FLORHAM PARK, NJ – A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Sauce on the menu: They ate at an elegant Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village and then sat together at court in the Garden. It was just the two of them, Aaron Rodgers and Sauce Gardner – an NFL icon and one of the game’s young stars. In a tweet, Gardner jokingly referred to Rodgers as his “superintendent.” They hung out together for seven hours on Tuesday night, talking about the ball and life in New York.
Gardner emerged from their night on the town more confident than ever that Rodgers will help him become a better player, something he’s talked about long before the blockbuster trade took place. Gardner once thought that process would only happen on the field, with “hard throws that would be difficult for me to catch and break up,” but the 2022 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year now believes Rodgers’ support will come at a deeper level .
“He’s told me he can help me, tell me how teams are going to attack me, tell me things I can work on as a cornerback,” Gardner said. “He told me that he has the secret gems that he can just give me.
“But I didn’t think that when I said he would make me better. Just hearing that from him made me respect him even more. Yeah man he’s a great guy. I wasn’t expecting that, but I’m looking forward to just sitting down and watching a movie and telling him what we’re trying to do and he can tell us what they’re trying to do on offense.”
Rodgers hasn’t played a cornerback a day in his life, but he knows passing routes, leverage and every type of cover imaginable. So, yes, he has a library of information to share with Gardner and other players.
They also discussed Gotham’s Crucible and its challenges.
“There’s no pressure to play in New York,” Gardner said. “You have to tell yourself, ‘I was built for this.’ Me and Aaron, we caught each other (Tuesday) saying, ‘I’m built for this.’ … We had this one-on-one moment as we were having dinner.
Gardner had one of the best rookie seasons in the sport’s history — the first rookie cornerback to be named a first-team All-Pro since Ronnie Lott in 1981 — but now there’s a new challenge. He admitted, “I’m a target now.” Some instant stars fall victim to complacency, but he insisted that won’t happen as he intends to work harder than last year.
“There were a lot of distractions,” he said, “but I’m keeping a level head.”
2. Can we make a deal? Two defensive tackles from Quinnen Williams’ draft class—Tennessee Titans’ Jeffery Simmons ($23.5 million a year) and New York Giants’ Dexter Lawrence ($22.5 million)—were heavily extended this offseason. Williams appears to be The Next Man Up, but the two sides are nowhere near an agreement despite the clearly formed secondary contract market for top defensive tackles.
The Jets have leverage because they have the Williams rights for 2023 as well as a potential franchise tag in 2024, but it’s no use angering one of their top players. In the meantime, he’s skipping voluntary training sessions.
3. A dream grows in Brooklyn: What a week for former Pitt running back Israel Abanikanda: Drafted in the fifth round by one of his hometown teams, he attended his first rookie mini-camp and signed his first contract (four-year, $4.2 million). He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but his parents are from Nigeria.
“They moved to the States for a better life,” he said Friday. “For them to see that, they did it for a reason.”
4. Aaron’s BFF: The addition of wide receiver Randall Cobb drew some derisive criticism of the Jets, with people saying it was just another move Rodgers orchestrated. Maybe so, but there’s no denying that Cobb and Rodgers had a good thing in Green Bay.
Over the past two seasons, Rodgers posted a 90.7 QBR when targeting Cobb, his second-highest QBR targeting a single player in that span, behind only Davante Adams (90.8), according to ESPN Stats research & Information. Since joining the league in 2011, Cobb has posted more catches, yards and touchdowns from the slot than any other player.
If Cobb is making Rodgers feel more comfortable moving to New York, what’s wrong with that?
A possible problem is the composition of the receiving corps. The Jets have six veterans, none of whom played on special teams last season. This could lead to problems with roster management on match day. A player like Denzel Mims, who has speed and untapped potential, could end up being the underdog when the squad is reduced to 53.
5. For an encore…: Wide receiver Garrett Wilson, who said at the end of the season he wanted to add weight and strength to help him on the line of scrimmage, is up to 188 pounds after completing his rookie year at 181. He would like to get into the 190s without sacrificing speed and quickness.
The 2022 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year received quite a compliment from Rodgers, who told The Pat McAfee Show Wilson reminds him of Adams, how smoothly he gets in and out of his breaks. Wilson said he was “honoured” to be mentioned in the same sentence as Adams, who he believes is the best in the league.
6. Name to see: The Jets didn’t draft receivers, but they did sign an undrafted free agent and pay him like a draftee.
Jason Brownlee of southern Mississippi receives a $246,000 guarantee — a low pick in the fifth round. Clearly, the Jets see potential. Brownlee is 6-foot-2 with a 40-inch vertical jump. He caught 55 passes for 891 yards (16.2 average) and eight touchdowns last season.
7. Tips for Tippmann: Former Jets tackle Jason Fabini, a member of the offensive line who paved the way for Curtis Martin’s NFL rushing title in 2004, goes way back with Joe Tippmann (Wisconsin), a second-round pick. Fabini coached him in junior high and at Bishop Dwenger High in Fort Wayne, Indiana, her hometown and Fabini’s alma mater. There is also a family connection. Fabini’s ex-wife is a cousin of Tippmann’s father.
He may be biased but Fabini sees a bright future for Tippmann.
“He has a good football IQ because he’s been there for so long,” Fabini said in a phone interview. “He loves the game, he’s a hard worker and he’s tough.”
When the Jets made the choice, Fabini left Tippmann’s draft party and raced home, only to return a short time later with Jets gear to wear to the celebration.
Tippmann will have a chance to compete with Connor McGovern for the center job. When asked what he told Tippmann about the Jets, Fabini said, “There’s nothing quite like winning in New York.”
8. Big Forests: Newly signed Al Woods is a 36-year-old defensive tackle who started for run defense at No. 30 (Seattle Seahawks) last season. cause for concern? Let’s take a closer look.
Woods wasn’t the problem. Seattle allowed 4.4 yards per rush when the 330-pounder was on the field (close to the league average), but it jumped to 4.9 when he wasn’t. Its differential was the best among their linemen. He will replace Nathan Shepherd, who had the highest differential among the Jets’ linemen.
9. AVT update: Alijah Vera-Tucker, who is recovering from tricep surgery, expects to be cleared for team practice at training camp. At the moment he limits himself to individual work in very light practices. Vera-Tucker, who has played four different positions in two years, takes the reps on the right — his best position, according to the Jets. It’s hard to say which player will start the tackle. They have four candidates for two spots – Duane Brown, Mekhi Becton, Billy Turner and Max Mitchell.
10. The Last Word: “It probably (didn’t) sink in until I caught the first pass from him. That’s a legend right there. That’s a Hall of Famer.” — Wilson on Rodgers