New York Jets – General Manager Debates Lack Nuance

Joe Caporoso on Mike Maccagnan’s tenure as the team’s General Manager and how it fits into the Jets recent history…

One of the more entertaining components of the 2017 NFL playoffs on Twitter was watching (hopefully) semi serious debates break out on #JetsTwitter about former team GM John Idzik, as the Jacksonville Jaguars won a pair of playoff games (Idzik is an Assistant GM with the team). The New York media jumped into the fray with a few articles documenting his time with the team and speculating on his future. It is the type of the storyline that only pops up when a team is mired in the third longest playoff drought in the NFL. Along with the historical rehashing of Idzik’s tenure comes an inevitable evaluation of current GM Mike Maccagnan’s tenure with the team. Since nuance is dead, especially in 280 characters or less on Twitter. The discussion of both evolves into predictable  extremes without any shades of grey.

Let’s give an assessment of Maccagnan’s overall tenure to date and how it fits comparatively into recent team history. 

Last offseason, we wrote about the optics of the New York Jets rebuild and why there is greater media and fan patience with Mike Maccagnan, compared to John Idzik. At a high level, Maccagnan has a background in scouting, giving him the coveted “football guy” reputation rather than a background in contracts, allowing him to avoid the dreaded “accountant” reputation. He has been more tactically savvy with the media, building targeted relationships with various local and national outlets. Most importantly, he is replacing somebody who was extremely unpopular that was fired in an abrupt, cartoonish manner. Jets beat writer Connor Hughes summed this up well in our podcast a few weeks back by saying arguably the best thing Maccagnan has going for him to date is being “Not John Idzik.”

As a quick side note, the opposite of this is why Todd Bowles is not all that popular with Jets fans or the media, despite being roughly as good at his job as Maccagnan. He is not very good with the media and is replacing somebody who was very popular, especially with the media but also with many fans. He is also about the 470th straight Jets Head Coach to be a Defensive Coordinator first, a frustration for many with the Jets hiring practices for the position, meaning he started with one strike against him already.

Back to the GMs. No rational person would argue that John Idzik did a good job in his two years as the team’s General Manager. He did not. The team was 12-20 during his tenure and had an abysmal 2014 draft class (the infamous “Idzik 12”). There were multiple signings that were unmitigated disasters like Dmitri Patterson and Mike Goodson. He was also overmatched in this media marketplace when it came to developing relationships and speaking publicly.

Now let’s add nuance. Idzik was forced to be paired with Rex Ryan, who stopped being a competent coach somewhere early in the 2011 season. He inherited a completely gutted roster, berefit of talent and in salary cap hell. Despite this, the team went 8-8 in year one but it was decided by many halfway through his second year, he needed to be fired. The reason most commonly given was because he didn’t spend enough in free agency. Why didn’t he sign James Jones? Why didn’t he sign Antonio Cromartie? How about Alterraun Verner? (Ironically, according to Rotoworld’s rankings, the Jets signed the top available quarterback, running back and second best wide receiver that free agency period). There were also a handful of productive additions like Eric Decker, Chris Ivory, Sheldon Richardson, Quincy Enunwa and Brian Winters, among a few others.

Ultimately, two years is not a sufficient timeframe to evaluate a GM, which is why when people used to ask me what his grade should be late in the 2014 season, I’d say “INC.” It is funny to watch Idzik work for a successful team because so many swore he’d never work in the sport again, yet he immediately got a job and is still employed in the NFL while Rex Ryan does B-Level comedy skits for ESPN. It is doubtful that Idzik ever becomes a GM again but  he appears to have settled into a similar role to what Mike Tannenabum had under Terry Bradway back in the early 2000s with the Jets, which likely fits him better.

Idzik’s only current legacy here is the harshness and expediency with which he was sent out of town has led to a sensitivity around any criticism of his successor. Let’s level set before diving in. This site (and Twitter handle) is not shy about expressing their opinions. You won’t find one article or tweet demanding or calling for the team to fire Maccagnan. It is completely understandable he is receiving a fourth year, especially considering the Jets current ownership status. Yet, it is problematic how skittish and triggered some become when anybody levels any type of criticism against him and suggests this offseason should be make or break for him. Just because John Idzik was bad at his job, doesn’t mean Mike Maccagnan can’t also be bad at his job, even if he is slightly better (his winning percentage through three years is all of 4 percentage points higher than Idzik’s over two years).

Over the past two years, the Jets have the fourth worst record in the NFL. The three teams who are lower than them are San Francisco, Chicago and Cleveland, also three of the teams who picked in front of them in the 2017 NFL Draft (the other two, Jacksonville and Tennessee, won playoff games this year). Objectively, the Jets are currently the worst positioned team in the NFL. GASP? What? The San Francisco 49ers have Jimmy Garoppolo and the most cap space in the NFL. Cleveland has the 1st and 4th pick in the NFL Draft with the second most cap space in the NFL to go with 12 overall picks. The Bears took their potential franchise quarterback last year, made a logical hire to support his growth this year and have over 40 million in cap space. (If you are down on Mitch Trubisky, maybe you can make the case they are tied with or worse off than the Jets). The Jets have the 6th overall pick (again), the 4th most cap space and 8 overall picks. Not bad but certainly not better than what San Francisco, Cleveland, Indianapolis (more cap space, a higher picker and Andrew Luck) and other basement dwellers currently have.

Maccagnan went anti-Idzik in his first year. He signed Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, Buster Skrine, Kellen Davis, Marcus Gilchrist, and James Carpenter. The team traded for Ryan Fitzpatrick, Zac Stacy, DeVier Posey and Brandon Marshall. In the draft, he took consensus BPA Leonard Williams followed by Devin Smith, Lorenzo Mauldin, Bryce Petty, Jarvis Harrison and Deon Simon. Heading into 2018, only Williams and Carpenter are likely to be contributors. The 2015 draft is just about as bad as the 2014 draft, when it comes to long term team building.

2016 started off with a pair of questionable draft picks as well. Darron Lee has barely been average through two years and Christian Hackenberg has been the unmitigated disaster everybody with eyes anticipated he would be. The later part of the draft had good value picks with Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Shell along with a great UDFA find in Robby Anderson (despite recent legal issues). Yet, Maccagnan’s 2016 will ultimately be remembered for mistakenly doubling down on Ryan Fitzpatrick and Muhammad Wilkerson, as both deals blew up in his face. He also had an unsuccessful trade for Ryan Clady and free agent signing of Jarvis Jenkins.

Now let’s add nuance. Maccagnan structured all of his contracts with reasonable outs after two years. He has allowed the Jets to basically have a clean slate heading into 2018. Similar to Idzik, he inherited a roster with limited talent, particularly at the premium positions (quarterback, pass rusher, cornerback and tackle), although unlike Idzik he was greeted with a substantial amount of cap space which he needed to spend. He has also not been paired with a stellar Head Coach. The draft he had in 2016 was better than the 2015 one and while it is too early to judge the 2017 class, he appears to have found his best value pick by getting Marcus Maye in the second round. Maccagnan also executed two successful trades heading into 2017, getting Demario Davis back for Calvin Pryor and a second round pick (and Jermaine Kearse) back for Sheldon Richardson. He may be progressing and learning from his mistakes.

At the end of the day, you are what your record says you are…and for a GM you are what your roster says you are. People need to drop the “Woody or Bowles Made Him Do It” for the moves that haven’t worked out, the “you can’t blame him for Devin Smith getting hurt,” or any other silly excuses. The GM owns all the personnel decisions. Maccagnan is 20-28 (41.6%) with zero playoff appearances. He went “all in” in 2015 and didn’t make it. He doubled down in 2016 and failed miserably. It is a part of his resume that you can’t ignore. As it stands today, the Jets have no quarterback, no premier pass rusher, no premier cornerback and an okay duo of tackles. Their three best offensive players are a 29 year old running back drafted by Mike Tannenbaum, a wide receiver coming off a neck injury drafted by John Idzik and a Maccagnan picked UDFA wide receiver facing legal problems. He has never drafted a Pro Bowler, an All-Pro player or anybody whoever received serious consideration for Rookie of the Year. These are all facts and fair criticisms of his work.

So yes, it is fair to say Maccagnan needs to stop playing $5 poker at quarterback with journeymen and mid round picks. It is fair to say he needs to nail this draft and offseason to show tangible progress at other key positions. It is fair to say he hasn’t been all that much better than his predecessor, despite receiving more friendly treatment from the media and fans. It is fair to say this should be considered a make or break year for him. This teams needs an answer at quarterback matched with improvement from perpetually being 5-11, or it is fair to say the Jets need to find a new GM.

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Author: Joe Caporoso

Joe Caporoso is the Owner and EIC of Turn On The Jets. His writing has been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, MMQB and AdWeek. Caporoso played football his entire life, including four years at Muhlenberg as a wide receiver, where he was arguably the slowest receiver to ever start in school history. He is the VP of Social Media at Whistle Sports