The New York Jets have hit the halfway mark of the regular season at a familiar 3-5 record. It was their record each of the previous two years through eight games and right in the ballpark of their record through eight games every season since 2010 (the last time they made the playoffs). Instead of doing a loss vent on the Jets 24-10 coma inducing defeat to the Chicago Bears, let’s take a bigger step back to discuss the Jets eternally ongoing rebuild, most recently stewarded by Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles.
Maccagnan and Bowles, particularly Maccagnan, have successfully built a narrative around each of their four seasons that absolves them of winning expectations. In 2015, it was year one of a new regime who was just looking to clean up the mess of the previous GM and Head Coach. 10-6 was a pleasant surprise of the competitive rebuild and even sniffing the playoffs was a success. In 2016, the Jets had no choice but to run it back with the same veterans, most prominently quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. You can’t blame them it all fell apart because it was their only course of action. In 2017, they were stripping the roster bare, tanking and had 100 million dollars to spend to beef up the roster. In 2018, they have their franchise quarterback and…wait for it…have 100 million dollars to spend to beef up the roster.
Four seasons is an eternity in the NFL, which begs the question at what point are Maccagnan and Bowles expected to win more football games than they lose, in a league filled with parity? They are 23-33 over 56 games and the Jets have the third longest playoff drought in the sport. Is it year five? Year seven? Do they get a full decade?
For the “THESE THINGS TAKE TIME” crowd…they really don’t, at least not this much time. This is a non exhaustive list but look at Seattle from 2010-2014 after regimes were flipped. Look at Denver in the 4 years after John Elway took over. Look at the Eagles in year two after they moved past Chip Kelly. Look at the Jaguars going to the AFC Championship Game with Doug Marrone and Tom Coughlin in their first full year together. Hell, look at Rex and the Jets in their first two years. Adam Gase has coached a playoff game. Sean McDermott has coached a playoff game. Jack ‘Freakin Del Rio and Reggie McKenzie got the Raiders to the playoffs once. Look at the Vikings in the past few years under Rick Spielman and Mike Zimmer. Look at how the Chiefs have drafted in the middle rounds and built sustainable success. It is inaccurate to say a GM/HC need a half decade to turn things around. Right here, we have seen flawed combinations of Terry Bradway, Herman Edwards, Mike Tannenbaum and Rex Ryan mobilize multiple successful years much faster.
For the “EVERYONE MISSES ON DRAFT PICKS, WHAT WOULD YOU HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY” crowd…well, I am glad you asked. I’ll preface this by saying these thoughts are not mind blowing and unique but the Jets situation the past 4 years is not some lock box that couldn’t be cracked outside of the path they chose. They could have drafted Deshaun Watson or Patrick Mahomes in 2017 and saved the picks needed to move up for Sam Darnold. Their mid round backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick in 2016 could have been Dak Prescott and not Christian Hackenberg. They could have added a more credible veteran behind Fitzpatrick than Geno Smith, as well. They could have made something out of their mid round picks so there was a bigger support staff in place when they did finally obtain their desired franchise quarterback.
#6 – Watson, QB
#39 – Engram, TE
#70 – Hunt, RB
#107 – Bisnowaty, OT
Let’s get weird and score some points…
— Joe Caporoso (@JCaporoso) March 31, 2017
(A reminder that Hunt as taken 7 picks after ArDarius Stewart). To be fair, many teams missed on Hunt, just like many teams miss on mid round talent every single year. Yet, the point is while nobody expects Maccagnan to hit on every single mid or late round pick, it is fair to expect him to not stack up so many goose eggs. The swings at receiver have been Devin Smith, Stewart and Chad Hansen…none of these players are even on a NFL roster right now. You don’t have to go 3/3 but at least go 1/3. The Jets *almost* traded for Alvin Kamara but did not, instead using their mid round picks that year on Marcus Maye and Stewart. The lack of depth on the team’s current roster is a direct result of this:
The common refrain from Jets fans (and parts of the media) is despite mid round struggles Maccagnan has killed it with his first round picks and added cornerstones. He added the “best player in the draft” and “All-Pros” and “generational talents” in Leonard Williams and Jamal Adams, while Darron Lee is on his way to being a star.
Here is your unpopular take, regardless of how things play out, those players were the wrong picks and all three players are generally overrated by fans. Lee has had a few moments this year but is yet to consistently prove himself as an above average starting inside linebacker. Could the Jets have found a more impactful player on the offensive line by moving up for Ryan Kelly, Taylor Decker or Laremy Tunsil? Could they have went cornerback and selected William Jackson, potentially limiting the need to overpay for Trumaine Johnson?
With Williams and Adams, just because you say they are All-Pro caliber players, does not make it true. Williams is in year four and has never made an All-Pro team and never made a Pro Bowl team (being an alternate does not count). He is a good to very good starter at an often low impact position. He is not a game changing player week to week. You can say what you want about Vic Beasley’s inconsistencies but the Jets still have no edge pressure all these years later and he would have been a more logical fit in their defense at the time. With Adams, he is the emotional center of the team and a blast to root for as a fan but both Watson and Mahomes were there for the taking. Yes, Darnold still very well may be the franchise quarterback and it is great it worked out the Jets got him but it cost them extra picks they could have used to further boost the roster.
Adams has also been a good to very good (occasionally great) player but you cannot call him a generational player because you can make a fair argument that over the past two years, other rookie safeties like Marcus Williams, Budda Baker, Derwin James and John Johnson have been comparable, if not better at times. Adams is not a top five player in the NFL yet at his position and while he very well may be soon (I think he will), a top five safety does not have the impact of a top flight quarterback, offensive lineman, pass rusher or even cornerback. It isn’t a knock on the player, it is a knock on the overall positional value and strategy. You can think Williams, Adams and Darnold are all good football players, who may one day be great (I think this is the case with both Darnold and Adams) but still think there were other more efficient ways to build the roster.
Like every General Manager, Maccagnan has had his positive moments (how he handled quarterback this offseason, the Sheldon Richardson trade, signing Avery Williamson, finding Robby Anderson) and negative ones but it is about the net overall output. Right now, the output is 23-33 and there is proof he can effectively build a roster around Darnold.
Bowles is closer to being fired than Maccagnan because the Head Coach is more exposed than the General Manager. Maccagnan is also much more shrewd with the media than he is. This isn’t some nefarious thing. It happens on every team and Maccagnan has been great at pushing each season’s narrative effectively to collection of plugged in media members that gives him a yearly pass on putting together a team capable of making the playoffs. It isn’t necessarily fair to Bowles but it is hard to complain about Bowles getting fired (still far from a sure thing) because frankly Bowles isn’t a good Head Coach. Maccagnan isn’t a good General Manager either but that may not be rectified for awhile. As we saw with Ryan Grigson landing the right quarterback, no matter how obvious of a pick it was, buys you a good amount of rope.
At the end of the day, both the Head Coach and General Manager should be held to a higher standard. Bowles has done a poor job building his coaching staff and has fostered no consistency on the offensive side of the football. He is also terrible at game management. The front office has not helped him but he has not helped himself and has given no reason for fans to believe he can coach a perennial playoff contender. Maccagnan has a better reputation but has show approximately as much as Bowles so far. No matter who is leading the Jets next year, the expectations need to be making the playoffs, a place this team hasn’t been since 2010. Nobody cares about having a ton of cap space if you can’t build a roster that can compete. Nobody cares if you found a franchise quarterback, if you can’t support him properly. A losing record is a losing record, enough with the qualifiers and excuses.