Thoughts on the New York Jets

Before the season began I had a number of requests to write about the Jets, what they were building, and what I thought about their latest front office. With the season pretty much on the brink with a 1-4 record I figured now is as good a time as any to post some thoughts on the team and their future.


I didn’t expect much from the Jets this season so while the results have been disappointing I can’t say they have been unexpected. I’ve been on the record since last season ended saying that I expected that this season would be a lot like 2007 and so far I think it has been just that. For those of you who don’t remember the “Mangini (or Tangini as some called it) era” it effectively followed the same pattern we have had here except with one big difference.

Back in 2005 the Jets, who had been relatively competitive since 1998, crashed and burned. The fanbase turned on an ultra conservative coach who seemingly never improved his game management skills as well as a general manager who had salary cap issues and spent his top draft pick on Mike Nugent in the ultimate over-reaction to a playoff loss in 2004. Enter Eric Mangini and Mike Tannenbaum. Mangini was to be the bright young coach who brought discipline and a new approach to the game while Tannenbaum would be the salary cap mastermind to make it all possible as the Jets took a business first approach to the NFL.

The results in 2006 were very good. The Jets used whatever resources they had to improve the player pool and happened to get a terrific season out of always injured quarterback Chad Pennington. The Jets made the playoffs and Mangini looked like a star, getting a guest spot on the Sopranos and having a number of big media people anoint him the next great head coach.

Unfortunately for the Jets it’s not that uncommon for a rookie head coach to come out of nowhere and exceed expectations.  Teams are heavily reliant on advanced scouting and there was little to draw from when it came to Mangini. Things changed in the offseason as teams had months to pick apart the head coach, the offense, the defense, and the personnel. Mangini struggled in his second year, in particular in game adjustments which led to the Jets losing a number of games in the second half.

The front office did Mangini no favors that offseason, but that was part of the plan. The team looked at the big picture and realized that 10-6 was pretty much a smokescreen and buying into that would be chasing fool’s gold. The Jets were still working on a very tight salary cap and their eyes were on the future. If they held firm their cap would open up tremendously in 2008, but if they went all in on 2007 they would likely be stuck with this group for through 2009.

With the exception of making the playoffs in his first full year as a head coach I’d say the scenarios are very similar. Bowles was brought in to bring discipline to an undisciplined group of players and manage a better game while Mike Maccagnan, opposite in the role of Tannenbaum, was to be a football guy that was supposed to bring more football and less business to the front office. Ryan Fitzpatrick clearly played the role of Pennington.

The Jets were cautious about their approach to free agency in 2016. While the team added a few veteran parts, in particular Matt Forte at running back and Steve McLendon at nose tackle, the Jets were walking cautiously with their salary cap. High priced players like Damon Harrison were not brought back while others, like Antonio Cromartie and D’Brickashaw Ferguson, were given their walking papers.  Much like in 2007, it was never about this year. If things worked out that would be great but if they didn’t the Jets wanted that flexibility in the future to spend. So I’d give the Jets a pass for the season even though I’m sure I’ll be complaining during the next 13 weeks every Sunday, especially if they lose to Miami this year.

Still there are valid reasons for concerns.

The biggest difference between now and 2007 lies in the drafting. The one key to the Jets rebuild in 2006/07 was the fact that they landed two great players and two very good players in the two drafts while also adding some contributors in 2006.  These were all at positions of weakness for the team.  This allowed the team to build a core of talent which they were able to add veterans that filled in the gaps that the team could not address in the draft.

The results have been underwhelming with the drafts so far.  Leonard Williams looks like he could be a star, but unfortunately that was already a position of strength for the team so the impact isn’t as great as it would have been at other positions.  Darron Lee has had a nice enough rookie season and Lorenzo Mauldin seems to be ok, but the team hasn’t hit a Darrelle Revis or a Nick Mangold yet. The other names like Bryce Petty, Devin Smith, and Jordan Jenkins haven’t done much. The Jets used a draft pick on a punter which seems absurd given the holes on the team.

The X-factor is QB Christian Hackenberg who was considered by many to be the biggest reach in the draft. With the team struggling there could be calls for Hackenberg to get his feet wet and try to bring some brightness to a bad season. The same thing happened back in 2007 when the Jets opted to play Kellen Clemens, a 2nd round draft pick in 2006, seemingly for PR reasons as much as football reasons. It was a disaster and if Hackenberg’s career arc follows that of Clemens, odds are Maccagnan will be looking for a job sooner rather than later.

The Jets need to find some stability in their handling of contracts. When you look at the way things have gone over the past few seasons the contract strategy seems somewhat haphazard. The handing of Muhammad Wilkerson’s contract showed a lack of a cohesive strategy and, though the Jets clearly got some concessions in that contract, got them the reputation of a team that slow played their hand and lost at the end of the day.

It was somewhat similar with Ryan Fitzpatrick with whom the Jets refused to do a deal with all offseason because of his asking price but at the end of it all came across looking like a team that was somewhat desperate and gave the player what he wanted. There is nothing wrong with doing that, but if you are willing to do it just go and do it at the start of free agency. All the Jets did was create distractions about the season and they ended up in the same place anyway and again look like a team that will eventually give in if you wait long enough.

There are some trends the Jets do seem to follow with their contracts in terms of using signing bonuses versus cash guarantees but I’d like to see them prioritize more and be ahead of the game than seemingly just waiting for things to happen.

The third area of concern is the coaching. Bowles has struggled with use of timeouts and general clock management. The defense is clearly a mess with players seemingly out of position leading to numerous big plays. The pass rush has vanished despite the team having so much invested in their defensive line. It again seems like the Jets have no ability to adjust as the game goes on while other teams make efforts to exploit weaknesses they are seeing in the game. The explanations for the some of the mistakes have been poor and at times contradictory and it is an area that must improve.

Beyond that the Jets need to get some stability in their program. Keeping a bad coach or GM just for the sake of stability is not good, but neither is overreaction. Bowles mistakes are going to become a story if they continue, especially in a season where it seems there increasingly going to be less and less positives to write about.  In his brief tenure with the Jets I don’t think Bowles has done anything to warrant any type of extension nor anything to warrant any firing. John Idzik simply wasn’t cut out for New York and I think it was clear he needed to be removed, but the Jets sometimes make some rash moves and they should not do that here.

The good thing about this past season is that the Jets saw the writing on the wall with Darrelle Revis and didn’t touch his contract for salary cap relief. It would have been the easiest thing to do and it would have set the Jets back two years. Revis is not the same player he was a few years ago and it was clear last season that he would be tested more. Revis carries a $15.3 million cap charge in 2017 of which $6 million is guaranteed so there is room to bring his cap figure down or to just release him outright.

In general the Jets maintained some necessary cap flexibility for the future. Of their top 12 players only Muhammad Wilkerson’s roster status is relatively firm. Everyone else can be released or have their contracts renegotiated. While I would not expect the Jets to be flush with money (I currently estimate the Jets to have the 2nd lowest projected cap space in 2017) it won’t be a crutch the way it was a few years back when Idzik took over and the Jets had one of those awful dead money seasons.

What to do for the future?

The first thing the Jets should do, if they have not done so already, is to do an honest audit of the 2017 roster. Is Ryan Clady going to be brought back?  Will Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker be asked back? Will Revis accept a pay cut? Will Nick Mangold be treated just like Ferguson? Is David Harris done? Can Calvin Pryor be a safety or is he better off as a 43 linebacker? If the answer to any of those questions indicates the player won’t be on the roster the team has three weeks to try to trade them away and get some value in return.

While this sounds like a fire sale, trades in the NFL are rare and they would be lucky to trade one of these players by the trade deadline, so don’t worry it’s not like the Jets will actually rip their roster apart. It’s about being proactive for the future and trying to create a market for these players. Sometimes its even about laying the seeds for next year as they evaluate if maybe next year they can trade rather than cut any of these players.

Secondly, unless they find a trade partner which is very unlikely, they should ride out the season with Ryan Fitzpatrick. I’m not a big fan of brining a rookie in with a veteran filled roster after you have waved the white flag on the season.  Rookies have a hard enough time in the NFL and the last thing you want is the possibility of vets going into business for themselves to get some positive numbers for their inevitable free agency. Hackenberg already had a ton of negativity around him because of the feeling that he was such a reach and if he does poorly the offseason will be filled with a heavy dose of questions about his future. That can be very difficult for a young QB. Very few can brush that off the way Eli Manning did after a pretty brutal rookie season.

While some might say to bring in Geno Smith what would that accomplish? Since Bowles has already said there is no QB change this week it would mean five losses by the time any switch would be made to Smith. The season is pretty much over now and would definitely be over at 1-5 or 2-5.

There is nothing to gain from voluntarily inserting Smith into the lineup.   Smith is a free agent after this season and it’s quite possible he could be offered a chance to compete for a starting job next year since the Jets QB situation is so poor.  However unlikely it would be that Smith would be a competent pro, it makes far more sense for the Jets to sign him for $2 million this offseason than run the risk that he leads the team to a 6-10 or 7-9 record and looks good enough to ask for more money. You’ll land in something similar to a Fitzpatrick situation all over again. If injury forces the teams hand they don’t have a choice but to roll the dice with Smith, but if they have a choice it would be, in my opinion, counterproductive to bring him in.

Beyond that I’m not really sure what vision I or anyone else would have for the team. The problems that have plagued the Jets since 2008 still seem to plague the team- non-impact drafts. It’s very hard to rebuild a franchise when year after year your drafts are producing Dee Milliner, Mark Sanchez, Quinton Coples, Kyle Wilson, Jace Amaro, Geno Smith, Devin Smith and countless others with high expectations and no results.

The Jets are a still a massive rebuilding project. They have limited talent in the secondary and in their linebacking corps. The offensive line is old as are their wide receivers. They have no youth at running back. They don’t have a QB. In two years of drafts Maccagnan has failed to replace pretty much any aging veteran with a younger player outside of Lee being and upgrade from DeMario Davis. That has to change. Those 2008 Jets were able to make the turn because of the youth of 2006 and 2007. Sadly these Jets are not ready  to make that turn.

Probably the best course of action for the Jets are to try to trade whomever they can but if they can’t do it to just keep the status quo. Cutting guys just for the sake of it brings the Jets into the state of irrelevancy that they were under Idzik. Bringing Revis’ salary down or cutting him outright and also cutting Breno Giacomini, who the Jets should consider dumping this year, and Nick Folk should be enough for the Jets to function next year. Much like this year they can’t act irresponsibly in free agency as the base talent isn’t there to take that kind of risk.  Add a few small pieces here and there and see if you can get any return on the aging vets on the team while younger players develop.But they have to have a home run in the draft next year. No salary cap magic, free agent signing or trade is going to have the impact of a good draft.

For Jets fans it’s a tough stretch. This is going to be the sixth straight season the Jets miss the playoffs. I feel like I’ve been through this before with the team in the pre-Parcells run, but the reality is this will now match the 1990s playoff futility run from 1992 through 1997.  One more year of this nonsense and we’ll miss out on seven straight, which puts us back into the 70s era, which was before my time. The franchise isn’t at that level of rock bottom play as the Jets have had a few 0.500 seasons plus the one 10 win year, but this is an era where its hard to be as bad as the Jets were in the past. They are one of 10 teams to miss out on the playoffs for at least 6 straight years. If they continue on this same path of failing at the draft expect the playoff drought to extend well beyond the current six year streak and calls made to find a new coach and general manager in 2018.

  • Tommy Hames

    We’re fucked.

  • Troy Chapman

    Nice read Jason.

  • McGeorge

    1. Bowels problems with clock management are the least of his problems. Punting twice in the 4th quarter, when down by 11 on 4th and 1 is what Rex would do, and is a give up play. Bowels is too conservative and a poor game day coach, who doesn’t make adjustments.

    2. I’m disillusioned with Macc. He handled the cap poorly. Asside from teh Marshall trade, his free agent aquisitions and trades haven’t worked out. His drafting is not very good. We don’t know how good Darren Lee will be, he doesn’t look so good, but it’s too early to say, we need a couple of years. In fairness to Macc he inherited a bad team. But he hasn’t used these 2 years well. At this rate the Jets will be a 4-12 team for the next few years.

    3. IF FitzMagic keeps stinking and the Jets are 2-6, then in the 2nd half of the season start Bryce Petty. Even if he stinks, its for developmental purposes. At 2-6 there is no point to keep playing FitzMagic.

  • hanskim2016

    Can anyone comment on their observations regarding organizational structure and how that seems to impact decision making and process performance? Do some teams have the GM report to the coach, or vice versa? And does that make a material impact with on the field play? I know that’s kind of a 10,000 ft high question but I’m curious whether if anyone has studied this over a long period of time.

    • McGeorge

      The Patriots – all roads lead to Bill Belichick

      Most good organizations – the HC reports to the GM

      The bad organizations – the HC reports to the owner. I can think of 2 organizations that do this, the Jets and the Browns. I think the Bills also do this.

      • hanskim2016

        Interesting. I wonder why that is the case? At first glance I would have assumed that the HC and the GM would appear to be peers, both reporting to ownership at an equal level. What about having the HC reporting to the GM makes it efficient?

        • McGeorge

          I think HC reporting to GM has traditionally been the way most organizations are run. But that doesn’t make it optimal.

          One common problem is a GM drafts a turkey and orders the coach to play him, in the hopes he improves (I’ll use a Jets example : Vlad Ducasse).

          I can see the case for GM and HC to be peers, and report to the same person. My concern is when owners start making football decisions, they usually work out poorly (with a few exceptions here and there).
          Another problem with the peers model is it introduces politics, where each party is trying to diminish the other, as happened in Philly with Chip Kelly and Howie Roseman.

          Since the GM is the one ultimately responsible for the team, I can see the case for giving him control over coaches as well as players. The GM can fire the HC and buy some time, but he’s still on the hot seat.

          • Im not sure there really is an optimal structure. I do think it works best when one hires the other (Im not sure it matters who hired who) so they are in the fire together so to speak rather than the Idzik/Ryan mess though there are still avenues to where one side cozys up more to the owner which can cause splits.

            I think the best things come from the two sides having defined roles but be willing to consider input from the other side. Someone always has to have a final decision but I think as long as its communicated that should be ok. That situation with Vlad should never happen. When you draft a dud own up to it and dont force him on the field.

      • Lincoln

        Proof?

  • BowlesOfMacc

    Very good column and I agree with a lot, it definitely starts with poor drafts. Hindsight is always 20/20 but it would be interesting what this team looked like if we swapped Milliner pick with Rhodes and Pryor pick with Carr. The one area I disagree with is the wide receivers being old. Sure Marshall is 32 and Decker is 29 but Enunwa, Anderson, J Marshall, Peake, Smith have an average age of 23. I’m really more concerned with RB future like you said, OL talent, and obviously the QB position. I still want to see Geno in this offense because if he’s terrible we just move on but if he shows something then we don’t have to bet the future on Petty/Hackenberg and I don’t see Fitz starting here next year.

    On defense the secondary basically needs a complete revamp and as much as I like Sheldon it might be best to trade him for a 2nd-3rd round pick. I think Bowles deserves a 3rd year but he needs to take some lessons from Ron Rivera who completely switched up his mindset in terms of conservative play-calling. Always enjoy your work!

    • Id need to see more from the receivers to say much. Anderson looked good in the preseason, but not ready for prime time in regular season. Enunwa is probably the most improved but Im not sure he ha that upside to be a 1A.

      • cornfed

        Remember, how WRs look ALL depends on QB play…Fitz whiffed on several throws Monday nite, esp Jalin wide open behind Marshall which would’ve been a touchdown. Fitz has only made vets Deck and Marshall look good, and Quincy in exceptions. In the pre-season Petty was hitting Robbie in stride left and right. Maybe Petty could even make Devin look like something more than a bust. It wouldn’t be shocking to also see the D step up if they were playing for a top tier QB, which we’re in dire need of.

  • a57se

    So, to summarize: It’s the Same Old Jets!
    Just kidding, Jason, as you and I pretty much see eye to eye on this team.
    Macc has been trying to keep the team competitive now (by signing FA’s) while rebuilding the team through the draft. Unfortunately, his drafting prowess seems to leave a little to be desired.
    He really should have traded down instead of taking Leo (nothing against Leo) as we need more talent. Then again, the way he has drafted, that probably would have turned out worse…

    Did I say that it sucks being a Jets fan?

    • The drafting sadly continues to be bad. Drafting Williams was fine provided that the team could spin Richardson or Wilkerson into a 1st round pick. Im not sure they really thought that out. I dont mind the idea of trying to put a good product on the field rather than the Idzik white flag, but if they keep whiffing on the draft the end result will be the same.

      • a57se

        Looking at our roster for 2017, it is going to be a dismal year. we lack talent in so many areas and FA won’t fix all the holes.

        • McGeorge

          I hope its a 1-15 year so the Jets can draft 2nd (behind the Browns) and get a decent QB. I don’t want them to “salvage” the season and go 6-10 and lose out on a QB.

          • a57se

            They’d probably take Myles Garrett because they’re so high on Hack…BARF!!!

          • cornfed

            No one’s loving the QB’s unequivocally except for Kaaya

          • a57se

            Luke Falk will be at the top of the draft come next April…Mayfield, FInlley and Beathard will be quality prospects too if they all declare.
            This could be a decent QB draft in 2017.

  • Harlan Lachman

    Jason, here is a question. Assumption 1: Fitz is garbage and the Jets should have stayed firm or let him retire. GM error. Assumption 2: Geno is gone after this season.

    Question: Let’s say Geno wins 8- games if we start him (and the season gets easier except for the two Pats games). And, let’s say the Jets decide to stop being stupid and let another team pay him the big bucks. Doesn’t that strategy at least give the next Jets’ GM a chance at a number 3 draft pick for the following draft if another poorly run team signs him to a Brock Osweiler type contract. It seems to me that there is tremendous upside to starting Smith and none to continuing with Fitz. Fitz is taking us nowhere. When he had his chance last year he left his heart in Buffalo. Playing Geno has two upsides. He does great and leaves us a high draft pick. He does poorly and let’s us dump both Geno and Fitz with full fan support.

    Reply?

    • I could see the logic in that if I didnt think we would sign any free agents next year. Here is the teams list of free agents (Fitz is too but the void structure doesnt have him show)

      http://overthecap.com/free-agency/new-york-jets/

      Id assume the Jets keep Winters so the only guys of any merit are going to be Fitz and Geno as its unlikely anyone else gets signed. Assume both get signed do you think the Jets could go the entire offseason with signing one or zero free agents? I think that would be tough especially since a minimum salary vet would offset the QBs in this case.

      • Harlan Lachman

        Jason, if Geno performs as his avid Jet fans believe, it will make no odds. Fitz has already diminished his value and Geno likely will too. But the upside for this wasted season, is that if he pans out, someone may sign him to a huge contract.

        I agree that the Jets management would have to forgo FA for my strategy to give us return in the unlikely even Geno does good.

        But if he did, I would hope the Jets forgo FA where they have not fared so well including the losers on your list (Brian Winters does not belong on an NFL team). A high extra draft pick would be worth it.

  • McGeorge

    Jason,
    How long do Macc and Bowels have?

    Will Bowels probably be fired in or after 2017?
    What about Macc? If the Jets draft picks continue to stink, and Hackenberg isn’t ready for 2017, will Macc be let go at the end of the 2017 season?

  • Werner

    Seems we have more and more Teams stuck in mediocrity instead of continued competitive balance. Probably we should also have a GM and Head Coach Draft at least every three years based on compounded results in the timespan, where GMs and HC would be rotated between Teams. Then we could finally find out what BB could really have done with the Jets and the Browns and if Patriots win all out with Bowlen or Mularkey…

  • Werner

    Form follows function, structure follows strategy. BB is simple the best when synergized into two roles and he doesn’t need to change, he can be as cruel as HC as he is as GM. Jets unfortunately do not have a discernible strategy and also are not functioning. Probably time for a tear down with at least two new quarterbacks, Revis, Mangold, Harris, Marschall, Thomas and one Defense Line Asset unloaded. As commented earlier, the Gap is widening and more Teams e.g. 75% of AFC East are stuck in precarious border line mediocrity with not to much levers to correct that inside of 2 or 3 years.