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Jets running back options in NFL free agency, 2021 NFL Draft

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Two years ago, the Jets signed Le’Veon Bell to a monster free-agent contract hoping that he would solve some of their offensive problems.

Two years later, that decision now looks laughable. Bell did not make it through two years with the team before it released him in October as unhappy as he was unproductive with the Jets. 

Now, the team faces a decision at running back again this offseason.

While most of the focus is on who the Jets’ quarterback will be in September, that quarterback is going to need a good running game behind him. It is something the Jets have failed to build in recent years and one of the contributing factors in Sam Darnold’s struggles.

The Jets have not finished better than 23rd in the NFL in rushing in Darnold’s three seasons. During his time with the Jets, the team has had a 100-yard rusher just three times. New offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur comes from the Kyle Shanahan system that emphasizes outside zone running concepts and play-action passes off of them. It is critical for the Jets to improve their rushing attack this offseason.

But how do the Jets go about that? Obviously, they must upgrade an offensive line that only has left tackle Mekhi Becton as a long-term answer. But they also must add to the running backs room where La’Mical Perine enters his second season as an unknown and not someone you can pencil in as an every-down back.

There are some intriguing backs scheduled to hit free agency, but will the Jets go down that road again? Former general manager Mike Maccagnan signed Bell to a four-year, $52.5 million contract in 2019 over the objections of former coach Adam Gase. The marriage felt doomed from the start and Bell did not rush for 100 yards once in a Jets uniform. Bell is one of many cautionary tales about signing running backs to big-money deals. The league has shifted away from paying running backs and toward finding answers in the draft.

The top running backs scheduled to hit free agency on March 17 are Aaron Jones, Chris Carson, Leonard Fournette and Kenyan Drake. There are also a few who played in San Francisco and have familiarity with LaFleur and new head coach Robert Saleh. Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida all played for the 49ers and could be cheaper than the top-of-the-market backs.

The more likely course of action for the Jets is to try to find a back in the draft. The Jets have not drafted a running back in the top two rounds since taking Lamont Jordan in the second round in 2001. It has been 31 years since the Jets drafted Blair Thomas, the last back they took in the first round. They picked Thomas out of Penn State with the No. 2 overall pick in 1990. No one is suggesting the Jets use the No. 2 overall pick on a back this April. But taking a back with their second first-round pick (No. 23 overall) might make sense. Clemson’s Travis Etienne and Alabama’s Najee Harris are viewed as late first-rounders. 

Jets running back options Travis Etienne NFL Draft 2021
There are running back options for the Jets in NFL free agency, like Aaron Jones (l.), and in the NFL Draft, like Travis Etienne (r.)
Getty Images; Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Whatever Joe Douglas decides, it is clear he needs to finds some answers at running back. The Jets averaged 105.2 yards on the ground in 2020 and that was good compared to 2019 (78.6 ypg) and 2018 (101.4 ypg). LaFleur brings the Shanahan offense east with him so it makes sense to look at the 49ers as the model for what the Jets want to do. The 49ers rode their rushing attack to the Super Bowl in 2019, averaging 144.1 yards per game, the second-best average in the league. Who can forget Raheem Mostert rushing for 220 yards in the NFC Championship game against the Packers?

That was one of 12 times a 49ers running back gained at least 100 yards in the last three seasons. The 49ers have had 35 games with at least 100 yards rushing since 2018, the sixth-most in the league. The Jets, on the other hand, have only topped 100 yards 18 times in 48 games, tied for 30th in the NFL with the Steelers. Only three Jets running backs have rushed for 100 yards in a game since 2018 – Isaiah Crowell twice in 2018 and Ty Johnson last year against the Raiders. 

Douglas’ to-do list is a long one this offseason, but improving the running game should be near the top. 

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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