The Jets have a history of not quite fully committing to the process of developing sustainable success, but that can change. There are plenty of examples of teams that have rebuilt the right way and become perennial playoff franchises. Not every team’s situation is the same but there are plenty of areas the Jets can learn from. Let’s focus on what the Jets can learn from the Kansas City Chiefs and how they went from being 7-9 in 2011 with a declining roster, to 2-14 in 2012, to winning 41 of their next 62 regular season games.
Develop and Keep the Core
In 2012, Kansas City was 2-14 but their record didn’t tell the entire story. The key for the Chiefs at that point was that they had a talented core. A team’s core are young players that are consistently good enough to build the rest of the team around for the near future. In that 2012 disaster season, the Chiefs had an impressive 6 Pro Bowlers. Of those six, four were young, ascending players: OLB Justin Houston, OLB Tamba Hali, RB Jamaal Charles, and S Eric Berry.
Every single one of those players is still on the team today. Kansas City managed to retain that entire core and build around it in the following years. In comparison, in terms of talent, the Jets core group doesn’t really come close yet to the group the Chiefs had in 2012. You can probably say, at this point, that their proven core players are WR Quincy Enunwa, WR Robby Anderson, OG Brian Winters, DE Leonard Williams, ILB Darron Lee, and OLB Jordan Jenkins. Of these players, the Jets are probably going to have only 1 Pro Bowl player: Leonard Williams. However, the Jets’ core is younger now than the Chiefs’ was in 2012. Who knows what they’ll turn out to be next year and who else on the team may develop to be named amongst them?
Like the Jets, the Chiefs’ core players were mainly on the defensive side of the ball, but Kansas City had talent spread out to different positions, whereas the Jets hoarded three 1st round DE’s in a scheme that ultimately failed. Now, the Jets without a doubt, have to move Sheldon Richardson and/or Mo Wilkerson at some point along with veteran players like Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Marcus Gilchrist, and Nick Mangold, who all had vital roles on the team but have either severely underperformed or couldn’t stay healthy. It makes no sense for the Jets to keep around overpaid and under-motivated players particularly while rebuilding. They need to instead get younger, and save their salary cap for retaining their core players. This roster restructure, unfortunately, could possibly take more than one offseason to accomplish.
In 2012, the Chiefs fired their coaching staff and hired Andy Reid. I want to emphasize that they hired Andy Reid. If your team is rebuilding, and the head coach is in year 2, unless there’s a proven, experienced head coach, just coming off a 12 year tenure with another NFL team, waiting in the wings, there is no reason to immediately fire the head coach or GM. The Chiefs didn’t just hire Reid to be their head coach, they allowed him to have the same authority over team decision that he had in Philadelphia where he was the vice president of football operations. Bowles doesn’t have Andy Reid’s coaching experience or organizational authority. Bowles is in the second year of his first gig as an NFL head coach and has room to grow.
Where Andy Reid inherited a roster on the rise, Bowles inherited a roster that has now fallen off a cliff in terms of talent. The coaching staff under him, however, may need to change, particularly on defense. It’s much easier for a team to make changes with positional coaches and their responsibilities as opposed to making wholesale organizational changes that can possibly stunt the growth of promising younger players. Bowles has had many shortcomings with in-game management and decisions. But, with the Jets already not likely to be contenders in 2017 either, there are now more pressing issues to address. If the Jet can build a impressive roster and Bowles still hasn’t improved as a coach then it makes sense for the Jets to move on.
Find a Winning Identity
One thing that has gone unnoticed in Bowles’ tenure so far is that the younger players have responded better to his coaching style and philosophy than the veteran players have. Many veteran players on the Jets have reacted very poorly to the adversity of this season and let the negativity affect their attitude and their level of play. Players like that drag everyone else down. If the Jets truly want to improve their reputation as a franchise they can’t keep players like that around. For the Chiefs, since 2013, they haven’t really had to worry about player attitude. That’s mostly because they’ve been winning. However, they also gave Andy Reid the opportunity to do things his way. Whether the Jets keep Bowles and/or Maccagnan around or not, the next few season for the Jets have to be focused on establishing a winning identity and philosophy from top to bottom within the organization. If Bowles is retained, current players that don’t fall under his philosophy of leadership by accountability should be moved along as soon as possible and any draft picks or signings that the Jets make should be made with that philosophy in mind.
Find Your Quarterback
A few months after hiring Andy Reid in 2013, Kansas City traded two second round picks for QB Alex Smith. The Chiefs were without an effective quarterback for years, really since Trent Green was last there in 2006. As we’ve seen since 2012, Smith was the perfect QB for the system Andy Reid wanted to run. Adding him to a team with a young, impressive defense and a top 5 RB, at the time, in Jamaal Charles, worked out well for Kansas City.
The Jets’ shortcomings at quarterback are well documented. There’s no need to dwell on them and they shouldn’t affect the Jets decision making going forward. This year, they’ll have a few options in the draft (Mitch Trubisky, Deshone Kizer, and Deshaun Watson). The Jets should avoid the older free agent QB market like the plague. Tony Romo and Jay Cutler are not signings that befit a young, rebuilding team. Neither of them are what Jets’ spread offense scheme calls for. The only potential free agent the Jets should consider monitoring closely is Tyrod Taylor and even then they’d probably be forced to overpay. Mike Glennon is another decent free agent option but he hasn’t played significantly since his rookie year.
The Jets have plenty of work to do but it’s important to remember that getting a good quarterback doesn’t immediately solve everything. Having stability and certainty at that position, though, elevates the level of play for the rest of the team. Alex Smith was the right choice for Kansas City because Andy Reid had a specific plan for him. He had actually even tried trading for Smith while he was in Philadelphia. If there’s a quarterback, particularly in the draft, that the Jets feel this way about, they need to do all they can to get that player in the building.
Flex in the draft
The Chiefs have drafted really well since 2012. Their most notable draft picks since then are TE Travis Kelce (2013), LT Eric Fisher (2013), OLB Dee Ford (2014), CB Phillip Gaines (2014), CB Marcus Peters (2015), WR Chris Conley (2015), and WR Tyreek Hill (2016). Each one of these players is either a Pro Bowler or an effective starter for the Chiefs at this point. The Jets are historically bad in the draft but there are signs of change under Mike Maccagnan. Although the Hackenberg pick last year brought back some terrible memories for Jets fans, Maccagnan has had a decent return on his investments in the draft so far. He hit big when he stole DE Leonard Williams in 2015. Also in 2015, Maccagnan got a nice steal in the 7th round with NT Deon Simon, who should be a starter next season.
The Jets 2016 draft class has shown some promise as well. Both Darron Lee and Jordan Jenkins have locked up their starting spots and Brandon Shell is currently auditioning for a starting spot next season. The way things are right now, though, Mike Maccagnan’s most important draft is coming up this offseason. The Jets have 6 picks and probably need to find at least 2 players that can come in and make a significant impact right away.
The Jets issues can’t be fixed in one offseason. The Chiefs turnaround season in 2013 was amazing and what every fan dreams of. But, it started with a foundation that existed in 2012. Since then that foundation has been maintained and strengthened all the way up until now. The Jets still need to build that kind of foundation and its going to take patience.
Photo Credit: Chiefs.com