lThe 2020 offseason began with some promise, as the Jets were hoping to build on the 6-2 finish to last year. Skeptics suggested the Jets had only beaten bad teams in that run, but hopes were high that they would upgrade their biggest areas of weakness.
Clearly things haven’t gone to plan. The offensive line has been shored up to some extent but hasn’t had as much of a positive impact as expected. The injury issues that were expected to regress to the mean are as bad as ever. Also, several promising young players who the team were relying on to step up have instead regressed.
Now the team is looking like they aren’t even capable of competing with bad teams, not that there’s even many left on their schedule between now and the end of the season anyway. So, how bad could things get? Are these Jets going to emulate or even break the franchise worst 1-15 record “earned” by Rich Kotite’s 1996 Jets?
Here’s a sobering thought: Five weeks into the season, these 2020 Jets aren’t nearly as competitive as the 1996 Jets proved to be. While remembered as a dysfunctional team that went out and embarrassed themselves every week, the reality is that they had seven losses by a touchdown or less, most of which involved them having a chance to tie or win the game late.
In one game against the Bills, who ended up going 10-6 and making the playoffs, Steve Christie kicked a field goal with 10 seconds to go to break a 22-22 tie. However, even after that, the Jets blew a chance for a miracle comeback as Rick Hamilton stepped in front of Christie’s squibbed kickoff at the Buffalo 40 only to muff his catch for a Bills turnover.
Do the 2020 Jets look like a team who can take a game against a potential playoff team down to the wire right now? (Or, in fact, have they at any point so far this year?)
As bad as they were, Kotite’s Jets weren’t close to being among the worst teams in the league in every phase like Adam Gase’s current team seems to be. For example, they actually had the 11th most prolific offense in terms of total yards, although they were similarly futile in terms of their red zone offense and led the league in turnovers whereas Gase’s Jets are actually winning the turnover battle most weeks.
The crucial question is how quickly the Jets can bounce back under a regime which presumably will continue to employ Joe Douglas as the general manager if and when Gase is replaced. Two years after Kotite’s resignation, the Jets were putting the finishing touches to a 12-4 season and would go on to reach the AFC title game.
Aside from their general terribleness, the teams have many things in common, including injuries. Kotite’s Jets - of whom he was the architect, having also been the team’s general manager - had an almost comical lack of depth as a bunch of no-names were called into action as the season endured, many of whom would never play in the NFL again.
He had launched into the 1996 season optimistic that the Jets would improve on the three-win season they managed in his first year in charge. $70 million - a lot of money back then - was spent on free agents and rookie deals. However, only one of those free agents - Jumbo Elliot - was still with the team two years later.
The one silver lining as you take a step back and look at the big picture for the current Jets team is that they didn’t spend a lot of money in the offseason, which will enable them to splash the cash next season - if they can attract any players to come here, that is.
The other big difference is that most of these injury issues are short-term things and there’s still a chance the 2020 roster could end up being stronger than it is right now if the injured players come back and contribute without further injuries to undermine the effort. However, the team somehow has to guard against going through the motions the rest of the way and Gase doesn’t seem equipped to inspire his players in this way.
Despite their awful record, the 1996 Jets still had some good players, many of whom contributed to that 1998 playoff run a few years later. However, it was their weaknesses that doomed them to such a bad record as substandard talent was routinely exploited. There are signs of that issue with the 2020 team too, but there are still a few players who could comprise part of any nucleus for the next head coach.
Remarkably, Gase could lead the Jets to an 0-16 record this season AND next season and he would still have a better win-loss percentage as a Jets head coach than Kotite did. However, the fact we can even start to make those comparisons should mean he’s out of a job long before we get to that point.