Father & Son: A Jets Bond Like No Other

Stephen Russo shares his story of he and his dad’s Jets fandom.

The first six weeks of this NFL season have been difficult for me. Not because the Jets are 1-4, I’ve grown accustomed to that, unfortunately. However, it’s because this is the first time not sharing it with father in my 36 years on this Earth. He was the greatest man I knew. He was smart, witty, and kind. He was my best friend, and we lost him to a 4+ year battle with stage 4 brain cancer about two months ago. Dealing with something like this is never easy. There’s no playbook for it. There’s no right or wrong. You feel what you feel and you don’t hide from it. There are times when I am ok, and I know that he is in a better place because the last few months were tough to watch him go through. There are other times when I am mad that a man that was so unbelievably intelligent could get a disease that ultimately stripped him of his ability to share his thoughts with his loved ones. And then there’s sadness. That never goes away. I’m sad that I lost my best friend in this world way too soon. He was only 71 – cancer sucks.

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1st & 10: They Make it Difficult, Don’t They?

Stephen Russo offers 10 thoughts after the Jets’ Week 3 loss to the Broncos.

This team has been given the absolute lowest bar to clear and through 3 games, they’ve failed to get even an inch over it. You are following up the worst coach in NFL history, that not only lost games in historically bad fashion, but was also unanimously hated by every Jets fan in the world. The Jets have a GM we can get behind, a Head Coach that brings intelligence, fire and excitement to a starving fan base, and a rookie QB who looks the part and can sling the pigskin, and yet they are failing yet again. We knew this team wasn’t going to be the ‘85 Bears or the ‘99 Rams, we even knew that it was going to be a struggle, and we were ok with that. But this is below any expectation that anyone could have had coming into this season. It’s putrid. It’s inept. It’s not fun.

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1st & 10: Zach Squanders Opportunity Against the Patriots

Stephen Russo analyzes the Jets’ Week 2 performance in this week’s 1st & 10.

This was a winnable game and the Jets will be kicking themselves for squandering this opportunity. It was the home opener, with fans chomping at the bit for Jets football, and quite frankly, Zach Wilson pissed it away. The rookie is going to have games like this, but we have to call it what it is: a poor performance by a young QB when everything else went surprisingly well. The Jets’ linemen blocked, the defense played well, and they ran the ball effectively. And while you know struggles are going to come, you really wish they weren’t against the Patriots for once. This one is on Zach Wilson.
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1st & 10: Jets vs. Giants Preseason Edition!

Stephen Russo’s latest first & 10 column

1st…

I thought this game had everything you’d want to see from our first preseason action in two years. The Jets showed life, an ability to move the ball on offense, a defense that got after it, and most importantly – no injuries! The biggest takeaway from this game was how Zach Wilson looked in his first game action as a pro. He looked in command and comfortable as he found a little bit of a groove in his two series of action. His ball had zip, he converted a few third downs (what a novel concept!), and he didn’t shy away from the pressure that he did face when it came his way. Overall, it was a great start for the rookie QB as he went 6/9 for 63 yards and led the starting Jets offense to 3 points.

& 10

1. Boy is it good to see Robert Saleh on the sidelines after staring at Adam Gase’s face for two years.

2. I think the absence of Elijah Moore helps, but I believe we are starting to see Corey Davis solidify himself as the clear cut #1 wide receiver on this team. And rightfully so.

3. CJ Mosley is ready to return with a vengeance this year. If he stays healthy, I think he is going to be a Pro Bowler.

4. There has been concern about the offensive line’s ability to pass block in the first few weeks of training camp – I was happy that they kept Zach Wilson clean in his two series.

5. One interesting nugget to keep an eye on with Saleh that hasn’t been on the radar is discipline. Saleh’s personality screams that he is diligent and detail oriented, which should translate to having a disciplined team that doesn’t punish themselves. It’s early and I’m slightly nitpicking but 6 total penalties, and a few that either negated a first down or gave the Giants a first down, are not what you want to see. It’s the 1st preseason game but it bears watching.

6. The Jets defensive line is going to be VERY good this year. Carl Lawson is going to get a lot of headlines, but I’d keep an eye on guys like JFM and Bryce Huff (who really flashed Saturday night). I could easily see Lawson having 10+ sacks with a few others also having 6 or more this year. They are going to feast on opposing quarterbacks and it is going to be glorious.

7. Good for Denzel Mims.

8. I think I like the Jets’ running back group. Ty Johnson and Michael Carter have some pep, and La’Mical Perine has impressed thus far. And we haven’t even considered Tevin Coleman. This could be an underrated unit that could surprise us with success as a group.

9. It makes me so happy that I can have a year where I don’t have to convince myself that Jeff Smith, Lawrence Cager, or Josh Malone can turn into the next Jerry Rice as they’re playing meaningful minutes on Sundays.

10. I found the starting tight end depth chart to be interesting. Ryan Griffin played with the starters, with Kroft and Herndon sprinkled in. It could be a committee approach; it could be that the coaching staff is still figuring it out. I think it’s time for one to separate himself from the pack.

1st & 10: Training Camp Thoughts

Stephen Russo kicks off his new column “1st and 10” with 10 observations/thoughts about Jets’ training camp so far.

1st…

Don’t panic. It’s August 9th. There has been a collective anxiety among Jets fans following the Green & White scrimmage on Saturday because Zach Wilson and the offense left much to be desired. It’s okay. We are less than 2 full weeks into training camp and Wilson is less than 2 full weeks into being an NFL Quarterback. Give it time, Jets fans. We’ll be alright.

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The Path to Back to Relevance

Stephen Russo offers his thoughts on Joe Douglas’ tenure as GM.

It’s a cautious step, Jets fans.  But a step nonetheless. The step I am referring to is the step out of dysfunction that Joe Douglas has seemingly taken. Weeding through the disarray and continuous blunders of a failed organization over the last decade is no easy task, but we are seeing light at the end of this tunnel. Anyone with a pulse can feel the collective optimism of our beloved and passionate Jets fan base: we have hope. We are 6 months removed from the worst Head Coach in Jets history who capped off the worst decade of football that we have all experienced. But the path to competence and relevance is paved right in front of us, courtesy of Joe D.

The peak of free agency was highlighted by big moves to sign an edge rusher in Carl Lawson and give the Jets something they haven’t had in 15 years, a big bodied wide receiver who can be a red zone and middle of the field threat in Corey Davis, and some quality under-the-radar signings like Keelan Cole and LaMarcus Joyner.

Douglas followed this up with an absolutely stellar draft. Not a single soul can argue with any of the first 4 picks. The Jets (finally!) entered the 21st century and drafted offensive players! They got their quarterback, traded up for arguably the safest pick in the draft in Alijah Vera-Tucker at a position of need and solidified the left side of their offensive line, and then followed those up with the explosive Elijah Moore in the second round and running back Michael Carter in the fourth. Weapons! Offense! Points!

To cap off the offseason, late last week Douglas made a deal with free agent Right Tackle Morgan Moses, formerly of the Washington Football Team. Moses, 30, has been nothing short of steady and reliable and has started every game for Washington since 2016. This move solidifies a premium position while providing depth and reliability at swing tackle in George Fant. With this signing, Douglas has essentially rebuilt the entire offensive line in 2 off-seasons.

When Joe Douglas took the Jets’ General Manager job in 2019, he knew he’d have to roll up his sleeves to clean up the mess that he was left.  Years of bad drafts, horrible contracts, and a myriad of terrible organizational decisions paved the way for his hiring and the proverbial light to go off in Christopher Johnson’s head to finally right this ship.  Douglas was left with a barren roster completely devoid of talent, and the little talent he did have seemed to be in the wrong places.  He kept his eyes toward the future while assessing the present – both players and coaches – and began the clean up.  He has traded assets that he knew wouldn’t be long-term answers for this team and gotten remarkable value back for them.  He’s stockpiled draft picks to maximize his swings on the most important part of building (or re-building) your team from the ground up.   He’s shown a tremendous feel for the market, both on draft day (see Denzel Mims) and in free agency, where he not only can assess where a player should be valued, but also where the 31 other teams are valuing them.  Most importantly, he spearheaded a flawless coaching search in January.  He truly operated with a clean slate to hire someone he had never met before in Robert Saleh, who was arguably the best candidate on the market.  Now, Douglas, Saleh, and new quarterback Zach Wilson are in lockstep with each other, creating a necessary symmetry in the organization that they haven’t had in years.  

In 1997, Bill Parcells inherited a 1-15 team (4-28 in two seasons) from an atrocious head coach. He quickly launched that team to respectability and sparked the best 15-year run in team history. Can Joe Douglas have a similar “Parcells-ian” effect on the Jets organization, effectively hitting the reset button after years of missteps and gaffes to set the stage for a run at sustained success? It is a tall task, but the Jets could truly be at the starting line of something great.

Buckle those chin straps, Jets fans. For the first time in a long time, this is going to be fun. All Gas, No Brake!

Free Agency Frenzy: Joe Douglas Finds Himself in a Lucky Spot

Stephen Russo shares his thoughts on the Jets before free agency begins.

We are on the brink of the most exciting time in a Jets fans’ world… NFL Free Agency. With the always confusing oxymoron of “legal tampering” beginning Monday at noon, the entire fanbase is set to refresh twitter 5,000 times a day waiting for Adam Schefter to break the news that the Jets are signing every free agent they’ve been linked to for the past 4 months… or maybe that’s just me. While the games that they have actually played over the last decade have left much to be desired, the month of March typically brings the excitement that has filled that void for us fans, and it is set to live up to expectation yet again in 2021. However this time, it’s just a little different. The Jets and Joe Douglas find themselves in a very rare and fortunate position.

As Free Agency begins and kickstarts the offseason, the Jets have money to spend in a buyer’s market. The team has holes to fill in a lot of places – basically everywhere except for left tackle and interior defensive line. The free agent pond is stocked with potential targets that would immediately improve the Jets barren roster. Targets at interior offensive line like Joe Thuney and Corey Linsley. Top wide receivers will be on the market like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kenny Golladay and Curtis Samuel. Their long-awaited solution at edge rusher could be solved with Carl Lawson, Bud Dupree or Trey Hendrickson – or a combination of them. Teams aren’t built through free agency, but it sure is a good way to add necessary pieces. Joe Douglas finds himself in a favorable position where his team has the 3rd most cap space in the NFL ($22M more than the 4th ranked team and with more potential depending on roster moves) in a year where the salary cap was reduced and many teams are doing everything they can to get themselves out of the red. Douglas can take advantage of this market and the Jets rare position to get aggressive and pay the “Jets Tax” to get quality starters into Florham Park to build this roster his way.

The draft is only 6 weeks away and yet again, Douglas is in another advantageous scenario – to his credit. The Jets will have a total of 9 picks (potentially more with a Darnold trade) and 5 picks in the first three rounds. The Jets have many needs, but the positions where they should put value – OL, WR, CB, EDGE – the draft is rich in.

The most important question of the offseason is what will the Jets do at quarterback? Well, whatever the answer ends up being, the Jets are in a good spot. They hold the #2 overall pick in this year’s draft where they will have their pick of 3 legitimate top QB prospects that every Jets fan should be excited about in Fields, Wilson and Lance. That same pick could be the key to land Deshaun Watson, who is a top 5 quarterback in this league already at the age of 25 and is somehow miraculously available for a trade (despite what the Texans say). If they choose to move Darnold, they will almost certainly get a 2nd round pick and another later round pick, and be able to continue to stockpile talent at important positions… a foreign concept to previous regimes. And, albeit the worst of all scenarios, if they choose to keep Darnold, they will undoubtedly get a haul back for the 2nd overall pick and be able to continue to round out this roster with premium capital.

We can only speculate what Joe Douglas’ plan for the 2020 season was. From the outside, it looks like he set it up as an evaluative year where he could take a holistic look at the entire roster and coaching staff, and objectively see what he had and what he needed. Anyone would agree that it turned out better than he could have hoped. Now, he finds himself with a new coach that everyone is fawning over, a boatload of cap space in a talent rich free agent pool where he can outspend almost any other team, and a litany of draft picks at his disposal to rebuild this roster.

Joe Douglas, with a little luck, put himself in a nice situation. It is his job to capitalize. This IS the offseason to do it. The days of 5 year rebuilds are long gone. He has a chance to turn this team into a competitor immediately. No more half-measures, no more saving for a rainy day. The time is NOW.

Buckle up, Jets fans. It’s going to be a wild ride.