The signing of TE C.J. Uzomah shows that the culture change happening for the New York Jets is working
When the New York Jets hired Robert Saleh as their head coach prior to the 2021 season, there were numerous changes bound to happen. One of the biggest changes echoed by the new staff was a change in culture, starting from the ground up.
This offseason has already shown that the culture change is starting to take effect; and people around the NFL are taking it seriously, too.
The biggest example of this has been the signing of former Cincinnati Bengals TE C.J. Uzomah.
From the outside looking in, a tight end who has never eclipsed 500 receiving yards doesn’t exactly give off the impression of a culture change occurring. But that isn’t the reason Uzomah signing with the Jets is an example of that.
On Saturday, NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that the Cincinnati Bengals had hoped that Uzomah would return to the team despite agreeing to a deal with the Jets.
Yup, the Bengals were hoping he’d go back even after he agreed to terms with NYJ. We saw a few of those this free agency but Uzomah was set on the Jets and the NY market.
— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) June 18, 2022
Up until this point, Uzomah had spent the entirety of his seven-year career with the Bengals, who had just played in the Super Bowl. There was no competition for touches at his position and the Bengals are in a better position for repetitive championship runs than the Jets (at least, at this moment).
So why did he decide to sign with the New York Jets?
Outside of the potential usage he may find, one of the bigger reasons that came to light was the message he was given from the team – in terms of the direction they are going and the culture they are trying to build.
Convincing a genuine locker-room leader like Uzomah to skip a Super Bowl contending team for one that just went 4-13 is huge.
— NFL Films (@NFLFilms) March 14, 2022
The Leverage Game
You’re probably reading this and still wondering how the signing of Uzomah is proof that a change of culture is actively working.
The reason is that the New York Jets are no longer being used by players as leverage against other teams.
As mentioned in the above tweet by Mike Garafolo, this past free agency saw plenty of players rescind deals from teams they were negotiating with (such as Randy Gregory, who spurned the Cowboys for the Broncos).
Jets fans have experienced this themselves. There are too many memories of this happening in the team’s history.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Jets were looking to sign Kirk Cousins to a monster, three-year contract with $90 million guaranteed.
When it seemed the team was on the cusp of signing the top-tier quarterback, Cousins pulled the rug out from under them. He chose to sign with the Minnesota Vikings in what has been deemed as a leverage play ever since. This resulted in the Jets going after Sam Darnold in the NFL draft that year, and we all know how that story went.
As fate would have it, the situation would happen again with another Vikings player one year later.
Turn the page to 2019 and the Adam Gase era of Jets football is in full swing. With the Jets looking to improve their front seven, they presumably had agreed to a deal with Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr.
That deal would only last about one day. Barr reportedly became “physically ill” at the thought of joining the Jets and chose to re-sign with the Vikings for less money.
Though, unlike the Cousins deal, this one probably worked in the Jets’ favor. Barr, now 30 years old, hasn’t played a full season since that time and is now out of his physical prime at the position.
The Message is Clear
For plenty of players in the league, money is a factor. But even when the Jets were offering the most money, they saw players use them as leverage to find better situations in their careers.
With the signing of Uzomah, it’s starting to show that the message of Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas is working. If players believe that the New York Jets are next in line to become a great franchise, everything in the process becomes easier; from the inside out.
Even if the results aren’t there yet, the message is clear, and it’s strong. And now, we’re starting to see the dividends of it in real-time.
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