The 2019 season could not be off to a worse start for the New York Jets.
For the long-term health of the organization, I do not believe the first three games are the worst case scenario, however.
Throughout the offseason I occasionally had an anxiety-inducing thought.
Over the last several years the New York Jets have gone about building their team all wrong.
In the NFL the best way to avoid a crisis is to act proactively beforehand so that the crisis never occurs. But rarely have we seen the Jets think about the future. Procrastination and seeking a quick fix became standard operating procedure.
The nature of the NFL requires teams to consistently draft and develop a pipeline of young talent. The Jets constantly were throwing their picks away. They found themselves short in both quantity and quality.
All positions are not created equally in the NFL. Some have outsized influence on the outcome of games. The Jets have vacillated between being mediocre and barren at these spots. After an offseason that saw record spending in free agency, the Jets found themselves with weaknesses at almost all of these key spots.
Sometimes in spite of poor management, you can run into a successful season in the NFL. The Jets have done this from time to time in their recent history, particularly in the first year of their coaches’ tenures.
It wasn’t that hard to conceive of the sugar high from free agent spending, the anticipated growth of a second year quarterback, and a soft late season schedule creating the perfect storm leading to a solid season.
The problem is it would have been a mirage. Sometimes things break right for a team in the NFL for one year, but the only way to sustain that success is smart management.
A good year would have been fun for the Jets, but at some point chickens were going to come home to roost. The team that took the field Week 1 against Buffalo conceivably could have had a successful 2019 with better luck. But without that pipeline of promising drafted talent and a mediocre offensive line with no player under the age of 27, it was not going to last beyond this season.
There has been no big picture thinking in building this team. The losing we saw over the last three years was not part of a smart larger plan.
My fear was that a successful 2019 would reinforce these bad practices. The Jets have been doing it wrong for a long time. A good season might have given the decision-makers a false sense that they were on the right path and more time might have been wasted chasing a future that would have been impossible to obtain.
This concern did drop once the Jets fired Mike Maccagnan and hired Joe Douglas. This was a sign of a possible change in direction for the franchise, but I still think something is to be gained from the pain of 2019.
It is not necessarily the worst thing in the world for CEO Chris Johnson to see that his poor decisions have enormous tangible negative consequences for the team. There’s now no way for him to live in denial. His decision to keep Maccagnan to run free agency before making a general manager change has set the franchise back.
Now how do we move forward? I have a few suggestions.
The one decision Johnson has made during his tenure which has received universal acclaim was his hiring of Douglas. Whether Douglas will ultimately live up to the hype is unknown. Sometimes hot general manager prospects do. Sometimes they don’t. Johnson believed Douglas is the right guy to lead the Jets to glory, and many in the league agree.
For the last five years, the Jets have operated with an organizational structure that has both the head coach and the general manager reporting directly to ownership. At times I have been surprised by the scrutiny level an NFL team’s organizational flowchart has received. Many fans have been highly critical of this setup.
Over the last few years, I have frequently argued that there was nothing wrong with this structure. In fact many successful NFL teams employ this same structure.
The events of 2019 have led me to change my mind. Some owners are equipped to handle this type of structure. Chris Johnson is not.
To succeed, NFL teams need everybody on the same page. The head coach and the general manager do not need to agree on every single decision, but there needs to be professional respect and a solid working relationship. Everybody needs to buy into the same short-term and long-term goals and agree on the types of players needed to achieve these goals.
When the head coach and the general manager both report to the owner, it is the owner’s job to make sure the working relationship is healthy. It isn’t the biggest problem the Jets have had, but Chris Johnson has failed to do this with two different head coach-general manager pairings.
This structure also puts the owner at the center of critical decisions. When the general manager and the head coach disagree on something important, the owner breaks the tie. The Maccagnan saga showed us how ill-equipped Chris Johnson is to make major franchise-altering decisions.
Here’s the thing. Chris Johnson doesn’t need to be at the center of big decisions to be an effective owner. For some owners, success means getting only one franchise-altering decision right, the hiring of the general manager, and then getting out of the way. Again, many believe Johnson has hired the right man in Douglas.
One way to make sure the general manager and the head coach are on the same page is to make the general manager the boss. Have the head coach report to him, and there’s no doubt everybody will be working on the same page. If they aren’t, there will soon be a new head coach.
On top of this, the Jets are going to have to make an important decision about whether to continue with Adam Gase in the near future. I don’t think there’s much doubt that Douglas is far more qualified than Johnson to make that call.
Chris Johnson did a good job hiring Douglas. Now he should step aside and cede total control of the organization to his general manager. That includes decisions over the coaching staff.
Many fans would like to see Adam Gase fired today. Right or wrong, that simply is not going to happen three games into his tenure.
The Jets will need to make a call on Gase by the end of the season, however. The early returns have been ugly.
Nobody can deny Gase has been dealt a terrible hand. Getting dealt a terrible hand doesn’t determine how you play that terrible hand, though.
The Jets’ offense has been unwatchable through the first three weeks. Nobody could ask for a top ten unit. Still, it is reasonable to expect more than a single touchdown in three games.
Gase isn’t the only coach who has been put into difficult circumstances. He has been forced to start Luke Falk at quarterback. Falk was a 2018 sixth round pick. Kyle Allen started at quarterback for the Panthers the last couple of weeks. Allen was part of the same class as Falk, but he wasn’t even drafted. Allen threw 4 touchdown passes in Week 3.
Falk started for Washington State in college. His successor was Gardner Minshew. Like Falk, Minshew was drafted in the sixth round. Nick Foles’ injury pressed him into duty. Nobody would even put the words “Doug Marrone” and “innovative offensive mind” in the same sentence, but Marrone’s coaching staff has cobbled together credible performances out of an offense led by Minshew.
Maybe Carolina’s and Jacksonville’s coaching staffs have more talent to work with. Their opponents have been lesser. Still, if the Panthers and Jaguars can get production out of Allen and Minshew, is it unreasonable to expect at least some stretches of offensive competency from a team quarterbacked by Falk?
If the Jets are going to continue with Gase, he has to show that he’s bringing something to the table. He doesn’t have anything to fall back on. His resume isn’t very impressive.
If this was a proven coach like Mike McCarthy, you would probably give him some leeway. With a Super Bowl in his background, his credibility would command patience because he’s shown he knows what it takes to build a winner.
If this was a novice coach like Matt Rhule, he would also get leeway. There is a learning curve for any NFL head coach. Any newcomer will make mistakes. That is to be expected. The key would be learning from them.
Gase has no excuses. He isn’t a first-time head coach. In fact, the Jets made it clear at his hiring that his experience was one of the reasons he got the job. He could avoid the pitfalls of first-time head coaches. Yet he lacks the track record of winning that suggests blind faith in him will be rewarded.
At this point we are seeing a lot of the same issues that contributed to his tenure in Miami ending in failure, such as poor gameplanning, not putting his players in positions to succeed, and odd playcalling. What basis is there to give him the benefit of the doubt when the same patterns keep reappearing?
With that in mind, the rest of the season should be a test for Gase to show that he has learned and grown past his failure with the Dolphins.
The grading should not be solely results-oriented. We do need to acknowledge that his quarterback situation is a factor.
We cannot use the same standards for Gase whether Sam Darnold or Luke Falk is his quarterback. With Darnold, expectations should be higher. With Falk they should be lower.
But expectations need to exist. Imagine Gase had put together a quality gameplan last Sunday. He schemed guys open to create easy throws for Falk. His playcalling kept the Pats off balance. He found creative ways to get Le’Veon Bell the ball in space. The Jets were within a score or two for the entire second half but lost a hard-fought game. I don’t think Gase would be receiving the degree of venom he currently is. He would have done everything within his power to help the team succeed.
On the same note, Darnold returning and playing effectively cannot be treated as a blanket vindication of Gase.
Darnold had a very strong month of December in 2018. He made plays like this.
Plays like this didn’t display Jeremy Bates growing more effective as a playcaller. They happened because Darnold was great.
With that in mind, Gase has to be judged on things like his gameplanning and playcalling. Darnold returning and improving the playmaking capability of the Jets quarterback position is about the talent, not about Gase.
The coaching aspect can and should be judged separately.
If you haven’t read this article from Kevin Clark of The Ringer a few weeks back, I strongly encourage you to do so. He discusses three teams, none of whom is the Jets, but a lot of his arguments hit home.
Here is the money paragraph.
It is easy for a team to let its strength—a good, young quarterback—become a weakness once it assumes that having such a quarterback will solve every problem. Organizations that have the plan but not the quarterback can succeed; coincidentally, that group might include the Colts this season, who have a stacked roster and a new starter in Jacoby Brissett. But teams with a good quarterback and no plan cannot succeed long term. A star quarterback should not be the end of a process, but the beginning, when the team starts its work to build around him. No one wins the Super Bowl because they drafted a good quarterback. They win a Super Bowl because they drafted a quarterback and then figured out what to do next.
That comment is so true, and I can’t help but think about the Jets.
For the last two years it seems to me like the Jets have operated thinking that Sam Darnold was indeed the solution to all of the team’s problems. The selection of Darnold was cited by Johnson as one of the primary reasons he initially decided to not fire Maccagnan in December.
With the Jets circling the drain, it might be tempting to look at Darnold and his return as the savior of the 2019 season for the Jets.
It’s totally unfair to put that on Darnold, though. He’s 22 years old and in his second season. The current issues on this team are far deeper than quarterback play. The offensive line is a mess. There are no trustworthy outside cornerback or effective edge rushers.
You want a 22 year old quarterback to compensate for all of that? You likely will be in for major disappointment if so.
With or without Darnold, this season is lost. That means Darnold’s true value to the Jets is in the future.
As a competitor I am sure Sam Darnold will want to get back into the lineup once he is medically cleared to play. Medically cleared to play does not mean he will be at peak physical condition, however. Many medical experts have noted that his energy level might remain low for some time.
There is also the issue of weight loss.
Sam Darnold said he’s only lost two pounds. “I was eating snacks as much as I could.” #Snacks— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) September 17, 2019
I’m no nutritionist, but I tend to doubt changing a diet like that is going to have somebody in the peak condition necessary to thrive in the NFL.
The Jets should not put Darnold back into the lineup until he feels totally 100%. That means he’s at his proper weight with proper energy levels and getting proper nutrition.
It would be folly to put in a compromised Darnold in the hopes he alone can turn everything around.
It’s time for the Jets to change their view on their franchise quarterback. To paraphrase a famous speech in American history the Jets should ask not what Sam Darnold can do for them. Instead they should ask what they can do for Sam Darnold.
It might be easy to think the Jets are close to being in great shape. If they just had a competent kicker in Week 1, and Darnold hadn’t gotten mono, things would be different.
The problem is it’s an inaccurate view. It’s the way the Jets have viewed things for years. And now it’s time to change.
The Jets could rush Darnold back into the lineup and be frustrated that he alone cannot save their fortunes.
Or they could take the prudent path and change course. Only get Darnold back into the lineup once he’s ready. Then after collecting a likely high Draft pick, trade down and stockpile picks that will lead to an infusion of young talent. Start to build the team around Darnold that will maximize his career.
May Mr. Douglas be up to the task.