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Jets' defensive success hinges on under-the-radar $73 million CB


    FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — For the better part of 10 months, the New York Jets‘ narrative has focused on the quarterbacks. It started last fall with “Suck for Sam” and shifted to the Kirk Cousins pursuit. Then came the trade with the Colts, followed by “Luck for Sam” on draft day. Now that Sam Darnold is an employee at One Jets Drive, his development becomes storyline No. 1.

    Meanwhile, we’ve all but forgotten about the other key addition, the player who probably will make a bigger impact than Darnold in 2018: cornerback Trumaine Johnson, he of the quietest $73 million contract in history.

    The Jets took a chunk of the loot that was earmarked for Cousins and gave it to the best cornerback on the free-agent market, hoping he can galvanize a secondary that allowed 30 touchdown passes last season. They expect Johnson to be a shutdown corner. If he falls short of that lofty standard, the defense — severely lacking in the pass-rush department — will come unraveled.

    And that’s the Tru-th.

    “I’m a consistent player, a playmaker, a tone-setter,” he said Tuesday. “I came here to win games. I’m a winner at heart.”

    Standing at his locker, Johnson was quick with a smile and good at small talk. The first thing you notice about him is his size. At 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, he could pass for a linebacker. His chest is thick and his arms are long (33 inches, to be exact). He has the ideal dimensions for a press-man corner, one of the reasons why the Jets opened the vault for him.

    Johnson received the third-largest guarantee in team history ($34 million), trailing only Darrelle Revis ($39 million) and Muhammad Wilkerson ($37 million). The Revis and Wilkerson deals backfired on the Jets, who absolutely need Johnson to reverse the trend. The pressure on him is enormous, although he claimed to be immune.

    “I’m going to come in here to play ball like I know how to play ball,” said Johnson, whose $14.5 million annual salary is second to Josh Norman ($15 million) among corners. “No expectations from me, no weight on my shoulders.”

    This isn’t Johnson’s first big contract — he made nearly $31 million on back-to-back franchise tags with the Los Angeles Rams — but this is the Big Apple and he will face unprecedented scrutiny. For the size of his paycheck, the fans will expect something close to Revis, circa 2010 (before his game declined in his second incarnation with the Jets).

    As a college player at Montana, Johnson harbored big dreams in the Big Sky. He studied Revis, hoping to one day match his greatness.

    “You, as a corner, you have to know about Darrelle Revis,” he said. “I didn’t know him personally, but, of course, I used to watch him. Great corner, great Pro Bowler, future Hall of Famer. He was a technician, especially at the line of scrimmage. That’s where he made a lot of his money.”

    Johnson isn’t as good as Revis in his prime (who is?), but he still needs to be a lockdown player. Here’s why: Without a proven pass-rusher, Jets coach Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers might have to dial up more blitzing than usual — and you can’t do that without a reliable CB1.

    When Bowles has a stud cornerback, he loves to blitz. In Arizona, where he had Patrick Peterson, Bowles’ blitz rates were 49.6 percent and 43.1 percent in 2013 and 2014, ranking first and second in the league, respectively, per ESPN Stats & Information. In three years with the Jets, his blitz percentages went from 43.8 (second) to 37.6 (third) to 35.7 (fifth).

    Detect a trend?

    Finally, Bowles has a secondary that should allow him to play his style of defense — i.e. pressure the quarterback. Much of it hinges on Johnson, who is “everything as advertised,” according to the coach.

    “I think he’s right there at the top,” said Bowles, ranking Johnson among the corners he’s coached. “I think his football IQ makes him a heck of a football player. The physical abilities speak for themselves, but his football IQ and the way he takes care of himself and approaches the game puts him right there.”

    He’d better be right.



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