With the search for their new head coach completed, the Jets will begin the 2019 offseason in earnest this week.
It is a two-pronged approach right now. New coach Adam Gase is working to build his coaching staff. At the same time, general manager Mike Maccagnan and the personnel staff will be in Mobile, Ala., for the Senior Bowl, which is the kickoff to draft season and a mini-NFL convention.
Gase has already hired Gregg Williams as his defensive coordinator and retained special teams coach Brant Boyer. Pro Football Talk reported he has hired Frank Pollack as the new offensive line coach. Gase hinted last week in interviews that he is waiting for some assistants under contract with other teams to come free. He may be referring to members of his former staff with the Dolphins. It is known he wants to bring offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to the Jets. But Miami does not have to let those assistants out of their contracts and may be waiting until they can officially hire new coach Brian Flores to see if he wishes to retain any of them.
As for Maccagnan, he heads to Alabama to start another huge offseason. Last year, he was charged with finding a quarterback, and it appears he succeeded by drafting Sam Darnold with the No. 3 overall pick. This year, he needs to round out the roster around Darnold.
The prospects at the Senior Bowl are not the blue-chip players who will go in the top 10 of the draft. Whomever the Jets end up picking third in April is almost certainly not at the Senior Bowl. However, the Jets have five other draft picks and the Senior Bowl is a crucial part of the evaluation process to determine whom to take in the draft. Maccagnan and his staff will be interviewing players, watching practices and looking for who catches their eye. Defensive lineman Nathan Shepherd, the Jets’ third-round pick last year, helped his draft stock last year during Senior Bowl week by practicing well against stronger competition than he faced in college at Fort Hays State.
Maccagnan is entering his fifth season as Jets GM without a playoff appearance. Todd Bowles is gone and Maccagnan is left behind with the bull’s-eye on him. He must improve the talent on the roster this year if he wants to remain as the team’s GM.
“We just had the anniversary of the Super Bowl for 50 years the other day,” Maccagnan said last week. “Our focus is to try to build this correctly to try to be as competitive and successful as we possibly can.”
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The other aspect of the Senior Bowl beyond what happens on the field is what takes place at the hotels, bars and restaurants around town. Teams talk and informal trade talks can start here. Last year, the Jets began talking to the Colts about trading up to No. 3 during Senior Bowl week.
This year, the Jets could start feeling out the Steelers to see what an Antonio Brown trade might look like. It is early in the process, so nothing is likely to happen this soon, but the seeds can be planted. Other teams may be curious about how the Jets feel toward Leonard Williams, who is entering the final year of his contract. Would the Jets be willing to listen to offers for their 2015 first-round pick?
After this week, the Jets will be preparing for free agency, which begins March 13. They have some decisions to make on their own players first. It starts with center Spencer Long, who struggled in 2018. He has a $3 million roster bonus due Feb. 6, so the Jets likely will have to make a decision before then about whether to hold on to him.
Once they decide on some of their own free agents, the Jets can focus on other teams’ free agents. The Jets have about $100 million in salary-cap space. Will they chase Steelers star running back Le’Veon Bell? Can they find a pass rusher?
“We want to get to the finish line as quick as we can, but we also understand that you have to balance it and try not to mortgage the future and things like that,” Maccagnan said. “So a lot of times, although we’ll be aggressive in free agency, we’re going to try to make smart decisions that are going to set this team up for both short- and long-term success.”That process takes another step this week.