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NY Jets: Aimless

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

Everyone knows that the Jets are a bad team right now. I don’t think even the most diehard Jets could be harboring the necessary amount of denial required to believe the Jets are anything but bad. The record is bad. The product on the field is bad. The coaching is bad. The overall talent level is bad. There’s really no aspect to the team that you can say is anything but bad. If you want to argue that some part of this team has performed well, I don’t know what to say to you. Here’s a quick rundown of the Jets stats, courtesy of Pro Football Reference (ties are included at the point where PFR has ranked them numerically):

Offense (per game): Yards 32nd, passing yards 32nd, rushing yards 30th, yards per play 32nd, points 32nd, scoring percentage 32nd, passing touchdowns 32nd, rushing touchdowns 31st, turnovers 26th, first downs 32nd, sacks allowed 31st

Defense (per game): Yards 14th, passing yards 24th, rushing yards 11th, yards per play 9th, points 23rd, scoring percentage 15th, passing touchdowns 4th, rushing touchdowns 32nd, turnovers 21st, first downs 6th, sacks 31st

Just in case you didn’t feel like reading that, here’s a quick summary: The Jets ranked in the bottom five of these offensive and defensive categories 12 out of a possible 22 times. They ranked dead last eight times. They ranked in the bottom 10 in the league a whopping 15 times. They ranked in the top 10 in three categories, all on defense. One of those categories was pass TDs allowed, which is offset by a dead last ranking in rush TDs allowed. The Jets offense is so historically inept that only 9.6% of Jets offensive possessions result in points. The closest team to that is Miami, who are nearly double the Jets at 18.6% and have clearly cleaned house to prepare for next year. In fact, this number is so bad that it is less than half the scoring percentage of last year’s worst offense, the Arizona Cardinals. There were 28 teams (including the Jets) that scored points on offense at least 3 times as often as the Jets have this year. In fact, I had to go all the way back to 2011 just to find a team that finished the season with a rate of scoring that was less than double the rate at which the Jets score this season. They made the cut by .3% and finished with the 11th fewest points in a 16 game season in NFL history. They scored approximately 97% more often than the Jets score this season.

Okay, so you could probably argue that the Jets might have the worst era-adjusted offense in NFL history so far this season. That’s rough, but you could also argue that the Jets have invested a lot more in the defense in recent years. It makes sense that the defense is better than that, and at least that’s true. Yet in this passing era in which most teams average between 2-3 times as many passing yards as rushing yards, the Jets rank 24th in passing yards allowed, 21st in turnovers, 31st in sacks, and 23rd in points allowed. At best, you can argue that this is a decent defense that is hampered by offensive incompetence. At worst, you can argue that this defense gives up more points than 22 of the 32 teams and should be considered among the bottom 10 in the league. I would probably argue it’s somewhere right in the middle, which is not nearly good enough when a team’s offense is attempting to make the wrong kind of history.

There we have it; the team isn’t any good. Well, when your team isn’t any good, why should anyone bother watching games? The only answer is really because you want to believe in the future. Great, who doesn’t love the future? It’s full of potential and eventually you trust that the law of averages will come into play and the team will be good. Unfortunately, there’s more to football than statistics. Yes, the law of averages tells us that someday the Jets will be good, but football is not about rolling dice. There is certainly randomness and luck involved, but at the end of the day, there are people making decisions about who to sign, how to coach, and how to evaluate and draft players. The fact is, you have to make the right moves if you’re ever going to win. The law of averages does not apply to football because at the end of the day, football is about people.

So how do some teams get it right while others get it wrong? If I could give you a perfect PowerPoint presentation on that, I’d have 32 teams sending me job offers right now. What I can tell you is that there are really only two positions that you want your team to be in. You either want to be a great team now (sometimes called a win-now team if there’s a limited window) or a team with some quality players and/or the cap space and draft capital to develop into a contender soon (usually called a rebuilding team.) If your team isn’t any good, the only reason to watch is to see the young players and fantasize about the future. A Jets fan may know that the Patriots are going to beat, or even humiliate, the Jets, but they want to see players like Sam Darnold and Quinnen Williams play to see if the Jets might be able to win in the future. If you’ve got some pieces (especially if you’re got a young quarterback), the future may be bright. It may take some time, but there’s hope that the team can improve. The only way to make your team completely unwatchable is to find yourself in a third position: Your team is bad and you don’t have the resources to improve it in the near future.

Now I think we can all admit that the Jets are terrible this year. No rational human being could say that the Jets are a great team that’s ready to compete. All right, so we must be a rebuilding team. The problem here is that the Jets don’t have the pieces to rebuild right now. To successfully rebuild a team, you need a coach, GM, cap space, top draft picks, and hopefully a few solid players already in place. So where do the Jets stand?

The Coach

If you believe in Adam Gase right now, I don’t know what to tell you. The “offensive guru” has pioneered one of the worst offenses in NFL history. He has the Jets off to a 1-5 season and holds a career record of 23-30. He was a surprising pick for head coach that most people didn’t understand. I can’t say I’ve seen anything from Gase that tells me he’s the man to rebuild this team. At least you can always fire your coach and try to find a new one.

The General Manager

Joe Douglas was a very hot GM candidate, but due to the fact that Maccagnan was inexplicably given the reigns to free agency and the draft, Joe Douglas has almost no tangible track record for us. His only major move thus far was to sign Ryan Khalil, an understandable gamble that has been an abject failure. I’m not going to say Douglas is or isn’t the man, but you definitely can’t say the Jets are set here just yet.

The Cap Space

It should stand to reason that a team as bad as the Jets should have money to spend. After all, if your team doesn’t have good players, who are you paying? Well, reason is a meaningless word when talking about the Jets because it must have left the building years ago. The Jets are in the bottom half of the league in both cap space and number of players signed for next season. How could this be, a sane person with minimal experience with Jets management might ask. The answer is simple. The Jets free agency moves have been mostly terrible. When Trumaine Johnson is inevitably cut next season, he will have cost the Jets $34,000,000 for two seasons of truly awful cornerback play. Leonard Williams is earning over $14,000,000. He has a total of 6 solo tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 5 quarterback hits over 6 games. He averages about 2 total tackles and 1 quarterback hit per game. To make matters worse, Williams is not even under contract for next year and hasn’t made a single point to show he deserves a payday. The Jets leading receiver, Robby Anderson, is also not on the 2020 books.

But this can’t be all the wasted money, right? If well known Jets like Leonard Williams and Robby Anderson aren’t even under contract next year, how can the Jets cap situation next year be so mediocre? The Jets offensive line is arguably the worst in football, yet three of its top seven highest paid players this year are on the offensive line. A fourth is sitting at number 11. Kelvin Beachum is the 18th highest paid left tackle in football by yearly average. Ryan Khalil is 15th in yearly average by position. Brian Winters is 13th at his position. Kelechi Osemele is 2nd. You can’t even really make the argument for inflation because only Khalil signed his contract this year. The Jets have 3 of their 5 offensive linemen among the top half of their position in yearly salary and a 4th in the top 20. The returns are laughably bad.

The Draft Capital

, so the Jets have no evidence to prove they’ve got their management in place and the cap is not primed for a rebuild after last year’s spending spree. The only way to rebuild will have to be with the players already in house and by nailing the draft with a lot of picks. Unfortunately, the Jets have not had a second round pick for the last two years. In fact, there isn’t a single Jets 2nd round pick on the roster. Yikes, but there’s still round 3, no? Actually, no. The Jets have already cut their 2019 and 2017 3rd round picks and their 2018 3rd round pick Nathan Shepherd will likely be out the door by the end of the season as well. Jeez, so the Jets have already pretty much thrown out their 2017-2019 second and third round picks. Basically, there are no 2nd and 3rd round picks to contribute going forward on the roster from the last 3 years.

Yikes, but if there’s no money and no picks on the roster, that must mean the Jets have been stockpiling picks for the next two years. Nope. The Jets picks between rounds 1-5 are unchanged for the future as of now and they should expect no compensatory picks this year at least. On the back end, the Jets are actually missing their 2021 6th round pick (traded to the Patriots) and have two 7th rounders up on conditions, one sent from the Seahawks in 2021 for Parry Nickerson, and one sent to the Ravens in 2020 for Alex Lewis. They’ve also traded their 2016 1st rounder Darron Lee in what was essentially a swap for Nate Hairston with the Colts unless the Jets somehow finish with a better record than the Colts, in which case the Jets will move up in the 6th round. All in all the Jets have about average future draft capital to go along with their about average cap situation.

The Roster

Okay, so we’re now clear that the Jets have none of the required pieces in place for a successful rebuild unless we get evidence Joe Douglas and coach ToBeNamed are going to pan out. At least we’ve still got one more thing to look at; the Jets roster of young, future studs. Frankly, the Jets current roster is bad and their recent draft history is a catastrophe. In the last 10 drafts (excluding this year), the only players with a chance of being a quality piece for the future are Sam Darnold, Chris Herndon, Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, Leonard Williams, and Jordan Jenkins. Williams and Jenkins are both unsigned for 2020 and neither has proven to be an elite player. Herndon and Maye have both flashed, but both have missed a solid percentage of possible games and neither is guaranteed to contribute at this point. Jamal Adams is arguably the only Jets draft pick on an NFL roster right now with proof that he is a top player at his position.

Sam Darnold is the all important wildcard. What do we know so far? It’s a mixed bag for a young quarterback learning the ropes. A week ago, he shredded a Dallas defense and looked like a future elite quarterback. Against the Patriots, he put forth one of the worst games in Jets history and posted a 3.7 passer rating. His career passer rating of 75 is fewer than 3 points above Mark Sanchez and Geno Smith. Despite Mayfield’s disastrous year, he is still more than 10 points ahead of Darnold in career passer rating. By NFL.com’s account, Josh Rosen and Luke Falk are the only quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts this season and a lower passer rating. Last year he was 39th in passer rating for quarterbacks with at least 50 attempts.

Now, does this mean Darnold is a bust? Of course not. I like Darnold and I think he’s got a shot to develop into a quality starter. He’s shown talent that Sanchez and Smith never had. He’s put the team on his back to win games that the Jets had no business winning. Michael Nania has a thoroughly researched list of impressive achievements Darnold has earned in some great performances. I just can’t tell you that I’m convinced that Darnold is the answer just yet. I don’t think the Jets can just assume that Darnold is going to be an elite quarterback and put everything on his plate.

If you watched the Jets for the first time this year, you would probably say that the Jets only have a handful of above average players that could be a part of the future. The only plus quality starters I can guarantee right now are Jamal Adams, Le’Veon Bell, and C.J Mosley. There are only a few complementary pieces like Marcus Maye and Robby Anderson (though still unsigned) to fill out other starter positions. Players like Quinnen Williams, Chris Herndon and Sam Darnold have potential, but there are no guarantees here. The only team with a roster comparable to the Jets in both current and future lack of talent is the Miami Dolphins. To be fair, that team looks even worse than the Jets.

The Miami Dolphins

Yep, they look worse than the Jets. Now the Bengals are also winless and hapless, but the Dolphins look pitiable. The Dolphins are averaging almost 25 full points fewer than their opponent per game. My God, at least we aren’t the Dolphins. If I’m not sold Darnold, you can imagine how I feel about Rosen. Yet the Dolphins are in a rebuild. They will have twice as much cap space as the Jets next year despite having 6 more player signed. They will have 3 first round picks (including a high first rounder from Pittsburgh along with their own) and 2 second round picks next year. They will have 2 first round picks and 2 second round picks the next year. They will have a shot at compensatory picks and have at least one pick in every round in 2020 and 2021. That’s quite a lot of “they will have” that the Jets will not. The Dolphins roster is a mess, but the management accepted the fact that the team was a mess and pulled the trigger on a rebuild. This is a team in position to build a competitor in the future if they can actually hand the reigns to quality team builders. You may not want to watch the Dolphins this year if you’re a Dolphins fan, but you’ll be looking forward to the future.

Conclusions

The Jets management has no plan. The team has no direction. The Jets have managed their cap space and draft capital like a win-now team. They have the roster of a rebuilding team. The Jets are now in a position that every franchise hopes to avoid; there’s no hope for the present and little hope for the near future. Even if Sam Darnold develops into a star, it would take miracles from Joe Douglas to build a team around him with the current talent, cap space, and draft capital available to him in the next few years.

How did we get here? The Jets hired a slew of incompetent general managers and subpar coaches. After years of failure, they decided to hire Adam Gase while allowing a general manager to remain in place when he should have been fired. On the hot seat, he swung for the fences to try and save his job. He spent the cache of cap space and controlled the draft. He was promptly fired afterwards. The Jets resources were spent and the roster was set with 1-5 talent and a head coach with a career losing record.

Why can’t we just rebuild? It makes sense to rebuild a team that’s going nowhere. Logic tells you not to spend $8,400,000 on a center when your team doesn’t have playoff talent. Well, the NFL is a right now business. General Managers and coaches who go 0-16 are getting fired. If the Jets win games, people will watch. If the Jets are not competitive, they won’t. If fans aren’t watching games or buying tickets and merchandise, the owners are losing money. If you own an NFL franchise, you don’t want a long term plan that makes the team so unwatchable that you might as well stop playing games. It’s hard to sell a long term plan to an owner that’s going to see their team’s tickets selling for $15 this year. Smart owners will accept that there’s a problem and sometimes you just have to pull the trigger and view it as an investment. Many owners will just try to keep afloat.

I’ve been a diehard Jets fan my entire life. When I lived in China, I would stay up until 4am to watch the games. I would pull all-nighters before work to watch the 4 o’clock games. I haven’t missed or turned off a live game since I lived on my own. Last night, that finally changed. At halftime, I turned off Monday Night Football. I flipped on Going Clear on HBO and I watched it with no regrets. The Jets ownership has made the team unwatchable through mismanagement. The team is aimless. Something has to change.