After 2023 debacle, have the Jets built a disaster-proof roster?

Someone in the NFL scheduling office must hate the New York Jets. The league has scheduled Aaron Rodgers & Co. to open their season on Monday night — and against a San Francisco 49ers team that now features pass-rusher Leonard Floyd.

Why does that matter?

Floyd, then with the Bills, sacked Rodgers during a Monday night game to open last season. And Rodgers tore his Achilles. That wasn’t so much an inauspicious start as it was a total disaster for 2023. For the entire year. Rodgers’ absence loomed over the team built for him. New York missed the playoffs. And now the Jets are — more or less — trying to run it back in 2024.

I’d say the season-opener is a fairly inauspicious start.

But it could still be their year.

On paper, the Jets should be looking at their division and seeing vulnerability. The Bills decided to clear out a number of veteran leaders: Stefon Diggs, Jordan Poyer, Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White, Mitch Morse.  I don’t think the Bills got worse, but they definitely did not get better. The Miami Dolphins struggled to revamp their offensive line to the capacity that many felt they needed to do.

New York should absolutely be competitive in the AFC East — and in the AFC as a whole.

It’s just a question of whether Rodgers can stop the Jets from Jetsing. I hate to be so patronizing. I really do. This team has Super Bowl talent, on paper. But more years than not, the Los Angeles Chargers have had the same, whether they’ve had Justin Herbert or Phillip Rivers at QB. And the Chargers have just one Super Bowl appearance (and not with Herbert or Rivers). Some organizations just muck up a good opportunity. The Jets are one of them.

So will they muck up this one?

Last year, it felt like the Jets cow-towed their roster-building to Rodgers’ preferences. They hired his preferred offensive coordinator in Nathaniel Hackett. New York paid — and frankly overpaid — receiver Allen Lazard big money in free agency. (Lazard is one of Rodgers’ best friends.) The Jets also kept Randall Cobb on the roster. (He’s another one of Rodgers’ BFFLs.)

The “conspiracy theory” around Jets vs. 49ers opening up MNF

The "conspiracy theory" around Jets vs. 49ers opening up MNF

It’s one thing to make the quarterback comfortable. It’s another thing to jeopardize the team’s overall vision in the name of making an All-World QB comfortable. Rodgers is so good that he shouldn’t need comforting. But he’s a mercurial guy. And the Jets clearly put their best foot forward to make him happy — appeasing the wish list that he may (or may not) have given to New York before signing with the team.

That’s part of what made Rodgers’ absence felt so catastrophic. The team was so transparently built for the QB. And for no one else. Certainly not Zach Wilson. So when Rodgers suffered his injury, Wilson couldn’t operate in a situation built for someone else. From my vantage, Wilson’s issues stemmed from three problems: 1) the personnel assembled for Rodgers, 2) Hackett’s reluctance (and perhaps inability) to make sweeping changes to the system to better suit Wilson’s strengths and 3) Wilson’s lack of strengths.

But this year, it seems like New York has built an offense that isn’t solely designed with Rodgers in mind. And the biggest indicator was a report from SNY’s Conor Hughes, who noted that the team explored bringing in another offensive mind to run the show atop Hackett. While the Jets never hired anyone into that role, it’s notable that they looked into hiring someone else. It’s also notable that they were unable to do so. 

That’s a bad look for everyone involved. For GM Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh, they look silly for having a lack of confidence in Hackett but not actually doing anything about it. And for Hackett, he looks silly for having less support within the organization.

Let’s tally that as another inauspicious mark for the Jets.

But it hasn’t been exclusively negative for New York. In fact, I’ve admired their offseason moves. Their additions along the offensive line look solid: tackles Tyron Smith and Morgan Moses and guard John Simpson. For those worried about Smith and Moses’ injury histories — which would be a legitimate set of concerns — the Jets drafted tackle Olu Fashanu, the 10th overall pick, to be the best swing tackle in the NFL. That’s the most talented three-tackle group the league has to offer. And it’s a smart move given how dire things got at the position last year, with guard Alijah Vera-Tucker changing positions before suffering a season-ending injury. You can question whether the Jets have the depth they need at guard and center. That might be a concern if they sustain injuries in the interior of their offensive line.

The improvements to the starting linemen, however, should help running back Breece Hall. While just about everyone else dealt with injuries, Hall stayed healthy in his first season back from an ACL tear. He should be even better in 2024, with a stronger O-line and, likely, stronger legs after more distance from his injury. The Jets added three rookies, including 245-pound bruiser Braelon Allen, to join Hall and Israel Abanikanda. It could be a massive year for Hall.

New York also made an honest assessment of what it had at receiver and found the situation wanting. To help out Garrett Wilson, the Jets signed Mike Williams to help on the perimeter and in the red zone. New York also drafted third-round receiver Malachi Corley, a Deebo Samuel type. While Corley isn’t exactly a developed route-runner, he runs like running back with the ball in his hands. So he’ll be a compelling gadget option who rotates into the WR3 alongside Lazard. And while the Jets have to stomach paying Lazard $11 million per year, tied for 28th-most in the NFL, they were smart to move him away from such a crucial role in their offense. That’s a solid group of top-four passing weapons with youngsters Xavier Gipson and Jason Brownlee lurking.

What was the Zach Wilson era for the Jets?

What was the Zach Wilson era for the Jets?

It’s easy to get excited, in particular, about Corley.

“Getting him the ball and the creativity that comes with it, I think we’re all having a lot of fun looking at ways to get him the ball. He’s unique in that way. He is a smart kid, so he can absorb it,” Saleh said of Corley. “His one thing is route refinement and just making sure he can, on third-and-4, when you got to have it and you got to be able to run a route to create separation.”

Finally, the Jets added a reliable backup QB in Tyrod Taylor in free agency and developmental QB Jordan Travis in the draft. Both have injury histories to manage. But both are solid options (and upgrades from Wilson) in case Rodgers misses time again.

We haven’t really discussed the Jets defense because it’s safe to assume they’re going to be good again. Under Saleh, they’re always good. And the starting unit is largely intact, with edge Bryce Huff, safety Jordan Whitehead and defensive end John Franklin-Meyers looking like the biggest departures. New York’s defensive depth looks somewhat questionable. It’ll be up to Saleh to mask any injuries with scheme and development of the younger cast, including edges Will McDonald and Micheal Clemons.

The Jets have built a good team. There’s no doubting that. 

Particularly on the offensive side of the ball, this roster is actually equipped to handle a few major injuries. And then when/if something disastrous happens, Rodgers will have to step up. And on defense? There are concerns there. And Saleh’s expertise will need to shine. 

The Jets are a team prone to disaster. But Douglas’ airtight construction of this roster makes me confident they can compete for a Super Bowl.

Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @henrycmckenna.

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