As the Jets are moving towards the business end of the season, the question continues to be asked, "is this season playoffs or bust?" While there is no doubt that if the Jets don't make the playoffs it will be disappointing but if they make it to 10 or 11 wins and get snubbed by a conference record that is nothing to be ashamed of. However it is of vital importance that next year they back their success up. Here are 3 reasons why season 2016/17 could be a much more difficult proposition compared to 2015/16.
Let's be honest, the Jets got handed a very favourable schedule this year. The stars seemed to align with their division rotation as the AFC South and NFC East were served up. Not only this but their 4-12 finish ensured them that they would face the Raiders and Browns (although they only managed a split). Even the travel was in their favour as they were only scheduled 6 true road games considering that London was a neutral field with equal distance to travel between both teams and week 13 saw the Jets play visitor in their own building.
Next year won't be as fun. Although it is unfair to predict that a division will be strong just under a year from time, I do feel safe anticipating that the NFC West and AFC North will be tough next year. Massive home games against Seattle and Cincinnati await along with cross country away fixtures including @ Arizona and @ San Francisco. Throw into that a trip to Pittsburgh and most likely a loud Arrowhead stadium, the schedule looks quite daunting. Of course things will change between then and now but it's hard to argue that next year's schedule won't be substantially more difficult then 2015.
Of course everyone is getting older, but this might have more significance considering that the Jets have the 5th oldest roster in the league. By the start of next season this will be the age of the following players.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (33) (34 in November)
Brandon Marshall (32)
Darrelle Revis (31)
Antonio Cromartie (32)
David Harris (32)
Nick Mangold (32)
D'Brickashaw Ferguson (32)
Breno Giacomini (30) (31 in September)
Now with some of these players I won't believe their downfall until I see it. Brandon Marshall looks as fresh as he ever has, Revis despite a much over hyped downfall is still playing at a high level along with Harris and Mangold continuing to be the consistent anchors of their respective units. However it's not inconceivable to imagine one of these players seeing their form falling of a cliff which could spell disaster for the overall play of the team. Along with this, injuries will loom large on these players and extended periods out could be on the cards.
It's unfair to suggest that just cause a group of players have ticked over 30 that instantly they should be replaced, but Mike Maccagnan is flirting with fire if he does not build depth to support these players over another long season. Seeing more heir apparent s being groomed like Lorenzo Mauldin carrying the torch on from Calvin Pace would be a good strategy going forward. However finding a strategy going forward leads us to our 3rd concern.
Cap Space + Draft Position
Mike Maccagnan has impressed everyone this year not only with his free agent spending spree but also with his ability to dig out contributors from the free agent and waiver wire scrap heap (Dion Bailey, Kenbrell Thompkins and Mike Catapano to name a few). So far things are looking up for Leonard Williams and Lorenzo Mauldin. The jury is still out on Devin Smith and Bryce Petty while Deon Simon and Jarvis Harrison are currently on the practice squad. It would be foolish to criticize Mike Maccagnan for his off season moves. He had a blank slate to build a team, and he did what was necessary. Let's put it this way though, it would be a much more impressive achievement if he managed to reinvigorate the roster so it could challenge for the playoffs again.
Consider this: The Jets have an estimated 17 Million in cap space with 23 free agents. Among these free agents are Muhammad Wilkerson, Damon Harrison, Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Ryan Fitzpatrick. The franchise tag for Wilkerson will be around 15 to 16 Million and considering the play of Harrison this year he will be looking for a considerable sum as well. I'm sure everyone wants to keep this group together especially home grown stars like Wilkerson and Harrison. However I expect Maccagnan will have to get nifty to keep everyone under the cap. Players to watch are Antonio Cromartie and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. The rest of Cromartie's 25 Million over the next 3 years is not guaranteed and Ferguson might be due a restructure at a cap hit of 14 million.
All these cap dealings and decisions in house will leave very little room for spending on free agents around the league. This is where we have to trust Maccagnan ability to scout low income, high upside free agents. This shapes up to be a much harder task in comparison to a team that was flush with money at the start of last off season. It's okay to be reasonably optimistic though as Maccagnan has looked competent with his previous low income moves.
Another problem is that the Jets are realistically looking at a draft pick somewhere around 18-26. This position in the draft is certainly not guaranteed to produce an instant contributor. It would be more practical to hope for a future starter along the lines of a Calvin Pryor. Credit must be given to Maccagnan's picking of Leonard Williams but finding a gem among the later picks in the first round presents a different test. This of course applies to all the other rounds in the draft where the front office must build viable depth.
Some early needs include: outside linebacker, a future starting tackle, guard, tight end and quarterback.
This is by no means a doom and gloom projection of our dire hopes in 2016. Just some legitimate problems that are visible early on. Focusing on the positives though, next year should be a continuation of this season's offence most importantly retaining the same quarterback in the same offence. Leonard Williams, Calvin Pryor and Lorenzo Mauldin should be set for big years. Hopefully Jace Amaro and Devin Smith returning off injury provide a refreshing injection of youth for this team.
For now let's try not to worry too much, the Jets are in the midst of a tight playoff run with a fun team. Contradicting to everything said in this article, our sole focus should be Dallas.