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The New York Jets‘ stated goal this offseason is to help quarterback Zach Wilson, who struggled in his rookie year, but that doesn’t mean the focus is adding pass catchers and blockers. On Wednesday, team officials made a case for bolstering their 32nd-ranked defense to reduce the pressure on Wilson.
“Absolutely,” coach Robert Saleh said in a Zoom call with reporters. “Having a better defense, improving our defense, is at the front of our minds.”
With the fourth and 10th overall picks in the NFL draft, the Jets will have intriguing options at all three levels of the defense — edge rusher, linebacker and secondary. They also have close to $50 million in cap room to sign free agents.
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Conventional wisdom suggests the best way to help a quarterback is to add weapons on offense, but the Jets’ brass knows it can’t win by allowing 29.6 points per game, their league-worst average last season.
“There’s a lot of ways we can help our young quarterback,” general manager Joe Douglas told reporters at the scouting combine. “I think you saw it this year. When a young quarterback is playing with a 14-point lead versus trying to come back from a 14-point deficit, if we can put pieces around to make sure he has a lead instead of playing from behind, young quarterbacks are going to be in a better position to succeed.”
Wilson, drafted second overall in 2021, went 3-10 in his first season, trailing in all 13 starts. He overcame nine- and 11-point deficits to beat the Tennessee Titans and Houston Texans, respectively. In most of his starts, though, the Jets (4-13) fell behind early and got blown out.
The defense, which allowed a franchise-high 504 points, finished last in most of the major statistical categories.
“We got a little bit better toward the end of the year, but there was a minute there when we were giving up 40 points a game — 30, 40 points,” Saleh said. “When you have to play a shootout, that’s a lot of pressure on a quarterback. I don’t care which quarterback you are. To wake up on a Sunday morning knowing you’re about to go into a shootout and you have to keep pace because you can’t get enough stops …
“Absolutely (a strong defense) helps,” he continued. “It helps (offensive coordinator) Mike LaFleur, it helps Zach, it helps everybody because you can play a style of ball where you can call plays to set things up. You don’t have to be impatient. It’s OK to punt. It’s OK to keep the game a one-score game and then, shoot, the fourth quarter comes, it’s playmaker time. Let’s go make some plays and win a football game.”
Eight of Wilson’s 11 interceptions came when the Jets were trailing. It also should be noted that he didn’t play well with a lead, either — only a 53% completion rate, with one touchdown, one interception and a 70.3 passer rating. The Jets are hoping that’s an outlier, and that Wilson’s development will accelerate with more experience.
With nine draft picks, including four in the top 38, the Jets should be able to address the defense and give Wilson a player or two.
“We have an opportunity to add four dynamic difference makers to the team,” Douglas said.
In an expected move, the Jets said they’re planning to exercise Quinnen Williams‘ fifth-year option, which guarantees the defensive tackle’s salary for 2023. The option amount is projected at $11.5 million. Williams, drafted third overall in 2019, is eligible for a new contract. Douglas said he had a “productive conversation” with Williams’ agent, Nicole Lynn, at the combine.
Source: ESPN NFL