The New York Jets were able to close over the weekend, landing their top choice for General Manager Joe Douglas with a six year deal. Douglas will now begin the task of rebuilding a front office and scouting department that has been the biggest reason for the team’s prolonged playoff drought.
The Jets perpetual “rebuild” has not been a straight line process or a mastermind four dimensional chess strategy but enough parts may finally be starting to come together for them to turn the ever elusive corner.
There was never a competitive rebuild for the Jets. They paid a bunch veterans, had a fluke Ryan Fitzpatrick season and took advantage of a weak schedule to narrowly miss the 2015 playoffs. Instead of internally scouting the realities of their situation, they shined their Executive of the Year Award hardware, hung theoretical banners around Florham Park for being a #7 seed in the AFC and doubled down for a failed 2016 campaign.
There was never a true rebuild for the Jets. They dug themselves out of the salary cap problems they put themselves in by clearing the roster of veterans, rolled out their bad draft picks and band aid veterans for a failed 2017 campaign.
There was never a master plan for acquiring a franchise quarterback. They offered Kirk Cousins 90 million guaranteed, more than any team in the NFL, and he turned it down. They then traded up and crossed their fingers, catching a break that the New York Giants still think it is 2011. The Jets didn’t need to suffer three straight years of missing the playoffs under their former regime to land a potential franchise quarterback but that was the route that brought them one.
There was an obvious decision for the Jets after the seasons: fire both your GM and Head Coach to wipe the slate clean. Their interim owner was hesitant to be that aggressive and gave the GM one more offseason. The degree of desperation he understandably felt helped push through a wise investment in Le’Veon Bell and a few other pieces before working through a NFL Draft that is impossible to evaluate at this moment but had some uneven moments.
It took a few months longer than it should and exactly why/how it happened is still open to debate for some but ultimately the Jets fired their mediocre GM. From the moment it happened, Joe Douglas was the perceived front runner with the best on paper resume and reputation in league circles. The other candidates the Jets considered were a mixed bag from both a resume and reputation standpoint.
Douglas was the prize from the recent Super Bowl winner who was drawing favorable comparisons to Chris Ballard, who the Jets originally wanted back in 2015. He was the candidate who would be able to tap former colleagues from Philadelphia and Baltimore to build out a diversified front office and scouting department that won’t be so single minded in how they approach roster building. It took a few weeks, more years and money than most expected but the Jets stopped being the “Mike Maccagnan Almosts” and closed a deal.
Nobody knows if Douglas will ultimately succeed as a GM. There is a difference from being a scout or a Pro Personnel Executive and being basically the top “football guy” in an organization. All you can do is hope a candidate’s previous experience, personality and organizational vision is a logical one that can lead to sustained success. Mike Tannenbaum appeared to have this in his early years but was eventually taken down by an over aggressiveness and by being too conciliatory to Rex Ryan. John Idzik was a deep fallback candidate who did not have the charisma to sell his plan. Mike Maccagnan wanted to be a scout but couldn’t deliver on the players he scouted.
Douglas is hopefully going to be bring a hybrid of scouting acumen, progressive roster building that embraces analytics and savvy contract maneuvering. One of the things that has been encouraging about the Philadelphia Eagles success is that they have used all avenues creatively to build a winning team. It has been a mix of drafting well (at times being aggressive for moves up and at times compiling assets by moving down), trading picks for veterans and hitting on free agent additions. There is no one right way to build a roster. It isn’t just “draft well and always take BPA.” The draft is a crapshoot and BPA is misguided if you don’t factor in positional value. Sometimes it makes sense to trade a pick for a veteran. Sometimes it makes sense to splurge in free agency, like when you have a quarterback on a rookie contract.
It has been ugly eight years for the Jets and a really ugly three years recently but they enter 2019 with a high upside option at quarterback and GM, along with a future Hall of Fame offensive playmaker…that is the start of something. There is still questions about the roster and coaching staff but the process of starting a turnaround may finally be able to begin.