Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
The now-former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator has been given a chance to leave his full mark on a franchise. Hired by the New York Jets Thursday to be their head coach for the next five years, if he is able to stay long enough to fulfill his new contract, Saleh becomes the first 49ers offensive or defensive coordinator to be hired as a head coach since Mike McCarthy in 2008. Saleh, a sometimes-polarizing figure among the fans, was in Santa Clara for the entire rebuilding process that general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan performed. He was a part of their building a perennial top ten pick team, into a team who was only seven minutes from winning the Super Bowl in year three of the rebuild.
It was, honestly speaking, his defense’s collapse at the end of Super Bowl LIV that helped to continue the quest for six, instead of moving on to searching for their seventh Lombardi Trophy, but we don’t talk about that little tidbit much. It’s a lot more enjoyable to reminisce about how Saleh’s defense helped make players like Cassius Marsh, Damontre Moore, and Kerry Hyder Jr. household names in 49er castles, and elevating players like Fred Warner Jr. and Nick Bosa into knighthood.
Saleh oversaw a transformation from a 3-4 defense that routinely averaged out to the league’s bottom third to a 4-3 defense that in now perennially in the top ten in most categories. Saleh started his 49ers DC career with a defensive roster that included DeForest Buckner and a bunch of players who were either journeymen or who had never lived up to their draft pedigree. Saleh taught them to always battle, and with his active sideline celebrations he showed that he was right there with his players.
He’s exactly that kind of coach that the Jets need: a rah-rah guy who will meet his players where they are and push them where they should be going. The roster, although poor, is in a good position for a rebuild. The Jets own two first-round draft picks this year, including the second overall. They have a young (possible) franchise quarterback in Sam Darnold, and with the assistance of Mike LaFleur, who Saleh is taking with him to the Jets, should have a rebounding year in 2021. They have defensive tackle Quinnen Williams who was picked third overall in 2019, directly following the 49ers’ pick of Nick Bosa.
If the salary cap is indeed $175 million, then the Jets will have about $60M in cap space to go after free agents, possibly some offensive weapons like Will Fuller, or even some 49ers defensive free agents, like Ahkello Witherspoon, Richard Sherman, or the aforementioned Hyder. One thing is for certain, if the Jets allow him the freedom and power to rebuild the Jets in the image he wishes, he’s had a great four-year experience showing him how to do exactly that.
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