Okay, everyone, I think we all need to take a deep breath. Hold it. Hold it. Now exhale. Things might not be as bad as they seem to be. Things might even be actually worse than they seem, but that would not be completely a bad thing either. It is a long season, and the tide ebbs and flows. Teams that are riding high early in the year can come crashing down in a heartbeat with a few injuries or internal strife. That is the nature of the NFL. Things can change quicker than the wind. You just have to realize it.
As it pertains to the Jets, nothing has really changed. No, really it hasn’t. After the first two games of futility many are sounding the alarm with the team’s play. To be dismayed by what we have seen so far is a natural thing. No one wants to see their team lose and at times look dreadful doing so. Yet it is the nature of the beast to a rebuilding franchise which is just what the Jets are. You have to come to the realization that there are going to be ups and downs with the downs by far outnumbering the ups. You have to take your lumps when you are looking to rebuild. That is only natural in the world of the NFL.
The thing you have to remember (It’s exceedingly important.) is that a team must truly understand its team goals heading into the season. Many teams were looking at a Super Bowl run. That was not what the Jets were planning on doing. You might say that every team no matter the structure must always strive for the Super Bowl every year, but that is not accurate or realistic. As a GM or owner you must be pragmatic to your team’s true goals and not try to subvert the process with short term gains. The Jets have tried that in the past only to dig a deeper hole to climb out from with nothing to show for it.
I once wrote an article criticizing the Jet for spending freely in 2015, saying they were mortgaging the future with older players instead of building for the future. I was routinely skewered with snide comments when the Jets were doing well. When the Jets lost to a poor Buffalo team on the last game of the year which knocked them out of the playoffs I was accused of rooting against the Jets. The next year I wrote an article in the preseason saying the Jets would have a down year in 2016. Again I was lambasted with comments saying I had no idea what I was talking about; the Jets finished at 5-11.
Even I had no idea that the spending spree that enabled the Jets to go 10-6 in 2015 would destroy the team’s ability to compete for a long time. Combined with awful drafting by our supposed “Draft guru” GM the Jets continued the slide from mediocrity into insignificance.
So now the Jets have a chance to correct the wrongs of the past, change the course of their unbridled futility, to instead forge a future that is bright while also being sustainable. To do so you (as a GM) have to take a hard look at yourself (the Jets roster) and make hard choices for the betterment of the team. Spend wisely while making sound decisions on players you sign as free agents. Find the right fit in players you pick in the Draft. For now the jury is still out on Joe Douglas’s moves. I have questioned many but applauded others. He hasn’t made a Maccagnan type mistake so far which is a good thing.
When I talk about “understanding the team goals” I mean what the Jets want to accomplish this season. What are the things you want to see (good or bad) from the team? Let’s look at some key factors to remember as the rest of the season as it unfolds.
First of all the only member of the Jets who is safe from any chance of being dismissed from his duties (barring anything seriously catastrophic) is Joe Douglas and rightfully so. Joe has a 6 year contract that the Jets gave him to transform the team from laughingstocks into genuine contenders. That is not going to happen overnight so he needs time to establish his team. He had to spend the first year and a half just fixing the mess he inherited from our “Draft guru.” He has only now begun to have his fingerprints on the roster with his most recent Draft that I thought was well done; not perfect but above average.
I was always a huge fan of Bill Walsh, the legendary coach of the 49ers. Before Walsh took over the 49ers they had exactly 2 double digit win seasons in their 33 year long existence. After Walsh took over they had 7 in a row (if you throw out the strike shortened season) while winning two Super Bowls. Yet Walsh would have been under heavy fire to be replaced in today’s NFL since his first year he lost his first 7 games while going 2-14 that year. The next season was mildly better at 6-10, but still he was questioned as a leader and head coach.
Walsh was an offensive revolutionary in the NFL, on par with Tom Landry’s defensive wizardry. Walsh devised a radically new offensive scheme that was dubbed by the media as the West Coast Offense; it didn’t exist before Walsh invented it. Today every single offense in the NFL and college has fragments of that offense sprinkled into their playbooks. Yet it still took a football genius like Walsh three years to find success. Rebuilding takes time, and you have to make difficult and sometimes ruthless decisions on players.
I remember Randy Cross who started as a guard and center for the 49ers all 13 years he played for the team. He was a 4 time All-Pro and 6 time Pro-Bowl player. He was talking with Walsh, just a friendly chat about his play. Cross told Walsh he probably had another 5 good years of play for the 49ers. Without batting an eye Walsh said, “Oh I’ll trade you long before that.” He continued, “I don’t want you as a good player I want you as a great player. Someone else can have you when you are just good.” Cross said he was stunned by what Walsh said but accepted that the team came first in Walsh’s eyes so he understood what he meant. He didn’t care about loyalty because by doing so he would not be serving the other 52 players on the team. In reality Walsh retired before he had a chance to trade Cross so he spent his entire career with the 49ers, but the sentiment of demanding great play was set in stone by Walsh, he never waivered.
For the Jets this year is now an evaluation year for every player on the roster as well as the coaches. No person can be sparred from this examination. Joe has to take a hard look at every aspect of the team and make adjustments just as you would do with a fantasy team but. Of course Joe must much more detailed.
You are going to be far more understanding of rookies who are learning on the fly rather than a veteran free agent who is not pulling his weight. These observations will weigh heavily on the Jets’ moves in free agency next year as well as the 2022 NFL Draft.
As we watch the Jets this year these are some things to remember.
1) Zach Wilson is a rookie
I know he was hyped as a savior but even a Messiah needs time to grow. My guess is the groin injury to Wilson was far worse than the Jets let on (that’s just my take) so I look for him to be better in the future. The Jets also must be better around him as his offensive line must gel to give him time. I have seen numerous drops by his receivers as well. This is not to let Wilson off the hook. If you take the field (no matter the situation) you must perform at a high level, and as of now I have seen only two quarters out of 8 that I could call satisfactory.
2) Zach Wilson is the season
The development of Zach Wilson takes precedence over all other factors in this season. The NFL is a passing league so the Jets will need an above average passer to compete in the future and for years to come. Wilson has the skill set to be a dominant player, but he is now akin to a powerful speed boat without a rudder. He has to learn where to go with the ball plus understand what he sees from the defense. It will take time for transformation to happen but with hard work, which Wilson is adept of doing, it can get done. You just have to realize it will take time. You have to be patient and enjoy the ride. If it comes out like we all hope then it will be glorious.
3) Robert Saleh and Mike LaFleur are also rookies
Just because you have been in the NFL for a while it doesn’t mean you have the chops to be a coordinator or a head coach. In fact you can be a great coordinator but be a lousy head coach; I think Todd Bowles is a shining example of that. Many first time head coaches are amazed at the time they need to use to do things that have nothing to do with the team. The media can be voracious in it’s appetite for access to head coaches. Many coordinators don’t want to become head coaches for that very reason. It could be a point of contention for a coach like Saleh who is said to be a tireless worker on game plans along with his desire to try new schemes. His time constraints as a head coach will obviously curtail those creative juices he had as a defensive theorist.
LaFleur is a coordinator for the first time, and the jury is still out on his offensive scheme. I understand that every coach is different, but we need to see something innovative from LaFleur or there is no reason to continue his leadership. Granted it is only two games and he may be just waiting to work Zach Wilson into the offense slowly rather than crush him with a full workload of the playbook. It has been only about 50 days since Wilson signed his contract so he hasn’t had much time to work with the team on all aspects of the offensive plays.It would be nice to see some more stretch zone runs so Wilson can play action off of them which could result in a splash play. We are waiting to see something different from an ordinary offense that is run by many teams. I am sure Joe Douglas is watching too. Joe may speak the company line of patience, but Saleh is far more secure in his job than LeFluer is in his. Admittedly it would take an entire collapse of the offense to see LaFleur replaced after this season without some unforeseen problem or scandal.
Jeff Ulbrich is the defensive coordinator for the Jets. He is not really a rookie coordinator, but he is not a seasoned pro either. Ulbrich spent some college seasons as a defensive coordinator, but on the pro level he was briefly the Falcons defensive coordinator on an interim basis last year. Ulbrich has the luxury of having Robert Saleh as a head coach to iron out any difficulties he has with the defense. While the defense has not been as productive as you might think in respect to the defensive line, the secondary might be a surprise since dire outcomes were predicted from this unit.
Bottom line is while Joe Douglas talks the company line he is keenly aware that he needs leadership from all his coaches with the designation of authority. He wants to see viable improvements from all his top coaches, or he will need to make changes. Naturally Mike LaFleur is in the crosshairs because he has the least amount of support from other coaches on the team, and the offense is Zach Wilson right now, a player who has struggled. It is easy to get a game plan from a coach then decipher it to a team. It is another thing to invent that game plan yourself, something LaFleur is doing for the first time. Joe Douglas will need to see growth from the offense as the season unfolds. The last thing Douglas wants to do is force his prized QB draft pick to learn two different offenses in his first two seasons so LaFleur has plenty of slack left, but he still needs to show something. It’s only been two weeks so he has time to prove better than he has shown so far.
4) The entire roster is under scrutiny
Many teams have established players they have nurtured from Draft pick status to become home grown stars. They have numerous players considered leaders who are well trained in all the aspects of the offense/defensive philosophies of the team. These players are like assistant coaches as they help train free agents and rookies in the nuances of their teams’ unique schemes. The Jets have zero players like that; no one is well versed in the offensive/defensive schemes of the team.
I remember when Rex Ryan took over the Jets as a head coach he (supposedly) flew into Baltimore and waited in a car outside of Bart Scott’s house on the eve of free agency. Scott was not a household name at the time but instead a player Ryan liked a lot. Ryan had his faults but understanding his defensive players abilities was not one of them. Ryan was able to sign Scott to a 6 year/$48 million contract on the first day of free agency. Scott was young, but he knew all the aspects of Ryan’s defense of which he was able to help teach to his teammates. The Jets in Ryan’s first year were #1 in many defensive categories and #1 in total defense which was near astonishing when they were ranked 16th the year earlier.
The Jets currently have no players like a Bart Scott who know the intricacies of either the offense or defense. This is why I think that both sides of the ball have struggled so far. C.J. Mosley can provide veteran leadership, but he is learning the nuances of the defense just like all the other players.
I have stated many times that I think young players learn far more from their veteran peers rather than from coaches. If a young player is open to learning from a skilled veteran he has a incredible asset at his disposal. Really no Jet player has that type of help unless you count Corey Davis’ attempt to help Denzel Mims. Mims is one of the most talented players on the team but squandering a precious resource, his future, if he does not work on changing the minds of his offensive coaches. Mims is far too talented to be a healthy scratch, but it’s definitely the right move if he hasn’t put in the work to learn all the routes as a receiver. It has been reported that the Jets have turned down recent trade offers for Mims which were probably just late round picks. Mims will be traded at some point if he doesn’t turn things around. There is no use for a receiver who is not even active on game day.
Whereas we all want to see the Jets succeed or at least show progress, that progress sometimes seems like a glacier rather than a speeding vehicle. The Jets have very few players who have played in a Saleh defense or a LaFleur offense so that progress will be curtailed. Add to that an evolving offensive line and a no name defensive secondary. That progress truthfully will be painfully slow if it even happens.
The Jets have a lot of new players. Many probably won’t be with the team long term. Such is the situation with a rebuilding roster. Still the Jets have 15-20 players to build with and a bounty of Draft picks next year to accelerate their revival.
This season will be successful (no matter the record) if the Jets can pinpoint which players are buildings block for the future and which needs to be replaced. Every team does this exact self-scrutiny, but the Jets have far more question marks than most teams. If you believe that Joe Douglas is a superior judge of talent then you should be positive for the future. Joe will have to figure out whether Quinnen Williams will need to be resigned or traded. (The decision on whether his 5th year option is picked up comes after this year.) Will he spend the money on the defensive line or move on?
With that in mind the Jets will have (depending on trades) about $60 million to spend in free agency next year without any real big salary dumps plus 2-(1st round picks) + 2 (2nd round picks) + 1 (3rd and 4th round picks) + 2 (5th round picks) + 3 (6th round picks) according to Pro Football Network. Those can always change with trades, and I am positive they will with a wheeling Joe Douglas at the table. This can fill a lot of holes on a team so this offseason will be crucial to the Jets future more so than most.
So everyone who is worried I say (in the famous words of a QB from Green Bay) “Relax.” The Jets weren’t winning the Super Bowl this year anyway so let’s focus on what is most important to the future which is development of key players and the quality assessment of the roster. Those two positive elements will go further in the Jets’ future success than any win in 2021. It may take baby step now, but steps forward are needed opposed to those giants step backward we have had in the recent past.
That is what I think...
What do you think?