As we continue to look back at the 2015 season for the Jets, let's take a look at the best work the front office did over the past year. Here are what I consider the top five.
5. Scouting Overhaul
Mike Maccagnan wasted no time in overhauling the front office when he arrived. Longtime team executive Terry Bradway was let go within days of Maccagnan's arrival along with Jeff Bauer. The overhaul continued over the next few months, leaving the Jets with a new front office structure and new personnel. Will the changes be successful? Only time will tell. There are no guarantees. What I do know is change was necessary. The old system did not work, and the last two general managers refused to make the sweeping reforms the situation demanded.
4. Overhauling the Secondary
You could say it was obvious the Jets needed to upgrade their secondary in free agency. That is true, but you could have said the same thing the year before, and they did not do so. The 2015 free agent class was also much weaker than the 2014 crop in the defensive backfield so the task was tougher.
You could argue the Jets gave Darrelle Revis too much money. You could argue Antonio Cromartie wasn't a success. You could say Marcus Gilchrist wasn't a game-changer, and neither is Buster Skrine. When you have to make so many moves so quickly, everything might not be exactly perfect. In this case, the cost of not making these moves would have been far greater.
Ultimately the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. Jets opponents averaged almost a full yard less per attempt throwing the ball and interceptions tripled. Any way you slice it the team needed a major infusion of talent in the secondary, and the one they got played a role in winning ten games.
3. Picking Leonard Williams
Every single general manager in the NFL claims he takes the best player available when his team is on the clock in the Draft and that he stays true to his board. In reality many do not. Mike Maccagnan was put to the test on his very first pick.
USC defensive lineman Leonard Williams had unexpectedly slipped and was the consensus best player available. The Jets already had abundant young talent on the interior of their defensive line with Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson, and Damon Harrison. They had needs elsewhere. Maccagnan stuck with the true and tested model successful franchises use. He took the guy who was far and away the best talent regardless of position.
Looking at the way Williams performed against the way the alternatives performed, it is difficult to say he picked wrong. You cannot predict tomorrow in the NFL. At the time, it did not look like Williams was a need. Then Sheldon Richardson got suspended. The Jets also face an uncertain future with Muhammad Wilkerson. The best possible move would be to bring him back, but it is some comfort for the team to know it has Williams in the worst case scenario.
Will Maccagnan always take the best player on the board no matter what? Probably not. Few general managers do. If it is a razor thin margin between a player at a position of great need and one where the team is set, he probably will go for the need. It is still nice to see that the general manager will not look a gift horse in the month. If somebody is far and away the best talent, do not overthink things. Just take him.
2. The Ryan Fitzpatrick Trade
It is no secret that recent Jets teams have struggled mightily at the quarterback position. The play has been so poor that it has made it next to impossible for a number of Jets teams to have successful seasons. No position can sink a team with poor play quicker than quarterback.
It is not that you necessarily need a great quarterback to win (although that certainly helps a lot). At the very least, you need somebody credible. Maccagnan got that somebody credible in a trade with his former team. The Houston Texans dealt Ryan Fitzpatrick to the Jets for a late round pick after they signed Brian Hoyer. Judging from the quarterback play the Texans got, they probably would have been better off keeping Fitzpatrick. What the Jets go were franchise records from their quarterback, and late in the season they found their identity as a passing offense.
Fitzpatrick's play was probably the best a the position the Jets have gotten since Chad Pennington, and all he cost was a sixth round pick and a cap hit barely over $3 million. This might have been the best pure value move any NFL team made all year.
1. The Brandon Marshall Trade
In addition to quarterback, one of the other big offensive problems for the Jets in recent times had been the lack of a game-changing presence. They never had that go-to guy who could make big plays even as the defense is trying to take him away and draw extra attention to free up other players. They got that when Maccagnan traded for Brandon Marshall for the low price of a fifth round pick.
When we talk about the success of the Marshall trade, I cannot help but compare it to the last time the Jets had traded for a star receiver. It was only a few months earlier when the Jets sent a conditional pick to Seattle for Percy Harvin. Then general manager John Idzik boasted the trade was a "potential coup." I will never forget how shocked I was to hear that statement. I would be taken aback if a guy who had put together multiple Super Bowl winners like Ozzie Newsome was bragging like that. For a general manager whose team was 1-6 at the time and was well on his way to being fired brag like that was stunning.
Of course, the Harvin trade was no coup. It had been years since Harvin was a difference-maker. Even at his peak, his contract would have been an overpay. He only played eight games for the Jets, all of which came after the team was out of the Playoff race and caught only 29 passes. He cost around $6.5 million in salary cap space which the Jets could have rolled over to 2015 and used to help this year's team, where it actually could have made a difference.
The reason I bring up Harvin is as a point of comparison. If you want to know what a coup looks like, take a look at the Marshall trade. The Jets gave up a fifth round pick. They got 109 catches, 1,502 yards, and 14 touchdowns. Marshall was second team All Pro. And this might be selling Marshall's impact short. He contract is also favorable to the team.
It what was a great offseason that helped the team improve its win total by six games, the Marshall trade stands out as the top move.