The cost-benefit analysis is not clear-cut
It took longer than it had for seven years, but Jets fans are once again looking at the draft prior to the finish of the regular season.
Still, there is one more game left, a game that is meaningless for the Jets but critical for their opponent, the divisional foe Miami Dolphins. Miami needs a win and a Patriots loss to make the postseason, and they will likely be led by Skylar Thompson, their seventh-round rookie third-string QB.
Is this the wisest course of action? After all, there is nothing to play for in terms of the postseason. If you look at the playoffs as a barometer of meaningful games, then this is as meaningless as any from 2021.
However, there are other considerations on both sides of the debate. So let’s examine: should the Jets play their starters in Week 18?
The biggest argument against playing important players in a meaningless game is the risk of injury. As former TE Benjamin Watson recently said, football is a 100% injury sport.
We’ve already seen Carl Lawson and Mekhi Becton go down in training camp and Zach Wilson in the preseason over the past two years. Season-ending injuries are devastating whenever they happen, but the pain is particularly acute when it need not have occurred at all, when the game itself didn’t mean anything.
Reports are pretty clear that Kyler Murray will not be ready for the start of the 2023 season after tearing his ACL in Week 14. Such an injury to one of the Jets’ key starters could wreak devastating consequences on their 2023 season, which is set up with a playoff imperative.
Imagine if one of the Jets’ key stars sustained such an injury in a game that meant nothing at all.
Pride and morale
On the other hand, there is much at stake pride-wise for the Jets. Although their chances at a winning season were clinched with their ninth loss of the season against Seattle, ending a five-game losing streak can still do a lot to put a bittersweet bow on a disappointing season. Ending the year with six consecutive losses would trigger a classic “Same Old Jets” response. At least salvaging whatever pride can be had does have significance in and of itself.
To emphasize this point, Miami currently leads the Jets 57-56-1 in the all-time series. The Jets aren’t playing the Chicago Bears; they’re playing a divisional rival with whom they’ve fought many battles over the years. They can play the role of spoiler and let Miami join the club of a once-promising season that fell off the rails.
Robert Saleh is certainly aware of this.
.@antwanstaley asked #Jets HC Robert Saleh how much the team relishes the spoiler role vs #Dolphins on Sunday? ‘Would it be nice to have Mike McDaniel hanging out with me poolside in a couple of weeks? You’re damn right it would’ 🤣: 🎥 @nyjets #TakeFlight #FinsUp @MiamiDolphins pic.twitter.com/XWD3rmA5Vw
— Paul Andrew Esden Jr (@BoyGreen25) January 4, 2023
Jets fans know the pain of such a divisional ouster from the 2015 Bills. Playing spoiler is a role that many teams relish. It would give the team and fans at least one thing to smile about and end the season positively.
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Seeing what you have
The Jets have several young players who have had limited or no snaps this season. It might be wise to see what they have on their roster before they head into free agency and the draft.
This is particularly true at positions of need where there is an intriguing candidate on the roster. Carl Lawson is an obvious cut candidate in the offseason, which means that the Jets will need a new plan at edge rusher. Instead of just playing Lawson and John Franklin-Myers their usual majority of the snaps, it would behoove the Jets to allow Jermaine Johnson, Bryce Huff, and Micheal Clemons to get the lion’s share of the reps.
At free safety, Tony Adams will almost certainly play because Lamarcus Joyner is out for the season finale. However, instead of rotating in Will Parks or Ashtyn Davis, the Jets should allow Adams to play the full game. They’ve seen enough of Parks to know that he is not the answer at free safety (see: the 51-yard TD allowed against the Lions), and they haven’t trusted Davis to play anything more than special teams for virtually the whole season. Adams, meanwhile, flashed some intriguing skills in the Seattle game.
Tony Adams showed intriguing potential at FS in Seattle
Great closing speed, good angles to the ball, and clean/physical finishes in space pic.twitter.com/tet2jP26G3
— Michael Nania (@Michael_Nania) January 4, 2023
There are other positions in which the Jets have little-used young players who could use some action. At tight end, Jeremy Ruckert has more or less redshirted his rookie season. Although Tyler Conklin and C.J. Uzomah both have contracts that preclude an offseason parting, the Jets use two-TE sets often enough that Ruckert should factor into the offense next year. This is particularly true when you see how much Uzomah struggled in run-blocking down the stretch.
The tight-end development curve in the NFL is steep, and Ruckert showcased both a drop and a faceplant in the games he did play this year. However, if this pick was a developmental one, it makes sense to get at least a peek at how it’s working out so far.
One last player who also deserves some action is Jamien Sherwood. C.J. Mosley‘s contract makes it likely that he will be on the team next season; however, it is almost certainly his last one with the Jets. It would be nice for New York if they had any idea if Sherwood could realistically be the heir-apparent to Mosley, particularly since he himself is a free agent just a year later.
Sherwood has taken only 16 snaps this season. Nine were in the Bills game when Mosley went out briefly with an injury. His skillset looked similar to Mosley’s in that game – hard-hitting, quick instincts in the run game, but some struggles with a mobile QB and in coverage. The small sample size didn’t give much of a picture, though. Saleh has already said that Mosley will play if he wants to, but it would be nice for Sherwood to get a look.
This may seem like a loser’s mentality, but it’s also a pragmatic one. Once an NFL team is eliminated from the playoffs, the worst place to be is just short. Right now, the Jets have the 13th pick in the draft, and they will almost certainly be in the market for an offensive tackle. Top tackle talents often go pretty high in the draft, and the Jets want to put themselves in a position to get the best prospect available. Losing this game would help that proposition while winning would hurt it.
Now, many Jets fans have said, “We’ve seen this story before.” That is true, but we also saw Joe Douglas draft two stars in the top 10 last season. Mekhi Becton has had his injury issues, but he looked like a star when he played in 2020; he was nabbed at No. 11. The Giants’ Andrew Thomas, taken fourth overall that season, has become one of the best tackles in the game. The Jets have been searching for their long-term tackle answer since D’Brickashaw Ferguson‘s prime ended, and there is something to be said for doing everything they can to find that answer.
So should the Jets play their starters?
I do not know if there is a clear-cut right answer to this question. I can answer with my opinion and preferences, but there are valid arguments both ways.
I do believe, though, that the Jets have a responsibility to get at least a longer look at some of their younger players. You can play to win and still play Jermaine Johnson and Bryce Huff for more snaps. Giving Will Parks any snaps over Tony Adams would be a mistake. Playing Jeremy Ruckert over Kenny Yeboah and giving C.J. Uzomah an occasional breather is not throwing the game. Ditto for C.J. Mosley.
It seems to me that to root for the Jets to lose this last game is a little strong, but injuries are the most serious argument against going all-in. Whatever the score, as long as the key players are unharmed, Jets fans shouldn’t be too dissatisfied.