A look at what's happening around the New York Jets:
1. Monsters of 2019? They finished 5-11, their third straight season with double-digit losses. Their rookie quarterback was wildly inconsistent, weighing down an offense that finished 30th in yards. Their defensive-minded coach proved incapable of building an offense that could keep up with the rest of the NFL.
Sound like a team you know?
Actually, we're talking about the 2017 Chicago Bears, who bottomed out under John Fox but have rebounded quite nicely under Matt Nagy -- a one-year turnaround that provides a solid blueprint for the Jets. This isn't to suggest they will win the division title in 2019, as the Bears (9-4) are on the verge of doing in the NFC North, but they should try to copy them because of the similarities.
The Bears approached last offseason with a plan that revolved around quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. They hired a creative offensive mind to develop Trubisky, and they spent a lot of free-agent dollars to upgrade his supporting cast. They signed Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton, three legit pass-catchers, and they drafted wide receiver Anthony Miller.
Likewise, the Jets need to formulate a Sam Darnold-centric strategy, which means hiring an offensive-minded coach (or at least a proven coordinator) and digging into that war chest of salary-cap savings to buy a few players. On Saturday night, Darnold shined in a losing effort even though he was playing with four backups by the end of the game. Imagine what he could do with upgrades.
The one problem for the Jets is they won't have an opportunity to acquire a Khalil Mack, a dynamic front-seven player, to galvanize the defense. They made a run at him before the season, but they were outbid by the Bears. Mack has made a huge difference for the Bears, giving them realistic championship aspirations. The Jets can pick an edge rusher with a high draft pick (Kentucky's Josh Allen is a possibility), but he won't be the same as Mack.
Still, the Bears should be inspiration for the Jets. They made a series of intelligent moves, starting with Nagy, and flipped everything in a year. It'll be tough for the Jets to duplicate that, but hey, at least they know it can be done.
2. Just spend, baby: The NFL announced that the 2019 salary cap is projected between $187 million and $191 million, a nice increase from the current $177.2 million. From the Jets' perspective, this is akin to passing "Go" and collecting more Monopoly money.
They figure to have $107 million in cap space, based on a $190 million ceiling, according to overthecap.com. That's a lot of loot -- only the Indianapolis Colts ($124 million) have more -- but it's a bit deceiving because the Jets have a league-low 29 players under contract. Nearly half the roster is headed to free agency, and that will eat into the cap surplus.
The Jets can pick up more space by cutting veterans. For instance, they can create $21 million by cutting Kelvin Beachum, Spencer Long and Brian Winters, although I don't think it would be prudent to dump three starting offensive linemen. You should have some semblance of continuity.
3. "Bad man" leads turnaround: Things change quickly in the NFL. In the spring, special-teams coordinator Brant Boyer, speaking to the media for the first time since the 2017 season, was asked if he was nervous about getting fired after a disappointing year. He didn't lose his job, and now he's answering questions about the Jets' dramatic turnaround on special teams.
Give the man credit: Boyer has done a terrific job of rebuilding a unit that had struggled for years. Led by kicker Jason Myers and returner Andre Roberts, both Pro Bowl candidates, the Jets lead the league in special teams, according to ESPN's expected-points-added formula.
"Everybody is finally buying into what coach Boyer is teaching," said Rontez Miles, a special-teams mainstay. "I've seen the magic it has when you do it the right way."
Talent helps. Recognizing the need to add core special-teamers, the front office picked up Neville Hewitt (leading tackler), Kevin Pierre-Louis, Brandon Copeland and rookie Trenton Cannon. They joined key holdovers such as Miles, Charone Peake and Terrence Brooks. Myers, cut by the Seattle Seahawks, was a shrewd waiver pickup. Bowles played an instrumental role in signing Roberts, who spent time with the Arizona Cardinals when Bowles was the defensive coordinator.
Bowles always liked Roberts as a returner, although he admitted he never expected him to perform to this level. Roberts has produced eight returns of 40-plus yards -- three punts and five kickoffs, seven of which led to scores.
Let's not overlook Boyer, who has the right temperament for the job. He's a fiery straight shooter who doesn't pull any punches. He commands respect because he was an outstanding special-teams player back in the day. One time, he showed his players some video of his playing highlights. He made an impression.
"He was a badass," Miles said. "He was a baaaad man."
4. Leo's future: There's been a lot of chatter about Leonard Williams, who is wrapping up an underwhelming year. No doubt, Williams is a talented defensive lineman, but his production doesn't jump off the page.
Let's compare Williams' numbers to those of teammate Henry Anderson, who has played only 532 snaps to Williams' 743.
Consider: Williams has 26 solo tackles, three sacks, 20 quarterback hits and 2 passes defensed. Anderson has 27 tackles, six sacks, 17 quarterback hits and five passes defensed, respectively.
Williams is making $5.9 million this year and $14.2 million next year. Anderson is making $1.9 million and will be a free agent.
The Jets have an interesting decision to make with Williams. My hunch is they will let him play out his contract before deciding whether they want to re-up. Despite his ordinary numbers, he has a big fan in former Jets coach Rex Ryan, who knows a thing or two about defense.
"Is he a phenom? I don't know about that, but he's pretty damn good," Ryan said. "He's not Aaron Donald, but he's an excellent player."
5. Sore subject: Despite below-average numbers, Quincy Enunwa adamantly believes the Jets have a quality group of receivers. He refuses to buy the outside narrative that talent is an issue.
"To say we have no talent is kind of dumb, in my opinion," he said. "You must not be watching the All-22 film. You're probably watching the CBS copies. Put on the All-22, and you'll see that guys are getting open, so it's not a lack of talent."
Nowadays, there's a stat for everything, so let's check the numbers to see if he's right. According to NFL NextGen Stats, Enunwa ranks 21st among wide receivers in separation yards (3.1) -- the distance between the receiver and the nearest defender at the time of a catch or incompletion. In other words, Enunwa is getting open. Jermaine Kearse is 51st (2.8) and Robby Anderson is a disappointing 68th (2.5), not counting Saturday.
I agree with Enunwa ... to a point. The receiving corps is better than most people think, but it clearly lacks a true No. 1.
6. The last word: "He's a very calm and very confident man. His poise is powerful. He never talks about his situation; he just focuses on the next game. I think we can all learn something from him. You never see him sweat. He's comfortable being uncomfortable." -- Miles on how Bowles is handling life in the hot seat.