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NY Jets: An Open Letter to Mike Maccagnan on the State of His Team

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NFL: New York Jets at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Dear Mike,

I hope this message finds you well. I would imagine these are difficult times, however. Your team is 1-4. For the first time in your tenure, you either aren’t a beacon of popularity among Jets fans, or that point is likely coming in the next few weeks.

Stay strong. I know as well as you do that 2016 was never a make or break year for you. Sure, you did your best to put a competitive team on the field. Why wouldn’t you? It certainly was possible to try and have a decent year in a way that didn’t hurt your team’s long-term prospects for success. This was a team that could have snuck into the Playoffs if things broke correctly. We all know of the teams that catch lightning in a bottle while there. As long as you aren’t hurting the team’s chances of building a young base of talent for the future, why not do what you can to try to compete in the present?

It doesn’t look like things are going to work out this year. That’s fine. The success of your tenure was never really about 2015 or 2016 anyway. It was always about building a foundation of young players to make the Jets a consistent contender in years three and beyond. That’s what I’m here to talk to you about.

You see, Mike, I am starting to have some concern. For many players, the biggest improvement comes between the first and second seasons.

Your first draft class is now in year two. Leonard Williams has been everything you have hoped for. This is a player who seems to have blossomed between years one and two into the Pro Bowl talent you and I were hoping he would become. It’s easy to say it was an obvious pick now, but I’m sure you remember people complaining on Draft night that the Jets took another defensive lineman instead of a position of need. Your willingness to Draft for impact is greatly appreciated.

I must talk about the rest of your 2015 Draft class, though. As good as Williams has been, the rest have not shown signs of growth yet. I find that disturbing.

Devin Smith has been dealing with serious injuries since he set foot on the field. Sometimes you just hit bad luck. We will see in the weeks and months following his anticipated return what type of player he can be for this team.

Lorenzo Mauldin, however, has not blossomed into the starter this team was counting on him to be. When training camp started, he was supposed to be the sure starter. He seemed to play himself out of that role in camp and the preseason. He is right back in the limited role he was in a year ago, far from the growth a young cornerstone is supposed to provide in year two.

Your fourth round pick, Bryce Petty did show some degree of growth in his second preseason. He looked solid enough to earn a second year on the team. That is not the same as saying he is on a trajectory to be a plus starter for this team, however. The coaching staff seemed to try to give him every chance to earn the backup quarterback job. He quite literally threw it away in the third preseason game against the Giants and showed himself unable to pass Geno Smith on the depth chart. Given that your regime seems to think not too highly of Smith given its refusal to insert him into the lineup as Ryan Fitzpatrick is falling apart. The fact Petty found himself unable to beat out Smith should be enough to give even his most ardent fan pause about his trajectory if the goal is eventually for him to be the starting quarterback on this team.

Your fifth round pick, Jarvis Harrison, is gone. Your seventh round pick, Deon Simon is starting to get some snaps. Those snaps are limited, though. I would not expect a seventh rounder to be a starter by year two, but Simon’s future is based largely on projection, not production.

Thus, you currently have one player from your first Draft class who currently projects as a long-term starter. Others might develop, but we are in the hope phase with them. That is different than the proven phase we are in with Williams.

Mike, I know you are committed to building a successful team through the Draft. Every general manager says it, but you have backed it up. Your team’s website indicates you currently have nine scouts whose only job is to work on the Draft, an investment you spearheaded. Atlanta was the only team I found who had more with ten. Buffalo was the only other team with nine.

Now of course some teams don’t make this information easily accessible to the public. Others teams have wildly different structures with people working to scout both the pros and college. And you know as well as I do that there are more staffers helping the scouting process than just the full-time scouts.

With that said, you clearly have made investment in a robust college scouting infrastructure a priority of your tenure with the Jets. That is to be commended.

Half of the battle is indeed having the infrastructure to make good evaluations.

The infrastructure alone is not enough, however. In many ways your job when you draft players is no different from any hiring manager recruiting on a college. It is an inexact science.

Of course there are good hiring managers and bad hiring managers. The good ones do their homework. They thoroughly examine the traits on which college students will fit the culture of their companies, work hard, and have the attributes to fill the specific roles for which they will be hired. The good ones make the right hires more often than not. The bad ones miss more often than not.

It is impossible for even the best ones to get it right all of the time, though. Sometimes even the guy with the best resume and all of the social skills in the interview just doesn’t pan out. Maybe he took a lot of easy classes to inflate his GPA but didn’t have the right work ethic. Maybe the skills he needed to get good grades are fundamentally different from the ones needed to succeed in your office. Maybe his personality won’t fit with your office. Maybe he won’t like the city or be inspired by the work.

A good manager will get these things right more than he gets them wrong, but it is impossible to get these things right all of the time.

The teams that are really smart in the NFL tend to understand this principle and build themselves a margin for error.

Think about some of the teams in the NFL who are known for being great at developing talent. The Steelers are one. Since 2010, their average Draft class has been 8.4 players. The Packers are another. Their average class in that same span has 8.6 players. The Ravens are another. Their average class has 8.9 players in that span.

You get 7 to start with. Those teams add more than 1 extra pick each season.

Both of your classes to this date have 6 players. You have ended with less than you have started with.

It isn’t totally your fault, Mike. Those are teams that utilize the compensatory pick system. It is a system designed to give extra picks to teams that gain more than they lose in free agency. In 2015, the Jets received no compensatory picks because your predecessor signed too many free agents in the 2014 offseason. Yes, Mike, John Idzik signed too many free agents in 2014 for the Jets to get compensatory picks in 2015. I’m not making that up. I promise.

In 2016 you did not receive any. Again, this was understandable. Your team barely had any talent when you arrived in 2015. You had to make moves in free agency to try to up the base of talent. Almost anybody would have done the same. There was simply no way you were going to add compensatory picks for 2016.

You also started the 2015 Draft a pick light because your predecessor so brilliantly traded away one of your picks for an eight game rental of Percy Harvin after the team was already out of the Playoff race.

Part of your light Draft hauls have been the result of you making your own trades of picks for veteran players. You have dealt picks for Brandon Marshall, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Zac Stacy, and Ryan Clady.

The Stacy move did not pan out, but nobody would blame you for making these trades. What is more likely to have value for the team? Is it a proven veteran or a late round lottery ticket? Marshall is a star. Fitzpatrick has struggled this year, but helped the team a lot last year. Clady has helped bring some degree of stability. How could anybody be against giving up a late round pick for players of this caliber?

You don’t have to be. There isn’t anything wrong with using picks in trades to improve your team.

The Patriots frequently bolster their roster by trading Draft picks for established players. They traded a fourth round pick for Aqib Talib a few years back to provide stability for their secondary. They traded another fourth rounder years ago for Randy Moss, who was rejuvenated playing with Tom Brady and turned into one of the most dynamic threats in the league.

The Patriots can make these trades because they always have a surplus of picks from both aiming to gain compensatory picks and by trading down in the Draft.

They had another fourth round pick in hand to replace the one they traded for Talib. The same went for Moss. The same went for many of their trades.

Bolster your roster by trading picks, Mike, but please make sure going forward you replenish your stockpile by trading down and adding compensatory picks where applicable.

Yes, a Clady or a Marshall gives you a better chance of finding value than a fifth round pick.

It is also a fact of life that the salary cap forces each team to carry a lot of minimum or near minimum salary players. Tell me whether it is more likely to find a good minimum salary player with a sixth round pick, a seventh round pick AND a fifth round pick in hard, or just a sixth and a seventh?

You have only traded down once in two years. You may have invested in a top flight scouting department, but you aren’t giving them a fair chance if you do not maximize your picks by trading down.

If you only give Tom Brady 10 passes, you might find he is in a cold streak and only connects 4 of them. That isn’t an indication Brady is bad. It is an indication he had bad luck and was caught in a small sample size. If you give him 35 passes, eventually the randomness of the cold streak will be cancelled out, and with more reps the great passer will shine through.

I am not saying your scouting department is going to be Tom Brady, but these six player classes simply will not do. A small sample size of players you draft leaves too much up to luck. Your scouting staff’s skill will not shine through unless you draft enough players for the bad breaks to be cancelled out by the good ones. With a bigger 2015 class, there might be more success stories, and the team would not have so much staked on Smith overcoming his injuries and Mauldin his struggles. There would be other opportunities for the team to have success.

Your trades and subsequent inability to replace the picks you traded will impact this team in another way. This spring there was an offensive lineman named Brandon Shell you and your staff apparently loved. You traded a future fourth round pick to get him.

As things stand right now, that pick would be around the 102nd in the upcoming Draft. You picked Shell with the 158th pick of last year’s.

You don’t need to have an advanced background in numbers or analysis to know which of these two picks is likely to produce more in value.

158th pick of the 2016 Draft

102nd pick of the 2017 Draft

The sin wasn’t in wanting Shell. It was that you left yourself in a position where the only way to get Shell was to give up an asset far more valuable than the one you would use to obtain Shell. If you had played your cards better and traded down before this happened, you likely could have had Shell without giving up your 2017 fourth rounder.

A move like this every now and then won’t hurt too much, but I implore you to not make this a habit. These are small things. Just like letting an oil change go for an extra 100 miles probably won’t hurt your car, it will add up over time if you put it off frequently enough. Similarly, these moves will add up and hurt your ability to maximize your Draft hauls if you do them repeatedly. Let us resolve that this trade was a one-time deal. In the future, have the Draft capital at your fingertips to get a Shell without giving up something more valuable.

With that in mind, I have one further suggestion. You signed a veteran defensive lineman named Jarvis Jenkins to a free agent deal over the offseason. At this point, the move appears to be the worst of all worlds. You only get 53 roster spots. It is a zero sum game. A spot that goes to one player is one less spot at your disposal.

With this in mind, you must do everything within your power to maximize the value all roster spots. Every spot should go to either a player who is providing value right now or to somebody your team is developing for a future role.

I have nothing personal against Jenkins, but he is averaging under 14 snaps per game while eating up over $2 million in cap space. Forget about the cap space, although it could have been used to bolster another spot of the roster on a player who would see the field more frequently. How much value is Jenkins providing in those snaps. In such a limited role, how much of a negative impact would giving those reps to a younger player have on this team? Would the young player be noticeably worse on 25% of the snaps. Even then we are talking about an impact on less than 4 plays each game for one of the eleven players on the field. If this team is to be building a young core for future years, that roster spot is not a resource the team can waste like that, Mike.

And on top of that, you appear to be on track to lose a compensatory pick because you signed Jenkins instead of going with a younger player.

In fact, despite having almost no money to spend in the offseason and losing a number of starters to free agency, one projection says you will add no compensatory picks in 2017. Mike, that is like throwing away found money since we both have the long-term vision of finding young talent.

Mike, I want you to succeed very much. There are certain philosophical areas where I really am encouraged by what you are doing. There are a number of moves you have made that I really like. I worry about you, though. I see some areas where you aren’t putting yourself in the best possible position to succeed. 2015 and 2016 are done, but going forward, let’s resolve to maximize our chances of building a long-term base of talent that can keep the Jets contending year in and year out.

Your friend,

John B