FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Jets 2023 season ended after their 17-3 win over the Patriots on Sunday.
At 7-10, many aspects of the Jets season certainly didn’t go their way, including Aaron Rodgers’ Achilles injury four plays into the 2023 season.
With the year in the rearview mirror, it is time for the Jets to focus on a critical offseason full of questions and issues to address.
How will the Jets offense improve?
It seems like the Jets offense has been a concern since Robert Saleh became coach in 2021. But in his three seasons in Florham Park, Gang Green continues to field one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
The Jets entered Sunday’s game ranked 31st in yards (269.5) and 29th in points per game (15.7). Yes, Rodgers’ Achilles injury in Week 1 set back the entire offense, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to have their eighth consecutive losing season.
The Browns started five different quarterbacks this season and will make the playoffs for the first time since 2020. Pittsburgh finished 10-7 despite the inept quarterback play from either Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, or Mason Rudolph.
The fact is, Jets offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett could have done a better job adapting to his personnel. It took him nearly 3/4 of the season to use Garrett Wilson and Breece Hall correctly.
Hackett also admitted recently that he didn’t know Hall was a good pass catcher out of the backfield.
“I don’t think I was ready for him to be as productive as he was in the pass game,” Hackett said about Hall. “I think that’s something that has added a whole dimension to things that we can do, lining up at wide receiver, catching the ball from the backfield and when he touches the ball, he could score at any time.
“I think he’s gotten better as the year has gone on, too. I think that’s been great to see, but it would be great to have an offseason and be able to work with him even more and get him involved earlier.”
Even if that is true, why would you admit you didn’t know one of your best offensive weapons could be used in the passing game? Hackett could easily have turned on the film from last season and saw how Hall was used in the Jets offense. Hall’s college film at Iowa State was also at Hackett’s disposal.
There was no excuse for the Jets offense to be incompetent for the second season in a row. This falls at the feet of Saleh, Hackett, and general manager Joe Douglas.
Jets need to decide if Lazard returns
During Sunday’s game against the Patriots, Jets wide receiver Allen Lazard was a healthy scratch for the third game this season.
“With the weather being what it was, just having an extra punt returner in the event the young rookie [Xavier Gipson] struggled back there,” Saleh said about making Lazard inactive.
This is alarming for several reasons, especially given the commitment the Jets gave him last offseason.
Lazard signed a four-year, $44 million contract last March with $22 million guaranteed. He only recorded 23 catches for 311 yards and one touchdown in 14 games.
To say Lazard’s signing was a disappointment would be an understatement. When he was playing, Lazard dropped passes and struggled to separate from defenders consistently. He also tended to commit unforced penalties.
Rodgers not playing certainly affected Lazard more than anyone. But the Jets thought they were getting a number two receiver who could take pressure off Garrett Wilson.
Instead, they created another problem because the Jets will have a difficult time moving on from Lazard during the offseason. According to Over the Cap, Lazard’s dead money hit if the Jets release him would be $18.7 million pre-June 1. If the Jets designate Lazard for a post-June 1 release, it would be $12.1 million.
Lazard is also due $10 million guaranteed in 2024. Because of those numbers, it is likely Lazard will return next season. However, the Jets need to find another receiver or two to help their offseason because they can’t rely on Lazard finding his magic with Rodgers again.
“I think he’s disappointed,” Saleh said. “I’ll sit here and put a guarantee on it that he’ll have a hell of a lot better 2024 than ’23. He’s made of the right stuff, he’s built the right way and he’s going to attack it and he’s going to find a way to get better.”
We know Saleh, Douglas, and Hackett will return, but who else will return to the staff?
Will defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich get a head coaching position this offseason? There should be several coaching openings beginning this week, and Ulbrich could be on the shortlist to receive an interview.
After finishing 32nd in total defense in 2021, Ulbrich and Saleh have helped the Jets defense land in the top five yards each of the last two seasons.
“I’ve never let myself go there,” Ulbrich said last month. “I’ve always prided myself on being in my feet and being where I’m at and embracing the roll I have, but I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say there’s times where I’ve thought about it.
“I played a long time in this league and now I’ve coached a long time in this league, and with that comes a lot of experience. And it’s funny, because I’ve never thought of the big picture, the global picture that a head coach might look at things at, but I’m starting to look at the game in that way and really, I think a big part of that’s been being around some amazing leaders and people within this organization that have really helped push me in that way, and made me think that way, and my vision of what I would like to do if I were ever given that opportunity has become very clear.”
Jets offensive line coach Keith Carter could possibly be on the way out. Gang Green used 13 different offensive line combinations in 17 games. Last year, the Jets had 11 different players start games on their offensive line, costing John Benton his job.
When Saleh hired Carter last offseason, he said Carter specialized in “red zone, running the football, getting the ball past the goal line.” The Jets struggled in all of those areas after finishing last in both third down conversion rate and red zone touchdown efficiency.
Someone has to take the fall for the Jets’ disappointing season, and that could be Carter in the end.
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