On most travel itineraries the borough of Florham Park, NJ (population 13,149 as of 2021), is little more than a blip on the map of Northern New Jersey. In contrast, 1 Jets Drive over the past few months has become an enticing destination for a slew of NFL free agents.
As much as a varied number of talented players eye the Jets (see also, WR Odell Beckham, Jr.; RB Ezekiel Elliott; and, of course, QB Aaron Rodgers) and foresee a future in green and white, HC Robert Saleh said he's flattered by all the attention. But he's also committed to and excited about retaining the core of the team's roster.
Asked this week at the NFL League Meeting in Arizona if the Jets might be interested in Elliott, the Cowboys' former running back, Saleh was short and to the point: "We love our running back room. I'll leave it at that." Next question.
Saleh and his staff hope that Breece Hall, who sustained a season-ending knee injury in a Week 7 game at Denver, will be ready perhaps for training camp and for his sophomore season in the NFL. Despite seeing limited time on the field, Hall still finished as the Jets' leading rusher (463 yards) and has been called the offense's "home-run hitter." The versatile Ty Johnson remains with the Green & White for his fourth season after re-signing. And Saleh said that he expects Michael Carter, entering his third season with the team, to rebound. Finally, undrafted free agent Zonovan Bam Knight infused the offense in his seven games with speed and impressive power.
"I'm expecting big things from Michael Carter," Saleh said. "I know he had a down year a year ago, but I think he's got a chance to come back strong. It usually happens where Year 3 is a trigger for those young guys and obviously Bam finished the season strong. We get Ty Johnson back and then Breece looks fantastic, so we just have a really good mixture of young guys right now that we're excited to grow and continue to work with and we'll fill the needs where necessary."
In the 2022 season, the offensive line was an obvious area of concern, racked by injuries (Mekhi Becton, Alijah Vera-Tucker, Max Mitchell and others) and uncertainty. Nate Herbig went to Pittsburgh in free agency, Dan Feeney left for Miami. George Fant and center Connor McGovern remain available in free agency. Again, Saleh believes that the returning core, from injury or otherwise, on the O-line can be augmented in free agency (Wes Schweitzer and Trystan Colon) and perhaps in the draft with the Jets currently holding the No. 13 overall selection.
"I'll start with Duane [Brown]," Saleh said of the 37-year-old warrior who played most of last season with a shoulder injury. "I want to start drinking the water he's been drinking because I have no idea how he's rehabbing and progressing the way he is. He looks fantastic.
"Mekhi, I know he's posted some videos, I mean he looks good, man. He's doing all the right things, his mind is in the right spot. And then Max [who missed time late in the season dealing with blood clots], we're very confident Max will come back fully healthy and ready to play and ready to roll. So again, we're still looking at that group and making sure we cross our T's and dot our I's. There's still the draft and there's still free agency. And so we'll continue to grow off it and continue to study it and make sure we're making the best decisions for our organization."
During a sit down with team reporter Eric Allen for an edition of "The Official Jets Podcast," Saleh repeated his intention to roll it back with his players on defense, a group that bolted from the bottom of the NFL in the 2021 season to land among the top five defenses in the league in the 2022 season. That plan took a bit of a hit when D-linemen Sheldon Rankins left in free agency for Houston and Nathan Shepherd signed with New Orleans. But at linebacker, the Jets were able to re-sign Quincy Williams and renew his partnership with C.J. Mosley.
"Last year I thought he had a good year," Saleh said, referring to the older of the Williams brothers. "I think he can be a heck of a lot better. His kind of length, speed and violence. With regards to speed and the way he hits, I mean it's like a freight train when he hits people. We're excited to get him back and excited to continue to work with him."
Williams and Mosley are the only pair of linebackers in the league to each record 100 tackles in each of the past two seasons. And they are only the third pair of Jets' linebackers to accomplish that feat since 2000.
"C.J., I mean, I can't speak enough about him," Saleh said. "You know, to get back to the Pro Bowl. And I've said it before, he did it differently because he didn't win the fan vote. You know, and it was he got to the Pro Bowl, and it was a starter at the Pro Bowl because of his peers. Which is the ultimate accolade in my mind."
Saleh added: "He is an unbelievable locker-room character. He loves football, works his tail off. The ultimate teammate and just we're very fortunate to have him."