Jets’ Schedule and MetLife Turf Should Have Them Thinking Load Management

Given its age, its brutal travel itinerary and its home stadium, this team will have to be smarter than ever about managing the players.
Robert Saleh talks to Aaron Rodgers before a game in 2023
Robert Saleh talks to Aaron Rodgers before a game in 2023 / Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports
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Here are two (mostly) factual sets of information about the 2024 New York Jets, delivered with as little editorializing as I can possibly muster.

No. 1: The Jets’ 2024 season will feature four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, former Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the year Sauce Gardner and Garrett Wilson, eight-time Pro Bowler Tyron Smith (seven of those Pro Bowls came in consecutive seasons) and Morgan Moses, who had an eight-year stretch in which he played every single game, at the other tackle spot. Wilson will be aided at wide receiver by a former No. 7 pick, Mike Williams, who has had two 1,000-yard seasons and a 10-touchdown season during his Los Angeles Chargers career. They will have the distinct advantage of facing either rookie quarterbacks, largely unproven quarterbacks or journeyman quarterbacks in four of their first five games. 

No. 2: The 2024 Jets will feature a 40-year-old quarterback, two 33-year-old offensive tackles, one of whom has not played a complete season since ’15, and a 30-year-old No. 2 wide receiver who played in just three games last season. That crew will play on a home field comprised of sometimes snaggy artificial turf, and against a schedule that features back-to-back road trips to start the season (one game against the defending NFC champions), three games in the span of 10 days, a net rest differential six games worse than the year before, the second-highest number of back-to-back road trips in the NFL this season, the most prime-time games of any team the season, the second-most short road weeks and short weeks in general of any team this season, and the ninth-most grueling travel schedule measured by total miles traveled. The slate also includes an international game and, instead of a bye week after that trip, a prime-time matchup against the division-rival Buffalo Bills. 

We can do this with almost anything, of course. I can call the Grand Canyon a geological marvel that has been known to spark beautiful poetry, awe of our planet and the wonders of nature and a love of the outdoors, or I can call it a big old hole in the ground. There are people who enjoy the glass being half full, people who enjoy the glass being half empty and people who like to smash the glass. The Talking Heads were right when they sang, “Facts all come with points of view, facts don’t do what I want them to, facts just twist the truth around, facts are living turned inside out.”

But the deeper we get into the preseason ramp up, the more I cannot stop thinking about the No. 2 description of the upcoming Jets season. I recognize that there are some qualifying statements that need to be made. The Jets drafted a successor to one of those aging offensive tackles in the first round (No. 11 pick Olu Fashanu). Rodgers is very unlikely to re-tear his Achilles and has had only three seasons over a very successful 19-year NFL career that were truncated by injury. When it comes to the artificial turf and grass debate, I give the Jets more of a pass than other franchises because the stadium is often utilized on back-to-back nights in a cold, damp and rainy climate that could potentially render a field unplayable on Monday Night Football for the Giants after a Sunday Jets rainstorm. 

I also barely mentioned the defense, which could end up being as good as the unit Robert Saleh coached in San Francisco when he helped lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season. There is a chance this team is simply good enough to overcome an injury-plagued offense. Indeed, last season—even without Rodgers, and with a rotating cast of offensive linemen—the Jets defeated the Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. They also very nearly defeated the eventual Super Bowl–winning Kansas City Chiefs. 

All that said, the stage is set for a season that I don’t think we’re truly, properly placing into perspective, and one that I don’t think we adequately understand. If this team is successful, it won’t just be because it has a good quarterback. It won’t just be because of the first set of facts we articulated above. It would be because those facts were supplemented by a masterclass in load management; a top-down, synchronized approach from the head coach to the strength and conditioning staff, to the trainers, the physical therapists, the performance specialists and dieticians to shepherd a roster in which 15 of its potential contributors are 29 or older through a schedule created by television executives that more closely resembles a Saw house than a fair and balanced slate of football games. A masterclass in emotional management. In ego management. In Being a Human Being Under Immense Pressure 101 from a whole slew of coaches and executives who know that they will pay the price if a deep playoff run is not on the table. We’ll call that self-management.

As it pertains to load management in particular, combine what we are saying about the schedule and its lack of built-in rest days with player age and the fact that only five of their 17 games take place on a natural grass surface. The league is split evenly between turf and grass fields, and while studies have not shown a marked increase in injuries specifically related to turf fields, the player preference is obvious and many of them believe that increased wear and injury issues are related to the playing surface. The NFL Players’ Association and its executive director have both asked for a uniform switch to grass surfaces citing player preference.

In that regard, one would imagine that the Jets, who have a natural grass practice field and a synthetic turf field they rarely use outdoors, along with an indoor field with synthetic turf, are going to have to make some kind of calculation based on how often their players touch these specific surfaces and whether they can, in some way, alleviate any perceived dangers on the part of their older stars. The MetLife Stadium field, in particular, has been criticized by players given the number of injuries that have taken place there in recent seasons, including to Aaron Rodgers, Nick Bosa, Solomon Thomas, Raheem Mostert and Jaelan Phillips. Rodgers, during his time with Green Bay, was vocal about the way the Packers traveled and practiced, and appears unafraid to voice his opinion on load management when he feels his comforts are infringed upon.

Again, all of this mandates careful thought and planning.  

If this team is not successful, it will be exactly because of what we outlined in the second set of facts. This incredible, borderline Sisyphean journey they are about to embark on is dependent largely on the health of older players going through a gantlet of a schedule while playing most of their games on a surface most players despise and personally associate with a higher rate of injury. It begs a question of preparedness. 

I cannot remember a team that was more of a Rorschach test for personal optimism. This could either be a wonderfully constructed roster or a nice paint job on a brakeless death trap of a motor vehicle that was always going to spin out of control. There is no middle ground, and I’m not sure that, through the early and glorious haze that is preseason activities where a roster is whole and the games are still theoretical and imaginary plays in our heads, we’ve truly laid it all out.  

As the song says, “Sharp as a knife, facts cut a hole in us.” 

Conor Orr


Conor Orr is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, where he covers the NFL. He is also the co-host of the MMQB Podcast. Conor has been covering the NFL for more than a decade. His award-winning work has also appeared in The Newark Star-Ledger, and NFL Network. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, two children and a loving terrier named Ernie.