New York Jets – The Time is Now

Stephen Russo with why it is the New York Jets time to finally make a move in the AFC East

Everything new Jets General Manager Joe Douglas has done this offseason proves that he is a man with a plan. He’s also a man with a 6-year deal. He realizes that the years and years of short term band-aids and quick fixes that came before him won’t get this team anywhere, and the way to build is to be smart and methodical and invest in places that need it – not out-flash every other team with big money signings that never amount to anything (Goodbye, Trumaine Johnson).

The myriad of one-year deals and draft day trades suggest that Douglas has a vision for this team and organization, and he is executing it his way. The optimist in me also believes that Douglas is smart enough to not hitch his wagon to the Gase-mobile. This really implies that Douglas has a long-term plan for this team, and while he realizes that any team can catch lightning in a bottle and get hot to make a run, this methodical approach that he is taking is a more surefire path to continual success.

While the forever struggling Jets fan in me is clamoring for a run this year, the pragmatist in me knows that Douglas’ plan is the better option. And while I am almost certain most fans share my sentiment with this, we find ourselves at an impasse because while we want the team to be good this year, we also don’t want Gase coaching it beyond 2020. That, my friends, has us caught in a “sticky wicket” (kudos to all of you who got the “She’s Out of My League” reference).

However, with my feelings about Gase and my supposed knowledge of Douglas’ long-term plan put aside, here is why I believe the time is now for the Jets to strike in the AFC East and catch that lightning in a bottle.

The Division. There is no question the AFC East is more up for grabs than any time in the last 20 years. The obvious reason is that Brady is gone, as he took his talents to Tampa Bay. While I will never doubt Bill Belichick (who went 11-5 with Matt Cassell), there are certainly reasons to doubt this Patriots team. They will be led by a 2nd year QB in Jarrett Stidham and still lack weapons as they did all last year with Tom Brady, and while their top 5 defense in still in tact that only got them to a wild card loss at home last year.

The Dolphins, while improved, are still a long way away and will be either starting a rookie QB in Tua Tagovailoa or year 2 of Ryan Fitzpatrick (I think we all know how that goes). Which ends us with the Bills, the supposed clear-cut favorite to win the division as of June, and rightfully so. While the Bills have made improvements to their team left and right (Stefon Diggs!) and their defense is improved and still formidable, I would still argue that their biggest wild card is at the quarterback position in Josh Allen. He played well in 2019 and the Bills certainly coached him right and played to his strengths (I’m jealous), but it’s fair to say that the jury is still out.

The Schedule. While many look at the schedule and see it as a daunting task, I have slightly different view towards it. Yes, the lineup of teams is certainly difficult. The Jets face the two Super Bowl teams from last year, make two trips to the West Coast and finish up at New England. There is no question that’s a lot to ask. But the way the schedule breaks down is, in my eyes, favorable. They get the 49ers in week 2 at home at 1pm, that couldn’t happen at a better time. While traveling to the west coast is never easy, the Chargers shouldn’t scare us – they’re a well-coached team but Tyrod Taylor doesn’t pose a threat to anyone and that team went 5-11 last year. The first part of the schedule is completely opposite of last years. In 2019, the Jets had to run the gauntlet in the first 7 games and ended up going 1-6 (add in Darnold’s mono) and their season was over before it started. This year, the first part of the schedule before going to Kansas City is filled with coin flip games.

Lastly, the final west coast trip to play Seattle and the Rams comes at a time when the Jets could be making a little run and exceeding expectations. Just like a slow start can impact your confidence for the rest of the year, a fast start can have the opposite effect. There is a big difference between a 7-5 team playing at Seattle as opposed to a 4-8 team visiting the 12th man. The schedule is certainly tough, but the way it breaks down could make the best of a bad situation for this Jets team.

The Quarterback.  Sam Darnold is the catalyst that could make it all happen. We’ve seen the glimpses. We remember the stretch to end 2018. We dream about the Oakland, Washington, and NY Giant games that he had in 2019. It’s time to make those the norm. There is little doubt that Sam has all the tools to be more than just a competent NFL starter at its most important position, and this is his year to make that jump and prove it. Darnold showed improvement from year one to year two, he made strides in all key areas – albeit overcoming mono, a downright inept offensive line and a talent-deficient roster. But, in 2020, with his second year in Gase’s system (whatever that is), an improved offensive line, and the return of Chris Herndon, Darnold is primed for a breakout and will be THE reason the Jets make any sort of noise, if they are able to. Darnold has the ability to elevate the play of his team.

He has the ability to be a difference maker, and be the reason the Jets win games and not the guy they win in spite of. The kid showed us that he could go toe to toe with DeShaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers in year one. He built upon that and went 7-6 as a starter and 6-2 down the stretch in 2019. If he can make the big leap in year 3, he will be the X-Factor for the Jets turning some heads in 2020.

The term “rebuild” has become taboo in the world of the New York Jets, but in all reality, it appears that is what Joe Douglas is doing. He seems to be going about it the right way, and honestly we have no choice as fans other than to accept it. But both things can be true. Douglas can be rebuilding and building this team the way he wants to for continued success, but if the three items above fall in the Jets favor, it could be a time where they catch fire and make things happen. If you pair a wide-open AFC East with a better than expected start to the season, and top it off with a dynamite year from Sammy, we could be in for a wild ride.

Hey, it’s 2020… crazier things have happened. Why not the Jets?