Only the incredibly naive would have woken up on June 7, 2017 believing the New York Jets weren’t throwing away the 2017 season. The tank is on, and that might be an understatement.
New York’s bizarre fire sale carried into June, when most NFL rosters are relatively intact. The Jets showed longtime veteran linebacker David Harris the door unceremoniously. Hours later, news had broken that Eric Decker would be the next veteran sent packing by the end of this week. You can add them to the list of castoffs that already included Nick Mangold, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, Marcus Gilchrist, Breno Giacomini and Nick Folk.
General manager Mike Maccagnan blew this team into smithereens after he already pressed the detonator button once more this offseason. He’s now the man behind the crane as the Jets look to pick up the pieces. But should we really trust Maccagnan to operate the heavy machinery?
Maccagnan has been given clearance to blow up the roster, something that probably should’ve been done two years ago. In doing so, he’s saving owner Woody Johnson some money during what would’ve been a bad year anyways. It looks ugly on paper, but valid arguments could be made to explain why each of those veterans should’ve been let go. It will kill the team’s prospects in 2017, but that’s probably by design.
Maccagnan said tanking is “not our focus,” at a spontaneous press conference Tuesday. But nobody’s focus is to lose as many games as possible. However, that might be the best strategy for a franchise mired in mediocrity.
The Jets are typically never good enough to be a perennial contender, but rarely bad enough to pick at the very top of the upcoming draft. New York hasn’t made a pick in the top-five since 2009 and that involved a trade up to select Mark Sanchez. Other than that, the Jets hadn’t picked in the top-five since 2006, when they took left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson — a franchise-changing player.
Maccagnan knows what fans and analysts from New York to Newark have been screaming about for years: The Jets don’t have a franchise quarterback. They haven’t since Joe Namath and they haven’t really come close. The 2018 NFL Draft class could feature four potential franchise passers and might be the best draft class at the position in years. Pair those facts together, and you have all the explanation you need for Maccagnan’s decisions.
So give Maccagnan credit for recognizing the flaws surrounding his attempt at a competitive rebuild. But he must forge the path for reconstruction and decide who joins him along the way.
The person who might be the most concerned about the recent decisions is Jets coach Todd Bowles. It’s been a tumultuous two years from Bowles, who is 15-17 during his tenure. He’s been dealt the worst hand of anyone within the organization and could be entering a pivotal third year with arguably the worst roster in the league.
As we opined on the Jet Fuel Podcast, it wouldn’t be fair for Bowles to be fired after what everyone assumes will be a miserable season. The optimists would say Bowles has been given assurance he will make it to 2018, barring extreme circumstances. But what’s said in June can change by December, especially given the provocative demeanor of the fans and media in the Big Apple.
Could Bowles really survive a 1-15 or – God forbid — an 0-16 campaign that feels more realistic than a playoff run? In a year that’s going to be about growth and progress, how will Maccagnan and Johnson gauge the improvements made on a roster that could undergo wholesale changes anyways?
Jets fans shouldn’t bestow all of their trust into Maccagnan, either. The third-year GM has maintained a strategy to build the team through the draft. The only problem is he hasn’t found much talent to put stock into.
His 2015 class is highlighted by Leonard Williams, who was a no-brainer after falling into his lap at No. 6 overall. Lorenzo Mauldin could develop into a starter, but his ceiling doesn’t look to be as high after a disappointing sophomore season. Deon Simon might be a seventh-round diamond in the rough, but second-round pick Devin Smith and fourth-round selection Bryce Petty probably don’t have futures in New York.
The 2016 class features more hope, but even more questions. How Darron Lee, Christian Hackenberg, Jordan Jenkins, Juston Burris and Charone Peake perform this season could hold lasting ramifications on the franchise’s approach going forward.
Maccagnan will have plenty of salary cap space — roughly $66 million — to play with next offseason, but his reckless spending spree in 2015 has played an enormous role in the 2017 purge. It’s one thing to spend, but another to spend wisely and that’s something Maccagnan failed to do two years ago.
The Jets are finally doing something different. They will throw the 2017 season away in hopes of finding their savior in the 2018 draft. Then, they’ll use some of that cap space plus a bevy of draft selections to instill more pieces around the quarterback.
So don’t gauge the 2017 season on wins and losses. Those won’t matter this season. Instead, look for growth and progress, particularly among Maccagnan’s draft picks. How those players perform might not affect the Jets much on the scoreboard, but will give a clear indication of whether Maccagnan is the right man to carry out this sound strategy.