This is “What if?” Week at SB Nation. NFL sites are posting stories about hypothetical scenarios. Through the years I have done a lot of articles about numerous events that could have gone differently for the Jets so this time I want to look into the future. Adam Gase has been a controversial figure in the fanbase since the day he was hired. A lot could ride on his potential success or failure. This article is a hypothetical look at a potential future where Gase succeeds. I fully understand that four years from now this article will likely look silly since the future is impossible predict, but that is part of the fun. There is also an article about what will happen if things don’t work out for Gase.
New Orleans, Louisiana; February 11, 2024
Sam Darnold had a grin from ear to ear at the table for his postgame press conference. There probably isn’t any need to state the obvious. The 26 year old just led the Jets to the franchise’s first championship in over five decades and was named Super Bowl MVP in a 27-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Darnold officially has arrived as the next great quarterback in the league with his 360 yard 3 touchdown performance. Losing quarterback Russell Wilson even declared Darnold as the NFL’s best signal caller talking to the press after the game.
Less attention was paid to the man sitting next to him, but the story is just as much about head coach Adam Gase. Gase and Darnold have turned into one of the league’s premier coach-quarterback duos. It’s amazing to think there was a time when Jets fans almost universally wanted to fire Gase.
The hiring of Gase in January 2019 was very controversial. He had just finished a 23-26 stint as head coach of the Miami Dolphins, and rumors were swirling that he had alienated the locker room. Although Gase was hired to develop Sam Darnold, his record was spotty. He had failed to develop Ryan Tannehill in Miami. A 1-7 start his first year led to loud calls for his ouster among the press and fans. Meanwhile Tannehill put together a career year in Tennessee.
In hindsight it was so easy to overlook the issues. The Jets were decimated by injuries that year, and Gase had to deal with a poorly constructed roster from former general manager Mike Maccagnan. His detractors conveniently ignored that the Jets won 6 of their last 8 games. The seeds for a turnaround were planted, and part of the reason was the new general manager Gase helped the team land.
“Look, everybody knows Gase could have handled the Maccagnan thing better,” said one AFC executive. “Still, he was right on the merits. Maccagnan had no idea how to build a team, and ultimately he got the Jets Douglas.”
After Douglas put together a productive first offseason, the Jets were off and running. Tom Brady was gone, and the AFC East was up for grabs. Big contributions out of rookie Denzel Mims and a bounceback season by Le’Veon Bell (who had a miserable first year with the team) helped Darnold make a huge leap forward in his third season. The Jets went 11-5 and won the AFC East title. The Jets had a top ten offense, and suddenly Gase’s offense didn’t seem so bad.
“The Peyton Manning connection has always been a blessing and a curse for Gase,” said an NFC general manager. “He’s a head coach because of Peyton Manning, but he’s always going to be compared to those record setting Denver offenses. It isn’t really fair. The owner talking him up like Andy Reid doesn’t help. He isn’t some kind of visionary offensive mind, but when you get him the right pieces, and the quarterback takes command of the offense you’re going to get good result with Gase.”
That offseason the Jets signed Jamal Adams to a long-term contract extension. It showed people that the Jets had become a destination. A premium player wanted to be part of the the team for the long-term. It sent a message to the league and free agents. All of that talk about nobody wanting to play for Gase was nonsense.
The biggest move of the offseason, however, was the master stroke Douglas pulled off. The Jets packaged Bell with their first round pick in a trade to the Texans to move up eighteen spots in the first round.
They were able to land LSU wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. Chase and Mims have flourished into the league’s best one-two punch at wide receiver.
Like many champions, the Jets had a multi-year climb to get to the top of the mountain. Their primary obstacle was the Kansas City Chiefs. Kansas City knocked the Jets out of the Playoffs in 2021 and 2022.
Finally the breakthrough moment for the Jets came in this year’s AFC Championship Game. Gase called a brilliant game as Darnold outdueled Patrick Mahomes in a wild 45-41 victory. The victory was sealed as Jamal Adams intercepted Mahomes in the final minute. Two weeks later came the ultimate triumph in New Orleans.
These days it seems crazy to imagine that Jets fans would ever doubt Gase. He only needed time and the right pieces in place. He didn’t have those in Miami. Sure Tannehill had a career year without Gase in 2019, but what he he accomplished since?
Gase certainly didn’t have the pieces that first season in New York. Maybe he didn’t have a great reputation for dealing with players, but is that such a bad thing? Gase’s focus was on football 100% of the time. Of course he was going to clash with players who lacked the focus to win.
An AFC general manager put it this way, “If you have a quarterback who thrives on timing routes and give him a bunch of deep threat specialists at wide receiver, he’s going to look bad. It’s the same thing with coaches. Gase isn’t going to work in every situation. Miami didn’t go well, but that’s not on him. It didn’t make him a bad coach It was just the wrong fit. With the Jets he got a general manager and a quarterback he could work with.”
It all seems obvious now, but fan backlash could easily have driven a Super Bowl winning coach out of New York after one year.
Fortunately they didn’t, and they now have a Super Bowl thanks to Adam Gase.
But what if it doesn’t work out for Gase? Click here to find out.