For the next six weeks, jobs will be on the line for players and maybe even a coach or two as the Jets finish out their season.
The offense will be the least of their worries. The team has a franchise quarterback in Chad Pennington, running back Curtis Martin and fullback Jerald Sowell locked up long-term and an emerging star in receiver Santana Moss. Slot receiver Wayne Chrebet is also singed long-term but his status is up in the air because he's on the injured reserve with post-concussion syndrome.
Center Kevin Mawae and the left side of the offensive line in tackle Jason Fabini and guard Dave Szott are signed through next year -- multi-year deals for Mawae and Fabini.
Wide receiver Jonathan Carter also looks like a keeper, particularly for his abilities as a kick returner, a position the Jets have been looking to fill since Chad Morton's departure to the Redskins as a free agent. His 31.2-yard average on 13 returns leads the NFL. If he shows value as the No. 3 receiver, the Jets could let veteran Curtis Conway and his $1.5 million salary for next season go. They could also let Conway go if they draft, trade for or sign a big, physical receiver.
Running back LaMont Jordan has proven himself to the Jets while playing as Martin's backup -- particularly this season with 188 yards on 45 carries -- but the Jets won't have to worry about him until his contract runs out after 2004.
The Jets, however, may blow up the defensive side of the ball.
Linebackers Mo Lewis and Marvin Jones were playing themselves out of work early in the season but have played well over the last few games -- Jones even had a 12-tackle game against the Colts last week. Still, rookie Victor Hobson seems ready to take over for Lewis next season and if the Jets are able to get a top middle linebacker in the draft, they could bite the salary cap bullet with Jones as well. The pair are due $1.65 million each next season.
Sam Cowart hasn't been the impact player the Jets had hoped for when they signed him before the 2002 season but improved play over the final six games could sway the Jets to keep him, especially because Cowart makes less than a million for less season and the Jets probably don't want to cut all three starting linebackers.
The Jets may also be shopping for help at corner and strong safety in the likely event they end their relationship with veterans Aaron Beasley -- who stands to make $1.5 million next season -- and Sam Garnes.
What the Jets have to be concerned about is locking up more of their franchise players long term. Pennington and defensive ends John Abraham and Shaun Ellis, as well as tight end Anthony Becht, have their contracts ending after 2004. Yet the importance of the first three to the Jets' future will require contract extension talks this off-season. That's a task that could require more than $40 million in signing bonuses and the likely sacrifice of Becht if they want to keep the other three.
The rest of the moves will be a test of the Jets' front office. If the team releases a number of pricey veterans -- including backup quarterback Vinny Testaverde (a $4 million cap hit next year) -- there will be salary cap problems. That means the Jets will have to rely more heavily on filling spots with mid-level veterans and role players, something that hasn't been the forte of general manager Terry Bradway since joining the team in 2001.
SERIES HISTORY: 5th meeting. Jaguars lead all time series 3-1 but lost to the Jets in an AFC Divisional playoff game 34-24 back in 1998. The only real significance to this matchup is two Marshall quarterbacks -- Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich -- going against each other. That and the fact that Pennington's first significant game action came in Jacksonville in the fourth game of the 2002 season. The Jets lost 28-3 but Pennington was made the starter for good the following day.
NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES
--One of the first teams that came up as the next possible stop for Tampa Bay's Keyshawn Johnson was the Jets -- a team in desperate need of a big receiver and coached by Herman Edwards, someone Johnson got along with very well during their lone season together with Tampa Bay in 2000.
"This is all premature but I like Keyshawn, I like playing with Keyshawn," running back Curtis Martin said. "We always compete. He's a great player. Anyone who has him can benefit. It's unfortunate that it's not working out down there. If we had Keyshawn, I wouldn't mind that at all."
From 1996-99, Johnson caught 305 passes for 4,109 yards (ranked 10th in club history), averaging 13.1 yards a catch and totaling 31 touchdowns.
"I don't know what went on down there but I just know Keyshawn's a good player on the field," nose tackle Jason Ferguson said. "He just wanted to win. That's the type of guy you want around, but I don't know the situation down in Tampa. (He) would definitely be a help for us."
As per league rules because Johnson is still under contract with Tampa Bay, Edwards couldn't comment about speculation on Johnson coming back to the Jets. He did say that the situation in Tampa Bay has manifested itself into an ugly one for the league. Edwards even spoke with the players about it during the team meeting early Wednesday.
"I'm a little disappointed that it has to come to this in our league," Edwards said, "It stains our league a little bit when things of this nature pop up with six games left in the season. I don't think it's good for the National Football League.
"I don't know who is right, who is wrong. I don't know the situation with them. I just don't like the whole deal that all of a sudden we're playing football, and the thing about playing football is trying to win a game every week, and all of a sudden this becomes a distraction for everyone in the National Football League. I don't like it."
--DT Josh Evans is playing in his first game for the Jets this season following an eight-game suspension by the NFL for violating the league's substance abuse policy. It comes against the team -- Jacksonville -- which Evans had one of his most memorable games against.
While playing for Tennessee in 1999, Evans teamed with Jason Fisk on a sack of Jaguars QB Mark Brunell in the end zone for a safety in the 1999 AFC Championship game. It was a 33-14 win that put the Titans in the Super Bowl.
BY THE NUMBERS: 10 -- Number of missed tackles the Jets had at Indianapolis last week, accounting for 79 extra yards for the Colts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Ask my son, he can tell you more. He can talk about it." -- Coach Herman Edwards when asked to comment on WR Keyshawn Johnson, who won't play again for the Bucs this season. NFL rules prohibit talking about a player under contract with another team.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Jets will go to three receivers more often as a way to stretch the field, open up the running game and get a good look at what young receiver Jonathan Carter can do. They'll also keep moving their defensive linemen inside to keep the opposing game bottled up in the middle of the field.
The Jets won't change their schemes nor do they feel the need to. Instead, they'll keep adjusting halfway through the game, which usually finds the Jets down by two touchdowns. If anything, the changes that need to be made or more motivational than strategical.
--FS Jon McGraw will miss the rest of the season with a dislocated right shoulder that will require surgery. Tyrone Carter will start in his place.
--FS Tyrone Carter will start the rest of the season following Jon McGraw's shoulder surgery this week. Starting for McGraw the last month, Carter played adequately and proved a player willing to get into a scrum anytime, yet didn't make much of an impact.
--CB Donnie Abraham (fractured right shoulder) is listed as probable and will likely start at left corner against Jacksonville this week. Abraham has been practicing the last week and should be ready to play. Ray Mickens had been starting in his place the last eight games.
--CB Ray Mickens will start at right corner for the ninth straight game but will move to his normal position as the nickel back when the Jets go with five defensive backs. Abraham will then play at left corner.
--DE John Abraham, who has missed the last three games with a strained groin, returned to practice Wednesday and is listed as questionable for Sunday's game. If he does return, it will likely be just on third downs because Abraham still has to get back some of his stamina. Bryan Thomas will continue starting at right end.
--DE Bryan Thomas will continue starting at right end for John Abraham (groin) but Abraham might come in on third downs.
--DT Josh Evans, who was suspended for the first eight games for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, will become the fifth member of a somewhat expansive defensive tackle rotation. It's unusual for teams to carry five defensive tackles but the Jets need help in stopping the run, something Evans was exceptional at over the second half of last season. The Jets are allowing 154.1 yards rushing per game -- the most in the NFL.
--DT Chester McGlockton may see a little less playing time as the Jets ease Josh Evans back into the rotation after sitting out the first 10 games.
--S David Young won't play this week because of a sore hamstring and coach Herman Edwards said he would be "out for a while." Young would have received more reps with the season-ending injury to Jon McGraw.
--WR Jonathan Carter has solidified his position as the Jets kickoff return man with 242 yards on six returns last week in Indianapolis. He's averaging and NFL-leading 31.2 yards on 13 returns with one touchdown and could be the Jets' long-term answer at that position. He's also moved up as the No. 3 receiver over Kevin Swayne.
--WR Kevin Swayne still doesn't have a catch this season and is falling out of favor with the Jets, especially after having been supplanted as the third receiver by Jonathan Carter.
--WR Kevin Lockett will probably be active for this week's game against Jacksonville. Signed last week, Lockett will take over for Wayne Chrebet (IR -- concussion) as the Jets' slot receiver. He's very familiar with Paul Hackett's West Coast offense and should be able to contribute right away.
--RB LaMont Jordan will wear a soft cast on his left hand for a broken finger but is listed as probable.
GAME PLAN: The Jaguars have one of the better run defense in the NFL and the Jets need to continue running the ball well, which they have recently. To do that, they may keep the Jaguars honest by lining up with three receivers more often. That will keep the Jaguars from lining up eight men in the box all game and let the Jets test Jacksonville's secondary with the blazing speed of Santana Moss and wide receiver Jonathan Carter, who needs to prove last weeks game against the Colts wasn't a fluke.
Defensively, the Jets need to get a good blitz going against rookie quarterback Byron Leftwich and pressure him into mistakes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Jets DL vs. Jacksonville RB Fred Taylor. Taylor's knees are not as hurt as originally thought but he's still not 100 percent. This means the Jets' run defense has to finally make their move and stop the run.
INJURY IMPACT: The New York Jets could get three starters back on defense Sunday -- defensive end John Abraham, cornerback Donnie Abraham and defensive tackle Josh Evans -- although none are expected to start against Jacksonville this week.
John Abraham will probably just play on third down as a pass rusher and the Jets need him, they have just two sacks in the three games Abraham has missed.
Donnie Abraham is another player the Jets need to return because he's their best cover man but he will only play in the nickel defense.
Evans might have the most impact as a run-stopper but he may not play a lot of snaps because of stamina problems.
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