Two years ago to this day the New York Jets were 2-8 and in the midst of a bye week, with the appearance of an organization years away from contention. Today, they are 3-7 and in the midst of a bye week, with the appearance of an organization years away from contention. How much progress has really been made since their post 2014 house cleaning?
Since the New York Jets made their back to back runs to the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010, they have been locked in repeated two year cycles of faux contending, bottoming out and then “rebuilding.” In 2011, many fancied the Jets as Super Bowl favorites and they seemed poised for another run at 8-5 before losing out and missing the playoffs at 8-8. 2012 brought an embarrassing 6-10 season, mired in TebowMania and complete organizational incompetence. The Jets fired their GM, Offensive Coordinator and replaced their Defensive and Special Teams Coordinator.
In 2013, they “overachieved,” at least from a record standpoint by going 8-8. In reality, they took advantage of a weak schedule and were regularly blown out by actual contenders. In 2014, they bottomed out at 4-12 and after a very public fan campaign, fired their GM after only two years and finally moved on from Rex Ryan after four straight years of missing the playoffs (soon to be six after Buffalo doesn’t make it again this year).
Through 26 games, how much different is the Maccagnan/Bowles regime than the Idzik/Rex regime? They overachieved in 2015 but still failed to make the playoffs, similar to the 2013 Jets and now similar to the 2014 Jets, their season is over before Thanksgiving. The only difference is the salary cap won’t be as clean heading into the 2017 offseason as it was heading into the 2015 offseason, even if the Jets do some necessary veteran purging. We have no tangible proof the 2015/2016 draft haul will be significantly better than the 2013/2014 draft haul, discipline and game management remain an issue….and the quarterback question hasn’t been solved yet.
Mike Maccagnan found a great defensive lineman in the first round, similar to John Idzik. He appears to have found a few mid to late round/UDFA contributors, similar to John Idzik. Ultimately a large chunk of his evaluation will go towards Bryce Petty and Christian Hackenberg and if they turn into anything more than Tahj Boyd and Geno Smith at this level. We don’t know yet, if like Idzik missing on receivers in 2014, Maccagnan will be judged for missing on quarterbacks in 2016. The competitive rebuild looked good and flashy in 2015 but ultimately the Jets may be getting one half of a good season from Darrelle Revis, two strong years of Brandon Marshall, one bad year of Antonio Cromartie, one good and one disastrous year of Ryan Fitzpatrick, a failed Ryan Clady trade and okay deals for Marcus Gilchrist and Buster Skrine. The jury remains out on Maccagnan and he does deserve another year to draft and hopefully see some of his young talent develop.
Todd Bowles navigated a handful of issues in what appeared to be a solid 10-6 rookie year. He seemed to build a staff that was maximizing talent and young player development in 2015 but has been thwarted by ugly regression this season. He is still struggling to manage games and this team still has discipline issues. Yes, the players involved in those issues (Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, IK Enemkpali and Geno Smith) were selected and groomed under the previous “no accountability” regime but once you keep them under your tent, their behavior is still accountable to you. Bowles is the popular scapegoat this year but deserves another year alongside Maccagnan. This roster, which has the worst quarterback situation in the NFL, a below average offensive line, a slow group of linebackers and limited depth in the secondary is nowhere near as talented as many make it out to be.
So how does the cycle break? It is a complicated answer that we have plenty of time to sort out with this season in the toilet already. A starting point is to stop prioritizing the business, and fan/media demands over working to build sustainable success. This also means ripping the band aid off sometimes, even when it will not be popular.
Hindsight is always 20/20 but there was plenty of doubt about the validity of paying Muhammad Wilkerson and Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason. The Jets seemed ready to begin the process of moving on from both but blinked at the last second in negotiations. If you knew there was discipline problems with Wilkerson last year and what you had in Leonard Williams, why pay him? Now, you paid your third best defensive linemen over 80 million dollars to skip meetings. Nobody should know the limitations of a Chan Gailey/Ryan Fitzpatrick marriage better than the Jets. We saw this movie play and fail already in Buffalo but they caved and paid anyway.
Yes, both moves would have been unpopular and second guessed if the Jets still struggled this year but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have been the right move. The Jets have had a “great” defensive line since 2011 and have zero playoff appearances to show for it. Ryan Fitzpatrick has been Ryan Fitzpatrick for 100 years and has zero playoff appearances to show for it.
Right now, the Jets need to properly assess their roster and begin ripping out whatever undisciplined and underperforming elements are there. Everybody on their roster who is over 27 years old is expendable, along with plenty others. Darrelle Revis is old and tired of working out in the offseason? Cut him. Don’t wait the extra year. The cap hit is manageable this offseason. Richardson is following Wilkerson’s lead and can’t stay out of trouble? Trade him. They should trade Wilkerson too but nobody will touch his contract so the Jets need to wait that one out. Stop playing Fitzpatrick. He is done here. Flush the toilet.
These may sound like drastic moves but they aren’t when you take the green glasses off. Darrelle Revis isn’t going to be the lead corner on a playoff team anymore. Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson are very talented but replaceable players (considering Leonard Williams is currently better than both of them). Fitzpatrick is Brian Hoyer with a beard but more turnover prone. The Jets don’t need to concentrate too many resources on Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker at receiver going forward. Pick one and distribute resources around the roster. There is enough young talent at receiver and the position is a dime a dozen.
The Jets will have to make tough choices, hope their last few drafts break right and take advantage of picks this year to hopefully begin the process of ending these dreaded two year cycles.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com