Emboldened by Aaron Rodgers, confident Jets ready to silence doubters

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — A look at what’s happening around the New York Jets:

1. Super talk: From the moment he arrived in 2019, linebacker C.J. Mosley has been on a mission to change the way the Jets are perceived around the league — i.e. a lack of respect from opponents. Remember the blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2021, when Mosley ranted about how the Eagles were laughing at them?

That narrative has flipped, according to Mosley, who now believes the Jets have a target on their backs.

“That’s exactly what we want,” he said. “We want people to give us everything they have. We want to go to other people’s stadium and hear every single thing they have to say so we can shut them up after the game is over. That’s what it’s going to take to win a Super Bowl. That’s what it’s going to take to grow as a team.”

If Mosley’s perception is accurate, it’s because of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose presence has raised outside expectations and the confidence level within the locker room.

Taking a cue from Rodgers, who talked in his introductory news conference about adding another Lombardi Trophy to the “lonely” Lombardi from Super Bowl III in the team showcase, players haven’t been bashful about expressing their opinions about the team’s potential. They haven’t had this kind of bravado since the Rex Ryan days. Even low-key guard Laken Tomlinson joined the hype parade, saying, “If we’re blessed with some health this year, we’re going to be a scary team.”

Can one player in a 90-man locker room really make that much of a difference? That question was posed to a couple of players, and they both replied with a smile and quick “yes.”

Mosley has no problem with the newfound confidence. After all, if the Jets don’t believe in themselves, how can they expect others to take them seriously?

2. Thinking big: Defensive end Carl Lawson will have smaller paychecks this season, thanks to a recent pay cut, but his personal expectations are larger than ever: his first 10-sack season.

“That’s a goal,” he said. “And that’s going to happen.”

Lawson said he feels great, physically and mentally. He’s also excited about having Rodgers as a teammate. He called it fate.

“It’s almost like God was talking to me,” Lawson said. “My career started chasing this quarterback — I got (2.5) sacks against him — and my career damn near ended in pursuit of this quarterback. It was kind of like a no-brainer from upstairs, like, ‘You need to be here.'”

Rodgers was the first quarterback he sacked (in 2017, when Lawson played for the Cincinnati Bengals), and Rodgers was the opposing quarterback when Lawson ruptured an Achilles’ tendon in a 2021 joint practice in Green Bay. The way Lawson sees it, the trade for Rodgers was a karmic move. So when the team asked him to swallow a pay cut, it was an “easy decision,” he said. Lawson says he’s in a good place now.

“This is probably the best I’ve felt since college,” said Lawson, nearly two full years removed from Achilles’ surgery. “I haven’t felt like this in, like, ever.”

Lawson, who was scheduled to make a non-guaranteed $15 million in the final year of a three-year, $45 million contract, will now make a $9 million base (all but $1 million is guaranteed). He can make another $3 million in incentives, but it still comes up short of his original salary. His plan is to have a huge year and recoup the money on his next contract after the season.

3. Four storylines: On Friday, the Jets wrapped up one of the most eventful offseasons in franchise history. They broke for the six-week hiatus with at least four intriguing positional competitions/situations:

  • Left tackle. Saleh all but handed the job to Duane Brown, saying the 15-year veteran will be “hard to push out the door.” What makes it compelling, though, is Mekhi Becton‘s stated preference to play left tackle, not right tackle. But it could be right tackle or left out for Becton.

  • Right tackle. If it’s not the talented but injury-prone Becton, keep an eye on journeyman Billy Turner, a Nathaniel Hackett fave. The offensive coordinator coached him in Green Bay, brought him to Denver and now New York. Max Mitchell also is lurking.

  • Center. It’s Joe Tippmann‘s job to win. The second-round pick will be in there as soon as he convinces the coaches (and, perhaps more importantly, Rodgers) he can handle the cerebral aspect of the job. Until then, it will be incumbent Connor McGovern or Wes Schweitzer, who got a lot of reps in OTA practices.

  • Strongside linebacker. This was Kwon Alexander‘s job last season, but he remains unsigned. Third-year linebacker Jamien Sherwood, who also backs up Mosley in the middle, is the front-runner after getting the bulk of the offseason reps.

4. Busy summer: Aside from having an extra preseason game (Hall of Fame game on Aug. 3), the Jets will have joint practices with the Carolina Panthers (away) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers ahead of the Aug. 12 and Aug. 19 games with those teams, respectively. They’re still trying to firm up details with the Carolina practices.

The joint practices will serve as an important tuneup for Rodgers, who typically doesn’t play in the preseason. His last appearance was 2018, when he played five snaps in the Packers’ second preseason game. Get ready to see a lot of backup Zach Wilson in August.

5. Big(ger) Mike: Defensive end Micheal Clemons, listed at 6-foot-5, 270 pounds, is actually tipping the scales in the 290s, according to defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich, who indicated the weight gain was by design. They wanted him bigger because the plan is to slide him inside on passing downs, much like they do with John Franklin-Myers (6-4, 288).

Clemons got most of his snaps last season at right end, backing up Lawson in the base defense. He didn’t get a chance to show off his new bod in OTAs; Clemons was sidelined in recent practices with an undisclosed injury.

6. Speaking of weight …: First-round pick Will McDonald IV (6-3, 241) is another player who needs to add pounds and, in his case, strength. “There’s things from a developmental standpoint, all rookies go through it with regards to a little bit more size, a little bit more power,” Saleh said of McDonald’s growth. “Developing the ability to run through tackles is always going to be the biggest thing for a defensive lineman, but I love where he’s at right now.”

He currently looks like a thicker version of cornerback Sauce Gardner (6-3, 200). The rookie pass-rusher has movement skills, for sure. Linemate Solomon Thomas said McDonald has “the super rare ability to bend on a dime.” But his lack of size will be more of a factor when the pads go on in training camp.

7. Sign of the times: McDonald still hasn’t signed his rookie contract, but that’s not unusual. Only 18 of 31 first-round picks have signed, as of Friday, per Spotrac. Tippman also is unsigned, but the second round is particularly slow — only nine of 32 under contract.

8. Reunion: It was nice to see former offensive coordinator Paul Hackett at practice, watching from the sideline and chatting with owner Woody Johnson. The retired coach, 75, spent the week visiting son Nathaniel, who said he has great memories of when his dad was running the offense (2001 to 2004). In fact, he was the OC for the Jets’ last division title (2002).

9. Healthy wheels: Turns out that foot injury that bothered tight end Jeremy Ruckert last season was plantar fasciitis, Saleh revealed. It was an issue before the draft, but the Jets still took him in the third round, confident he would recover. It was a slow process, but he apparently is healthy. He looks “awesome,” according to Saleh.

10. The last word: “There’s been some wow moments. I’m sure there’s going to be a heck of a lot more.” — Saleh on Rodgers

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Jets full of confidence, emboldened by Aaron Rodgers, focused on silencing skeptics

New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley believes the team now has a target on their back and wants opponents to give them their best effort to grow as a team and win a Super Bowl. Mosley’s perception is driven by the arrival of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has increased expectations and confidence levels within the team’s locker room. Defensive end Carl Lawson is also looking to have a breakout season and reach his goal of recording 10 sacks. Other storylines for the Jets’ upcoming season include positional competitions at left tackle, right tackle, center, and strong-side linebacker, joint practices with the Panthers and the Buccaneers, and the weight gain of defensive end Micheal Clemons.

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