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Ghosts of Jets Tanking Past

Kansas City Chiefs v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

With the Jets 0-9 there is plenty of division within the fanbase. One group thinks it is in the team’s best interest to continue losing games to get the highest possible Draft pick for a quarterback. Another group questions the validity of tanking.

I thought it might be interesting to look back at how victories in other lost seasons ultimately impacted the Jets.

2005

The Season

If you think the Jets have suffered a lot of injuries in the last two seasons, you should have been around for 2005. In the third game that year the starting and backup quarterbacks both suffered season ending injuries. By the end of the year almost every relevant Jets player was sidelined.

After a 2-10 start, the Jets did have a pair of December victories over Oakland and Buffalo to finish 4-12.

Did winning those games hurt the Jets in the long run?

I think in this case the answer is a resounding no. These wins actually were beneficial. Had the Jets earned a top two pick that year they almost certainly would have drafted USC running back Reggie Bush. The consensus view on Bush was that he was a once in a generation offensive weapon. He ultimately became a competent NFL back but fell well short of expectations.

Those wins dropped the Jets to the fourth overall pick where they drafted Virginia tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson gave the Jets a decade of rock solid play at a premium position.

2007

The Season

A year after Eric Mangini’s Jets made the Playoffs with a surprising 10-6 record, the team regressed in a major way. The team won only one of its first eight games.

After a November upset of the Steelers, the Jets were also able to get a pair of December victories over Miami and Kansas City who were also among the worst teams in the NFL. Their final record was 4-12 and earned them the sixth pick in the Draft.

Did winning those games hurt the Jets in the long run?

Yes, and this one hurts. Those victories took the Jets out of position to select Matt Ryan. Ryan is a former league MVP and has been a perennial top ten quarterback. Former general manager Mike Tannenbaum has been vocal about how much he thought of Ryan. The odds seem good the Jets would have taken him if they had the chance. To this day the Jets haven’t been able to find a long-term solution at quarterback.

I wonder how differently Eric Mangini’s career might have gone if he had the chance to develop a rookie Matt Ryan in 2008 instead of being handed Brett Favre and all of the expectations that came with the future Hall of Famer.

2013

The Season

The Jets were widely expected to be the worst team in the league, but Rex Ryan’s group shocked the NFL by winning five of their first nine games. A three game midseason losing streak essentially sunk the season, but the Jets did rally to win three of their last four games. This included a Week 17 victory in Miami that knocked the Dolphins out of the Playoffs. The final record was 8-8.

Did winning those games hurt the Jets in the long run?

I would argue those wins did hurt the Jets. This time it isn’t about Draft position. Those late season wins likely convinced Woody Johnson to give Rex Ryan another season. In hindsight this hurt the team.

Ryan and then-general manager John Idzik simply were not a good fit. Rex needed the team to have success immediately, while Idzik had a longer term view. It seemed to create a lot of tension and conflict within the organization, and both were fired after a disastrous 2014 season. It probably would have been best to just fire Ryan after 2013, allow Idzik to hire a coach with a similar vision, and lowered expectations for 2014.

The counter to this is plenty of evidence suggests Idzik was in over his head as general manager and would have made a bad head coaching hire. If you subscribe to this school of thought, maybe it was for the best his firing came faster.

2014

The Season

We just spoke a bit about how ugly 2014 was, but the Jets did win two of their last three games to go from 2-11 to 4-12. This dropped them from a potential top two pick to sixth overall.

Did winning those games hurt the Jets in the long run?

It probably helped them in this case. A top two pick likely would have led the Jets to take a quarterback, either Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, both of whom were disappointments. Ryan Fitzpatrick went on to lead the Jets to a 10-6 record in 2015. He might not have gotten that opportunity with Winston or Mariota around.

The Jets used their first round pick on Leonard Williams. While Williams never reached the ceiling many hoped for, the 2015 Draft class just wasn’t very good. Even in hindsight, you could argue he was the right pick. There aren’t many players picked after him in that first round who have had definitively better careers, but there are a lot who have been worse.

Of course a single 10-6 non-Playoff season and a top ten pick who doesn’t get a second contract with the team aren’t really that important in the grand scheme of things so I understand if you want to say it ended up not mattering much either way.

2017

The Season

Once again the Jets were widely expected to be the worst team in the NFL. Many believed they were tanking to get the number one overall pick so they could select USC quarterback Sam Darnold.

To be honest the Jets were one of the worst teams in the league for most of the season, but a three game winning streak in late September and early October gave them the illusion of being more competitive than they really were. That winning streak was also enough to drop the Jets to sixth position in the Draft even though they only won twice in their final eleven games.

Did winning those games hurt the Jets in the long run?

I don’t think there’s much to argue about. The Jets eventually got Darnold, but it cost them three second round picks to trade up for him. That loss of Draft capital harmed the team’s ability to build around the quarterback in ways which haunts the team to this day.

Those early season wins in 2017 might have been fun, but I think you’re lying if you say three wins in a 5-11 season were worth three second round picks.

2019

The Season

The Jets got off to a horrendous 1-7 start looking like the most inept team in the league. They finished the season 6-2 over the last eight games, however, as the schedule got much easier to finish 7-9.

Did winning those games hurt the Jets in the long run?

Yes, primarily because it gave ownership an excuse to keep Adam Gase for another year. The 6-2 stretch was a total mirage brought on by an incredibly easy schedule, some timely big plays, and some fortunate bounces. As we have learned this year, the first eight games of 2019 are a much more accurate representation of Gase’s Jets than the final eight.