The New York Jets are not one of the most successful franchises in NFL history. You already know that. After winning their lone Super Bowl in 1968, they returned to the playoffs the following year only to get knocked out by the eventual champion Kansas City Chiefs. After that, Jets football became a wasteland. The team did not make a single playoff appearance from 1970-1980. They went 11 straight season (11!) without a winning season before finally breaking the drought in 1981 with a 10-5-1 record and first round playoff exit.
The Jets were actually competent in the 1980s, particularly by their previously set standards. They made the playoffs three more times, including a AFC Championship Game appearance and a divisional round appearance in 1986. Another period of distinguished incompetence followed from 1987-1996, as the Jets only made the playoffs once.
Bill Parcells arrival broke the prolonged Jets hellscape and the infrastructure he put in place started an extended period of Jets “prosperity.” From 1997-2010 the Jets were .500 or better 11 times (11!), made the playoffs seven times, won seven playoff games and made three AFC Championship Game appearances. They also won their first two divisional titles since the 1960s. For millennial Jets fans this stretch of football conditioned us to believe the “same old Jets” chatter was somewhat overdone and investing time or energy (or a website) into this team wasn’t such a crazy thing after all.
The joke has been on us as the Jets are now careening to their eighth straight season of missing the playoffs, the third longest drought in the NFL. From 2011-2018 (pending a miracle), they’ve had one season over .500 and are now 13-29 in their past 42 games.
The NFL is set up for parity. You have a few outliers like New England and Pittsburgh on the positive side and Cleveland on the negative side but for the most part, playoff teams cycle through and teams will randomly get hot for a year or two to make a run into January or February. Not the Jets. The standard operating procedure these days is for Jets fans to break down NFL Draft standings in November, not NFL playoff picture standings. Every year is a “set up” for the next big year, which seemingly never comes.
How did we get here?
Misguided Aggressiveness Leading To Failed Passiveness
The last run of Jets success (2006-2010), was compromised of 4 winning seasons in 5 years, 3 playoff appearances and 4 playoff wins was enabled by successful aggressive free agency and trade moves. The Jets traded draft picks for Thomas Jones, Braylon Edwards, Santonio Holmes, Brett Favre (still weird to type) and landed top of their class free agents like Alan Faneca, Damien Woody, Calvin Pace, Antonio Cromartie, Tony Richardson, Bart Scott, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jim Leonhard. These moves worked to varying degrees and there were others that did not connect quite as well (Lito Shepphard, Donald Strickland, Jason Taylor, Brodney Pool) but the Jets were consistently pursuing and landing players able to contribute on winning football teams. They were aggressive and had an ability to close the players necessary to execute the system ran by Eric Mangini and Rex Ryan.
The amount of misses compared to hits flipped after the 2010 season. It seems inconceivable to think about now but the Jets were considered a Super Bowl contender and in many cases a Super Bowl favorite in both 2010 and 2011. Losing to Pittsburgh, a team they had beat earlier in the year, after shocking the world by beating New England, put the organization into hyper aggressive mode to correct the failed, once in a lifetime opportunity 2010 presented to win a title. Plaxico Burress replaced Bryalon Edwards. Derrick Mason replaced Jerricho Cotchery in misguided moves that rattled an offense that had found a steady balance in their receiver room. The moves kept going further off the rails as the Jets doubled down on Holmes with a misguided contract, gave Mark Sanchez a huge apology deal for pursuing Peyton Manning and traded two (!) picks for Tim Tebow. The 2012 team was a mismatched clown cart that dropped to embarrassing levels of talent when Darrelle Revis and Holmes were lost for the season with injuries. GM Mike Tannenbaum couldn’t keep winning at the blackjack table, nobody can for that long in the NFL and was appropriately let go after the 2012 disaster.
The follow two Jets GMs were more passive than Tannenbaum, a product of the organization overcompensating to move away from his aggressiveness and the team being stuck with hiring their 3rd or 4th option for the job for reasons we’ll get into later. Both John Idzik and Mike Maccagnan carved out treasure troves of cap space but were unable to convert that space into any type of success. After a prudent offseason leading into a somewhat better than expected 2013 team, Idzik converted massive amounts of cap space in to Eric Decker, Mike Vick, Chris Johnson, Dmitri Patterson, and a delayed Percy Harvin trade. The team failed to close on veterans like Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, despite needing help at cornerback. It wasn’t good enough as the Jets flamed out in 2014 for a myriad of reasons, including Geno Smith’s lack of development and Rex Ryan’s incompetence but a lack of talent was the most prominent reason. Idzik was fired after only two years.
Maccagnan was supposed to be the happy medium between Tannenabum’s aggressiveness and Idzik’s conservatism, with a prominent background in scouting to boot (A FOOTBALL GUY, NOT A DAMN ACCOUNTANT!). Pre 2015, the Jets went back to Tannenbaum era aggressiveness, although heavily focused on older talent. The Jets brought Revis and Cromartie back, traded for Brandon Marshall and Ryan Fitzpatrick, gave big money to Marcus Gilchrist and Buster Skrine. Fans sobbed in gratitude, glossy profiles were written but despite a weak schedule (their late season 5 game winning streak had 4 wins against teams who finished 6-10 or worse), the Jets narrowly missed the playoffs and the house of cards quickly collapsed despite staying aggressive by bringing Fitzpatrick back, paying Mo Wilkerson a big money extension, signing Matt Forte and adding other veterans like Steve McLendon, Jarvis Jenkins and paying to keep Erin Henderson around.
Then starting in 2016, with the Jets “nearly” acquiring Olivier Vernon, Maccagnan fell into a routine of “almost” getting players and making sure the media knows about it. It could be Kirk Cousins. It could be Le’Veon Bell. It could be Khalil Mack, Weston Richburg, Jerrick McKinnon, Nick Perry or Alvin Kamara. The Jets have got themselves into the habit of always being the bridesmaids and never being the bride. With an excess of cap space heading into 2018, Maccagnan somewhat mirrored Idzik’s 2014 offseason by converting massive amounts of cap space into an underwhelming haul: Trumaine Johnson, Spencer Long, Avery Williamson, Terrelle Pryor, Isaiah Crowell and Brandon Copeland. The Jets have now been bad for so long that they have forced themselves into needing to pay a premium to attract any “big name” talent like Johnson to get themselves over the finish line.
Ultimately, the Jets used to be able to close and they hit on a high enough volume of big swings to justify their aggressiveness. They have transitioned to struggling with closing and missing on too many big swings.
Free agency is never the primary answer on how to fix a bad roster. Cap space and the hopes of free agency tend to be wildly overrated. The top players at premium positions rarely hit the market and when they do, enough teams have cap flexibility to make the bidding wars a crapshoot at best, especially for a bad team like the Jets. Most contracts are structured with an out after 2 years so most teams are never far away from salary cap flexibility. All these realities make it that much more critical for teams to draft well…something the Jets have not done.
The foundation of the Jets success from 2006-2010 was the 2006 and 2007 drafts which landed true cornerstone pieces in Nick Mangold, D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Darrelle Revis and David Harris along with valuable role players like Leon Washington, Brad Smith, Drew Coleman and Eric Smith. Despite a massive whiff on Vernon Gholston in 2008, they still added Dustin Keller and Dwight Lowery, both major contributors during the 2009 and 2010 playoff runs.
Starting in 2009, things began to turn south. Due to their trades, the Jets only drafted 7 players between 2009 and 2010 (Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Matt Slauson, Kyle Wilson, Joe McKnight, John Conner, and Vlad Ducasse). 2009 you can somewhat justify because all three players were starters on two teams that reached the AFC Championship Game.
2010 is a bloodbath. 2011 was a slight reprieve of competence as the Jets added Wilkerson, Kenrick Ellis, Bilal Powell and Jeremy Kerley but things went back off the rails in 2012 with a one, two punch of Quinton Coples and Stephen Hill. Dee Milliner was a first round bust in 2013 (although the Jets did grab DROY Sheldon Richardson as well). Calvin Pryor was a first round bust in 2014. Outside of Brian Winters and Quincy Enunwa (still on the team), the middle and late rounds were a wasteland and helped lead to Idzik’s ouster.
Maccagnan has failed to improved on Idzik and Tannenbaum’s draft struggles. Since taking over in 2015, the Jets only have 64.3% of their drafted players on NFL rosters, second lowest in the NFL. They have an league wide average playing time percentage (29.3%) but this is mitigated by the reality that getting playing time on consistently bad teams is less impressive than players garnering playing time on teams competitive for the playoffs each season.
If you follow this site, you know we’ve been through this more than enough but the 2015 class has nobody left but Leonard Williams, who has been a mild disappointment as the 6th overall pick. He’s good but not great and has never sniffed an All-Pro team. 2016 included the horrific Christian Hackenberg selection in round 2, a middling performance to date from first rounder Darron Lee, along with improved work in the middle and late rounds (Jordan Jenkins and Brandon Shell) who are at least capable NFL players.
In 2017, the 3rd, 4th and 5th round picks off the roster, while Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams have been quality selections but at somewhat low impact positions. 2018 is too early to judge but it already looks like the Jets erred selecting two defensive linemen, trading another pick for another defensive lineman and only drafting one offensive player to support Sam Darnold in Chris Herndon who has looked like a strong pick to date.
The Jets ignorance of certain positions and focus on non-premium positions has also been problematic. In 4 years Maccagnan has only draft two offensive lineman, one of which is out of the NFL. The team has used first round picks on a non pass rushing defensive linemen, a safety who thrives predominantly in the box and an inside linebacker. They have used second round picks on a wide receiver, safety and a quarterback who is out of the NFL. They have not drafted a cornerback before the 4th round and the highest one they drafted is already off the team (Juston Burris).
Some of the mid round picks haven’t even been close. These are not players who were not developed properly but are catching on elsewhere to have an impact, these are players (ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen, Devin Smith, Lorenzo Mauldin, Hackenberg, Dylan Donohue, Jarvis Harrison, Bryce Petty) who are not on any NFL roster 1-3 years into their careers.
When you draft as poorly as the Jets do, it puts immense pressure on executing in free agency which as we outlined above, is not sustainable.
Half Measure Media Games
After the 2012 Tebow Clown Car season the Jets needed to make changes, nobody doubted that. However, the team needed to fully clean house and not half measure the changes by only firing Tannenbaum and not Head Coach Rex Ryan. Ryan made his case through media on why he should stay and was immensely popular with fans, leading to him being retained. Ryan’s presence did not help in the Jets GM search as they were forced to hire their third or fourth preference, Idzik. Shockingly, many GMs did not want to be paired with the gregarious Ryan, who had an act that was wearing thin after two straight losing seasons.
The Ryan/Idzik pairing was a disaster. Both men were incompetent at their jobs but Idzik was also incompetent at handling the media, expediting his ouster. Both lost their jobs after 2014 but not before some knife fighting through the media. The messy situation did not help in the Jets recruitment of GM candidates the following year as people like Chris Ballard and Ryan Pace passed on interviews with them.
The latest Jets GM/HC has a similar dynamic but reversed. Both men are still incompetent at their jobs but it is the Head Coach who is incompetent with the media and the GM is savvy at pushing a narrative before every season that justifies excuses for never winning and never making the playoffs. They are also set up in an unconventional reporting structure, with both reporting directly to the Owner, setting the table for an inevitable string of leaks and finger pointing. The process is already under way with Maccagnan looking to blame his missed picks on the coaching staff and regularly puffing up his performance by discussing the players he “almost” obtained (as outlined above).
The expectation is that the Jets will fire Bowles but keep Maccagnan, another half measure which will put a new coach on a different timeline than the front office. Maccagnan has already constructed 4 straight teams who have not made the playoffs. Is the justification for not making it in 2019 and 2020 that a new coaching staff was being implemented? How many years does he get to miss the playoffs in a row to start his career while receiving a pass? The first two years have already retroactively been blamed on Woody Johnson “forcing him to spend” and the last two years have been blamed on Bowles’ coaching. Who are the next two years going to be blamed on?
More Bark Than Bite
The 2009 and 2010 Jets never shut up but they won football games and beat the Patriots three times in two years. There was an attitude that was reflected in their play on the field. The recent incarnation of the Jets endlessly talks about chemistry and culture with no results on the field to back it up. Bad football teams talk about culture incessantly. Good football teams win football games which actually changes the culture. The Jets 2016 locker room was a disaster and they went 5-11. By all accounts, their locker room got along great in 2017 and they went 5-11. It apparently continues to get along great and they are currently on track to go 5-11, if they are lucky.
The Jets need to stop having their justification for acquiring players be that they “alphas” or “leaders.” Those things are great but the predominant reason needs to be the impact they will have on the field. Tahj Boyd was a leader. ArDarius Stewart was an alpha. It didn’t matter. If you don’t want the Jets to pursue Le’Veon Bell because you are worried about his personality, you need to realize this team needs talent…game changing talent, of which they have none right now. You make exceptions on personalities when you are a bottom feeder in the NFL for nearly a decade.
What’s The Solution?
There is no easy solution for the Jets but the good news is through happenstance they maneuvered themselves into having Sam Darnold on their roster. Yes, I am saying happenstance because their Plan A was to pay Kirk Cousins and there was no expectation that Darnold would actually be on the board at #3.
Regardless, they have him and that is a good start. To keep it succinct, the Jets need to not take a half measure this offseason: fire both the Head Coach and General Manager. They need a new front office to draft better and focus on offensive line and pass rusher with their early round picks. They need to recognize they have 106 million in cap space with a unique situation with Le’Veon Bell hitting the market and act accordingly. They need to focus their additional cap space on younger players who can add depth at cornerback, pass rusher and offensive line. They need to do everything possible to make life easier on Darnold, which includes pursuing a player like Bell and hiring a forward thinking coach who can find a competent Offensive Coordinator.
The Jets playoff drought won’t last forever but with the right approach, it could end in the next year or two, with the wrong approach this era of Jets football is going to become worse than the 1970s for the organization.