Lawson fits the Jets’ plans. But his loss highlights the cruel nature that is needing to depend on a guy to such a heightened degree. It’s exactly what the new Jets are trying to avoid moving forward, and only drafting ability and time can accomplish that feat.
The inside-out philosophy saves the 2021 season
Culture, culture, culture … process, process, process … communication, communication, communication. Yeah … the next time you hear Douglas or Saleh spit those words out will be the 724th time your eyes roll directly upward to the front of your brain.
You’ve heard it all before. You’re sick and tired of the coachspeak. You simply want results.
While that’s understandable, you’re also simultaneously not a two-year-old child. The process is fundamentally critical when building a football program from scratch.
The cornerback who lines up pre-snap in a hard-press look prior to appropriately bailing with outside leverage and eyes in the perfect spot, only to then lose a one-on-one battle against a wideout who simply outjumps him for the ball in the end zone, will always receive the praise and plus-grade over the cornerback who does everything incorrectly (press all the way with no bail in a three-deep situation) yet winds up fortunate thanks to a quarterback overthrow.
The process always matters in football. Whether it’s on the field or up in the front office, a technically sound, tried-and-tested process is the key to delivering consistent results. It’s that belief that allows the flukes to become unanalyzable and meaningless.
In knowing that information, building with an inside-out mentality is as sound as it gets.
Lawson’s gone, but the team is still seven or eight deep at the unit.
NY Jets 2021 defensive line base depth chart
|Position||First Team||Second Team||Third Team|
|5-TECH-EDGE||John Franklin-Myers||Ronald Blair||Kyle Phillips|
|3-TECH||Quinnen Williams||Sheldon Rankins||Jonathan Marshall|
|1-2i-TECH||Foley Fatukasi||Nathan Shepherd||Tanzel Smart|
|EDGE||Vinny Curry||Bryce Huff||Jabari Zuniga / Hamilcar Rashed Jr.|
Quinnen Williams and Foley Fatukasi make all the difference in the world against the run. Sprinkle in a beastly John Franklin-Myers on the edge, the veteran presence of Vinny Curry, the underrated stature of Ronald Blair, and it’s not hard to realize this Jets run-first defensive line look still deserves a place at the Thanksgiving adult table.
NY Jets 2021 defensive line sub/pass-rush depth chart
|Position||First Team||Second Team||Third Team|
|EDGE||Bryce Huff||Ronald Blair||Jabari Zuniga / Kyle Phillips|
|3-TECH||Quinnen Williams||Nathan Shepherd||Foley Fatukasi / Tanzel Smart|
|3-TECH||Sheldon Rankins||John Franklin-Myers||Jonathan Marshall|
|EDGE||Vinny Curry||John Franklin-Myers||Hamilcar Rashed Jr.|
Still very much versatile, critically thanks to Franklin-Myers, Jeff Ulbrich essentially still has five starters he should feel comfortable with moving forward.
The four-man conventional pass rush’s overall nastiness will most likely come down to a possible Bryce Huff jump. If the kid can build upon his preseason Week 1 performance against the New York Giants, they’ll be more than fine.
Many onlookers donned a befuddled look in March when Douglas didn’t attack the cornerback market. Yet, the inside-out principle’s end result that has trench players raising development/production ceilings for second and third-level defenders remains firmly intact.
Darrelle Revis might have been the best cover-corner the league has seen—over his four-year stretch from 2008 to 2011. Still, his greatness couldn’t lift his edge rusher’s production nearly to the same level the edge rusher could lift the corner’s production. The same is true for the offensive line-wide receiver relationship.
Despite the gap clearly closing in this new three-step-dominant NFL, the inside-out mentality holds true today, and the idea that Saleh and Douglas jumped in with two feet this past offseason should ease some concerns about the undoubtedly major loss of Carl Lawson.
Hope should still be the feeling of late August
Nobody should be preaching a holier-than-thou attitude towards the Jets fans’ understandable disappointment in the latest development. Just when Jets fans thought they were out, those Larry David-inspired football gods pulled them back in—with comedic cruelty at the forefront.
Not since John Abraham has the feeling of a legitimate edge-rushing threat existed. Finally, after so many missed opportunities and negligence, Douglas snagged one.
It was not to be—at least for 2021. (Although, it was not to be as it relates to Lawson; the backbone of this defensive scheme demands at least one edge player steps up in a big and surprising way.)
While the despair is understandable, it should only remain for a short period of time.
New York hasn’t suffered a grave number of injuries this summer. (This is true even in the face of a comical Thursday that saw multiple guys go down for the year, including the up-and-coming Zane Lewis who was playing well at safety.) Therefore, progress in the injury department is obvious—especially when comparing to the previous two seasons at this calendar moment.
That, along with the realization that free agency sucks, something this regime fully grasps, coupled with the fundamentally correct inside-out stubbornness of Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh, should have Jets fans raring to go Saturday afternoon at 4:25 p.m. ET.
Hey, one of the Jets’ big free-agent acquisitions burned them (not to Lawson’s own fault, of course). It’s bad news. But the idea that “one of the Jets free-agent acquisitions” accounts as a small-percentage backdrop to the entire program-building experience is the genuine story here.
The despair is familiar, yet the reality should be startling … in a not-so-familiar positive fashion.
For once, it all doesn’t go up in flames courtesy of one bad happenstance. For once, the teaching point is crystal clear.
Keep the stinging reminder that free agency sucks firmly in mind. Remember that the more money dedicated to one player, the higher the risk becomes as it relates to an organization’s future production ceiling. Fully realize that’s it’s just more evidence that this regime is on the right track.
If the Jets organization can seemingly get the right people in the building, turn it around, so too can the fandom as it relates to pessimism and cynicism.
Besides, you’re a New York Jets fan; you’re full of grit, pain, envy and character. A season-ending Carl Lawson injury should be a walk in the park … comparatively speaking, of course.
On to Green Bay. On to Zach Wilson’s development. On to the next stage in the new regime’s fundamentally sound football-program-building process.
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