Thoughts on the Jets at the Halfway Mark

With the Jets season now halfway over and the playoff chances looking dim after a surprising start, I thought it was a good time to look at the Jets and where they go from here. This has little to do with any contract related stuff and its just my usual yearly Jets assessment, so if you aren’t a Jets fan you can probably stop reading here.

Like most people I didn’t expect much out of the Jets this season. I didn’t get caught up in the 0-16 nonsense that some were saying, but I didn’t see a path to any playoff possibilities. That made this season extra tough to start with and this is by far the least interested I have been in a Jets season. Pretty much my whole life as a Jets fan, which dates back to the 80s, I’ve been able to find some hope in a season, even 1996 which turned out to be the worst season in the history of the organization.

That has made the losses this year kind of odd.  In most years when the team would be competitive and find ways to lose games I would, like most of the Jets fans, get pretty frustrated with the team. I think it was the 1991 season where the team invented new ways to lose each week but was still competitive enough to make the playoffs at 8-8. Each loss was tough to take as a fan since the season should have been much better.

The Jets have done a lot of that this year. They inexplicably lost to the Dolphins two weeks ago after dominating the game and found a way to lose to the Falcons yesterday in what would best be described as a game where each team tried to give the game to the other team multiple times. They also blew a game to the Patriots, though at least that was the Patriots and not two bad teams. Win 2 of those 3 games and the Jets are 5-3 and in the playoff hunt. Instead they are left for dead at 3-5.

That should leave me pretty mad as a fan with the team, the front office, the coach, just somebody… except it doesn’t. I’ve grown apathetic to the team this year because they gave me nothing to hope for and the small teases of respectability didn’t change that feeling.  Reading Twitter feeds during the game, reading posts on Jets forums, listening to talk radio or reading articles about the team I don’t think I’m alone either.

What would normally be lots of discussion about bad coaching decisions, a bad play by the QB, a muffed punt, a missed tackle, etc… doesn’t exist. Outside of the Jets seemingly playing 11 on 16 in that Patriots game where every official must have had a Pats jersey under their shirt nobody cares and even that game people cared about because it was New England who we all want to beat. It’s an awful place to be for an organization when a loss is met with a shrug of the shoulders.

Maybe some of that comes from the coach and the front office. For all of Rex Ryan’s faults the guy did wear his emotions on his sleeve. While he often said the same things over and over and it became a bit of a comedy routine at the end you knew he felt like a fan when they lost. When Herman Edwards does the “you play to win the game” speech it hits somewhere with the fans, even if the coach is to blame for the losses too.

Todd Bowles is very guarded to say the least. After a loss that put his season on life support yesterday you got nothing from him.  The team was frustrated. They were trying hard and mostly in the right positions but they have to find a way to win. And that was that. I’m sure the losses get to him, but if he is supposed to get the fans more invested in the Jets it isn’t happening.

That brings up the first question for the Jets this year and that is what do you do with Bowles moving forward. I put up a small poll yesterday on Twitter just to get the fan reaction and it was about 60-40 for keeping him after the season. That actually surprised me and I think it has to do with how bad expectations were going into the season.

Bowles’ team has outperformed expectations. His team, unlike last year, certainly tries each week. They simply aren’t good. Sure some of the blame for a late game collapse goes to the coach, but when you are working with one of the three worst rosters in the NFL what can you do?  They don’t have the depth nor the talent to do the things other franchises do. Nothing Bowles has done this year warrants firing him.

But has Bowles done anything this year that warrants keeping him either?  Not really. His track record with the organization isn’t good. You can’t point to great coaching moments nor can you point to players that have broken out under him. The team has one quality win (versus the Jaguars) and the losses to the Raiders, Dolphins, and Falcons are not good losses. He comes across as someone who will be a lifetime 6-10 type of coach with a 9 or 10 win one and done playoff season thrown in. That isn’t good enough.

I think the only way I would reconsider the position is if he made a drastic change at the QB position and it somehow worked out and the team got hot. That was another poll question I did and the results seemed to match what ESPN later did on a similar poll. Though fans are split as to who the QB should be, it’s about a 2:1 margin that says it should not be McCown.

That’s a tough call for Bowles and the organization. McCown has been ok and is a professional. Benching McCown could make the season go off the rails. Right now the Jets are respectable losers. Maybe Bowles thinks that enough with the front office. If they go to Petty or Hackenberg they could very easily turn into the Browns or the Colts. He would have zero chance of keeping his job if that happened, but if the guys got hot maybe things could change.

The front office may not want such a change either. Right now I would imagine that Bowles is the fall guy if the owner decides he wants a change. That usually is the case unless something drastic happens that changes the focus. The Jets playing musical chairs with Petty and Hackenberg stinking up the field could be that move that puts the spotlight on the front office instead of just Bowles. Making the switch could also derail promising starts for Robby Anderson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who are two of the bright spot moves from the team, and lead to more veterans quitting on the team, a reminder of how bad the Forte, Wilkerson, etc…signings really were.

That brings up the final question I had which was what to do with Mike Maccagnan. This was around 55/45 in the poll to keep him.

My biggest issue with Maccagnan has been his drafting and approach to the draft. When you make the moves that he has made at the top of the draft- taking a luxury pick at DE, drafting a 1st round inside linebacker, and taking a safety the players have to be generational kind of talents. Now maybe some of the blame lies on Bowles and its certainly too early to say on way or the other on Adams, but I certainly think its very fair to question the decision making.

Leonard Williams is a nice player, but when he made that pick he had to be a great player. He didn’t have to be JJ Watt, but he had to be either a Haloti Ngata, who doesn’t make a big statistical impact but dominated the line and helped his team, or (to keep it Jets related) a John Abraham that terrorized the QB when he was on the field. Instead he’s more like a Shaun Ellis. A nice, solid, good player. The Jets had two of those in Richardson and Wilkerson. They didn’t need a third.

Darron Lee had to be Patrick Willis or Luke Kuechly to justify that selection. Lee’s just a guy. Nothing more. Nothing less. If he wasn’t a first round draft pick nobody would even know who he was and its probably debatable if he would be starting every game. Maybe he will improve, but hes now in his second year in the NFL and still has a long way to go.

Adams needs to be to top safety for the next 7 or 8 years and has had his ups and downs but as a rookie lets just say the jury is out. The 2nd rounders have been a disaster. Devin Smith is never healthy and Hackenberg looks like a colossal failure. Maybe Marcus Maye changes things around, though taking two safeties is always a major question mark when you look at the team.

So far in three years I don’t think you would say he hit a home run anywhere in the draft. A couple of guys who are ok and that’s that.  Anderson was a good UDFA signing and the Kearse and ASJ moves were both solid. They have signed a few questionable contracts and a few decent ones, but thus far the team is trending towards a life of 5 and 6 wins if they maintain their same level of success.

I think this is a really hard decision for the team. My feeling is if you want to keep Mac it means you are willing to stick it out with him for at least two more years. The Jets right now are on pace for the 9th pick in the draft. While I think they could win another game or two I’d be surprised if they did well enough to not be in the top 10. The Jets also have massive amounts of cap room next year that they can use to try to improve the team.

Basically if you are letting Maccagnan make a top 10 pick and sign say $40 million in player contracts, you are letting him define your roster for at least two more seasons, and maybe three depending on how the contracts are structured. So I don’t think you can be of the “lets give him another chance and see how he does” mindset. You have to be convinced hes the guy. If you fire him after next season after letting him do all that, you are really setting the franchise back too much. Just remember that you are potentially looking at back to back to back top 10 selections for the first time since I believe the 90s if the Jets falter under Mac the rest of this year and maintain their current path next year.

I don’t think the head coach and GM have to be tied at the hip but if he was to fire Bowles then the Jets organization needs to show Maccagnan some public commitment to try to lure a better crop of coaching candidates that won’t believe they will be one and done guys.

Honestly Im not sure what I would do. If I was running the team I’d really like to know when he selected players the way he did and how he saw the DE, ILB, S combo in the draft turning a franchise around from a doormat to contender. I’d like to know why they caved at the last second to Wilkerson’s and Ryan Fitzpatrick’s contract demands. What did they see in Matt Forte that they wanted two years from him?

From the outside looking in it is hard to see what they have been going for outside of the 1st year just trying to put a professional product on the field.  They haven’t built anything nor do they have the traditional building blocks you often see, but maybe there is something they have in mind.

My guess is the Jets will come back with the same group next year. In general ownership has been reactionary to failures when they come with lots of attention, but this isn’t getting that attention. Like I said Im apathetic and so seems to be most of the Jets fanbase. The Giants are dominating the local headlines for being dysfunctional and nationally the Browns, Raiders, and Bucs are all worse off than the Jets.

Who knows maybe the Jets will surprise us all and finish with 7 wins on the year, but I’m not sure what can really change outside of the QB that really would change the way I view the team. My guess is nobodys opinions will really change much until next year. Lets just hope they figure out how to do a better job between now and then.

Questions about this article? Reach Jason Fitzgerald on Twitter at @jason_otc