The Path Back to Relevance

Stephen Russo draws parallels between the 1997 and 2022 New York Jets.

For most Jets fans, the 1997-2011 period is considered the glory years. For any fan, particularly fans in my age bracket (I’m 36 – wow it hurts to say that sometimes), this was the sweet spot for us. That 1997 season quickly turned the Jets from laughingstock to a serious team followed by years of sustained success and quality decision-making. Think about this: during those 15 seasons, the Jets were able to be .500 or better 12 times, make the playoffs 7 times, and win the division twice. Now, any fan would give his left you-know-what to just see the Jets logo in the “In the Hunt” graphic on Sunday Night Football in November. Oh how times have changed.

The responsibility for the quick turnaround from 1996 to 1997 lies squarely on the shoulders of Bill Parcells. He instantly gave the organization credibility on the heels of Rich Kotite and that dumpster fire, and set them on a quick path back to relevance and immediate success (anyone remember the 41-3 ’97 opener in Seattle?).

I wrote a few years ago (immediately post-Gase) that Joe Douglas had the chance to replicate what Parcells did 25 years ago. While it is arguable that Parcells had more to work with than what Douglas was given (Marvin Jones, Aaron Glenn, Mo Lewis, Victor Green, Ray Mickens, Keyshawn Johnson, Wayne Chrebet, etc. – all of whom were core members of that 1998 team that made a run), Douglas has effectively done the same thing here. It can’t be discounted just how bad this team and roster was mismanaged under Mike Maccagnan and Adam Gase, and just how far Douglas had to dig himself out. But now, we are on the precipice of relevance yet again. Joe Douglas, who’s often painted as an extremely patient General Manager, decided to strike when the time was right. Any football fan knows how hard it is to consistently make double digit draft picks year after year, and the continuous Belichick-ian cycle of trading back and stashing picks doesn’t actually work. At some point, you have to cash in on your draft capital and make moves. This was the year for Douglas.

The Sauce Gardner pick at four overall was a surprise to many – especially considering the presumption that Saleh does not value cornerbacks. Like the pick or not, no one can dispute that cornerback was a need for the Jets. Then, despite the attempted Deebo Samuel attempted, the Jets get wide receiver Garrett Wilson at ten overall and aggressively trade back in the first round to grab a falling edge rusher in Jermaine Johnson. Douglas wasn’t done yet. At the start of round 2, he trades up to number 34 to grab Breece Hall, the undoubted best running back in the class. Then further solidifies the tight end room with Jeremy Ruckert. At that point, the rest of the draft was gravy – anything he could have done would have been fine by us, because the first five picks were dynamite.

The A+ draft, which was lauded by many in the national media, followed the successful free agency period that Douglas spearheaded. He signed a pro-bowl RG in Laken Tomlinson, viable starters at cornerback and safety in Reed and Whitehead, and re-vamped the TE room with CJ Uzomah and Tyler Conklin.

Essentially, Joe Douglas has taken a talent barren roster coached by the worst Head Coach in football, and completely flipped it. He has recognized that he and Robert Saleh’s jobs are both tied to the success of second year quarterback Zach Wilson, and he has worked diligently to ensure that they surround the kid with enough talent to get a definitive answer on him in year two. The 2019 starting roster now has two starters will be on the field for the Jets in 2022 – Quinnen Williams and CJ Mosley.

The New York Jets have legitimate playmakers, they have depth, they have talent. A lot of these guys still have to play a down in the NFL, but no one can deny that the feeling is different and something is brewing in Florham Park. The Jets are going to make noise in 2022 – and the path back to relevance has started for this team. Despite the strength of the AFC, the Jets are ready to compete in 2022. The expectation should be a wild card spot, and there are no excuses.

The similarities between 1997 and 2022 are uncanny. We can only hope the next 15 years follow suit.