Ed Sheeran sings that his bad habits lead to late nights ending alone and that he has nothing left to lose.
Greg Zuerlein’s “bad habits” led to the Jets and something to win.
After cycling through 11 kickers over the past three seasons — including a remarkable seven in regular-season games — the Jets signed Zuerlein to a one-year, $2.75 million contract in March. For the first time in an 11-year career previously spent with the Los Angeles Rams and Dallas Cowboys, Zuerlein is changing special teams coordinators and learning under Brant Boyer instead of John Fassel.
“When I first started looking at different teams, Coach Boyer called and I liked everything he was about,” Zuerlein told The Post. “From the outside, I knew the Jets’ special teams have been really good under him and that was appealing. He and Coach Fassel are similar in the way they both go about coaching guys in what is expected of them. I’ve been very impressed with what he’s teaching and how he handles kickers so far.”
The Jets’ special teams have placed in the top 13 in the NFL in Rick Gosselin’s industry-standard rankings three times in the past four years (including No. 1 in 2018), but kicking has been the weak link since Jason Myers left in free agency before the 2019 season. Signing Zuerlein seemed like a simple solution … but not so fast.
The Jets were honest with the 34-year-old Zuerlein about their intention to also re-sign Eddy Pineiro — the transactions came two days apart — and create a true position battle between two veterans, unlike a year ago when Sam Ficken, Matt Ammendola and Chris Naggar (none of them on NFL rosters today) were up for the job.
Boyer said the competition was “neck and neck” with no “front-runner” through organized team activities. Pineiro converted all eight of his field goals for the Jets late last season.
“It doesn’t matter who else is in camp: You are competing against all other kickers in the league, all other kickers not in the league and most importantly against yourself,” Zuerlein said. “You are always just trying to be the best version of yourself. This spring is all about improving. I feel like I have a lot to prove.”
Since he was named First Team All-Pro in 2017 and kicked the Rams into the Super Bowl at the end of the 2018 season, Zuerlein has endured three inconsistent seasons and a second back surgery.
“I haven’t been my best for one reason or another, but those are all just excuses,” Zuerlein said. “I know I can be a lot better than what I’ve shown recently.”
Nicknamed “Greg the Leg” for range that included a 61-yarder in 2015, Zuerlein made 83.5 percent of his field goals from 2012-18. He slipped to 79.8 percent from 2019-21, prompting his release from the Cowboys in March.
“Zuerlein fits right into our room and has done a fantastic job so far,” Boyer said. “I think his back is fine. I don’t see any issues that he’s had since he’s been here. He’s done everything I asked him to do.”
Reality is that back surgeries in 2018 and 2021 played a major role in Zuerlein’s downturn.
“You get into bad habits kicking through pain because if you kick like you normally do it’s going to hurt, so you find other ways to make the kicks,” Zuerlein said. “I had to have shots to be able to play when I got hurt mid-year [in 2020] and had two practices before the first game last year. I feel great right now. I’m trying to get back to being my normal self, swinging with confidence and putting them through the pipes.”
That’s trickier in the Northeast than outdoors in Los Angeles or indoors in St. Louis or Arlington, Texas. Except, as Boyer was well aware, Zuerlein arrives with the comfort of having gone 13-for-13 on field goals and 7-for-9 on PATs in his career at MetLife Stadium.
“It’s always windy out here,” Zuerlein said from the practice field. “That’s the first thing I noticed. It’s not going to be ideal every day out here and you will probably miss some kicks. Having this challenge, I think will help on Sundays.”
If he wins the job.