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 fails. 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 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 Chargers to the franchise’s first championship since its AFL days 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. His rocky tenure with the Jets feels like a long time ago.
Less attention was paid to the man sitting sitting in Bristol, Connecticut, analyzing the game for Sportscenter, but the story is just as much about head coach Adam Gase. It’s amazing to think the Jets had this quarterback, and his success came for somebody else. The team squandered that opportunity, and fingers across the league are pointed at 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 make excuses. The Jets were decimated by injuries that year, and Gase had to deal with a poorly constructed roster from former general manager Mike Maccagnan. Yes, the Jets won 6 of their last 8 games, but that included a number of tight wins against weak opponents. This was no sign of progress.
“Look, you can always figure out a way to blame someone or something else,” said one AFC executive. “The injuries and roster clearly hurt, but how was Gase making the situation better? Maccagnan had no idea how to build a team, but what did Gase ever do to deserve the power he got?”
New general manager Joe Douglas tried to overhaul the roster, but the Jets continued to slump in 2020. Fans were left frustrated by Gase giving exorbitant playing time to aging skill players such as Frank Gore and Demaryius Thomas at the expense of younger talent. Le’Veon Bell couldn’t find a rhythm with inconsistent carries, and Denzel Mims couldn’t get off the bench. Sam Darnold’s production was middling, and the Jets finished 6-10.
“The guy owes his career to Peyton,” said an NFC general manager. “He’s a head coach because of Peyton, but what has he done with other quarterbacks? Anybody could have produced record setting offenses in Denver. If he’s such a great offensive mind, how did he fail with a blue chip prospect like Darnold?”
That offseason the Jets traded Jamal Adams to Dallas after the All Pro safety made it clear he would not sign a long-term extension in New York. It showed people that the Jets were still a team players didn’t take seriously. A premium player didn’t 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 true.
Gase’s third season led to a disappointing 7-9 record. General manager Joe Douglas talked Woody Johnson into keeping Gase around for a fourth season against a loud fan backlash. After the Jets started 2022 at 1-5, the frustrated owner finally gave in to fan wishes and fired Gase breaking his own longstanding policy against making in season changed. Head coach wasn’t the only change the Jets made. Frustrated by his general manager’s faulty recommendation, Johnson also fired Douglas.
Darnold left the Jets a year later unable to transcend the organization’s instability. That, of course, is when he landed with the Chargers. Sean McVay, who had just been hired after a year of announcing Monday Night Football games was interested.
“I’ve known Mike Shanahan a long time, and we have a mutual acquaintance named Jeremy Bates who was Darnold’s offensive coordinator as a rookie,” McVay explained. “He told me the kid’s talent and work ethic were off the charts. He was just in a bad situation.”
The Chargers signed Darnold, bringing the USC product back to Los Angeles to back up Justin Herbert. He, of course, was inserted into the lineup for a struggling Herbert midseason, and the Chargers never looked back. The Jets and Gase were left to wonder what could have been.
An AFC general manager put it this way, “It’s Ryan Tannehill all over again. Gase fails to develop a quarterback, and some other team benefits. Fine, maybe Tannehill never replicated that 2019 season, but why was his best year after he left Gase? And now Darnold? You wonder what the Jets were thinking. They saw this exact scenario play out in their own division and somehow decided it was a good idea.”
Fans shouldn’t be able to decide the fate of a coach, but it’s clear in retrospect the Jets made a big mistake hiring Gase and perhaps a bigger one sticking with him as long as they did.
Fortunately for the Chargers these mistakes led to a Super Bowl, and Adam Gase had a lot to do with it.
But what if it works out for Gase? Click here to find out.