Thoughts on the Jets Implosion

Every time you think the Jets hit the lowest point they prove everyone wrong and sink even lower, this week hitting what seems like rock bottom in a loss against a Dolphins team that has actively tried to lose games all season long. Life as a Jets fan is just brutal right now. We have not been to the playoffs in 9 years now. The last time the Jets were in the middle of a drought this long the Empire Strikes Back was a new release. The team will not have a winning record for 4 straight seasons, the second time this decade that this has happened. It’s basically the same type of run that the team experienced in the late 80s and early 90s when the team churned through head coaches and fans showed up to games with brown bags over their heads.

There is no way to sugarcoat this mess. It’s a complete and utter sh*tshow. Ownership should be embarrassed. The front office should be embarrassed. The players should be embarrassed. The fans should be embarrassed. Any sponsor of the team should be embarrassed. Hell anyone even trying to scalp a ticked on route 17 before a game should be embarrassed to charge someone a penny to watch this team play a game.

The blame for this mess needs to fall squarely on ownership for not having any vision of how to run a franchise. The problems date all the way back to the day they fired general manager Mike Tannenbaum in early 2013.  Tannenbaum had built the Jets best teams since the late 1990’s under Bill Parcells, but was also a victim of his own success, getting far too aggressive with trades and signings that blew up in his face and saw his team fall from contenders to an 8 and 6 win team. Letting Mike go was understandable but you need a plan when you make such a move and ownership had none.

Whether ownership was simply looking for a fall guy or identified the contracts on the team as a reason to let Tannenbaum go they stuck with a head coach, Rex Ryan, who they wanted to be the face of the franchise. Thus started this strange cycle that the Jets owners would hire, with the input of consulting agencies and old NFL executives, a coach and a GM independent of one another, assume they would all hold hands with each other, execute the same vision, and deliver the Jets back to relevance.

It was a disaster from day one. No candidate of note wanted to work with the Jets power structure featuring Ryan as top dog and pushing agendas on the team. That led to the team hiring Seattle’s salary cap guy, John Idzik, who was probably the team’s 4th or 5th choice at the start to replace Tannenbaum. Idzik wasn’t Tannenbaum though and didn’t have the personality to handle New York or anything else about the situation.

He and Ryan more or less actively worked to undermine each other hoping one would outlast the other. Idzik pretty much alienated everyone in the Jets front office, micromanaging every aspect of the team, and firing good people within the organization. His plan, which was not that dis-similar from the Dolphins current strategy- of tearing down the old and bring in new talent was derailed when Ryan somehow got the team to 8 wins with rookie Geno Smith.

When things fell apart the following year all attention turned to Ryan and he would be the guy fired except Idzik didn’t know how to let things work out on their own. Rather than finding ways to privately kill Ryan he continued to be non-accessible to most and then gave a bizarre statement on the state of the Jets that transferred all the ire of the fanbase from Ryan to him. Both were fired after that season.

You would think the Jets would have learned from that mistake but they went into round two of the independent coach/GM search this time hiring Todd Bowles and Mike Maccagnan within days of each other with each reporting to ownership on their own. While they may have had different visions they at least did not publically snipe at one another. Both, however, were in way over their heads.

Maccagnan in part got the position because of his scouting background and the fact that he seemingly agreed with the ownerships idea that fixing the team meant bringing back some old faces like Darrelle Revis to make people forget that the Idzik years ever happened. For one year it worked as the Jets nearly made the playoffs before midnight struck and the organization turned into a pumpkin.

Maccagnan was arguably the worst general manager to get so many years to fix the Jets since at least the early 90s. He constantly missed on draft picks. He constantly fell back on his “best player available” philosophy rather than taking high valued players at positions you simply don’t find in free agency. His run in free agency was terrible. The team was unprepared and either missed out on players or paid through the nose because they had no feel for the marketplace. Maccagnan was good, however, at working the media and selling his side of the story, a trait that completely escaped Idzik. That saved him for some time even as he and the organization fired coaches and front office staff.

Ownership was apparently blind to all of it when they made the biggest blunder of all- retaining Maccagnan in 2019. While the Jets were a disaster in 2018 there were bright spots. They had another top draft pick. They had a salary cap war chest at their disposal in free agency. They drafted a young quarterback with the third pick. It was the perfect time for a new beginning except ownership made the decision that Bowles would be the fall guy and this Mike would stick it out.

This was just another Jets mess. They began a coaching search that identified Matt Rhule as their top candidate. All things sounded great except Mike and ownership had visions of building a coaching staff independent of Rhule. Rhule backed out and pretty much called out the Jets for blowing it. The Jets and Maccagnan, who was involved with the coaching search, then turned to Adam Gase.

There was no logical reason in the world to hire Gase, whose resume was being the offensive coordinator for Peyton Manning in Denver and then being a one time playoff coach in Miami. The truth was if Gase never matched up against Bowles, who he often beat, and had a fluke win against the Patriots the Jets likely never even considered him. Gase got the job because Manning gave him a ringing endorsement and Manning, like other “consultants” ownership loves, like Charley Casserly and Bill Polian, have their own personal attachments to guys they like. Jets ownership seems blind to it despite every hire being a failure.

That began what was the biggest case of mismanagement if not in NFL history than certainly Jets history. The Jets allowed Maccagnan to spend more money on free agents than anyone else in the NFL and to select a player at the top of the NFL draft. During this time Gase reportedly quietly worked to undermine Maccagnan since the team had the same independent structure. In free agency they signed Maccagnan guys like Henry Anderson and Le’veon Bell while getting Gase guys in CJ Mosley and Jamison Crowder. Still it was an unhappy marriage and they fired Maccagnan letting it officially become Gase’s team. It was quite a rise for Gase, one that probably matched that of formed Jets coach Eric Mangini who went from being fired to running an organization before getting fired again.

Gase has run the organization into the ground. There is nobody on this planet that can watch any Jets game this season and say that Sam Darnold has progressed under Gase. He looks worse than he did as a rookie with Bowles and quite frankly looks like the second worst quarterback in the first round of that draft, ahead of only Josh Rosen. He makes awful decisions with the football and just seems overwhelmed. Maybe Darnold simply doesn’t have it but Gase has done him no favors with his coaching and putting Darnold in a position to succeed. It’s far worse than Ryan’s attempts to develop Mark Sanchez, the Jets last “franchise QB”. Darnold, like Sanchez, doesn’t have a ton of college experience and is incredibly young. Mentally this can be draining and they are breaking him.

Gase had an opportunity with a young QB in Miami and flopped. That was Ryan Tannehill where injury excuses became the norm. Of course he then brought in his guy- Jay Cutler- and shocker of all shockers, he flopped. They brought in players he wanted like Kenny Stills and amazingly the team went nowhere. More often then not they got blown out and were not competitive. He alienated players along the way which seems to be the same thing happening in New York. Yet the Jets hired him anyway.

Injury excuses have crept up everywhere. The Jets injury report this week had like 25 guys on it. The same phrase came out in so many places describing the injuries that it was clearly a leak by the Jets to get sympathy for their plight. The fact is the Jets were not even in the top 10 in salary on injured reserve. The Steelers lost Ben Roethlisberger and are 4-4. The Chiefs won a game without Patrick Mahomes and have missed offensive linemen and receivers at times. The 49ers are undefeated with numerous guys on the shelf. How often do the Patriots do it with guys down?

Yes the Jets are missing a bunch of linebackers. Yes they are down one of their wide receivers. But the facts are so are most teams in the NFL. You learn to deal with these injuries. Is anyone giving the Falcons a pass for injuries?  Are the Redskins getting a pass because Alex Smith suffered a gruesome injury in 2019?  Those coaches were or are going to get fired because they cant work with what they have on the field.

The Jets just have a bad team. They have a bad team because ownership elected to let a guy set the table who had no business being on the team in January and because they hired a coach that needed to go back to being a coordinator to re-assess how to be a head coach in this NFL.

There is no bright spot for the Jets team. The QB looks blah. The high priced running back looks blah because they have no offensive line. They cant cover anyone in the secondary. They have nobody that can rush a passer. They need an entirely new offensive line. Yes all five guys. Its one of the worst rosters in the NFL featuring a few overpriced players and a QB on an affordable contract for two more years.

Older fans like myself often reference the Kotite era when talking about the Jets. Kotite was an inept coach who was a bizarre hire coming off a failure with the Eagles. It was only a two year run in New York but it left such a lasting impact people to this day still talk about it. For younger fans who could not really grasp 1995 and 1996 or were simply not alive then you are now getting your Kotite. Adam Gase is Rich Kotite. It’s playing itself out on the field before your eyes. You have earned your green badge of honor suffering through this kind of season. If you were not here before welcome to Jets hell. You officially get what it means now to be a Jets fan.

It is a near impossible spot for new general manager, Joe Douglas, who got the job in early June. Douglas is the only person within the organization that should be free of most of the blame for this mainly because he had little to do with it. He made a bad decision to sign Ryan Kalil to be the team’s center and may have had a role in the Osemele mess, but otherwise this is on ownership for keeping Maccagnan.

Everything I have heard about Douglas from people I know has been pretty glowing. Would it be nice to have seen him in front of some of this mess the last few weeks?  Yes it would have been, but at the same time I’m not sure what he could say that doesn’t come across as bashing the last GM for the team that he inherited.

Douglas’ biggest challenge is what to do with Gase. Gase and Douglas share the same representation and that was supposedly a big reason why Douglas got the job. This would be an opportunity to have two guys on a similar page for the first time in a decade. Except Gase stinks and has to go. You can’t let Gase go full on Kotite and hit 96. That won’t help Douglas either and hell get a really short least with the fanbase if Gase is here next year and doesn’t start at least 4-3. If he fires Gase ownership has to let him pick his guy not another arranged marriage by the Johnsons.

Challenge number two is going to be what to do in the draft. Douglas did not pick Darnold, though those two also share the same agent. Right now the Jets are slotted for the second overall pick and will have every opportunity to earn the number 1 pick. Do you encourage competition and take a QB if you are bad enough to finish with the top overall pick?  That is probably a fair question. If you are set on Darnold can you turn that high pick into multiple firsts to fix the team?

The team has cap room next year at $62 million and change which will rank 12th in the NFL, but that wont go so far with so many holes on the roster. They also have backed themselves into a corner with the way they have handled this Kelechi Osemele situation when it comes to free agency. Between that and how bad the team is they are going to have to continue to overpay pretty significantly to get people to come to the organization. They have a bad reputation and that doesn’t work in the NFL.

They let their trade talks become public and now have an issue with Jamal Adams that is going to have to be addressed next year. Most likely he will be traded. Adams shares his thoughts on social media and clearly is unhappy with the team. My guess is it will reach a point where they simply have to move him. They reportedly asked for a lot- two first rounder’s was the initial report and now it’s grown into first rounder’s plus established offensive linemen. I don’t think they will get either next year if he begins to ask for a trade.

The Jets have to find a way to fix this mess and fast. You can’t keep selling the fans on no playoffs somehow being a success simply because you stunk so bad the year before that incremental improvement is fine. Going from 4 to 6 wins is not improvement. Douglas is inheriting a mess but by 2021 this has to be a contender. If you stick with Gase it better be in 2020 because what else is he bringing to the team otherwise?

The quickest way for this team to be relevant is to get a new coach who hires his own staff and answers to Douglas that can maybe catch the NFL by surprise. Turn the high draft picks, unless you are taking a QB, into multiple assets and build a real core not of safeties, linebackers, and run stuffing tackles, but of offensive linemen, pass rushers, and cornerbacks. Use whatever cap room you have to put some short term solutions on the field and then be ready to fly by 2021.

The goals for ownership has to be the playoffs sooner rather than later and they have to communicate this with the fans. If they cant get there by 2021 they need a new front office. It doesn’t take that long anymore to be competitive. Whether he sticks with Gase or not or sticks with Darnold or not these are now his decisions. He’s locked into Mosley, Crowder, Bell, Enunwa, and maybe one or two others. Everyone else is on him. But he has to show major improvements to the team in the next two years and ownership has to stay out of his way. Nothing else is acceptable.

It’s a nightmare and it stinks to say that most likely we have to wait to 2021 to see a quality team put on the field but the Jets cant just keep their fingers crossed about 2020 and continue to do more of the same. Its failed all of us for 8 or 9 years now. Nobody deserves another 8 or 9 years of this.  

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