Impact of Hiring Robert Saleh on New York Jets, Sam Darnold’s Future and the AFC East

Former 49ers Defensive coordinator and new Head Coach of the New York Jets Robert Saleh. Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP
Former 49ers Defensive coordinator and new Head Coach of the New York Jets Robert Saleh. Christian Petersen/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

Ink To Paper, Robert Saleh Does The Deal

San Francisco 49ers’ highly coveted defensive coordinator is off the market, signing the dotted line on Tuesday, January 19 with the NY Jets. And just like that, enthusiasm and excitement for the upcoming 2021-22 NFL season is born again for hordes of diehard Gang Green fans that have had to endure the ignominy of being the league’s laughing stock over the last few seasons, including 2020 that resulted in a woeful 2-14 SU mark.

These are heady times in the Big Apple, indeed. Landing the hottest commodity in the head coaching market is a pretty nice scoop, although it’s unlikely that Saleh will turn the organization into a playoff contender in his first season. The NFL odds are sure to be stacked against the Jets in next season’s futures betting markets. With the Buffalo Bills ascending into the upper echelons of the AFC East as the new-fangled perennial powerhouse, the Miami Dolphins clearly on the ascent and the Patriots desperate to get back to the top, the AFC East won’t be a picnic.

Nevertheless, the future admittedly looks bright over the next couple of years – the so-called honeymoon period traditionally given to the new man on the job. Saleh is a passionate leader, with impeccable pedigree in the game after turning San Francisco’s defense into one of the league’s elite units since he took over the defensive coordinator job in 2017. His boisterous personality and intensity on the sidelines during San Francisco’s Super Bowl run in 2019 won over fans nationwide and earned him recognition as the Coordinator of the Year by The Sporting News.

In 2020, the Niners faced adversity and injury challenges right from the start, largely on the defensive-side of the ball. Although the Niners didn’t go on to replicate their 2019 season or the top-tier finish in defensive categories that made them a formidable Super Bowl LIV contender (No.1 in pass defense and No.2 in total defense), Saleh still had the Niners finishing inside the top five in those same defensive categories. The Niners finished in fourth place in pass defense and fifth place in total defense.

To bring up a quote “what defines us is not the fall, but how well we rise after we fall.” The Niners rose above expectations, thus gaining Saleh even greater respect from his players and peers in 2020 than he did in 2019, which is nothing short of remarkable. It’s no wonder Richard Sherman tweeted the “Jets got a great one” following the news of his hire this week.

The first order of business facing Saleh is to hire his staff, the group of football cognoscenti that will help him evaluate the current team as it stands, and lay the foundations at the same time for what everyone vested in the organization’s success hopes will lead to a future Super Bowl contender.

Mike LaFleur, brother of Matt LaFleur who currently heads the Green Bay Packers, is being tipped as one of the first major hires by Robert Saleh. This comes from NFL insider Mike Silver, amongst other media insiders that are privy to the league’s ins and outs. Other hires according to the rumor mill include: OL John Benton (49ers), QB Greg Knapp (Falcons), WR Miles Austin Pending (49ers), and QC Robert Calabrese (Broncos).

Green Envy, The Case Against Sam Darnold

With the Buffalo Bills reaching the AFC Championship game, there’s some suggestion that the NY Jets might have made a terrible mistake by passing on Josh Allen in favor of Sam Darnold in the 2018 NFL draft. If the Bills somehow go on to win Super Bowl LV, that mistake might turn into an epic blunder that will haunt the organization with its sheer proximity as a neighborhood rival with the AFC East.

It wouldn’t be the first time something similar happened in the league. Most recently, the Chicago Bears experienced the same agonizing regret, having passed up on Patrick Mahomes in favor of Mitch Trubisky in the 2017 NFL draft. This led to watching the young offensive phenom lap up the confetti last February, upon leading the Chiefs to a first Super Bowl victory in 50 years. The upshot: four years later, the Bears appear to be headed back to the drawing board in search of a new franchise signal caller.

Sam Darnold is entering his fourth year, and based on his subpar first three years in the league, expecting the Jets to pick up his fifth year option in the offseason seems highly improbable. In fact, legitimate questions are being raised about his future with the organization now that Saleh is the new head coach. Sam Darnold has expressed his wish to stay with the Jets, but it’s not as cut and dry. Whether he gets at least another trial year will depend on the what Saleh and Co. decide to do in the 2021 NFL draft.

By virtue of the Jets’ disappointing 2-14 SU campaign, they Jets are sitting on the No.2 pick in the 2021 NFL draft. That’s a huge draw that could see the Jets take a completely different direction under centre, not unlike Kliff Kingsbury did when he took over the Arizona Cardinals two years ago. At the time, Kingsbury, inheriting the organization’s No.1 overall draft pick, opted to send Josh Rosen packing in favor of his choice quarterback in the 2019 NFL draft, Kyler Murray.

Best-case scenario for Darnold is if the Jets trade it away the prized second overall draft pick to the highest bidder. Perhaps, even, the New England Patriots, might make overtures. Based on New England’s 2020 season, Bill Belichick is in dire need of a quarterback. Tom Brady has done well in the divorce, leading his new team Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the Championship game while Belichick is sat at home watching the playoffs from the comfort of his sofa.

That said, both the Jets and Patriots will need to be mindful of the significant steps the Bills and the Dolphins made this season, of what Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa represent in the AFC East, and the implications their progress, development and maturation in the game have for the future of the division. Neither Saleh nor Belichick can be complacent or it might be to the detriment of their position and future within their respective organizations. As the saying goes, ‘you snooze, you lose.’

The 2020 NFL draft class contains a bevy of quarterback morsels that includes presumptive No.1 draft pick Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields and Zach Wilson, to name a few of the top candidates. By many accounts, Lawrence is likely headed to the Jacksonville Jaguars, leaving Justin Fields and Zach Wilson as the top quarterback morsels to go in the first round. Of the two, Fields would be a great fit for the Jets organization and for what Saleh and LaFleur might have in mind schematically, should Saleh and his staff decide to move on from Darnold and fashion the team in their own image.

Of course, it’s never nice to see a young quarterback become the unintended casualty of failed coaching, poor environment and unfavorable conditions. But the NFL can be cruel and unforgiving with young footballers’ careers, it’s the nature of the business where winning is the currency that decides the bottom line.

Saleh is faced with an opportunity to build something extraordinary with the NY Jets, and it will be fascinating to see how he goes about it. It’s worth noting that according to NFL draft futures with Bet365, amongst several other top bookmakers, Justin Fields is being cast with a high probability of going second overall in the draft. That’s telling.

 

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