The New York Jets hired General Manager Joe Douglas in 2019. At the time, Douglas was lauded as a hire quality hire, providing optimism that brighter days would come for the struggling franchise.
However, the Jets have gone a combined 20-46 since that time (13-37 if you don’t count his first year given he was hired after the NFL draft in 2019). Typically, this is the kind of performance leads a GM to update their resume and apply for some new jobs; that is especially the case when the head coach that the GM directly hired has gone 11-23 and when the quarterback the GM took 2nd overall is being replaced following his second year. In line with that, the New York Jets were speculated to be considering making larger changes to the front office and coaching staff following the 2022 season, even though they eventually wound up retaining both Joe Douglas and Head Coach Robert Saleh.
This general feeling of urgency around the New York Jets has led many to label this Jets season as having a “playoff mandate,” such that the Jets must make the playoffs for the current team reporting structure to remain in place. This is important because this essentially places both Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh on the proverbial ‘hot seat’ that warms as one becomes closer to being fired; this may have relevance for how the front office decides to treat this offseason.
Specifically, beneficial short term moves may be prioritized while long-term risks may be viewed as more acceptable than typical. This may occur under the rationale that if this group of decision makers does not win then they will not still be employed by the Jets, so those longer-term risks and agreements will essentially not be their problem if the short-term gains are not received in order to save the jobs of Douglas and Saleh. Moreover, this prioritization would be a notable departure from recent Jets offseasons, which saw the Jets typically sign ascending players to contracts with little long-term guaranteed money that the Jets would be unable to shed if the player were to struggle.
While some may say, “No. Joe Douglas would never do that,” the truth is that he already is. Anyone following the Jets is well aware of their very public pursuit of Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, who will turn 40 years old this season and currently comes with a 30 million dollars in ‘dead’ cap space in 2025; by any definition, this is a short-term solution with long-term downside for the New York Jets. Additionally, we have seen the Jets convert the contracts of multiple players in recent days (including several on the wrong side of 30), guaranteeing them more long-term money in exchange for more short-term cap space; again, by any definition, this is a short-term solution with long-term downside for the New York Jets. By comparison, these kinds of moves rarely occurred in previous seasons under Joe Douglas’ helm. Additionally, when they were, they typically brought on by unexpected situations, such as offensive tackle Mekhi Becton’s training camp injury last season which necessitated the signing of offensive tackle Duane Brown.
Overall, we really can’t blame Joe Douglas or Robert Saleh for this shift in philosophy. Admittedly, this is the situation that they were put into and it is a natural human tendency to pursue paths that net one rewards, such as remaining employed within one’s well-paying and desirable job. No, instead, we should just prepare for it and view this offseason through that lens as recent moves seen to confirm that this new philosophy has taken hold.
So, with free agency upon us, what may come next if we follow the guidelines of this new roster development philosophy?
- A big-ticket acquisition at the league’s most important position: quarterback. Given the large need for the Jets to at least receive competence at this position if they hope to make the playoffs, it should be no surprise if they are viewed as “overpaying” for whoever they acquire.
- Greater use of contracts with smaller short-term cap hits and more deferred guaranteed money as this will allow the Jets to fit more players under the salary cap in a pivotal season for the career of Douglas and Saleh.
- Greater prioritization of acquiring established but aging veterans who may have another season or two of good play in the tank, but little long-term value. This may occur as Douglas and Saleh may be more willing to take on long-term risks compared to other HC-GM pairings in the NFL who more job security; indeed, what do they care if the contract stinks in 2025 if they aren’t here in 2025?
- The selection of draft eligible players who can make day 1 contributions as, once again, Douglas and Saleh have lesser reason to make long-term bets than do other HC-GM pairings in the NFL who have more job security and can afford to make long-term bets. This may have implications for the number of the Jets opt to follow Douglas’ typical draft strategy of taking raw but unrefined or inexperienced players in the later rounds, who typically take a few years to make an impact in the league (if they ever do).
Again, by no means is this apparent new philosophy ‘bad’ in and of itself. We have seen teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers win Super Bowls in recent years while prioritizing the immediate future over the years that follow... the key is that Douglas and Saleh get it right because a bet that goes all in and fails is remembered far differently (and far less fondly) than a bet that goes all in and beats the house.