Over the next few days I’ll play fantasy GM of the Jets and give some thoughts on the upcoming decisions that the Jets will face. Actually, I guess before you play fantasy GM you have to play fantasy owner given the way the season has unfolded. Going into this year I would have told you that you were crazy if you thought Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles might not be back in 2017, but I don’t think you can discount it either. Much like our prior GM/Head Coach combos I don’t consider these two joined in any manner. The Jets don’t seem to look at it that way so neither should I. So today we’ll start with the GM and in part 2 I’ll look at the coach and then part 3 will be a roster overview.
Maccagnan was hired in 2015 to somewhat change the culture of the organization. For a nine year period the Jets front office had basically been run by salary cap people who worked their way up the chain of command. With the last few years of that style having failed it was only natural to turn to someone who background was more in scouting and less in salaries which led to Maccagnan getting the job. Thus far it has just been a different path to the same end result. .
The primary reason the Jets find themselves in the position that they are currently in is because the team has drafted so poorly for almost a decade now. Realistically you have to go back to the 2007 draft for the last time the Jets drafted a true cornerstone talent (Darrelle Revis) and, for the most part, most of the drafts have been flops producing just a few quality starters along the way. That was the thing that needed to change.
When Maccagnan took over the team it seemed clear that he had a mission from management to be competitive ASAP and have the team playing meaningful games in December. You can’t accomplish that in one draft so he used an abundance of cap room in free agency to try to build a competitive roster. He’s been taken to task for that approach by a number of people, but for one year it did work out as the Jets went to 10-6 last year and nearly made the playoffs. He was praised for his work last year for putting together a team of castoffs who blended well.
However we all know that one year wonders are common in the NFL and one good season does not make a program. For the Jets to flourish it was the development that needed to happen underneath those veterans that would sustain long term success and viability. That has not happened and the Jets continue to have depleted depth and minimal contributions from any young players. This is more or less no different than John Idzik’s tenure with the Jets.
From the contractual side of things I do think you are seeing some inexperience in that area. It started in free agency in 2015 with some of the contracts that the team signed. He is going to get heat for the Darrelle Revis contract but I give him a pass on that one. I think that was something that came down from upper management almost as a must sign if you wanted the job so there was no leeway with that. But it’s the other moves that should be questionable.
As you watch some of the contracts come down- $8M for one year for Antonio Cromartie, over $6M a year for Buster Skrine, the $7M contract for David Harris, giving Brandon Marshall a raise for helping him get out of Chicago, etc… Some of these contracts remind me of contracts that we would have seen back in the days of Bill Parcells or the early days of Terry Bradway.
As a general manager sometimes you set your sights on specific players and you just want it to happen no matter what the cost and that’s the feeling I have watching some of the contracts come down. You get so fixated on a particular player that you can lose sight of the big picture and how things may impact you down the line.
That was even more apparent this past year with the handling of Muhammad Wilkerson and Ryan Fitzpatrick. If Maccagnan does get fired it will likely be those two deals that will be carved into the tombstone. Those contracts I think have cemented the Jets right now as being in a position where, if you wait them out, they will come around at the end of the day and give you what you want. You never want to be that team.
The Wilkerson decision was just odd. When they drafted Leonard Williams, who looks to be the best Jets draft pick of the last 5 or 6 years, the logical thought was you part ways with Wilkerson who was looking for top dollar and replace him with Williams. I’m not sure if they overvalued what they could get for Wilkerson in a trade or if they feared some kind of fan backlash but they handed Wilkerson a monster contract that created this logjam on the defensive line that makes no sense. If you were going to do that you may as well have drafted someone where you get the full benefit of the player. Expect them to now trade Sheldon Richardson for pennies on the dollar because he has seemingly become malcontent and feeling like the odd man out.
That doesn’t mean everything they have done is bad. I think their decision to not restructure Revis was excellent. I was very negative on Revis’ play last year but was told numerous times by other fans or heard from media outlets how Revis was great. The Jets saw he wasn’t and smartly didn’t touch that contract. While they clearly were hoping for a better season this year they weren’t very noisy in free agency when they could have found ways to make it happen. I’m taking the glass half full approach and saying that they were realistic about the teams’ chances and saw the Fitzpatrick deal as something they needed to do in order to have continuity. The glass half empty viewpoint says that they thought the team was great and screwed up.
The question now “is two years enough”? It was in the case of Idzik though I think Idzik brought that on himself. Idzik had trouble with the media and while I don’t view Maccagnan as much more forthcoming that mid season Idzik press conference pretty much sealed his fate. There was no recovering from that for Idzik and things just spiraled out of control. Idzik gave off the vibe that the job was way too big for him. That is a feeling I do not get with Maccagnan.
From a football perspective I do see similarities between the two situations. Like Idzik, Maccagnan has built nothing through two years. If anything all that has been done is continuing a lateral move with the team in no different of a position than they were in 2013 or 2015. With what will likely be a top 5 pick in the draft do you trust Maccagnan to make a move that should define a new direction? It is much easier to trust someone with no track record than someone who has failed to make an impact in two years.
One of the arguments I have seen against making any moves is that another move makes the Jets like the Browns, but I don’t entirely agree with that. The Browns moves are culture shocks that basically render the work of a prior GM useless. That is a team that specifically drafts for one style of defense and reaches for a 1st round QB and then goes completely in a new direction the following season sending those players to the bench or putting them on the field in positions they should not play. The Jets could move on and still make use of the handful decent picks Maccagnan made and just cut all the veterans with minimal cap implications. He simply hasn’t made the investment in the type of players that give a GM job security.
Still, despite all that and the negativity of this season, I think it’s in the best interest of the organization to keep Maccagnan to maintain some continuity in the front office and end the constant turnover. I don’t think there is harm in the move and he likely can’t mess up the organization if he doesn’t get over the hump.
While Im not a big draft guy (actually I’m next to useless when it comes to the draft) it doesn’t sound as if there is a quarterback of merit that the Jets will take a stab at in the top 10 and that is probably the only position that they could draft which would lock him in if the team continues to fail. A left tackle, receiver, cornerback, etc… all drafted that highly can be a cornerstone but shouldn’t lock the team into any specific offensive/defensive style. A defensive lineman might but there is no way he can draft another defensive lineman. Even if they hired a new coach I don’t think that will be a killer. So the way I look at it if the Jets flop in 2017 you can still make the switch in 2018 without messing yourself up the way some other teams have.
I’m probably biased but I’m of the mindset that today’s NFL GM has to be incredibly well versed in all aspects of the NFL. Many up and comers are not that into some of the rules and financial impacts that giving a Fitzpatrick an extra few million and signing a Wilkerson to a long term deal may have on the organization. I think this has been a learning experience for the GM and they should be able to find a way to fix the more blatant issues the team has had. My guess is if he leans more on his cap people the results overall will end up better.
Maccagnan in some ways is a victim of a fluke success run in 2015. Everything he touched turned to gold that year and it made people lose sight of the fact that the team was old and had nobody ready to replace the veterans. It made expectations far too high for this season and the QB situation made it worse.
Normally when your season starts to go badly teams can make the switch to their next potential starter to change the focus from failures in the present to potential for the future. Because his highest QB pick, Christian Hackenberg, was such a project they had no viable young QB to turn to during the course of the season which led to the Fitzpatrick saga that just made it worse and worse each week for the fans who saw no future vision on the field. They tried to turn to Geno Smith, who nobody thought was the future and quickly got hurt, and will now go with Bryce Petty to try to stop the bleeding, but I don’t think anyone sees him as the future either. The disaster on the defensive line also hasn’t helped him as its hidden his best asset in Williams.
So I think there is nothing that is going to harm the team by giving him an extra year. If he gets no building blocks in place then it’s easy to move on, but for now you keep your fingers crossed that he somehow has that midas touch come draft week and he can fix the mess that continues to be the Jets.
Jason is the founder of OTC and has been studying NFL contracts and the salary cap for over 15 years. Jason has co-authored two books about the NFL, Crunching Numbers and the Drafting Stage, which are widely circulated in the industry and hosts the OTC Podcast. Jason’s work has been featured in various publications including the Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, NFL Network and more. OTC is widely considered the leading authority on contract matters in the NFL.