With the free agent wave subsiding and needs still lingering, the New York Jets can find potential answers in the potentially dying league.
The Alliance of American Football may be meeting an early end. On Tuesday, it was reported that the league would immediately suspend operations, with a potential folding on the horizon. The league’s inaugural season will likely be cut short, as the league possibly misses out on its final two weeks, as well as its two-week postseason.
Even if the AAF’s lifespan rounds out at eight weeks, the league may have accomplished something for its players (even if it reportedly had trouble paying them): getting them back on the NFL radar.
The New York Jets, even with several marquee signings, still have several holes to clog in their lineup as they embark on a hopeful era in 2019. Their fillings could well reside in the AAF…
RB Ja’Quan Gardner, San Diego
Gardner does have some experience with the Jets, but not in the traditional sense. With the San Diego Fleet, Gardner has personally worked with ex-Jets running back Lamont Jordan, who coached the rushers.
A series of injuries forced Gardner to the injured reserve, but, prior to the ailment, he was atop the league’s rushing ledger. Early in the season, he earned a pair of 100-yard games, the second of which was punctuated by an 83-yard rush to glory, which still stands as the longest run in this inaugural season. Despite his health limitations, Gardner’s tally of 311 yards still ranked in the league’s top ten.
LB Reggie Northrup II, Orlando
What the Jets do with their defense is going to be one of the more intriguing conversations once practices begin. Gregg Williams is known for his mastery with the 4-3 set, but more recent rumors have speculated that the Jets could stick with the 3-4, a norm since the Eric Mangini days.
If the Jets, still looking for linebacking assistance, primarily stick with the latter option, Northrup could be a possible helper. The Orlando Apollos’ defense has primarily worked out of the 3-4, and Northrup has been a leader for the unit. He currently ranks ninth in tackles with 34, with seven of those creating a loss in yardage (tied for third in the league). During Florida State’s run to the College Football Playoff in 2014, Northrup ranked fourth in the ACC in tackles.
WR Charles Johnson, Orlando
Trivia break! Who caught Sam Darnold‘s first NFL touchdown pass? Robby Anderson? Quincy Enunwa? The departed Terrelle Pryor? You’d be wrong on all accounts, as the unofficial correct answer is Johnson.
At 30 years old and 834 NFL receiving yards, Johnson is one of the AAF’s grizzled veterans. He spent last summer in Jets camp and earned 83 yards on six receptions over the preseason quartet, including a 14-yard score from Darnold in the opener at MetLife Stadium.
Though Johnson was among the Jets’ summer cuts, he caught on with the AAF’s Orlando Apollos and became one of the league’s brightest offensive stars. His league-leading 45 receptions for 687 yards helped Orlando to the top of the league standings, where a 7-1 mark has clinched a playoff berth. With the Jets still seeking offensive weaponry, they could turn to a somewhat familiar face in Johnson.
DL Damontre Moore, San Diego
The AAF is full of notable names that couldn’t crack it in the NFL. Trent Richardson of the Birmingham Iron leads the league in rushing touchdowns. Christian Hackenberg was the starting quarterback for the Memphis Express, but found himself behind Johnny Manziel on the depth chart (Manziel’s AAF days may have come to an early end with a head injury on Saturday).
Moore had high expectations as a third-round pick of the New York Giants in 2013, but personal issues (including a reported altercation with Giants teammate Cullen Jenkins over headphones) stifled his NFL success. Prior to departing, he earned 5.5 sacks during 2014 as a blue sophomore.
Granted new life in the AAF, Moore climbed to the top of the AAF sack leaderboards, currently tied for second with seven. He earned a sack in each of his past four games, including two in a Week 5 win over Salt Lake. Elsewhere at the top of the stat books, Schult has earned the most quarterback hits (25) and the second-most pass defenses amongst linemen. If the Jets believe he’s ready for a second chance, they could welcome Moore back to New York.
K Nick Rose, San Antonio
In college, Rose became a bit of a viral sensation at Texas when he nailed an 80-yard field goal during a workout. While the local San Antonio Commanders haven’t asked him to kick any from that distance just yet, he brought his big leg over to the AAF.
Rose was a perfect 14-for-14 on his kicks, including two from at least 50 yards. His personal long, a 54-yarder earned in Sunday’s game against Arizona, is tied for the second-longest field goal in the AAF this season. Rose has prior NFL experience, even briefly spending time in the Jets’ system during the 2018 offseason.
The Jets have found diamonds in the rough when it comes to their kickers. The most recent, Jason Myers, earned a Pro Bowl nomination, but left for Seattle last month. They brought back another such find, Chandler Catanzaro, but if they’re looking to start a competition, Rose would be a fine place to start.
DL Karter Schult, Salt Lake
The Jets are going to deal with Josh Allen, the newly minted, multi-talented quarterback of the Buffalo Bills, twice a season for the foreseeable future. The 2019 schedule features dates with similarly gifted throwers Baker Mayfield, Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson, and Carson Wentz. Oh, and, despite his expert reporting, Tom Brady is here to stay.
In other words, they’re going to need some help attacking the quarterback with a fearsome edge rush. Even if the Jets gained helped in Anthony Barr, there was work to be done. Schult can be that guy.
The nightmares of AAF quarterbacks have been filled with visions of Schult. No one has gotten in the backfield better than the Salt Lake Stallion. Though he recently lost the AAF’s sack lead to San Antonio’s Jayron Elliott (Schult has 7, tied for second), he remains tops in tackles for a loss (13), and quarterback pressures (21), while also forcing a fumble.
WR Greg Ward Jr., San Antonio
Ward is perhaps best known for his exploits as a quarterback at Houston. It was a collegiate career that included a surprise win over Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl.
Transformed into a receiver upon his NFL entry, Ward earned a Super Bowl ring as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad in 2018. He signed on with the Commanders and has made a name for himself on both offense and special teams. Undeterred by the lack of kickoffs in the AAF, Ward leads the league in punt return average at 15 yards per chance. He’s also one of two players to take a punt back for a touchdown this season. Ward has also added 214 receiving yards on 22 receptions.
With Andre Roberts departing via free agency, the Jets have a huge hole to fill when it comes to a return man. A versatile weapon, one that can open the offense to avenues of potential trickery, Ward should certainly be on the Jets’ radar.
QB John Wolford, Arizona
Wolford was another 2018 Jets summer camp attendee, albeit a late arrival. To preserve both Darnold and the later-traded Teddy Bridgewater, Wolford quarterbacked a majority of the Jets’ preseason finale in Philadelphia.
The Jets will have a decision to make when it comes to backup quarterback, especially if Darnold misses time as he did in his rookie season. The team is set to retain Davis Webb, and likewise added veteran and former starter Trevor Siemian. Wolford certainly has a football pedigree, as his uncle Will was a three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman. He also provides assurance in case of emergency. He currently stands in second place in Wake Forest’s touchdown pass list (59), a stat he currently tops in the AAF in (14). The ex-Demon Deacon also ranks second in both passer rating (96.9) and yardage (1,616).
If the Jets seek to add a new name to their backup competition or simply just need another summer arm once again, they could do far worse than Wolford.