A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:
1. Going to Carolina: Thanks to his airline-mogul uncle, Jets quarterback Zach Wilson will have a small cheering section when he makes his NFL debut on Sept. 12 in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Watch out, Carolina Panthers; the Cougars are coming.
JetBlue founder David Neeleman organized a charter flight to Charlotte from Salt Lake City, which will allow Wilson fans to attend Saturday night’s BYU-Utah game in Provo and then make it to Bank of America Stadium for the Jets-Panthers opener at 1 p.m. ET. Neeleman, Zach’s uncle on his mother’s side, researched commercial options, determining there isn’t a flight that can get to Charlotte in time for kickoff. He knows the industry — he founded a few airlines — so he arranged for a 200-passenger JetBlue A321 plane.
They’re calling it “The Wilson Weekend,” with seats going for $599 to $799 apiece. The offer, launched two weeks ago, includes a hotel room in Charlotte, where travelers can relax for a few hours before kickoff. Sorry, no game tickets included. The website is billing it as “a once-in-a-lifetime weekend event to celebrate your favorite quarterback!”
Wilson, who led BYU to an 11-1 record last season, is enormously popular in his home state of Utah. His pro debut is a big deal, but so is the BYU-Utah game, especially for the Wilson family. Josh Wilson plays linebacker for BYU. Their father, Mike, played football for Utah. Neeleman, too, is a Utah alum.
But come Sunday, Sept. 12, there will be no conflicting loyalties.
There are no refunds unless the game in canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. They’re assuming Wilson will be the opening-day starter (he will) and will emerge unscathed from the preseason (fingers crossed).
2. Money matters: Wilson can’t do anything until he signs his four-year, $35.2 million contract, fully guaranteed. What’s taking so long? Even though the amount of money is pre-determined by the league, agents and teams sometimes haggle over smaller issues such as offset language and payment schedule.
The Jets always demand an offset clause; it enables the team to recoup some money if it cuts the player before the four-year contract is completed. For comparison purposes, quarterback Sam Darnold, drafted No. 3 overall in 2018, had an offset in his rookie contract.
The player drafted ahead of Wilson, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence, recently signed with no offset, which could have some financial benefit if he is released before the contract expires. If Wilson’s agents want to fight that fight, it might take a little longer for a resolution. There’s no reason to panic, though. The first practice isn’t until Wednesday.
Darnold’s contract dispute cost him three practices in 2018, but at least they had veteran Josh McCown to run the offense. Do the Jets really want to open camp Wednesday with James Morgan and Mike White splitting snaps?
Wilson is one of three unsigned first-round draft picks remaining in the league.
3. Position battles galore: The Jets have a young team with plenty of competitive positions. You could argue that only 11 of the 22 starting jobs are truly locked up. There are position battles across the board, especially at running back, tight end, right guard, defensive end, outside linebacker and every secondary position not manned by Marcus Maye.
They’re also billing right tackle as a competition between incumbent George Fant and recently signed Morgan Moses, although Moses, coming off a good season with the Washington Football Team, is considered the favorite. Fant ($9.8 million cap) could wind up being one of the most expensive backups in the league. (Did someone say “pay cut”?)
The Jets landed Moses on a team-friendly deal — one year, $3.6 million. That includes a $3.1 million guarantee — $2 million signing bonus, plus $1.1 million in base salary. This could turn out to be one of general manager Joe Douglas’ best signings.
4. Cloudy future: The Jets never came close to signing Maye (franchise tag) to a long-term extension before the July 15 deadline. There was a considerable gap in the negotiations, raising serious questions about his long-term future with the team.
Essentially, the Jets punted, waiting to see how Maye fits into coach Robert Saleh’s scheme. By rule, they can’t resume talks until after the season. If he has another strong season, why would he re-sign on the doorstep of free agency? A second tag isn’t out of the question, but that probably would cause acrimony between the two sides. It wouldn’t be cheap, either — $12.7 million, the required 20% raise on his current tag amount ($10.6 million).
The best teams usually find a way to keep their best players. It feels like that won’t happen in this case.
5. Monster season? One player to watch in training camp is defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, who is returning from offseason foot surgery and will begin on the physically unable to perform list.
Once he’s good to go, Williams could have a huge season under Saleh. It’s a one-gap scheme that plays to his strength, which is penetrating and shooting gaps. If he builds on his impressive 2020 season, he will be a menace for opponents. When opposing scouts talk about the Jets’ personnel, the first name off their lips is Williams.
Because he sat out the entire offseason, his conditioning could be an issue as he attempts to get up to speed.
6. New sheriff: Difference No. 541 between Saleh and former coach Adam Gase: Saleh relishes outside competition. The Jets have four joint practices with the Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles. Gase had none in his only non-COVID year (2019) as the Jets’ coach.
7. “U-S-A!” Pardon Carl Lawson if he seems a bit distracted Friday at practice. That day, his longtime girlfriend, Rachel Dincoff, will be competing in the discus at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
“I’ll be sitting there, watching, cheering, screaming in my room,” Lawson said the other day on the NFL Network’s “Good Morning Football” Show.
Luckily, because of the time difference, the event will take place in the evening Eastern Standard Time and not during practice. Lawson might have meetings that night, but you have to believe his coaches will let him sneak out to check out the event on TV. The women’s discus final is Aug. 2 at 7 a.m. ET.
Lawson and Dincoff, who met at Auburn in 2013, are having quite an athletic year: She qualifies for the Olympics, he lands a three-year, $45 million contract with the Jets.
8. Did you know? The Jets rank last in Total QBR (43.7) over the past 15 seasons, having thrown the fewest touchdown passes (276) and the most interceptions (269) in that time. They hope Wilson can reverse the trend.