The Nathaniel Hackett era is officially under way in New York. Head coach Robert Saleh had made most of the staff hires up to this point, but a new member of the Jets organization and offense has clear ties to the 2023 O-coordinator.
That new coaching hire is former Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, who has opted to follow Hackett to Florham Park rather than stick with Sean Payton in Colorado — first reported by Mike Klis of 9News in Denver.
Zach Azzanni Hire Comes With Intriguing WR Ties via Trade
Azzanni first interviewed with the Jets last week on February 14. Being that he’s spent most of his NFL coaching career in Denver, the obvious player ties — if any — would be on the Broncos roster.
With Payton taking over in Denver, a regime change could also produce trade candidates as the organization turns over from Hackett, and Vic Fangio before him, to the former New Orleans Saints HC in 2023.
Ironically, the Broncos have no free agents at the wide receiver position this March, but they do have several contracts that Payton might look into dealing. Courtland Sutton has a guaranteed salary of $14 million this year with a cap hit of $18.266 million, but Denver could save $14.441M in 2023 (and even more money beyond that) by trading him after June 1. They also have an “out” in his contract in June of 2024.
Former first-round pick Jerry Jeudy is also in the final year of his rookie contract and could make for an easy trade target if Peyton decides that he’s not interested in extending the Alabama product long-term. Jeudy has a low cap number of $4.834 million in 2023, but also becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2024.
Tim Patrick would make for another post-June 1 trade candidate — although his price tag and recent injury history may not appeal if the Broncos don’t help with the cost. And finally, K.J. Hamler is another cheaper wideout (like Jeudy) on the final year of his rookie deal.
Out of those four, Sutton and Patrick fit Hackett’s typical WR scheme more than Jeudy and Hamler. The latter makes the least sense, due to his direct similarities to Elijah Moore as a player.
Who Is Jets New WRs Coach Zach Azzanni?
Azzanni appeared to be in high demand after a five-year stint with the Broncos under multiple coaching regimes. According to his coaching bio, he has experience in this role going back to 1999 — at Valparaiso University.
Azzanni has also coached the wide receiver position at the following colleges: Bowling Green, Central Michigan (also served as assistant head coach), Florida (also served as passing game coordinator), Western Kentucky (also served as offensive coordinator), Wisconsin, and Tennessee (also served as passing game coordinator).
He held the same role with the Chicago Bears for one season in 2017, and based on his resume, it appears to be his specialty. While other coaches tend to bounce around different staff positions, Azzanni has stuck with wideouts his entire career, which is somewhat impressive — but could also be a sign of some limitations.
All told, Azzanni has 24 years of experience coaching WRs (six at the professional level) and his NFL accomplishments include helping Sutton produce a Pro Bowl campaign in 2019 (1,112 receiving yards), developing Patrick — an undrafted prospect — into a starter, and coaching up younger players like Sutton, Patrick and DaeSean Hamilton in 2018, as well as Jeudy and Hamler later on.
That knowledge and understanding of how to work with the youth could be more helpful than anything, considering the Jets current WR corps includes youngsters like Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Denzel Mims, Irvin Charles and potentially, a new rookie or two in 2023.
To the surprise of no one, Azzanni was a former wide receiver when he played football himself in college — five years at Central Michigan that led to a degree in sports management.