Throughout the NFL's offseason, the Jets added pieces in free agency and the draft as general manager Joe Douglas and head coach Robert Saleh went about constructing and fortifying the team's roster.
Last week a potentially important piece was added to the defensive puzzle when the Green & White added veteran linebacker Kwon Alexander, who signed a one-year, free-agent contract. He is yet another player who has reunited with Saleh from 2019 when he was the defensive coordinator with the Super Bowl-bound San Francisco 49ers.
"I love Saleh," Alexander told reporters on Monday, the first day of training camp to find the players in pads. "I love everything about Saleh, his energy. The main thing is that he brings everyone along. I'm glad we're back together and I wanted to come back and play for him."
With the addition of Alexander, the Jets now have four defensive players from that 2019 49ers' roster: Alexander, DL Solomon Thomas, CB D.J. Reed and LB Marcell Harris.
Alexander, 27, who played in college at Louisiana State, played his first four NFL seasons with the Buccaneers who drafted him in the fourth round (No. 124 overall) in 2015. He made the Pro Bowl with Tampa Bay in 2017, partly on the strength of a strong 2016 season in which he started and played in all 16 games and finished fourth in the league with 145 combined tackles (108 solo).
A torn ACL ended his 2018 season after 6 games and led to him signing with San Francisco in free agency. After dealing with a chest injury but also helping the 49ers advance to Super Bowl LIV, Alexander was traded to New Orleans in November 2020. After appearing in 7 games with the Saints in 2020, Alexander returned in 2021 and totaled 50 tackles (7 TFLs) and 3.5 sacks in 12 games.
On Monday, he said he had paid a visit to the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center in the offseason, and also had interest from the Giants and the Saints. But his familiarity with Saleh and his defensive scheme helped him make the decision to join the Jets.
"It wasn't until I got here that I knew they added the guys from San Francisco," Alexander said. "What I've seen for myself is that these guys are hungry, love football and are ready to get it going."
Saleh and defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich could not be more pleased.
"He's in great shape, he's got great recall of what we did in San Fran," Saleh said. "There are some new things here, but he's a quick learner, instinctual. He made a play in the last period today and he did what Kwon does: he made sure the guys on the other side of the ball knew it. He's A+. I didn't expect him to be in the shape he's in. He's ready to roll."
Addressing the play Saleh described, Alexander said: "Just bringing myself and my energy. On that play, I wanted to get the team going. That's what I'm here to do, and I'll be here regardless. I want to bring the guys with me."
See the Green & White on the field in full pads for the first time at training camp.
Alexander joins a linebackers' room that in the view of many was in need of depth beyond last season's productive starters in C.J. Mosley and Quincy Williams (who actually began last season in Jacksonville). Second-year man Jamien Sherwood is returning from an Achilles tendon injury, Hamsah Nasirildeen has been running with the first team early in camp, while Harris, Del'Shawn Phillips (who's strong on special teams) and DQ Thomas are all in the mix.
It's early in training camp and the question remains how many linebackers will make the 53-man roster, especially since the Jets' defensive scheme often has only two on the field at the same time.
Ulbrich, nevertheless, said he's happy to have another piece to fit into his defensive puzzle.
"It's always good to add more guys," he said. "You know, Coke [the Coca-Cola soft drink] is really good, but Coke is even better with something added. You know what I'm talking about. He's an addition to our Coke.
"He's awesome. He's got this infectious energy, he got an edge and the ability to elevate the people around him. It will make us better in practice, meetings and ultimately on Sundays."