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1 – A primary narrative around the New York Jets 2017 season is that while the team matched their disappointing 2016 record (5-11), the organization made substantial strides in improving team culture. We discussed this further last week with Connor Hughes, who reiterated there was a tangible improvement in this year’s locker room compared to 2016. I don’t think it is debatable progress was made but the larger question is, how much does it matter and is there still culture issues to be concerned about?
2 – The Jets 2016 locker room was a disaster. They were a divided team with many overpaid veterans who checked out when the season began to quickly go south. Players like Brandon Marshall and Sheldon Richardson clearly did not get along and there was friction on how the quarterback room was handled, along with how Ryan Fitzpatrick passed blame on his horrific play. Improving on the 2016 locker room and team culture was a low bar to clear but credit the Jets for parting ways with Marshall, Richardson, Fitzpatrick and not being shy about suspending Muhammad Wilkerson for being late to team meetings (they also punished Richardson for the same thing).
3 – The team was also not shy about publicly admitting there was a problem last year and showing the strides they were taking to improve it. This is smart optics and media work. The Jets laid the narrative out to reporters over the summer as something to watch for this year and it became a common talking point around the team, particularly when they started faster than most expected.
4 – It wasn’t all just optics though, the team played substantially harder than they did last year and clearly appeared closer as an overall unit. Playing hard is a low bar to clear but it was needed progress after the abomination witnessed throughout the stretch of 2016. Veteran additions Josh McCown, Jermaine Kearse and Demario Davis took over leadership roles on the team, while rookie Jamal Adams brought a new degree of brash confidence to the defense.
5 – At the same time, the Jets were far from flawless. Muhammad Wilkerson was again suspended for being late to multiple meetings, along with second year player Darron Lee who is supposed to be a cornerstone of a young defense and the new regime’s culture (supposed to be are the key words here). The Jets traded for Rashard Robinson during the season, who was then arrested and still active only two days after that arrest. (Although the Jets did make Wilkerson inactive the same weekend for missing even more meetings). Lee also had eye rolling comments about the Jets firing “warning shots of dominance” despite losing by double digits the same day.
6 – Despite the cultural improvements, the Jets lost 8 of their final 10 games and did finish with the exact same record as the year before. They were only 1-7 on the road (with their lone win coming against Cleveland). Twice, they had an opportunity after a victory to play a team they were favorites against and change the trajectory of their season. In both games (Tampa Bay and Denver), the Jets completely no showed and admitted they weren’t prepared to play. A strong culture should theoretically prevent these types of no shows in games your team “should” win.
7 – The Jets first round first pick is an interesting microcosm as of the larger culture discussion. As a fan, Adams is the exact type of player you want to root for. He loves the game, plays with reckless abandon and brings swagger to the team. He is also a damn good football player who will likely be a starter here for the next decade. If you are trying to be an objective third party, you can also credibly say he was more bark than bite his rookie year. He publicly said he would change the safety position, guaranteed to make the Pro Bowl next year, and questioned DROY voting. Is any of this stuff a big deal? No. But if he was a Giants, Patriots or Bills rookie, my guess is some Jets fans would be rolling their eyes at those comments (considering Marcus Maye was probably the Jets best rookie this year and Adams won’t be DROY or a Pro Bowler). It will be interesting to watch his progression going forward as both a team leader and hopefully an eventual All-Pro caliber player.
8 – When the Jets are making decisions this offseason, how much should culture factor into their financial actions? Do you pay Jermaine Kearse 5 million dollars because he is respected in the locker room or do you give a bigger opportunity to your draft picks at his position? Do you overpay for Austin Seferian-Jenkins because he has a great story and loves being here or is that money better spent elsewhere? Despite his age, do you give Steve McLendon another year because he is an important leader upfront (and a good player)? You know how New England would handle these things…
9 – Is culture such a big talking point around this team because of the length of their playoff drought and fans are looking for something positive to hold on to? Similar to fans who overrate their own players, is culture, while important, becoming overrated because there has been limited on field success here?
10 – The Jets are going to cut Muhammad Wilkerson in the coming weeks, which should help the locker room. It is always a bad situation when your highest paid player is a low effort individual. A new challenge for the Jets will be integrating a crop of highly paid free agents into whatever they have currently built. There is a good chance most of the highest paid players on the team in 2018 are currently not on the roster.
11 – Harsh reality: If the Jets don’t fix quarterback this offseason, nobody is going to care about the team’s culture in 2018 and it will not be a saving grace for Todd Bowles or Mike Maccagnan.
12 – Culture can be a fluid thing. Heading into 2014, the Jets “building blocks” were Sheldon Richardson, Muhammad Wilkerson, Chris Ivory, Eric Decker, Dee Milliner (Defensive Rookie of the Month to end 2013, shocking I know) and Calvin Pryor. Things change fast if you don’t win games.
Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com