Marcus Maye had a problem on his hands. He had two tickets for Game 7 of the NBA playoff series between the Nets and Bucks, but no one to go with.
Maye, the longest-tenured player on the Jets, had missed most of the spring practices due to a contract standoff with the team and realized most of his friends on the team were now gone. That is when he reached out to rookie wide receiver Elijah Moore and invited him for a night in Brooklyn.
Despite some hurt feelings about the team not giving him the long-term contract he desired, Maye decided to be a leader and get to know the rookie.
“I had to put the business aspect aside and get to know my teammates,” Maye told The Post on Thursday.
This is who Maye is and an example of why the Jets should have given him that long-term deal this offseason. The 28-year-old is not the best safety in the NFL (nor did he ask to be paid like he was). But he is a steady presence in the back end of the Jets defense that has done all the right things since he was drafted in 2017 by the team.
For Maye, leadership has always come naturally.
“I feel like it has always been natural, even since I was a little kid,” Maye said. “I always wanted to be the best out there and lead by example. I guess I got that from my mother, doing whatever it takes to get the job done. It comes naturally. I feel like since Day 1, I was always the quiet leader, but over the years it has come to light.”
Leadership is a funny thing. It does not show up on a stat sheet but you know it when you see it. Maye’s old running mate, Jamal Adams, always seemed to try too hard to be a leader. For Maye, gestures like taking Moore to the Nets game are genuine acts of leadership.
Another came last December, minutes after the Jets last-second loss to the Raiders. Maye spoke with reporters over Zoom and made it clear that the Henry Ruggs touchdown was not rookie cornerback Lamar Jackson’s fault, but the result of a bad play call from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who called an all-out blitz.
“It was a natural thing for me to speak up. I spoke my mind,” Maye said. “I wasn’t coming from a bad place. It was just my honest opinion. I felt like the situation could have helped itself. It wasn’t me trying to do anything over the top. It was just coming from a warm place.”
The comments impressed everyone inside the Jets organization and Williams was fired the next day, backing up what Maye had said.
The episode after the Raiders game capped what was Maye’s best year as a professional. He stepped in for Adams, who had been traded to the Seahawks before the season, as a playmaker. He moved between strong and free safety and made enough impact for his teammates to name him the MVP.
All of it felt like it was leading to a contract extension, something both Maye and Jets general manager Joe Douglas said they wanted to get done. But the Jets ended up putting the franchise tag on Maye and the two sides never reached an agreement on a new deal and now must wait until the offseason to negotiate. It left a sour taste in Maye’s mouth, but he did not blast the team publicly like Adams did the year before or make himself a distraction.
“It was definitely tough,” Maye said. “We definitely had a lot of family discussions with my agent and my family. Once we got done with those conversations, it was like this is what it is now. You just have to handle the cards that you’re dealt. It was just putting business aside and go back out and play football and do what you love to do and everything else will take care of itself.”
Maye has had a wild journey with the Jets. He has suffered through a lot of losing (18-46 in four years) and a ton of turnover. Maye is on his second GM, third head coach, fourth defensive coordinator, seventh starting quarterback and has played with 52 different defensive starters. That number will grow to 57 with five new projected starters this year.
When handed a list of the names that have played alongside him, Maye smiles and says, “I remember every single person, too.”
But it is also with melancholy as he looks at names of friends, former roommates and players he forged bonds with.
“You build relationships and friendships with all these guys,” Maye said. “That’s what makes it so tough to come out and having to start over, even with new coaching staffs, different front offices. It definitely gets tough. You look to the left, you look to the right and there’s a bunch of unfamiliar faces.”
One of those faces who is not as unfamiliar now is Moore, the rookie receiver who grew up in Florida like Maye.
“He’s definitely a guy who could be here for a long time with his ability and his personality,” Maye said. “He definitely fits New York City. It was just an opportunity for me to take a young guy out and show him the way, show him the city and show him how things can be. I was just looking out for him.”
That’s Marcus Maye and a reason the Jets should be looking out for him after this season.