The 2020 New York Jets comparisons to the 1996 version led by Rich Kotite are legitimate in every way except one.
Once upon a time, a New York Jets team found itself outscored 62-132 over the first five games of the season. That’s pretty impressive, as are the 2020 Jets, who are no amateurs in this game of stink. Zero wins and five losses over the first five games of the season not only matches the team that was outscored 62-132, but their 65-131 point differential mark puts them at only +4 when comparing.
For those completely unaware and/or unwilling to comprehend the comparison, the team that was outscored 62-132 over the first five games of the season was Rich Kotite’s 1996 Jets. The 65-131 point-differential team is Adam Gase’s 2020 squad.
Let the real race commence. And no, this race isn’t about Trevor Lawrence. It’s about crowning a new worst Jets team of all-time.
Five games in, every comparison between the 1996 version and the 2020 club is completely legitimate. All except one.
Rewind the clock. Plant yourself in front of the television set during the hot August month of 1996. From July 19 through Aug. 4, Atlanta hosted the Olympic games. The Dream Team showcased its second edition, little Kerri Strug stole your heart, and Michael Johnson blew you away with his upright running style in the 200 and 400-meter dash.
In the NFL, the Dallas Cowboys entered the season as world champs, winning their third Vince Lombardi trophy in four years. Just one season after losing the NFC championship game to a Steve Young who finally got the monkey off his back, Bary Switzer finished the job with a loaded squad that added a man named Deion Sanders.
West coast expert Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre and the Green Bay Packers were the up and coming team after the organization had been stagnant for so long (similarly to the Cowboys of the 1980s), the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to defend their AFC title, and the AFC, in general, was looking for its first Super Bowl championship in 14 years (Los Angeles Raiders in 1984).
Speaking of the most recent Super Bowl, Neil O’Donnell, the man who mysteriously threw a ball to Cowboys corner Larry Brown (the freshly-minted Super Bowl MVP), was suddenly a big-money quarterback ready to take his game to the next level. Which team was lucky enough to snag such a commodity?
You already know the answer.
Losing Boomer Esiason to the then-Phoenix Cardinals, the Jets were in need of a quarterback and took the O’Donnell plunge to the tune of a five-year, $25 million deal. O’Donnell threw 17 touchdowns to seven interceptions the year prior for the AFC champion Steelers but had never thrown for more than 17 scores in any of his previous four seasons in the league.
The free agency spending didn’t stop there.
Tackles Jumbo Elliott and David Williams were snagged, as were wide receivers Webster Slaughter and Jeff Graham. All told, the Jets spent around $80 million in free agency and finished 1-15, making every comparison to the 2020 Jets legitimate except for that sole idea.
Joe Douglas is no dummy. Not only did he demand final say over personnel matters, but he also required a six-year deal to take the Jets job. The Ozzie Newsome pupil understood the job in front of him. It’s no easy or quick fix, and his offseason actions back up that point clearly.
The 2020 Jets didn’t attack free agency in any stern manner this past offseason—unlike the 1996 team, making that 1-15 mark all the embarrassing. While Mike Maccagnan set the franchise back with his silly “aggressive rebuild,” Douglas valued value.
A pair of players returned on team-friendly one-year deals in Jordan Jenkins and Brian Poole. Connor McGovern was snagged to an affordable multi-year deal after the top offensive linemen signed elsewhere.
By the time the Jets play their sixth game this Sunday in Miami, the team will have lost Jamal Adams, Le’Veon Bell and Robby Anderson. No question, the Adams situation is tough to pin on Douglas, but the point that this 2020 team is the anti-go-for-it squad holds truer than a fan that hates Adam Gase.
The record, the point differential and even the injuries all compare. Remember, that 1996 squad dealt with a ton of issues early in the season. Reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Hugh Douglas missed two months with a broken ankle, Jumbo Elliott missed the first two games of the year, and the high-priced quarterback mustered just six games played all season.
After so much hype—especially thanks to incoming No. 1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson—Kotite’s Jets put up an all-time stinker in Week 1. A 31-6 loss to John Elway‘s Denver Broncos quickly planted Jets fans in their seats.
O’Donnell threw for just 50 yards with no touchdowns and an interception on 7 of 13 passing in his Jets debut. Without Elliott and David Williams via injury, the team’s starting tackles, O’Donnell was sacked eight times and lost two fumbles. Frank Reich eventually had to finish the contest.
Although O’Donnel rebounded the next week, by throwing for over 300 yards, the Jets dropped another humiliating one, this time to the Indianapolis Colts by the final of 21-7. Obviously, it didn’t get much better from there, as the uplifting times of the Summer of 1996 for Jets fans quickly faded.
Better talent than the team production would indicate? Check. Poor coaching? Check. Underperforming quarterbacks? Check. Thorough beatdowns? Check.
So far, through five games, everything about the 1996 and 2020 New York Jets legitimately compares. Everything except the prior offseason free agency strategy.
Hopefully, that’s a signal that these Jets are in much better front office hands moving forward.