FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Project Joe: General manager Joe Douglas' passion project will be unveiled Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) at the Buffalo Bills -- a (pretty much) brand-new offensive line, headlined by his first draft pick (left tackle Mekhi Becton) and his biggest free-agent signing (center Connor McGovern).
The 370-pound Becton is the Jets' first rookie offensive lineman to start opening day since 2006, when D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Nick Mangold debuted at left tackle and center, respectively. The organization hopes Becton and McGovern can be its new "Nick & Brick," solidifying for years the two most critical positions on the line.
Let's call it the "Big & Mac" era. Or "Big Mac" for short. Hold the pickles.
McGovern hasn't garnered much publicity since signing a three-year, $27 million contract (centers rarely make headlines), but his arrival could change everything. Quite frankly, the Jets endured three seasons of lousy center play in the post-Mangold years, cycling through Wesley Johnson, Spencer Long, Ryan Kalil and Jonotthan Harrison.
From 2017 to 2019, the Jets averaged a league-low 3.39 yards per carry when running up the middle, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In 2019, the average was an embarrassing 3.0, significantly lower than the 31st-ranked team, the Miami Dolphins (3.4).
And you wonder why Le'Veon Bell had trouble getting out of the backfield on some runs?
Becton is more of a wild card than McGovern simply because he hasn't played an NFL game, not even a preseason contest, which creates an air of mystery around him. I can tell you this: The coaches have been blown away by Becton's professionalism and football aptitude, perhaps more so than his rare size and athleticism -- which says a lot. When he arrived for training camp, it became obvious to them he didn't spent his entire quarantine on Netflix; he actually studied the playbook.
Becton's predecessor, Kelvin Beachum, was a decent pass-protector, but the first-round pick has a chance to be a big upgrade in the running game. As Jets running back Frank Gore said, "When he gets his hands on you, he tries to dominate you. I like that. When I saw that, I said, 'OK.' Some big guys don't have that. He's got that."
Douglas has a lot riding on this. He came to the Jets with the reputation of being a scouting guru, and he devoted most of his guru-ing in his first offseason to the offensive line, last season's weakness. You can't form a conclusion after one game, but you can learn a lot.
2. Must-be-Fab Four: Players who absolutely must have a big season for the Jets to have any shot at the playoffs:
Sam Darnold, quarterback: He plays the most important position and has the biggest upside of any player on offense. Shaky supporting cast? No doubt, but the special players find a way.
Quinnen Williams, defensive tackle: There are no impact players in the front seven. Williams has the potential to be one, but he had a quiet training camp and the pressure to meet high expectations is mounting.
Chris Herndon, tight end: Want to make coach Adam Gase smile? Mention Herndon's name. Gase believes Herndon has the ability to be the No. 1 option in the passing game. He can start by staying healthy.
Marcus Maye, strong safety: He was voted a captain by teammates, proof he's growing as a leader. Now all he has to do is be Jamal Adams 2.0. A huge payday could be on the horizon for Maye, a free agent after the season.
3. Bullish on Sam: Hall of Famer Curtis Martin still lives in the New York area and still keeps tabs on his former team. I checked in with Martin to get his take on the season, and he seemed cautiously optimistic about the Jets' chances. He's like a lot of fans in that he believes Darnold has to be the difference-maker.
"They can be competitive enough to make a run at the playoffs," the former Jets great said. "Losing Jamal [Adams] and C.J. [Mosley], those are key pieces to the defense, but I think they can compensate for some of that with the additions on offense.
"The show must go on, and I'm expecting them to have a much better year. One of the keys is when you have a quarterback who's starting to become more seasoned, just learning more and having more time with his offensive line and the receivers. I'm expecting Sam to have a good year, and I think that's going to help the team in a significant way. I'm looking for Sam to have a big year, to have his best year this year."
4. Four corners: It's a fact of life for Darnold: He plays in a division loaded with talented cornerbacks.
He opens against Tre'Davious White, who has yielded a 60.1 passer rating as the nearest defender to the target over the past three seasons, per NFL Next Gen Stats. That's the second lowest in the NFL behind -- you guessed it -- another AFC East corner, Stephon Gilmore of the New England Patriots. The Dolphins have two good ones, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones, their prized free agent.
There are easier places for a young quarterback to develop. For Darnold, it's adapt or struggle.
5. Diamond in the Huff: Not a word was written or said in the media about rookie Bryce Huff in training camp, and there were two reasons for that: Reporters didn't bring him up to Gase (bad job by us), and Gase didn't volunteer any information because he didn't want to tip off other teams about their secret.
Teams were particularly paranoid this summer because, without preseason games, they had to prepare for the season without having opposing scouts evaluate their players. Even with that security, the Jets didn't want to take any chances on exposing Huff to waivers, so they kept him on the 53-man roster -- which should say a lot about how they feel about the undrafted free agent from Memphis.
Huff, who received the biggest guarantee ($90,000) among their undrafted rookies, impressed with his raw talent as a pass-rusher. A year ago, the Jets uncovered a UDFA gem in defensive end Kyle Phillips, who could steal playing time from Henry Anderson. Maybe they have another in Huff.
6. Did you know? Bell's average speed when crossing the line of scrimmage last season was 8.49 mph, which ranked 45th out of 47 qualifying ball carriers, per NFL Next Gen Stats. Bell's new running mate, Gore, was 44th at 8.74 mph. Presumably, better blocking up front will help those numbers increase. In case you're wondering, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was the fastest at 13.73 mph. The Jets know all about that.
7. Sign of the times: For the first seven years of his career, Alec Ogletree made $39.1 million as one of the highest-paid linebackers. Out of work, he accepted a spot this week on the Jets' practice squad for the league-mandated $12,000 per week (projects to $204,000 for the season). He and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Josh McCown have to be the "richest" players in practice squad history. Strange times, new practice squad rules.
8. Salary-cap update: The Jets are heading into the season at No. 3 in cap space ($31.1 million), behind the Cleveland Browns ($34.2 million) and New England ($31.5). Is Patriots coach Bill Belichick punting on the season? I don't think so.
This isn't the number that should trouble Jets' fans. The number that should raise eyebrows is two -- as in only two of the top 13 cap figures on the team belong to players drafted by the Jets, Darnold and Williams. That is seriously out of whack.
Another alarming number: $21.5 million in "dead" money, seventh most in the league.
Douglas has a lot of work ahead of him.
9. The last word: "I mean, it was atrocious. Everything last year, just throw it out. All the stats were terrible" -- Gase on the Jets' offense, which finished 32nd in several statistical categories.