FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Bad contract: Unless Trumaine Johnson turns it around in 2019, he'll go down as another big-money bust, right up there with Darrelle Revis and Muhammad Wilkerson. In addition to being "up and down" on game days -- a tellingly lukewarm assessment from coach Todd Bowles -- Johnson's off-the-field habits have raised concerns within the organization. This week, he was held out of a practice for one day (and probably fined) for an undisclosed disciplinary violation. He will play Sunday at the New England Patriots.
Sometimes teams sign a bad apple in free agency because they don't know what they're buying, but that shouldn't have been the case with Johnson. The Jets have two people in the building who knew Johnson from his time with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams -- secondary coach Dennard Wilson and vice president of player personnel Brian Heimerdinger. Wilson was his position coach for two years with the Rams, so he worked with Johnson on a day-to-day basis. Wilson knew him better than anyone.
Johnson was widely regarded as the best man-to-man corner in free agency, and he capitalized on the Jets' desperation by squeezing them for a five-year, $72.5 million contract. They overpaid to satisfy a need, but that's what happens in free agency. It's a dangerous way to do business, but the Jets are prepared to do it again in March. (See: Le'Veon Bell.)
As for Johnson, he'll be back for the 2019 season, thanks to his $34 million guarantee (third largest in franchise history). His 2019 salary ($8 million) is fully guaranteed, and they'd have a $24 million cap charge if they cut him. In other words, it's prohibitive because of severe cap ramifications. They can cut him in 2020, when his guaranteed money runs out, but that won't be ideal from a cap standpoint. They'd get stuck with a $12 million charge, only a $3 million savings.
Translation: Try to grin and bear it for another year. Johnson can be a very good player when he's locked in, but we've seen that guy for only a few games this season. One team insider said Johnson is sensitive to criticism and isn't wired for the New York market. The honeymoon is over, but it wasn't really much of a honeymoon.
2. The last hurrah: Maybe it's fitting that Bowles will face the Patriots in his finale -- one last, cruel reminder of how life works in the AFC East. Like his three predecessors, Bowles arrived on the scene with the hope of overtaking the Patriots, who were embroiled in the Deflategate scandal at the time. I remember asking Bowles at a charity golf tournament in the spring of 2015, "Are the Patriots vulnerable?" His answer wasn't particularly memorable.
As it turned out, the Bowles-led Jets never came close to dethroning the Patriots. He finished two games behind them in 2015, but the gap grew to nine games in 2016, eight in 2017 and now six in 2018. His career record against the Pats is 1-6. It's tough being in the AFC East.
"With our record," Bowles deadpanned, "it's difficult to be in any division."
Bowles is the fifth Jets coach during the Bill Belichick era. How his predecessors fared:
Al Groh (2000): He was lucky; he caught the pre-dynasty Patriots. Record against New England: 2-0.
Herm Edwards (2001-05): He began his coaching tenure in the pre-Tom Brady era, but that changed quickly. In fact, it was one of Edwards' own players -- Mo Lewis -- who changed the landscape by knocking out Brady's predecessor, Drew Bledsoe, early in the 2001 season. Record: 2-8.
Eric Mangini (2006-08): The Jets hired Belichick's mini-me, thinking he'd bring the Patriots' Way to New Jersey. Uh, not exactly. Not only did Mangini fail to topple his mentor, but he was disowned by him. Record: 2-4, 0-1 in the playoffs.
Rex Ryan (2009-14):Big-talking Rex arrived as Brady was coming off major knee surgery in 2008, the last time the Patriots failed to win the division. They appeared vulnerable (there's that word again). The Ryan-coached Jets stunned the Patriots in the 2010 playoffs, their last postseason win, but they couldn't sustain the mojo. Record: 3-9, 1-0 in the playoffs.
Next season, the Jets will trot out Coach No. 6 against Brady and Belichick. That coach, whomever it is, will have the best chance to close the gap because Brady, 41, is showing signs of decline and his supporting cast isn't as strong as it once was. If Sam Darnold continues to develop, the Jets could be in position to make their long-awaited move. Of course, they're probably saying the same thing in Buffalo with Bills quarterback Josh Allen.
3. Root of the problem: The offense was nowhere to be found during the six-game losing streak, which ruined the season, but the biggest disappointment has been the defense. This was supposed to be the strength of the team, led by a coach -- Bowles -- who made his bones in the league as a defensive whiz. Instead of carrying the team while Darnold endured his rookie growing pains, the defense has performed at a historically poor level.
The Jets have given up 403 points, the fourth most in franchise history (16-game season). They probably will be second on the list after the Patriots get done with them. The three worst: 1996 (454 points), 1989 (411) and 2016 (409). Two of the four came on Bowles' watch.
4. Quite a run: Josh McCown, 39, hasn't revealed his future plans, but it certainly wouldn't surprise anyone if he retires. He said he would talk it over with his family during the offseason, as he did last year before returning on a one-year contract.
"You can't play forever," he told ESPN. "There's a percentage-chance higher that it goes the other way just because Father Time is undefeated. We'll step back and evaluate it as a family."
McCown didn't play well in his three starts (all losses) this season, but his value to the team has come behind the scenes, mentoring Darnold. It's impossible to overstate how much McCown has meant to the Jets' quarterback of the future. Ultimately, that will be McCown's legacy with the team.
If McCown's time in New York is coming to an end, he's making the most of it. On Christmas Eve, he and his family took a helicopter ride over Manhattan, skated at Rockefeller Center and saw the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. Well done.
5. By the numbers: Darnold has 17 touchdown passes, only one shy of Joe Namath's franchise record for a rookie. Namath did it in 1965, when the season was only 14 games; he played in only 13 games that year, and it'll be the same for Darnold.
6. Good guy, Jermaine: Wide receiver Jermaine Kearse is the winner of the annual media good-guy award -- aka The Eskenazi, named after former New York Times Jets beat writer Gerald Eskenazi. Kearse has been a stand-up guy, always generous with his time and insights. The award began in 2005 (Pete Kendall was the first recipient), and it is voted on by the media covering the Jets.
7. The last word: "My private life will remain private. I don’t insulate them from anything. My kids go to school, they're tough-minded, they can take care of themselves, and the missis can take care of herself. We understand where we are. I got no problems with my family." -- Bowles, on how his family handles the outside noise regarding his job security.