Marcus Maye filling leadership void on the Jets’ defense

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Marcus Maye’s turn came just a few minutes after Budda Baker began celebrating.

That scene was the second night of the 2017 draft, when the Cardinals selected Baker (No. 36) three picks before the Jets added Maye (No. 39). The waiting time between the two safeties is going to be longer this time around, as Baker became the highest-paid safety in NFL history Tuesday, while Maye continued gearing up to play out the final year of his rookie contract.

“Big ups to Budda,” Maye said. “We’re all in different situations. I know my talent. The only thing I have to worry about is playing ball like I do, and I’ll let the upstairs [front office] and my agent do the rest.”

Baker’s four-year, $59 million extension set a new standard in annual salary ($14.75 million) and a benchmark for Jamal Adams to eclipse in his negotiations with the Seahawks. That’s no longer the Jets’ concern.

If Maye ascends to the All-Pro level of Baker and Adams as he transitions from patrolling the deep part of the field to a box safety role … well, that’s a problem the Jets would welcome.

“I feel like I’ve been a leader since I’ve been here,” Maye said. “Now it’s just at a different spot, but they are going to get the same hustle plays, same effort to the ball. I’m not going to put anything bigger on it than what it is. Still the same old me.”

Marcus Maye
Marcus MayePaul J. Bereswill

Maye, 26, is flying around in training camp, whether knowingly or subconsciously aware of how much responsibility landed on his shoulders after Adams was traded and linebacker C.J. Mosley opted out for COVID-19 health concerns.

“Every year Marcus continues to get better,” quarterback Sam Darnold said. “He understands the game more, he gets quicker. That all just kind of goes hand-in-hand. I feel like he’s been rolling so far, and I know he’s going to have a really good year.”

Maye’s showcase opportunity to blitz and shed blocks against rushing attacks comes at a high-leverage point in his career, as he is scheduled for a team-friendly $1.3 million bargain salary before reaching free agency.

Consider it a karmic reward for unselfishly sacrificing statistics (four career interceptions, two forced fumbles) as the last line of defense in his first three seasons. He suddenly is making “a ton of plays on the ball,” as coach Adam Gase put it.

“I can do a range of things, not just one good thing,” Maye said. “I feel like there are a lot of tools in the tool belt. Just the fact that I can show them all now is definitely exciting.”

Maye’s voice is a fixture in practices. Sometimes he is giving tips to teammates, including fellow Florida products Brian Poole and Quincy Wilson. Other times he is ragging on Gase.

“I’ve just seen a growth more than a change in anything,” Gase said. “You can see he’s more and more comfortable every day: When he needs to speak up, he does. He’s always one of those guys that talks to me a lot during practice, letting me know that we’re not going to do anything on offense. So, I love the energy that he brings. I love the way that he’s practicing.”

As much as coaches love big plays in practice, they equally love players who take their mistakes to heart. Maye screamed out frustration Tuesday after he let an interception go through his hands for a Jamison Crowder reception in 11-on-11s.

“You hate to give up any plays, so it’s still poking at me,” Maye said, one hour after the play ended. “That’s the beauty of practice: You go out and try to be perfect.”

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