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NY Jets: The subtle balance that Robert Saleh has not yet struck

Robert Saleh, NY Jets, NFL, Head Coach, HC, Subtle
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images

Robert Saleh shows a persistent stubbornness as New York Jets head coach

One of the more confounding New York Jets issues of the offseason was the Javon Kinlaw signing. Signing Kinlaw wasn’t the issue, but giving him $7.25 million and a starting position raised many eyebrows.

On my most recent podcast episode, I asked Jets X-Factor co-founder Robby Sabo his opinion about why the Jets might have made the Kinlaw move. Michael Nania already opined that this was a classic case of Jets nepotism. Sabo’s response, though, hearkened back to a different Jets issue that I mourned in my early days as a Jet X writer.

Sabo cited an unnamed beat writer, who has heavily criticized Robert Saleh for trusting players too much without the show-me aspect first. Sabo pointed to Micheal Clemons as a previous example and suggested that Kinlaw could be the next in line. Then he commented, “I know Nathan Shepherd was that guy before Kinlaw.”

That set off the lightbulb in my head. I slammed Saleh for keeping Shepherd around in 2022, along with Jeff Smith, Justin Hardee, Sheldon Rankins, and Ashtyn Davis. Interestingly, Shepherd actually had a fairly decent 2022 season, and the Jets received a sixth-round comp pick for his departure to New Orleans. Rankins also rebounded for a strong 2022 season, and his contract with the Texans indirectly helped the Jets receive a comp pick. Hardee played well in 2022 and 2023, and Davis finally became a useful defensive player in 2023.

Too much faith

Even ignoring the nepotism angle (for which there is certainly compelling evidence), Saleh’s biggest issue is having tremendous faith in players who haven’t proven they deserve it. To some extent, all NFL coaches need to do this. They must show belief in players before said players have proven themselves on the field. It’s how Patrick Mahomes became the best quarterback in the NFL and Jordan Love broke out in 2023. Coaches need to trust what they see in practice.

However, Saleh seems overly willing to rely on the potential of certain players even when that potential has not been actualized in several NFL seasons. It was one thing to double Jermaine Johnson’s snap count in 2023 and trust that he’d break out as a pass rusher; it’s quite another to place Kinlaw as Quinnen Williams’ defensive tackle mate.

It’s not that signing Kinlaw was a bad idea. As Joe Blewett pointed out in his Kinlaw review, the raw physical talent is there. Kinlaw is still just 26 years old and has had only one fully healthy season. It’s reasonable for Saleh to think that he can unlock the potential he saw when the 49ers drafted Kinlaw at No. 14 overall.

Still, to rely on Kinlaw as a starting defensive tackle in an all-in season suggests that Saleh sees the promise as delivered before it actually happens. It’s a level of cockiness that many NFL coaches display, especially when it comes to former first-round picks. They think they will be the ones to unlock the player when the previous coaching staff(s) could not. Most of the time, though, a team doesn’t cash all of its chips in on that player.

I’m not suggesting that Kinlaw will be useless with the Jets. Nor am I discounting the possibility that he can have a breakout season in 2024. He likely has the potential to be just as good as Rankins. It’s relying on that as if it already happened that I criticize. That could be a difference-maker for the Jets in 2024.

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