1st & 10: Early Off-Season Thoughts

Stephen Russo offers his early offseason thoughts on the New York Jets

1st…

There is not much you can take away from the Jets season finale against the Bills. Sure, the offense set a franchise low for yards in a game with 53 – but having a subpar offensive output was expected with Zach Wilson having a JV squad to throw to (I’m being generous) and Jamison Crowder getting hurt in the first quarter. The Jets, by enlarge, were outmanned at every position on the field but managed to keep this a 13-10 game into the 4th quarter, on the road, in terrible conditions, against a very good team that was playing for the division title. If we’re going to take anything away from this game, it should be fight they showed in a meaningless game. 

On the whole, 4-13 feels like a disappointment. It is. However, there was tangible progress made and a foundation built here during this season, and you can absolutely see the vision of this franchise as we move into the 2022 off-season. Zach Wilson made strides in the back half of the year – going 5 straight games without an interception after throwing 9 in his first 5 – is exceptional for a rookie quarterback, especially considering the injuries and lack of talent around him as the Jets limped to the finish line. The offense, on the whole, hit a groove as the season went on. You could see things clicking across the board, and particularly on the offensive line, where they learned how to run the ball effectively. This will only improve as the offensive line gets bolstered in the offseason.

The pieces are there – Wilson, Vera-Tucker, Moore, Carter, LaFleur (give the man credit!) – and positive steps were taken during a tumultuous season. This will be a much-improved offense, and team, in 2022. Jets fans should be confident in that.

& 10…

1. Joe Douglas has been historically frugal in both free agency periods he has run with the Jets, as he has been extremely bullish on the idea that the way to build a team is through the draft. There is no argument here, as that should be the preferred method. However, successful teams are the ones that can combine solid drafting with smart free agent additions, and it’s time Douglas took that approach. In his first two off-seasons, Douglas has spent like a college kid trying to decide if he should spend his last $10 on dinner or at the bar. Now, it’s time he spent like the rich kid who has Daddy’s credit card… because Mr. Johnson is back in town. Douglas needs to be aggressive in free agency, the players will be there and so will the money, and this team needs to compete in 2022. It’s time for Joe D to get fat and drunk, like his job depends on it. Because if he is 4-13 next season, it absolutely will.

2. I think tight end may be the biggest position of need for the Jets as they approach this off-season. Honestly, it was criminal to come into this season with your top 3 TE’s being Kroft, Griffin and Brown for your rookie quarterback. I expect the Jets to completely overhaul that room, and go aggressively after Dalton Schultz (or another veteran pass-catching TE) and a rookie with a top 40 pick. Let’s give Wilson a big target in the middle of the field.

3. The offensive line (outside of the Buffalo game) looked significantly improved as the season went on, despite the injuries that continued to pile up. In years past, this is the exact situation where you would see the Jets stand pat and trust that the unit can maintain that level of performance. They can’t. This is in no way a finished product. I would expect Douglas to pick an OL (Evan Neal) at #4, and address interior OL in FA and later in the draft as well. That would continue to build upon an impressive first year in this system and add significant depth that we all know is needed.

4. Douglas can’t rely solely on Carl Lawson’s return as fixing the Jets’ edge rusher issues. A veteran trade or a top-40 pick to supplement Lawson would be great moves. Maybe even both!

5. Depending on how the draft board and free agency break, I would expect that Douglas uses about 75% of his draft capital on offense. Conversely, I would expect that he uses about 75% of his free agency moves on defense to rebuild the 32nd ranked unit rather quickly.

6. I’m happy that Saleh is retaining both coordinators. He has stated all season that this is a rebuild and a process… why wouldn’t it be true for the coaches? Continuity is something this team hasn’t had in way too long and will certainly benefit from.

7. It is a HUGE deal that the Jets coaching staff will get to coach the Senior Bowl. It is such an advantage to get to look at these players up close and get information that not everyone is privy to. When Saleh coached the Senior Bowl with the 49ers under Kyle Shanahan, they ended up taking Deebo Samuel in the 2nd round… wouldn’t that be nice?

8. Much like point #3, Douglas cannot look at his WR corps as a finished product either. Elijah Moore is a stud, Corey Davis should bounce back and absolutely be a piece there, and Douglas should work to re-sign Braxton Berrios immediately. However, there are certainly additions that have to be made. I think the 10th overall pick is a great spot to take that legitimate X receiver the Jets have been so desperate for since Brandon Marshall.

9. Michael Carter was a stud this season, and an absolute gem to be found in the 4th round. I liked Tevin Coleman as a 2nd option this year and was admittedly disappointed in Ty Johnson’s output overall. I think it would be smart to keep Coleman around the young guys for next year, given his experience in the system and overall (2 SB appearances), but would truly look to add a big, bruising back as a complimentary piece to Carter.

10. I truly believe that Robert Saleh and Joe Douglas are in lockstep with each other and share a vision for this franchise. It took us a long time to get here, but we’re here nonetheless. Wins have to come, but you can feel that the foundation is laid to have perennial success.