7 things on Jets head coach Robert Saleh's to-do list

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Ralph Vacchiano
·7 min read
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Jets head coach Robert Saleh signing contract
Jets head coach Robert Saleh signing contract

There is excitement all around the Jets these days and a hope about what the hiring of Robert Saleh means for their future. That figures to only grow when he steps to the virtual podium on Thursday, exuding the confidence and leadership that won the Jets over during his job interview.

He will surely make everyone believe the Jets have a bright future. But when he finally does settle into his new office in Florham Park, N.J., this reality will set in:

There’s a lot of work to do.

Here are just some of the things on the list for the 41-year-old Saleh as he begins his new job as the 20th head coach in Jets history:

1. Settle on who his quarterback will be.

There is no bigger issue on the table for Saleh. Does he want to ride with Sam Darnold, take a shot at a rookie with the No. 2 overall pick, or tilt at the windmill of Deshaun Watson? It won’t be solely his decision, of course, and there are financial ramifications to his choice. But make no mistake: The quarterback Saleh and his offensive coordinator, Mike LaFleur, want will be the primary factor in any move GM Joe Douglas makes.

There are early indications that Saleh wants Darnold, the 23-year-old heading into his fourth NFL season. There is a belief that he will fit well in LaFleur’s system, and it would free up Douglas to trade the No. 2 pick an add to a stockpile of high draft choices he intends to use to rebuild the roster. Many around the league believe that’s Douglas’ preference, too.

Of course, things can change …

2. Decide if it’s even worth taking a run at Watson.

There is no doubt that, all things being equal, Watson is a better option for the Jets than Darnold or whomever they’d take at No. 2. All things aren’t equal, of course. If Watson is available – still a big “if” – the price is going to be astronomically high. The Texans are likely to demand at least three first-round picks, and probably more. The Jets, with four first-round picks in the next two drafts, certainly have the ammunition to make a deal for the 25-year-old, three-time Pro Bowler.

Many would argue that no price is too high for the right franchise quarterback and it figures the Jets will at least make a call to see what Watson costs. But there are ramifications for even making the attempt get him. The Jets could try and fail, and then they’d have to turn back to Darnold. Who knows if that will affect him? And even if Darnold handles that like a pro, what message does that send to the rest of the team if it gets out the Jets were eager to move on with their second choice?

Also, they can’t let any trade discussions about Watson linger too long. They would need that chase to wrap up quickly. They intend to be active in the free agent receiver market in mid-March. And those top receivers will want to know who’ll be throwing them the ball at their next stop.

3. Figure out how involved he’s going to be with the defense.

Surely, Saleh already knows either who his defensive coordinator will be, or at least who the top candidate is. It will undoubtedly be someone who shares his defensive philosophy and plans to run something similar to the scheme he used in San Francisco.

That scheme, by the way, and Saleh’s ability to coach it is really why he’s here. If he hadn’t turned the 49ers defense into a powerhouse, he wouldn’t have been one of the NFL’s rising star assistants. That second-round defense that powered the 49ers to the Super Bowl a year ago put him on the map.

The Jets, though, didn’t hire him for that. They hired him for his leadership. They were clear that they wanted a “CEO”-type coach. After two years of watching Adam Gase really only coach the offense, they wanted someone who was coaching and invested in the entire team and entire game.

That doesn’t mean Saleh won’t call the defensive plays, or that he shouldn’t. But he has to decide if he wants to do that and if he thinks he can call the defense and manage the game. Not every coach can.

4. Evaluate what talent he has on defense and if he can even run his 49ers scheme.

Spoiler alert: There’s not enough talent there. Until injuries wiped them out this season, the 49ers defense was powered by a line of Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and Arik Armstead. The Jets have one player that potentially could fit in that group – Quinnen Williams. No one else is even close.

So they’re going to need to boost the defensive line. Granted, they have holes all over the defense, but presumably Saleh is going to want to start up front. One intriguing player to watch: Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent. The former third overall pick has been a bit of a bust and is coming back from a torn ACL, but he’s also only 25. There could be untapped potential there.

5. See if he has the running backs to make LaFleur’s offense work.

There is no doubt the Jets are going to look for receivers this offseason, but Douglas has actually talked more generally of “weapons”. So it’s worth noting that, assuming the Jets’ new offensive coordinator is going to run something similar to what Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco, it’s the running backs that made that system go.

The good news is they didn’t have an all-star cast at that position in San Francisco. They got huge production out of a group that included Raheem Mostert, Tevin Coleman, Matt Brieda, Jeff Wilson, Jerrick McKinnon and Jamycal Hasty. The bad news is the Jets’ running back depth chart isn’t even that good. It’s headlined by La’mical Perine, whose rookie season was blotched by injuries, and includes Ty Johnson and Josh Adams, if they even return.

Coleman and McKinnon are scheduled to be free agents, by the way. And neither should be expensive.

6. Start rounding up his guys, and see which of them he wants to bring to New York

Not every coach does this, but many of them do – they bring players that know them, who they’ve coached before, who understand their philosophies. It can help a new coach to have veterans like that in the locker room who can serve almost as interpreters for other players. They can work as pseudo-assistant coaches behind the scenes.

Someone like … veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, perhaps? He’s 32 but he can still play. He’s probably not returning to San Francisco. Oh, and he absolutely loves Saleh.

There are actually several 49ers defensive players who are scheduled to be free agents and who could follow Saleh to the Jets. Another one to watch is cornerback K’Waun Williams, a Montvale, N.J., native.

7. Start changing the culture, the attitude, and the atmosphere in the entire organization.

Douglas set out to do this when he was hired, but there are really only two things that lead to culture change in sports: The head coach and wins. For the moment, Saleh can’t do much about the latter. But he’s certainly in position to set the tone.

He’s got a lot of work to do on that front, too. The Jets have a long history of failure, obviously, including 10 years of missing the playoffs. In recent years, including with some of the current players, they’ve also experienced plenty of locker room disruptions, player who didn’t want to be here, and even coaches who helped divide the team.

Saleh, starting with his opening press conference on Thursday, not only needs to set a new, unifying tone, but he needs to exude confidence. And then he has to find a way to get his players, old and new, to all buy in. It can happen quickly. Just look across town at what Joe Judge did with the Giants. He’ll find a way if he really is the right man for the job.