New York Jets – New GM Must Prioritize The Trenches

Joe Belic on the need for the New York Jets next GM to prioritize the offensive line and how Mike Maccagnan fell short in that area…

In order to protect Sam Darnold and open up running lanes for Le’Veon Bell, the Jets should focus on constructing a wall that even the Night King would envy. That’s why it is essential the Jets hire a new GM that comes from a culture that emphasizes building the offensive line.

According to multiple reports, one of the “rifts” between Adam Gase and former Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan involved the potential signing of free agent center Matt Paradis. According to Tony Pauline, Maccagnan comes from an “old school” belief system that doesn’t warrant heavy financial investment in the center position. With a trend toward interior pass rush becoming more prevalent in the league this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Unfortunately, Maccagnan had final say over the roster and the Jets will be fielding a backup caliber center, for the third year in a row. This outdated approach to building a team is something the Jets need to stay far away from. The new GM needs to adapt to the changing landscape and build a team made for today’s NFL.

In 2018 the Jets offensive line graded out in the bottom half of the league once again. Pro Football Focus had them ranked: 25th last season, 30th in 2017, 21st in 2016 and 26th in 2015 (Mike Maccagnan’s first season with the Jets). While the selection of Chuma Edoga was a solid pick in the recent 2019 draft it marked only the third time overall that Maccagnan selected an offensive lineman in his five years of drafting. Edoga, selected in the third round, was the highest lineman Maccagnan ever drafted; Brandon Shell and Jarvis Harrison both picked in the 5th. At first glance, the lack of attention to the offensive line could be bewildering, but upon further investigation into Mike Maccagnan’s background, it’s not the least bit surprising.

Mike Maccagnan worked for the Houston Texans from 2002-2014. During that time, he was Coordinator of college scouting (202-2012), Assistant director of college scouting (2010-2011) and Director of college scouting (2011-2014).

Charlie Casserly, general manager of the Texans from 2002-2005, is a name that Jets fans would like to soon forget, as he was part of the committee that helped hire Maccagnan; he also more than likely played a major role in his indoctrination.

Maccagnan was there when Casserly selected a promising David Carr (QB) first overall in the 2002 draft. He was also there to watch Carr’s career cut short as he was pummeled by opposing defenses under the “protection” of a subpar offensive line. In 2002, Carr’s rookie year, he was sacked an NFL record (76) times, which also includes a brutal matchup where Carr was brought down (9) times in one game. Even as David Carr continued to be thrashed, Casserly failed to use premium picks to upgrade the ramparts for his young signal caller. In Casserly’s five drafts with the team, he selected an offensive lineman (1) time within the first two rounds, Chester Pitts (Round 2, 2002). In 2005, Casserly’s final season with the Texans, the (68) sacks Carr took are still good enough to be ranked third all-time in a single season. 

Casserly is not the only one to blame for the miseducation of Mike Maccagnan. Altogether, in the 12 years Maccagnan spent with the Texans, they drafted only (3) offensive linemen within the first two rounds: Chester Pitts (2002, 2nd round), Duane Brown (2008, 1st round) and Xavier Su’a Filo (2014, Round 2).

Despite their negligence during the draft process, the Texans have enjoyed some seasons with solid O-line play, but their lack of attention to the long-term structure of their front resulted in history once again repeating itself. The Texans have another young and promising QB (Deshaun Watson) calling signals. In his first two seasons, according to Pro Football Focus, the Texans offensive line was ranked 23rd (2018) and 32nd (2017). This past season was eerily similar to what David Carr had to go through over a decade ago as Deshaun Watson was sacked an NFL high (62) times. That places Watson in a three-way tie for 5th all-time on the single-season sacked list. Unfortunately, one of the other players he’s tied with is Ken O’Brien (1985), sorry Jets fans. This past season to avoid cabin pressure during a flight, Watson opted to take a bus to a match in Jacksonville because of a bruised lung, cracked rib and partially collapsed lung he suffered during a previous game.

Maccagnan clearly came from an organization that is clueless when it comes to assembling an offensive line built for the long haul. It’s nauseating as a fan of the game to watch a business managed in such a fashion. It’s even more alarming that Maccagnan after witnessing such incompetency didn’t come to a realization; this is not how you build a team. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard, “games are won in the trenches,” and hopefully the Jets new GM lives up to that tenet.

Luckily for Deshaun Watson and their fan base, upper management seems to understand the flaws of an antiquated credo, as they drafted (2) offensive linemen within the first two rounds of the NFL draft in 2019: Tytus Howard (Round 1) and Max Scharping (Round 2). It’s not a foregone conclusion that these players will be legitimate starters, but at least the Texans seem to have changed their priorities when it comes to the draft and that is a positive sign.

Solid O-lines are built over years and special attention needs to be paid to ensure longevity:

The Saints are one team meticulous about the process and that makes scouting director, Terry Fontenot, a very intriguing candidate. Saints have two first round picks up front: Andrus Peat (2015) and Ryan Ramczyk (2017). This past draft they wasted no time in moving up to select Erik McCoy in the second round to anchor their line after Max Unger retired. This approach has kept their O-line in the top half of the league for over a decade, and it’s not shocking that according to Pro Football Focus, they fielded the 4th ranked line during their Super Bowl run in 2009. Drew Brees should send the guys in the front office a fruit basket and take care of their laundry bills for keeping him clean all these years.

While Maccagnan spent (3) draft picks on offensive linemen, the Eagles during the same time span drafted (5), including a first rounder, all while already having one of the best lines in the league. According to pro football focus: 1st in 2013, 2nd in 2014, 12th in 2015, 8th in 2016, 1st in 2017 and 5th in 2018. The Eagles won their first Super Bowl in 2017 behind the number one rated offensive line in football. With an aging Jason Peters manning the left tackle spot they didn’t hesitate to select Andre Dillard (OT) in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft. They now have two-first rounders on their line, the other being Lane Johnson. It is believed that Joe Douglas, Vice President of Personnel, has had an integral part in constructing the team that won the Super Bowl. It’s easy to see why he’s a fan favorite to be the next general manager of the Jets.

The Patriots selected nine offensive linemen during Maccagnan’s tenure, one of which was a first rounder (Isaiah Wynn, 2018).

The Cowboys have made their offensive line a huge focal point in the draft. Travis Frederick (2013), Tyron Smith (2011) and Zack Martin (2014) were all first rounders. With these mammoth sized humans up front, the Cowboys have been ranked 1st overall twice and in the top five all but once in the last five years. Behind this line, an average QB like Dak Prescott has already made multiple playoff appearances.

The Jets don’t have to look too far back to a time when a line built of Mangold (Round 1), Ferguson (Round 1), Woody, Faneca, and Moore took a pedestrian Mark Sanchez to the AFC championship back to back.

Considering Maccagnan’s track record and school of thought, relieving him of his duties was a smart decision. It takes more than constructing an offensive line but hiring a general manager who comes from a winning culture and understands the foundational roots of team building will pay dividends. The Jets just have to be diligent, investigate the backgrounds of their potential candidates and find a match that will ensure long-lasting success in today’s NFL.