After Sauce Gardner's second season with the Jets came to an end, the two-time Pro Bowler said his next step him has nothing to do with what happens between the lines.
"I'm going to pride myself on being a leader even more this offseason," Gardner said. "I know what it takes to win. This year, I'm not settling. No matter what. I know what it takes to win, that's what I feel like and I'm going to voice how I feel. We have the talent, we have intelligent coaches. Now we just have to come together and get the job done."
A lot of preseason attention, such as from HBO's "Hard Knocks" showcasing the Green and White's training camp, and the high expectations that came with the acquisition of four-time NFL MVP QB Aaron Rodgers, did not carry over into the bulk of the season as the Jets finished third in the AFC East with a 7-10 record, the same as last season.
"When it's a lot of cameras and there's a lot of stuff going on sometimes you could just lose track of the main thing," Gardner said. "At the end of the day, we still have to go and play against these tough teams and we still have to win. At the end of the day did we wish we could have Aaron and healthy offensive linemen? Of course. That just wasn't the case."
Despite a rollercoaster season for the Jets, Gardner followed his All-Pro rookie year with another stellar season. He finished with an 88.6grade from Pro Football Focus, the second-highest mark among cornerbacks who took at least 80% of the snaps. He led the league, again, with a 90.8 coverage grade. His 51 targets and 29 receptions allowed were both the fewest in the league.
"I feel like I play the hardest position in football," said Gardner, who led the team with 12 pass defenses but did not register an interception. "I don't really have time for distractions or anything like that, so that's why it's pretty easy for me. Even when all that is going on, I'm always thinking about football."
With 2023 in the rearview mirror, Gardner is looking forward to next season with a healthy Rodgers, with whom he's developed a close friendship. When Rodgers returned to practice in November, Gardner caught a glimpse of what could be in store for the Jets.
"Going against Aaron when he on scout team, you're like, 'Man, I wish we had this guy,' " he said. "The throws that he makes, he threw a comeback right on me. They ran seams and he threw a no-look back shoulder only where the receiver could catch it and it's like dang."
Changes lie ahead for the Jets. Players will come and go, tweaks will be made, but the goal will always remain the same.
"We all want to win," Gardner said. "It's to the point we're going to do whatever it takes. I just want to be able to have that leadership role. I feel like age doesn't decide if you can be a leader when you lead by example. I just know I'm a leader."