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Shaking the laughingstock perception is half of the New York Jets’ battle

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Jet X Graphic, Getty Images

Joe Douglas’ vision focuses on bringing the right people into the New York Jets’ building, but it’s also about shaking a perception.

Suppose you were dropped into Earth’s atmosphere on the night of Nov. 22, 2012. Yeah, that’s right: You’re an alien not of this planet. Deal with it.

After figuring out what this Thanksgiving thing is, you turn your attention to the news. Bryce Courtenay, a South African-born Australian novelist, dies from stomach cancer at 79. Two people are killed and another 120 are injured in a terrible 100-vehicle pile-up in Texas. And according to the Mayans, the world is set to end on Dec. 21.

Talk about bad timing.

Oh yeah, and this thing called the Butt Fumble ruled the sports roost. What is this Butt Fumble and who are these New York Jets everybody’s laughing at?

For you, the alien that dropped in on the world on Nov. 22, 2012, there would be no other way to think about the Jets organization as anything other than a laughingstock. You would have thought this confusing franchise that calls itself New York while playing in something called the Garden State had never put forth a successful season in its history.

You could have never imagined the very same franchise that everybody pointed the finger at (in grand Nelson Muntz style) had come within one win of the Super Bowl twice in the last three seasons and had also qualified for the playoffs seven times (winning seven postseason games) in the last 14 years.

How could you even get to the truth courtesy of headlines already prepped for the up-and-coming clickbait magnet known as Twitter? Not even extraterrestrial technology can break through such stench.

This is half the battle for Joe Douglas.

Fair or not, this is a New York team’s life. Unfair or otherwise, it’s even worse for the little brothers in the Big Apple. The New York Yankees, New York Giants, New York Knicks and New York Rangers carry a rich tradition of professional athletics wherever each organization travels. Whether it’s Yankee Stadium or Madison Square Garden, these hallowed grounds often scare the hell out of opponents and provide an intimidating home advantage.

The New York Mets, Brooklyn Nets, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, and, of course, the New York Jets constitute the little brothers whose histories are much shorter and much less successful (allow the Rangers and Knicks haters ample room to validly scream at this point, as Isles and Devils fans would own such validity).

Couple the little-brother syndrome with the explosive New York media in an algorithmic world that rewards shady social media behavior, and suddenly, Frank Sinatra’s genius is crystallized. “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

It’s always more difficult in New York. The criticism or praise is always overblown, which means front office visionaries who wish to change an organization’s fortunes must also deal with a preset narrative that’s partly deserved and partly fictional.

Sure, the Jets deserve laughingstock status at this very moment. Christopher Johnson hired the wrong head coach in Adam Gase. He also didn’t pull the pink-slip trigger on Mike Maccagnan quickly enough. To not select a first-round offensive lineman since 2006 is a football sin beyond words. And not making the tournament since the 2010 season means these Jets will go a full decade without playoff football once 2020 concludes.

A great percentage of the perception pie is self-inflicted, as has been the case throughout their six-decade history. But far too often, the perception doesn’t add up to actual reality.

By most accounts, Trevor Lawrence is a once-in-a-generation quarterback talent. In another year, with another team sitting atop the tank standings, headlines that encourage the Clemson righty to avoid a specific team wouldn’t exist. When the Jets are involved, however, the gloves come off.

It’s expected. It’s encouraged. It’s the cool thing to do. For example, ESPN’s Mike Greenberg, a self-proclaimed diehard Jets fan, made it a point to raise the topic in early October.

“If I were Trevor Lawrence, and the Jets have the first pick in the draft, you would have to think long and hard about staying at Clemson.”

It’s not unfair to suggest Lawrence should think about returning for a senior season, but it’s outrageous to single out the Jets. At this point in the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars were 1-2, coming off a 31-13 beatdown at the hands of the Miami Dolphins. The Jags had won just 11 games over the previous two seasons compared to the Jets’ 12 and were still rolling with a general manager who had orchestrated just one playoff appearance since he arrived in 2013.

It’s New York. It’s the Jets. It’s just tougher. Rarely are there any punches pulled.

Rich Gannon, Domonique Foxworth, and Stephen A. Smith are just three of the many names to encourage Lawrence to avoid the Jets. Why? Are we that bored? I know it’s been a tough year, but it’s comical at this point to single out the Jets when the Jags’ history is worse, and both Jacksonville’s current talent and future capital also doesn’t match up equally with New York’s.

What players look for in an organization (other than money, obviously) is stability and leadership. Granted, Jets ownership hasn’t featured the greatest stability over the last decade, but its football operations aren’t even close to the dregs of the league.

For instance, the famed Dallas Cowboys have seen tournament action just nine times since 1998, and they’ve never played in the NFC championship game during that span. The Cincinnati Bengals have qualified for the playoffs seven times as well, but they haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. Where was the “Joe Burrow should avoid the Bengals” chatter a year ago? The Arizona Cardinals have experienced the playoffs just five times since 1998. Again, no mutiny believing Kyler Murray should avoid the Cards existed a couple of drafts ago. Let’s not even start with the Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, and Washington Football Team.

But alas, the New York Jets are always the worst.

One listen to Mike Francesa from 2009 through 2014 helped that sentiment along. Francesa, for his clear broadcasting genius, fancied himself a “football guy.” And while his knowledge clearly surpassed many in the same business, it often turned personal when speaking or thinking of the Jets. He simply couldn’t stand Rex Ryan.

Years later, Francesa was on the money when targeting John Idzik. His clear bias in those early Rex days took a life on its own, however. And now, Craig Carton and Evan Roberts are doing their thing in the most precious sports radio time slot in history. They wouldn’t dare go as far as Francesa, but Carton will most certainly have a little unprovoked Jet fun by the time it’s all over.

The newspapers, the powerful afternoon drive-time slot, the hysteria: It all equates to an amped-up situation that is New York.

It’s enough for any kid to scratch his head in a fearful and confused state. It’s enough for any kid to wonder if New York is right for him.

Looking past the 0-11 record is mighty tough. Looking past the head coach is nearly impossible. But when separating Douglas’s track record from what else remains and what came before him is something that showcases tremendous stability.

A successful drafting track-record is perhaps a player’s most important thought when thinking about a potential new team. And again, the Jets haven’t done themselves any favors in that department over the last decade or so. What Rex Ryan (personnel only), John Idzik and Mike Maccagnan did to this organization is something that should be analyzed for years to come.

What Joe Douglas is doing right now might be even more important to analyze once it’s all said and done.

On day one, Douglas said something Maccagnan hadn’t uttered in five drafts: “It starts with the quarterback and both lines.” That’s it. As easy as that sentence is to say aloud is as true as it remains when building a football team. The old-school principle that it starts in the trenches is just as important today as it’s ever been—despite today’s pass-happy rules.

Douglas quickly put an end to the first-round offensive line sin that lasted since 2006 with an absolute mauler in Mekhi Becton. He then put to bed another trend, which was the unlucky second-round wide receiver pick, by selecting Denzel Mims. Sprinkle in Bryce Hall, Braden Mann, and anything extra that comes with it, and Douglas’ first group may equal any general manager’s 2020 draft class once it’s time to officially review.

New York Jets, Jets X-Factor

The new Jets general manager also didn’t spend unnecessarily in free agency last year, something that’s often criticized in a short-sighted manner. Instead of free agents using the organization as a way to earn more money on the open market, Douglas drew hard lines in the sand to great success. The likes of Jordan Jenkins and Brian Poole, who clearly held more value in the eyes of the talent-hungry Jets than on the open market, weren’t immediately brought back. Perhaps they were told to go shopping. By the time the fat lady had sung, each ultimately came back to the Jets on a lower-than-expected one-year deal.

Lawrence sees an 0-11 team that hasn’t made the playoffs in a decade and hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1968. For the lazy individual, that’s enough to call it a day. The smart individual, however, is also taking into consideration a general manager who understands personnel, a probable open head-coaching vacancy, a decade-long left tackle whose mere presence forces defender’s knee to shake uncontrollably, a monster of a second-round receiver with a catch radius that has Lynn Swann blushing, incredible draft capital over the next two years, and salary-cap space that’ll be used the moment the team’s infrastructure is ready to roll.

In early November 2019, not one pundit thought the miserable 0-7 Miami Dolphins represented a soft landing spot for a guy like Tua Tagovailoa. In the early 1990s, not one individual thought the New England Patriots were ready to bust out as the team of the new millennium. Hell, they were ready to move to another city according to many reports. The likes of Chris Grier, Brian Flores, and Bill Parcells changed the organizations’ fortunes. The same can be said for Parcells’s influence on the 4-28 Rich Kotite-led Jets.

A lot can change when the right man is brought in.

There isn’t much Joe Douglas can say at the moment. His team is woefully playing out a string that’s hopefully en route to a better future. When he does speak, it usually deals with culture and character, and changing the franchise for the better. Minimize the leaks and control the damage is his motto, for he knows where he is: New York. And we know where he came from: Philadelphia, a city he helped win its first-ever Super Bowl (not to mention two other trophies in Baltimore).

The best players often eliminate the need to get too high or too low. The New York media will never comply in that regard. Douglas understands, which means he simply has to bide his time.

Not until the wins start rolling in will the perception flip to the positive side—something the Jets can most certainly use to their advantage. Doing the right yet boring thing, such as bypassing a first-round receiver, was just the first part of the main battle. The man must string tremendous drafts together to even get this thing started correctly, and that’s just the half of it.

Doing so while quietly shaking off the outrageous perception that the Jets are unmatched in the laughingstock department is the other critical half.

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3 years ago

It’s often said by pundits that one of the assets with which the Jets will be able to overcome their laughingstock reputation and attract a top-shelf HC candidate will be possession of the #1 overall pick in the Trevor Lawrence draft. The obverse of that coin is also true: the Jets can make themselves a more appealing landing place to Trevor based on who they select as a HC (and OC). I am sure JD understands these dynamics, and only hope CJ and Woody don’t meddle too much in the process. Theirs is a terrible track record, and if they have even half a brain between them, they will acknowledge as much and defer to the professionals this year.

Dabo is not going to be a candidate, so then if we’re going with pure familiarity, it comes down to Tony Elliot, Clemson OC, and Brandon Streeter, Clemson passing game coordinator, and of the two I have no idea which TL would prefer, but can’t see either as a HC, so it would mean OC or QB coach and a whole lot of $$ compared to what they’re making now to bring either to NY. Would a prospective HC appreciate such a decision being made without him? Probably not. So maybe neither is likely. This is going to be very interesting, and there are too many ways for it to go south to think there won’t be some bumps along the way.