We are a few days removed from the Jets’ monumental win over their 2-7 crosstown rivals, the Giants, and anointing themselves Kings of New York as they improved to an impressive 2-7 record. If you’re picking up my sarcasm, I would quote David Spade from Tommy Boy and say “well I should hope so because I am laying it on pretty thick.” The truth is that if you allowed yourself to escape reality for a little over three hours on Sunday, you probably enjoyed a rather entertaining game in which the Jets came out victorious and their franchise quarterback looked every bit as good as you would hope.
The other truth is that whether you had the harsh reality of this season in the front of your mind or whether you came back down to earth after the win, the Jets are in the midst of yet another lost season where any semblance of competitive football is gone by November. As a fan, it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day of “twitterverse,” the continuous drama that surrounds this team and the week to week cycle of bad losses. So, it can be difficult to take the macro view to look back and ask the question: How did we get here?
It seems like a lifetime ago that Bart Scott yelled the words “can’t wait!” at Sal Paolantonio and ignited the entire fan base and made us all believe that the Jets were destined for a Super Bowl. It feels like that letdown of a 2010 AFC Championship Game in Pittsburgh is a long-lost memory. While that heartbreaking loss (and there are too many “coulda-woulda-shoulda’s” about that game to bring up) seemed to catapult the Jets into a decade of incompetence, people quickly forget how good it was before that (at least by Jets fans standards).
In the post-Kotite era from 1997-2010, the Jets had 11 seasons with a record of .500 or better. They made the playoffs in 7 of those seasons, and in the seasons they didn’t, they had “win and in” scenarios in 3. In those 7 playoff seasons, they advanced 5 of those times, and got to the AFC Championship game 3 times. The glory days!
Since Bart Scott’s post-game rant at our friend Sal Pal, it has been rather ugly. In eight and a half seasons, the Jets have only sniffed the playoffs twice. In 2011, they were a somewhat promising 8-5 before collapsing down the stretch, and in 2015 they had another “win and in” situation in Buffalo that Fitzmagic threw away – literally. This 9-year stretch has been a tumultuous one mixed with false hope, Gatorade baths for 8-8 seasons and numerous bad decisions by coaches, general managers, and ownership alike.
Let’s take a closer look at the biggest contributors…
Rex and Tanny’s Inflated Egos
There is no question that Rex Ryan came to the Jets with a confident and boisterous personality, and at the time, it was a welcomed change of pace from the stoic Eric Mangini. That personality, along with a great defense and an aggressive rushing attack, was the reason the Jets got to two straight AFC Championships.
The Jets became somewhat of a destination for players around the league because they wanted to play for a guy like Rex – a “player’s coach” with the bravado that he brought. Mike Tannenbaum unquestionably took some of this personality on and became enamored with the big-splash free agency move and became less focused on where you build your team – the draft. Tannenbaum and Ryan mistakenly letting quality character players walk in favor of bigger names (and problems) became the norm. Releasing guys like Jerricho Cotchery and Shaun Ellis while Derrick Mason and Plaxico Burress walk in the door was only the beginning. Tannenbaum became obsessed with the big move – flirting with Nnamdi Asomugha, trading for Tim Tebow, the Peyton Manning sweepstakes and subsequent Mark Sanchez extension – all were poor miscalculations on Tannenbaum’s part. His inability to draft well coupled with his lack of emphasis on draft capital, was the beginning of the end for the Jets. In Tannenbaum’s 4 drafts without Eric Mangini, he was able to find 6 impact players (in my opinion) in his 21 picks, including first round picks. His lack of attention to the offensive line was Maccagnan-esque, picking only 3 offensive linemen in 4 drafts – only one of which made an impact (Matt Slauson). Anyone remember Vlad Ducasse?
Ultimately, the elation of back to back championship games led Tanny and Rex to feel like they could do no wrong, and slowly the core group of talent that was built by Mangini faded away, and the infusion of mistakes made by Ryan and Tannenbaum led to their demise. Thus, beginning the cycle of perpetual mediocrity for the New York Jets.
The Johnson’s Blunders
Woody Johnson bought the Jets in January, 2000, and for the first decade saw some of the aforementioned success the team experienced. Since 2010, some questionable decisions by he and his brother have been major contributions towards this team wallowing in despair year in and year out.
The first big mistake made by Woody Johnson came in 2013, following a disappointing 2012 campaign where the Jets finished 6-10. Changes needed to be made, and that was clear, however Johnson chose to make a half-hearted attempt at change – firing GM Mike Tannenbaum and keeping Rex Ryan. Ryan, after 4 years as Head Coach was seen as a lame duck, severely limiting the GM candidate pool as they didn’t want to be tied to Rex Ryan, who was clearly on a short leash.
Enter John Idzik. Idzik, known as a salary cap guy, was a huge swing and a miss. He rubbed everyone the wrong way, including the media, players, and people inside the building on One Jets Drive. Idzik’s drafts followed suit. In two seasons as GM, Idzik was able to stockpile a total of 19 picks – those netted 3 viable starters (Quincy Enunwa, Brian Winters, and Sheldon Richardson). His first draft featured the Geno Smith experiment, which ended up being a failure of epic proportions. Ultimately Idzik and Ryan accompanied each other out the door.
Christopher Johnson, Woody’s brother and acting owner as Woody serves as Ambassador to the UK, has made a significant contribution to the dire state of the New York Jets. The move to let Todd Bowles go following another disappointing season was the right one, but the decision to keep Maccagnan was a head-scratcher. Maccagnan should have been on shaky ground, at best, following his fourth year as GM with no playoff appearance, questionable drafts and free agent moves.
Despite that, Maccagnan was going to spearhead the new Head Coaching search along with Christopher Johnson. Maccagnan notably tried to force an offensive coaching staff on finalist and presumable top candidate, Matt Rhule. Rhule, as he should have, declined and the Jets quickly moved to hire Adam Gase, who had a losing record overall with Miami and was fired after only 3 years as their Coach, and was not a top candidate for ANY other NFL team with a vacancy. Christopher Johnson reportedly had the Gase deal sealed by a phone call from Peyton Manning, recommending Gase as a quality hire. Thanks again, Peyton! Christopher Johnson went all-in on the bad coaching hire by allowing Gase to usurp Maccagnan only months after his hire, but first allowing him to run his entire offseason – draft and free agency. The move on from Maccagnan was not a bad move. The timing, however, coupled with allowing Maccagnan to be an integral part in the immediate future of the franchise virtual minutes before letting him go, was.
Mike Maccagnan, probably as the subject of recency bias, takes the brunt of the bad drafting hatred from Jets fans, and rightfully so. Simply put, he was awful at drafting. However, his predecessors weren’t very good, either. From 2010 to 2018, the Jets had 65 draft picks. Of those 65 picks, 13 turned out to be (what I would deem) average to above average contributors. And believe me, I’m grading loosely.
Many of those picks were major flops, particularly in rounds 2-4. Going back to 2010, here are some names that were major misses that not only didn’t contribute to the Jets, but barely made an impact in the NFL: Vladimir Ducasse, Stephen Hill, Jace Amaro, Dexter McDougle, Devin Smith, Lorenzo Mauldin, Christian Hackenberg (!), Juston Burris, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen, and Jachai Polite, as he was out of the league shortly after his rookie year began. Furthermore, of the 71 total picks the Jets have had in the last ten years, only 7 were used on offensive lineman, and with only Ducasse and Chuma Edoga were picked higher than the 4th round.
Only one first round pick in the last ten years was used on an offensive player (Sam Darnold). Finally, the most egregious of all the offenses, was Mike Maccagnan doubling down on the Hackenberg pick and passing on Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes. Yes, Jamal Adams is a great player. Yes, Sam Darnold has the potential to be great. BUT, Hackenberg was a bad pick, and the Jets could have drafted either one of those players with the 6th pick in 2017 and used the two 2nd round picks they gave to the Colts for Darnold to build around either QB. That was a bad move. Just because trade was made for the QB the next year doesn’t make the move to pass on them any better.
The best, and simplest, way to summarize the last nine years of New York Jets football is to say that they have been subpar from top to bottom. They have made bad decisions at the ownership, front office, and coaching levels which have subsequently led to an inferior product on the field. Ownership has been slow to recognize true problems (Ryan, Maccagnan, Gase) and has held on for far too long hoping that what they see on the field every Sunday is not truly who the team is. Coaching has been an overwhelmingly antiquated style with an “any drive that ends in a kick is a success” type of offensive mentality and an inability to get the team to show up in big games.
The front office has consistently placed an emphasis in the wrong places, choosing to draft older, often-injured players at non-premium positions, and too frequently neglecting arguably the most important group on the field: the offensive line. Even while avoiding impact positions, the front office has swung and missed on too many picks, regardless of round, leading to a baron roster with little depth and inadequate talent, year after year.
In December of 1996, Owner Leon Hess recognized a mistake in then Head Coach Rich Kotite and moved on. He made a big splash in hiring Bill Parcells, a proven Super Bowl winning coach who turned a 1-15 team into a 9-7 playoff contender in a single season. Bill Parcells was the catalyst the drove change for an organization that spent the better part of a decade scratching and clawing to be average.
23 years later, Jets fans can only hope that the Johnson brothers learn the same lesson.