The Philadelphia Eagles will play their fourth and final 2019 preseason football game on Thursday night against the New York Jets. It’s almost over, thank God.
In order to preview this especially meaningless matchup, I reached out to our associates over at Gang Green Nation. The great Michael Nania was kind enough to answer my questions, so let’s take a look at those. Also don’t forget to check out my side of the Q&A exchange coming up at GGN.
1 - The Jets hired former Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas as their general manager earlier this offseason. What was the reaction to that hiring? What’s the confidence level in him?
The reaction to the hiring of Douglas was extremely positive. While fans were not high on former GM Mike Maccagnan at all, who was responsible for some of the league’s worst draft productivity since 2015, the timing of his firing (post-draft) was very odd. A great hire was needed to restore confidence in the team’s plan and structure. For the Jets to turn around and hire one of the most respected and well-regarded options on the market certainly cleared the air. It’s almost as if the drama around the Maccagnan firing (which I thought was way overblown anyway) never even happened.
Most fans probably did not know who Douglas was until his name came up in the GM search, but there were plenty of big names in both media and league circles who praised him as a top-notch candidate for the position. Nearly every potential GM or HC candidate is heaped with praise coming in, but it felt like the respect for Douglas was a notch or two above the usual. His long history of experience with successful teams, such as in Philadelphia, also added to his appeal.
At the present, there is a ton of confidence in Douglas from the fanbase and media. Inheriting a roster that included a lot of talent at the top, but a lot of holes from the middle to the bottom, he has been busy from the moment he stepped in. His biggest move has been pulling former Panthers center Ryan Kalil out of retirement, a surprise addition that really spoke volumes about the connections Douglas already has in the league - and his willingness to go out and be aggressive to fix an ailing position.
It’s extremely early, but the Douglas era seems to be off to a promising start. When it’s all said and done, however, he’ll be judged on his draft productivity. It’ll be a few years until we can truly start judging him in that area. But so far, there is a cautious level of optimism that he might finally be the long-term GM answer that the Jets have been longing for.
2 - Given the Douglas connection, are there are players or positions on the Eagles’ roster that you could see the Jets realistically targeting via trade or waiver claim?
There has been a lot of talk about Douglas and the Jets going after some current Eagles. One former Eagle is already on the roster - undrafted free agent cornerback Alex Brown, who has actually been perhaps the best defensive back among the backup units.
Cornerback is where the Jets are the weakest right now. Their starting trio (Trumaine Johnson, Darryl Roberts, Brian Poole) has enough of their own question marks, but the depth has been extremely poor in the preseason. Johnson has been hurt (expected to be ready for Week 1), shining the light on just how bad the Jets’ depth at that position is. The preseason has revealed that if the Jets ever are down a starting corner, they will likely be in major trouble if they enter the season with their current depth chart.
So, eyes have been pointed in Philadelphia’s direction given Douglas’ history there and the Eagles’ depth at corner. Fans have been hoping a trade could be swung for one of Philly’s corners, but I’m not sure how likely that is. As the Jets are learning, good corners are hard to find, so the Eagles are probably not too eager to give one up.
It looks like Douglas is going to have be active on the waiver wire to fix this position. There seems to be a good chance that multiple cornerbacks that will be on the Week 1 roster have yet to join the team.
3 - What’s the outlook for the Jets this year? How many wins are you expecting? What’s the confidence level in Adam Gase and Sam Darnold?
The outlook around this team is more positive than it has been in quite some time. Most of that stems from Sam Darnold. The Jets finally have a high-upside franchise quarterback, and he seems poised to make a big leap. Following his return from injury last season, he had a spectacular final quarter of the season, showing early signs of the progression that could be in his future. Throughout the offseason, there have been no indications of that progression being slowed. The offense has dominated the defense in practice all summer - that never happens with this franchise. Darnold has generated positive reviews from the media that simply have not been heard before.
More importantly, he has come out under the lights and looked solid. The Jets’ starting offense has scored a touchdown in all three preseason games. Darnold has shown the improved comfort and poise you would expect out of a second-year quarterback.
Gase has won the fanbase and media over quickly. He was not a popular hire at all, but his football-crazed mentality has gotten the fans behind him. When a story comes out that he once left the birth of his own son to go meet Peyton Manning on the practice field, you can bet that fans are going to eat it up. Oh, he also sniffed some smelling salt at the beginning of a preseason game.
He’s also a young, offensive-minded head coach, which is the popular route to go in the NFL today and something the Jets have not had in a long time. That’s a change of pace fans are excited about.
Gase has a lot of history working with quarterbacks in the NFL, and has generally done a great job getting the best out of them everywhere he has gone. Having a quarterback-friendly head coach should be a huge help for Darnold. Doug Pederson, who like Gase is a former quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator (plus a former QB himself) has worked out tremendously for Carson Wentz and the Eagles. The Jets are surely hoping Gase can achieve similar success with Darnold. Sam was reportedly a major part of the hiring process, and he gave Gase his vote of confidence.
In spite of his losing record in Miami, the fanbase has generally invested in the idea that Gase is actually a very good offensive coach and playcaller, who was simply let down by the low-quality roster in Miami. That idea may be true, but time will tell if it really is the case, or if Gase’s deficiencies as a head coach will persist regardless of the talent level.
The media has praised Gase’s intensity and connection with the team. He is competitive in practice and has a personality that has seemed to mesh well with the players. The competition between he and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has been fiery.
As an additional plus, the drama has been kept at a low level - rare for the Jets. Aside from the Maccagnan firing, things have been quiet. We’ll see what happens when the losses start coming in - but so far, Gase has kept his cool and been great with the media. There aren’t any non-football storylines buzzing around the team.
For the Jets, the expectations are high, but not too high. There is still a lot of building to be done. I would set the bar at 9 wins. I don’t think there is a playoff-or-bust mentality — the team won 4 games last year, has a new head coach, and a new GM who hasn’t drafted one player yet — but they did spend a ton of money in free agency to try and start competing around their young quarterback while he’s still cheap.
The talent is there for them to be in the Wild Card chase through Week 17. 9 wins might be enough, or it might not be, but if the Jets are able to finish above .500, their season will likely be seen as a success. That is a record they can build off of to reach championship contention in 2020, when Douglas will have had the time to solidify the depth and patch remaining holes at OL, CB, and EDGE in particular.
An 8-8 finish would probably be met with a split between positive and negative reactions. Anything below .500 will most likely be unanimously considered a failure.
Ultimately, though, what is most important is that the Jets can come out of 2019 having no doubts that Sam Darnold is their man.
4 - Which Jets players are you most excited to see in this year’s preseason finale?
The spotlight has been at cornerback throughout the entire preseason, and will continue to be. As mentioned previously, former Eagle Alex Brown has had a nice preseason, looking good in the two games he has played with the Jets. If he can have another solid game, he could lock up a roster spot. The rest of the cornerback has struggled to even look competent, so we will see if that changes at all.
There are a lot of interesting things going on with the special teams unit. There has been a punter battle between three-year starter Lachlan Edwards and former Bill/Dolphin Matt Darr. Edwards, while not elite, has generally been better than Darr in recent years, but the team decided to add competition. It seems Edwards took control against the Saints last week, but the battle will rage on for one last game.
At kicker, the Jets have had a mini-crisis. They let Pro Bowler Jason Myers go, due to the relatively expensive deal he got and the fact he may have had a fluke year, and their contingency plans have not worked out well. Their first choice was Chandler Catanzaro. He struggled in camp, missed two extra points in the first preseason game, then retired. His replacement has been Texas A&M product Taylor Bertolet, who has not kicked in a regular season game but was with the team last year. He also missed two extra points in his first game, but he rebounded to nail field goals from 56 and 48 yards out in his second game (also hitting his only extra point). Bertolet has no competition (a curious decision), so it seems he has the spot locked up.
Undrafted rookie Greg Dortch, out of Wake Forest, has been making noise. He seems to have locked up the punt returner job, as he’s looked comfortable and explosive there, averaging over 11 yards per return. Dortch is only 5’8, but he has tons of shiftiness.
5 - Wanna give a meaningless score prediction for Thursday’s game?
Preseason games tend to have weird scores. I’m going to go with Eagles 25, Jets 16. After doing some further research, it turns out that score has only been seen in the regular season (or playoffs) five times in NFL history.
Eagles 25, Jets 16. Book it!