Thoughts on the State of the Jets

It’s that time of year again when the salary cap hat goes completely off and the Jets fan comes out for a “state of the Jets” post, which has been requested by a few of the readers on the site given the Jets recent lack of success. The team has lost 4 of their last 5 and has looked poor in a majority of those games, games that most expected at worst would have produced a 3-2 record. Today the Jets released LB/DE Quinton Coples, the teams 2012 first round pick, a move that would be described as the team’s front office looking to send a message to the team that no job, no matter how much money you earn or how much draft capital the team has invested in you, is safe. So I’ll share my thoughts on the team and answer any questions you may have either in the comments or via email.

As a fan of the team you could feel the “same old Jets” mentality creeping in after the loss to the Bills. That was a crushing loss to a division rival coached by our former head coach. Rex flaunted the win and that hurt most fans of the team. At the same time the game exposed things that had been there all season but went unnoticed because of early wins. Now those things were noticed and became a focus of concern. The secondary isn’t as good as advertised. Chris Ivory can’t stay healthy for 60 minutes. The coaching decisions are questionable. The team never looks prepared to start a game. The quarterback can’t throw outside. The team has no depth.  They are all valid concerns about the team and it has snowballed after the last two losses.

The Jets are in part victims of their early season success. For five weeks the defense played lights out. Opponents did not seem prepared for the aggressive schemes run by Todd Bowles and the Jets were benefitting. They had an incredible string of luck when it came to turnovers. The offense was efficient and Ryan Fitzpatrick looked like a hero as the ultimate game manager. The Jets developed a nice 1-2 punch with the running of Chris Ivory and the receiving threats of Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.

But that early season schedule was a powder puff schedule. The team opened against the Browns who are in line for the 1st pick in the draft. They held the Colts to 7 points, which was impressive until we saw everyone dominate the Colts. They lost to a bad Eagles team that has now seemingly quit on a season by week 10 and beat the Dolphins who fired their head coach following the game. They capped it off with a whipping of Washington.

Those 5 games blinded our vision and put expectations through the roof.  If at the start of the season someone said the Jets would be 5-5 after 10 games most would have said that is a reasonable start, however when you get there by starting 4-1 it looks like a disaster. I don’t think we ever should have expected anything differently.

Fitzpatrick has never won more than 6 games in a season and there is a reason for that. You don’t play every game in the NFL from ahead and he doesn’t have the ability to bring teams back. Our season is almost identical to what occurred with the Bills a few years back when a hot start got Fitzpatrick a big contract extension. Then the clock struck midnight and he turned into a pumpkin. The clock struck midnight last week on him and hoping someone is going to find him a glass slipper is probably foolish.

Ivory has never been able to maintain his body for any period of time. He’s already missed games and he has almost reached his career high in carries.  The Jets overused him early and not surprisingly he fell apart. He isn’t the same player right now as he was early in the season and that should have been no surprise either. That workload was unsustainable for him.

The defense was exposed for being un-athletic, not having natural pass rushers, and clearly aging in the secondary. There has been no depth to cover for injuries. There was no reason to think that would not catch up with the team. Any team that relies on 35 year old Calvin Pace to bring the heat isn’t going to go very far. It is what it is with that group. Disappointing yes, but not totally surprising either.

The blame can’t be laid at the feet of the general manager or head coach, at least not yet. They inherited an awful roster with almost no bright spots. The secondary had no players. The linebackers were some combination of being too old, too slow, and lacking in fundamentals.  The offensive line was ancient at its best spots and terrible at its worst spots. There was no quarterback. The roster depth was so poor even the special teams were among the worst in the NFL. The lone bright spots were a defensive line (which has disappointed this year), Decker, and Nick Folk.

Mike Maccagnan built as best as he could to try to make the Jets relevant this year rather than fall deeper into despair as they did the last two seasons under John Idzik. He focused his free agency run primarily on defense to mesh the roster with Todd Bowles’ skillset while adding a few professionals on offense. No contract was signed that really impacted the future. The only one is that of Darrelle Revis, and even he could be traded if they could find a taker in the future.  If the goal was to be in the playoff hunt then his plan worked.

The roots of the Jets problems date back to Mike Tannenbaum’s regime which treated draft picks like candy on Halloween. The Jets were all about building a team of draft pick superstars and complementing those draft picks with veterans. The problem with that strategy is you are putting all your eggs in one basket so to speak. When the draft picks are poor the talent level drops immensely. You can rely on veterans to pick up the slack, but they usually can’t do it for 16 games and certainly not for the long haul. With so few picks the youth expected to spell those veterans isn’t there and you end up with the disappointments of 2011 and 2012.

Idzik went to the other extreme, dumping almost any veteran that cost much more than the minimum and amassing a ton of late draft picks. Maybe he didn’t realize the team had little talent on top. Maybe he was far too optimistic about the prospects of late draft picks. Either way he completely gutted the team and drafted horribly. He panicked late in his tenure by trading for Percy Harvin and extending Jeremy Kerley in hopes of changing a narrative about his abilities as a general manager.

There is a balance you have to keep in the NFL when it comes to mixing veterans and rookies. Our guys hit it perfect in that 2009 and 2010 period where they hit on the depth aspect and high end picks in the 06 and 07 drafts while also doing well in free agency in 2008 and 2009. I hope the Jets are able to do that again in the future under Maccagnan, but they had to try to build something this year via free agency and luckily didn’t give away an entire draft to do it. There is nothing wrong with that approach.

The disasters of the draft can’t be understated. With the release of Coples only 56% of the 1st rounders remain on the roster since 2008. That’s 6th worst in the NFL. In general the expectation is you get your stars in round 1, solid starters in round 2, and solid rotational guys in round 3. Anything found after that you hope adds some depth as spot players and they can help on specials. Anything more is gravy.  Before anyone gets on the case of the Jets current front office here is what the Jets top of the drafts have looked like since 2008:

12008GholstonOut of NFL
12008KellerOut of NFL
12009SanchezEagles backup
12010WilsonSaints 3rd string
12011WilkersonJets starter
12013MillinerJets bench
12013RichardsonJets starter
12014PryorJets starter
22010DucasseBears Starter
22012HillPS Panthers 14/IR
22013SmithJets backup
22014AmaroJets IR
32009GreeneOut of NFL
32011EllisBackup Vikings
32012DavisJets starter
32013WintersJets starter
32014McDougleJets 3rd string

That’s just a brutal list. Davis and Winters would not start in at least 2/3 of the NFL nor would Ducasse, so in 7 years the Jets have produced 2 quality starters (Wilkerson and Richardson) and 1 who looks like he will be (Pryor). You can’t win like that. The Jets were basically an expansion team by the time Maccagnan took over. You don’t go from that level to a Super Bowl contender without lucking into a  special QB.

I’m as guilty as anyone of looking at some of the names on the roster and saying “they are built to win now”. They never were built to win now, they were built to survive 2015 and not fail the way they did in 2014. Take advantage of a soft schedule to get off to a decent start for the regime and buy time for the real job that had to be done. This is a long process of roster rebuilding and they simply are hoping that enough young guys eventually hit to supplement the vets as they enter the final effective years of their contracts.

Rebuilding the roster is no easy task. The Jets failures have gone beyond just the misses in the draft, they have also completely neglected one side of the football. Of their 9 first round picks, 7 were used on defensive players and no offensive players have been selected since 2009. While it’s easy to put all the blame on the quarterback position, those players don’t grow on trees and you need to construct a team planning for the worst until you find the best.

When you are a team with no quarterback you simply can’t do what the Jets did and draft players in the secondary, D-line and receiver spots. You can’t win in the NFL without an offensive line to try to make life easier for poor quarterbacks and to help build a running game. That was a strength of those good teams, but now it’s made up of journeymen and two players who are nearing the end of their careers.

That’s the biggest problem for the Jets. When it comes to fundamental building blocks on offense there are none. When Nick Mangold goes down the line is in disarray. D’Brickashaw Ferguson has clearly lost a step at tackle and looks closer to retirement with each passing week. Nobody else is any good. Winters, Colon, and Giacomini should all be gone next season. Carpenter will follow a year later. It’s a mess and it’s criminal that the Jets have basically turned a blind eye to the line since 2006. They won’t get better until they fix this and get the talent in place for the future.  When it comes to planning for 2016 this needs to be the priority.

I’m probably in the minority regarding Wilkerson’s future with the team, but unless they are moving Richardson I think the Jets have to look to trade Wilkerson next year. When you have the bad drafts sacrifices have to be made. Wilkerson is a fine player, but he isn’t a difference maker. Few non-QB’s are. The Jets have not had a winning record in Wilkerson’s tenure. That isn’t his fault but holding on to him will limit what the team can do elsewhere and if the goal is to become great these are tough decisions that have to be made.

Wilkerson will likely cost the team $14 million a season to stay and you have to consider the alternative uses of that money.  If they can turn him into a late 1st round pick that should give you a fighting chance at getting an elite offensive lineman. With the other $10-11 million left over you could, for example, sign the best guard on the market and one of the top running backs. On a team with such limited talent, you have to take the opportunity to turn one star into three starters.

I still have faith in Bowles and hope he is learning from his mistakes he has made in the games and in prep for the games. There is clearly going to be some Bill Parcells in him when it comes to playing time. He pretty much wrote off Coples, Milliner, and Kerley the minute he met them. Jace Amaro seemed to be on the same track to the bench before he got hurt. As long as he wins that can work, but if they don’t win he will face numerous questions regarding his decision making.

If there was a bit of advice to give to the Jets and Bowles it might be to work with Bowles on his approach to the media after games. In this day and age the fans want more information and he does not do a good job giving much away. That works for a Belichick, but Belichick is a coach from a different generation and I don’t know if you can be that kind of coach coming up in todays NFL. The media can be his best friend or worst enemy. It’s a soft skill that is becoming more and more crucial for job security in the NFL and its an easy thing to fix. Much easier than fixing the talent on the roster and figuring out why the team starts every game like it’s a scrimmage.

I’m not ready to write this season off just yet, but it doesn’t look hopeful. If they lose this week I think they have to make the turn back to Smith, just to see how he meshes with these players. If he bombs out in the next 2 or 3 games you finish the year with Petty. Petty will likely be overwhelmed but its about seeing how he handles those situations and prepares for each game. One of these players may be the starter for the Jets next year so the staff needs to see who they are most comfortable with, especially if the draft prospects are not there. Hopefully they are already doing their due diligence on RG3, Kaepernick, and whomever else is likely to be released. I also hope they don’t get caught up in anything involving Peyton Manning. They need to look to the future and not the past.

I expect the Jets to have somewhere between $30 and $35 million in cap space next year once they trim the fat from the roster. That will be reduced by about $16 million when they franchise Wilkerson. Obviously if they are going to sign Wilkerson long term it needs to be done before free agency to maximize cap space. As long as they trade him quickly that will give them ample money to spend to continue to improve the team and as long as they follow their recent contract structures won’t cause them any harm.

I don’t think there is any way around saying that this is at least a three year reconstruction in order to undo the damage done by the last two general managers. The Jets really need a full hit in the draft next season where they land two standouts and a bunch of contributors to prevent the team from getting worse next season.

Personally Im worried about Revis. I think he is one step away from being in the Asomugha zone by next year. Teams clearly are not afraid anymore of the island and if they begin to connect on more of those passes its going to be ugly especially if the team struggles the rest of this season and next. Right now teams haven’t connected because the passes were simply bad or there was at least enough respect to fear the turnover. Asomugha went through a period, even in Philly, where it took time for people to lose that fear even as he was getting torched when they did try it.

The staff is going to have to adjust with more safety help in the future. I think him getting that help is a key in the future because as their most notable player the Jets front office can’t afford for him to look human. If he looks bad the fan opinion is going to go south really fast on the entire organization which will leave us with a big mess that will continue a cycle of GM changes that fail to produce any results.

But it’s time to really get back to fundamentals of team building. They need to build from the inside out and not the outside in. They have the defensive line in place and they cant keep adding to that. They have to turn to the other side and not worry about the splash. Find a tackle who either takes over for Ferguson next year or plays the right side next year and takes over the year thereafter. Find a young interior lineman to play guard and eventually slot to center. Find a more reliable runner than Ivory, either to relieve him or replace him.

I don’t think there is any magic cure for this season. Maybe the team gets lucky, but the talent isn’t there and Bowles is going through some growing pains as a head coach to expect any run. The schedule was right for a playoff push, but much like some of our playoff teams of the past most of the readers are familiar with (2006, 2004) it would only mask the deep rooted problems of the roster.

The best thing we can do now is keep an eye for the future. You hope the top 3 from this draft class do more over the last few weeks of the year. You hope to see improvements from the sideline. We will get a very good idea in how the Jets approach free agency as to what plans they have in store. But take this season for what it was. Nothing more than an attempt to bring some respectability back to a team that had most of that stripped away for the last 2 ½ seasons. The real evaluation for these guys begins next year. Hopefully they are up to the challenge and we are not at the same point next year asking ourselves if changes need to be made up top.