The New York Jets are entering a unique season, which makes it difficult to pin down realistic 2019 expectations . There are a multitude of factors pointing to a major leap forward balanced with a few potentially combustible situations. Did the Jets turn a corner this offseason or are they careening towards more organizational turn over during Sam Darnold’s rookie contract?
Justified ImpatienceChristopher Johnson is currently the Jets Interim Owner until an undetermined date, while Woody Johnson serves as UK Ambassador. At a minimum, he should be in the role for two more seasons. It is not surprising that Christopher did not embrace a full housecleaning this past offseason. He was new to the position and without Mike Maccagnan, he’d be the sole decision maker on finding a new head of Football Operations. Maccagnan ultimately received a promotion without a new title as he was able to co-lead the coaching search, something he was unable to do last time around when he instead consented to an already vetted candidate. Johnson took the low hanging fruit and fired the Head Coach, a common tactic around the NFL.
Johnson has been adamant about not attaching a playoff mandate to this organization despite them being tied for the 8th longest playoff drought of any big four professional sports team in America and the third longest in the NFL. Yet, patience is inevitably going to start wearing thin, particularly after an offseason of massive spending, highlighted by contracts given to Le’Veon Bell and CJ Mosley (the highest paid inside linebacker in NFL history), along with the reality that teams with a young, franchise quarterback should be playoff bound in year two. The recent success of the teams around Patrick Mahomes, Deshaun Watson, Mitchell Trubisky, Jared Goff, Dak Prescott and Carson Wentz have only made that more evident.
Following current starting QBs made the playoffs within the first 2 years of their rookie deal being signed:
– Brady, Ben, Dalton, Jackson, Luck, Watson, Foles, Flacco, Mahomes, Eli, Wentz, Dak, Trubisky, Ryan, Goff, Wilson
— Joe Caporoso (@JCaporoso) April 10, 2019
The rookie quarterback contract is a ticking time bomb until the you hand out the next biggest deal in NFL history (let’s hope Darnold merits that in a few years) because of how it impacts the rest of your roster construction. There is no more dual splurging on Mosley and Bell once that contract is paid out. The Interim Owner (and the fanbase/media ecosystem around the team) have every right to be impatient at this moment. The team has a GM in his fifth year and despite having a Head Coach in his first year with the team, they went for an experienced NFL Head Coach who is coming off three straight years with the same job within the division. There is less of a runway when you go that route rather than hiring a first time NFL Head Coach.
Front Office Fissures
Leaks about internal problems are not unique to the New York Jets. It was however surprising to see a surge of them during NFL Draft weekend from multiple sources, which were likely misinterpreted as Maccagnan being on the immediate hot seat. This makes no sense, as any change would have been made in January, not in April. It could mean there were disagreements within the front office and/or scouting group, as we know the Jets have a presumed GM in waiting (either here or elsewhere) in Brian Heimerdinger who is best known for executing last year’s trade up for Sam Darnold.Nobody but the people in the building know if there is a serious riff but generally where there is smoke, there is fire with these types of things. The ingredients are there for discord and we’ve seen a similar situation play out in recent Jets history with Mike Tannenbaum leap frogging his former boss, Terry Bradway. It will be interesting to see if there is any front office personnel changes, besides Maccagnan in the coming months, or after next year. The Jets may also face a situation where they need to pick between the two if Heimerdinger gets an opportunity elsewhere, as we are due for some GM turnover in the league after most teams stood pat this year by just blaming the coaching staffs (see Denver, Arizona and Green Bay).
People Don’t Change
There has also been chatter about a potential riff between Adam Gase and Maccagnan. Gase was notorious for causing friction with the Dolphins and there is going to be some type of inevitable clash at some point because both guys are on different timelines. Friction or clashing about personnel is not always a bad thing, the Jets need someone who will question Maccagnan because he has been one of the worst GMs in the NFL over the past few years, the question is going to be whether Gase, and his career 23-25 record, is the right person to do it.
The Jets are betting that Maccagnan is a good GM who was hamstrung by a bad Head Coach while simultaneously betting that Gase is a good Head Coach who was hamstrung by a bad front office and organization. The assumption is that both will push to get the best out of each other. The potential downside is that both will use each other as an easy scapegoat if there are any problems in year one. Both have done good jobs establishing a strong network of media support about their resumes, so it will be interesting to see who is handed the blame pie first if the Jets “underachieve” this season (safe money is on Maccagnan because he has been here longer and it is understandable not to want to jumble around Darnold’s coaching again).
Similar to the front office, there are ingredients in place for potential problems because of some staffing decisions. Gregg Williams has been dubbed “Head Coach of the Defense” so will have the expectation of high levels of input and is not going to back down from Gase’s personality in any way…this is also putting aside an apparent disagreement over a role for Gregg’s son and the presence of BountyGate nemesis Joe Vitt. The Jets built out an overall high risk/high reward situation.
What Is The Impact?
We are going to learn a ton about the Jets infrastructure in the first six weeks of the season, as it is easily their most difficult stretch of games on paper (Buffalo, Cleveland, New England, Philadelphia, Dallas and New England again). This collection of teams will test a potentially shaky offensive line and quickly establish where the Jets are likely to fit next to two of the top projected teams in the conference. A slow start could break the already sharpened knives out, while treading water with a .500 or better start before the “soft” part of the schedule hits could put most of these issues to bed for the duration of the season.
It is naive not to expect rumblings about friction with the current construction of this team: Interim Owner, 5th year GM with zero playoff appearances, new Head Coach coming off back to back years without the playoffs and with a reputation for clashing with players and executives (who also brought along his buddy to be Offensive Coordinator), a firebrand Defensive Coordinator who has been dubbed “Head Coach” of one side of the ball after not getting a Head Coach job he thought he should have last season, his son and his somebody who previously testified against him in a league controversy (and Gase’s Father In Law)…it is also naive not to expect increased pressure and expectations with Darnold, Bell and Mosley here. If the Jets can’t meet or exceed .500 this year, it seems likely one or more people will pay the price with their job.
The good news is that the rumblings won’t matter if the Jets can find a way to do what many other teams have done recently: ride the play of their quarterback on a rookie contract to the playoffs. Darnold is the x-factor that could allow them to overcome other potential problems throughout the roster and the organization. He is also better equipped to do that with the support of Bell and Jamison Crowder. The AFC is likely to be crowded with teams battling for the wild card spots (sorry, New England is the presumed division winner until proven otherwise) but Darnold can be the differentiating factor between them and the other teams they are likely to be competing with, potentially relegating all other storylines to footnotes.