New York Jets – Hedging Half Measures

Dan Marcus on the New York Jets hedging their GM bet by continuing to add to their front office…

With the firing of Head Coach and the retention of General Manager, Mike Maccagnan, the New York Jets have once again split the proverbial baby – another in a string of half-hearted half-measure moves that have come to characterize the Johnson ownership regime.

It’s a rudderless move by a rudderless franchise that lacks the requisite conviction to pick a path or philosophy and stick with it. This is a syndrome that dates back as far as 2005 when Woody Johnson relieved Terry Bradway from his post as General Manager only to have play a prominent role behind the scenes for the better part of the next decade. We saw it in year four of the Rex Ryan era in 2012 where Mike Tannenbaum (and rightfully so) became the fall guy for a disastrous season only to retain Ryan as Head Coach, forcing an inevitable shotgun marriage with whoever ended up assuming the General Manager post, a position that no upper echelon candidate would have ever considered, which explains why and how the team ended up hiring someone like John Idzik.

At this point, we’re all intimately familiar with how that situation ended, which set the stage for the hirings of now-former Head Coach, Todd Bowles, and Mike Maccagnan. And with it, a new unorthodox organizational power structure where each position is separately accountable to ownership as opposed to the more traditional structure of the Head Coach being accountable to the GM.

It is as if the Johnsons have been playing an unfortunate game of trial and error for the past decade – or- the football equivalent of throwing “you know what” up against the wall and seeing what sticks. Instead, that “you know what” has missed the wall and hit the fan time and time again. The Johnsons have made enough managerial gaffes to provide enough case studies to fill an business school textbook. The recent practice of retaining a Head Coach while jettisoning a General Manager or vice versa has also created the culture of diminished expectations that our Fearless Leader, Joe Caporoso has written about at length.

These staggered timetables bridging the gap between different regimes gives the more recent in time hire a built-in excuse for poor performance. While nobody would dispute that there is some truth to a GM’s excusing poor performance on a coach he didn’t select or a Head Coach blaming losing seasons on a roster that is barren of winning talent courtesy of the previous GM but continuing to spin this “merry-go-round” of incompetence and shotgun marriages is simply untenable.

Winning in this league isn’t easy but you don’t need to continue to make it harder on yourself by setting up organizational structures that even the lowliest of bloggers can tell is doomed for failure. By retaining Maccagnan, it feels as if the Jets are simply conducting a public experiment where they believe that Maccagnan is the “Control” value and the Head Coach is the experimental value only to eventually find out that both parties were comparably culpable to the losing over the past three seasons.

Having seen this movie many a times, I am quite certain of how will it eventually end but to me, the Johnsons’ openness to experimentation provides them a unique opportunity to “hedge” their continued half measures by stocking their front office with enough proven and capable football minds to mitigate the incompetence of resting control within a single sometimes competent individual they have dubbed the General Manager.

Over the past several years, NFL front offices have been hiring GM-caliber talent in non-GM roles, giving them nebulous titles such as VP of Football Administration, Executive Vice President of Football Operations, etc. Some names who have held these kinds of roles include Howie Roseman, Tom Coughlin, and Mike Tannenbaum. None of these guys hold an official title as General Manager but everybody knows that it is they who pull the strings for their respective organizations. In some cases they serve as the true architect of the team, whereas in others, they merely serve as a powerful influential voice, or a check against the folly of the guy sitting in the chair labelled General Manager. Other organizations such as the Browns have become even more creative and forward thinking, hiring people who have successfully built winning teams in other sports, like Paul Depodesta, whose official title is Chief Strategy Officer. We can split hairs about the results in certain cases, especially when it comes to someone like Mike Tannenbaum whose exploits we’re all well-acquainted with, but what can’t be underscored enough are the consequences of the status quo.

The status quo half-measure culture of mediocrity and staggered timelines ensures nothing more than an annual Top-Ten draft pick. The status quo is what gets you one winning season in eight years and an equally long playoff drought. The status quo is what prompts fans to drop their season tickets and find something better to do with three hours on their fall Sundays. The status quo is what engenders the most dangerous thing an NFL franchise could encounter: apathy. At this point, the Jets have checked just about every box listed above but remain intent on these half measures so why not at least attempt a three quarters measure?

If money is truly no object, why not bring in another seasoned football voice  like a Sashi Brown who can at worst be a sounding board for Maccagnan’s decisions and at best be a check or a strong voice capable of deterring him from drafting another Ardarius Stewart, Chad Hansen, or Nate Shepherd, who I might add, has already become one of the least liked individuals in the Jets locker room according to Bart Scott.

One of the fundamental flaws of the Jets current power structure is that ownership does not have an independent internal football voice to give an objective assessment of the moves that Maccagnan makes. Having Maccagnan be the only such voice is what prompted the run at Kirk Cousins, the signing of Trumaine Johnson, the continued offensive line band-aids like Ryan Clady, Wesley Johnson, and Spencer Long, etc – and the list goes on. It’s really a simple concept, if you don’t know enough about a subject to assess the quality of a decision, bring in someone who does. If the Jets want to retain him, at least bring in an objective voice who can grade the quality of his work because at present time, the people the Jets currently have doing that don’t know enough to overcome the media narrative put forth by Maccagnan to retain his job.

Who exactly that person should be, I leave to people like Joe who nerd out on NFL front office prospects but we already have a four-year body of work to project what Maccagnan is capable of by himself, it’s at least worth a year’s salary to bring in someone who might be able to help him or eventually assume his role when he has spent the last of his capital with ownership.