Burned too many times, New York Jets fans have a hard time diving into the optimism pool headfirst. Today is a different day, however.
The kids call it “keeping the receipts.” For far too long, media members enjoyed near-flawless opinion immunity thanks to the absence of tangible evidence proving they flat-out got it wrong.
Sure, real-time readers of the New York Post or New York Daily News a few decades ago would formulate their own opinion on the merit of the thought in print. But rarely was it possible to keep those much-needed and desired receipts organized for the world to fully realize simultaneously.
Today, not only are receipts kept, but social media accounts specifically designed to call out and/or humiliate media members also exist. (Here’s looking at you, Freezing Cold Takes.)
When a show such as ESPN’s First Take or FOX Sports’ Skip and Shannon: Undisputed is thought of, one wonders if there are enough receipts in today’s digital age. On the other hand, kids passing up first dates or blacktop time with their friends in order to create trolling Twitter accounts isn’t exactly doing wonders for humanity either.
Allow me to calmly digress …
The point of all this blabbering that’s burying the lede entirely is that receipts are now stored virtually and neatly. So much so that it’s become almost detrimental to convey optimism that defies a longstanding pessimistic and mainstream narrative.
With that in mind, get your favorite pen and sports media hit list out; a golden receipt opportunity is about to smack you in the face.
Yes, New York Jets fans, it is indeed different this time.
The Jets fan’s plight isn’t one of envy. The team they love deserves a great percentage of the overwhelming pessimistic media narrative that makes it tough for anybody to publicly point out a turning point. A decade-long NFL playoff-less drought combined with scattered and unfair mainstream groupthink is just the tip of the iceberg for this fanbase.
They heard this before—as recently as three drafts ago. When the Jets tabbed Sam Darnold the organization’s next savior, it was different then, as well. Finally, general manager Mike Maccagnan‘s bold move that saw the Jets trade up three spots in order to select the future will pay dividends in this quarterback-driven league that plays for pay.
No dice. A terrible coaching hire in Adam Gase couple with Darnold’s overrated stature ensured the long wait turn into a more agonizing one. Not to mention Maccagnan’s complete unwillingness to focus on the offensive line and correct the massive leaks coming from within the building.
Life before Sam the Savior included a couple of second-round choices in Geno Smith and Christian Hackenberg. While neither should have been considered the guy, a second-round quarterback in this media market isn’t quite the same as Jacksonville or Arizona.
Needless to say, neither second-rounder worked—even if fan-favorite Wayne Chrebet personally introduced one of the guys.
Of course, the majority of the fanbase thought Mark Sanchez was that guy. After all, he racked up more postseason victories in his first two seasons than any Jet signal-caller had over the life of the franchise. Why couldn’t the extremely green Sanchez and boisterous Rex Ryan be that perfect quarterback-head coach duo that put to bed four-plus decades of agony?
Thus, the pain continued. It can be described as a type of pain only Joe Benigno and similar self-described useful idiots could experience. (Don’t be confused, the term “useful idiots” here is of the endearing sort, as there are tens of thousands of them frequenting the Northern New Jersey, New York City, Queens, Long Island area—the most rabid and dedicated of the Jets fanbase.)
More distant history includes Chad Pennington’s stolen career (injuries), Vinny Testaverde’s Achilles, fun with Browning Nagle, the high-flying Ken O’Brien offense that could never find protection, and A.J. freaking Duhe virtually ending Richard Todd’s run. (Sorry, Boomer Esiason, but you had no shot with three head coaches in three seasons.)
And that’s just the quarterback discussion. Beyond the quarterbacks lingers more terrifying Jets fan horrors that cause many to lose sound sleep even on mundane Tuesday nights in March.
But that’s all part of the past, part of the journey that’s led each Jets fan and employee to this moment in time. For that, nobody blames the pessimistic Jets fan for his or her obviously disgruntled nature. Nobody blames any Jets fan for cursing the individual who proclaims that it’s different this time around.
But it is. And a few specific occurrences can be pointed to as genuine evidence.
It’s about the process, not the results / Unapologetic
Obviously, this one needs explaining. Bill Parcells‘s famous “you are what your record says you are” still holds true. Though, it only holds true over the course of a season in a week-to-week fashion. Building a football program from scratch needs to take on a much different mindset, and both Joe Douglas and Robert Saleh understand the notion.
The number of times Douglas has spat out the word “culture” could have forced even the most optimistic fan to roll his or her eyes. The man the kids call GM Joe simply doesn’t care if your eyes get stuck in an uncomfortable spot. He understands football.
A scout at heart, Douglas has been a part of three Super Bowl-winning teams over the course of his two-decade NFL career. Starting as “The Turk” for the Baltimore Ravens—the man tasked with informing recently cut players that they had just lost their jobs—Douglas learned the salary-cap value game from on-the-field and front-office legend Ozzie Newsome.
Douglas doesn’t care if you throw your hands up if the New England Patriots irresponsibly outspend them on the open market. The Jets general manager doesn’t care what you think about him. He remains steadfast in his vision—one that keeps the rigors of today’s hard salary cap firmly in mind with no quick-fix ready to be captured.
He’s not even concerned about Darnold’s possible positive results down in Carolina.
“Whether I look bad or not [for trading Darnold], I could give two s—s about that,” Douglas told the media in a virtual Zoom meeting after the blockbuster trade that sent Darnold to the Carolina Panthers. “I know that he’s gonna have success. The timing didn’t really work out for him here. We couldn’t turn this around fast enough for him. And that’s not his fault. I root for good people, and that dude’s a good man, and he’s gonna do good things. I believe that.”
The easy, fear-driven move would have been a Darnold retention. At that moment, media pundits were split on which direction the Jets should travel. Keeping the in-house top-five quarterback while picking up an abundance of extra assets represented the safer road.
Instead, they opted for the player-evaluation and salary-cap smart approach. Not only did they think Wilson was the better quarterback, but they also understood the cheat code that is building a program while the stud quarterback is still playing on his manageable rookie deal.
Douglas and the Jets stuck to their process and came out on the other side with Darnold in Carolina and Zach Wilson on their roster—in spite of the AFC East’s date with the NFC South this coming season. Oh yeah, and Wilson has already shown more in one media-attended practice than Darnold did in any of his practices over the last two seasons—from a technical, NFL-translatable level. It’s as clear as day that the new quarterback’s quick traits give him a tremendous advantage in today’s NFL.
The Jets also unapologetically traded up for Alijah Vera-Tucker. Despite the analytical-driven pundits claiming it to be a no-no, the Jets front office didn’t hesitate. While analytics can be a great tool, never can numbers alone tell the entire story. An experiential factor must be included in the formula, as the value of the 14th overall pick varies year to year, and not all offensive guards are created equal.
At the heart of the matter is this: It’s always about the process when building a football program, never the results. At least not at first.
Just a peek inside one of Saleh’s conversations allows the bystander a glimpse of today’s 1 Jets Drive environment. Engaging, optimistic and exciting communication rules the roost. The idea that Saleh’s ego doesn’t force him to call the defensive plays is encouraging in its own right. A head coach could certainly call the plays, but the idea that it’s not a necessity in his mind hits home. Better yet, his first interaction with the team’s new quarterback (post-draft) drops the mic.
“This organization is going to lift you, not the other way around,” Saleh told Wilson.
— New York Jets (@nyjets) April 30, 2021
The cornerback who gives up a touchdown while doing everything the right way will always be praised over the cornerback who displays terrible technique on a play that features the quarterback overthrowing a wide-open target. At least that’s how good football teams operate.
These guys are building things through a specific process. They don’t care what you think. At least not yet.
Joe Douglas’s very first day on the job featured something that wasn’t seen in quite some time. He crystallized his team-building strategy, and did so with a tried and tested method at the forefront.
“It starts with the quarterback and both lines,” Douglas proclaimed at his introductory press conference in 2019.
Fans forget just how easy it is for a franchise to unintentionally (or intentionally) move away from a focus on the trenches. I screamed to the high heavens about Maccagnan’s offensive line neglect. I tried pleading when Le’Veon Bell was connected to the Jets via free agency. Not only did Maccagnan ignore the most important unit in all of sports, but he also doubled down on the problem with a veteran back who’d eat up the salary cap.
It’s not that easy to stick to your guns and go “boring” in the first round. When fans clamored for Jerry Jeudy, Douglas opted for a mountain.
Prior to Mekhi Becton‘s selection in 2020, the Jets hadn’t scooped up a first-round offensive lineman since 2006 (Nick Mangold and D’Brickashaw Ferguson). That sort of offensive line neglect is tantamount to a slap in the face of every fan. It’s a football sin beyond words, in fact.
In two drafts, Douglas, a former offensive lineman himself, has drafted as many first-round offensive linemen as the organization had over the previous 31 years (1988, offensive guard Dave Cadigan). Douglas understands that football is still an inside-out game despite the pass-happy rules.
Moreover, the idea that this general manager may have also acquired the organization’s first legitimate edge rusher since John Abraham (through the signing of Carl Lawson) should have fans in near hysterics. Though the interior of the Jets defensive line has remained stout for quite some time, never is it a finished product until the edges are represented. (Not finishing that product is what had Sheldon Richardson hilariously playing 3-4 outside linebacker under Todd Bowles at one point.)
Each offseason, a flock of edge names surface as possible free agents or draftees. And each offseason, the free-agent list evaporates due to the franchise tag or inactivity, while the stud edge rusher in the draft never comes to fruition. This time around, it was different. New York signed the big free-agent prize and added incredible depth to a four-man front ready to do damage.
Don’t underestimate what a legitimate offensive line and defensive line does for the rest of the roster behind it. What those units do to lift the development/production ceilings of every other position is levels beyond anything a skill player can do for the trenches.
Some onlookers believe this one is a bit overrated. I would disagree with that thinking. Give Woody Johnson and Christopher Johnson tremendous credit for shifting the hierarchy shortly after the 2020 season concluded.
Allowing Douglas to sit atop the football hierarchy as the lone wolf does indeed matter. No longer can there be communication issues and backchannels that allow drama to surface. The head coach reports to the general manager. The general manager reports to ownership. Best yet, the head coach has clear control of his own staff.
it was just two seasons ago when 2019 interviewee Matt Rhule publicly discussed the Jets job in a negative light. He suggested the organization was pushing a coach on him.
“I don’t want to say anything about that job. … At the end of the day, I’m never going to be in an arranged marriage,” Rhule told ESPN 1660 in Dallas in January 2019. “I’m never going to sub-contract out jobs for offense and defense. I’m always going to hire people I believe in … and are going to do things our way.”
Not a good look.
If Rhule is to be believed, one would think Gregg Williams was the man the Jets were pushing onto head coaching candidates at the time. Eventually, Adam Gase was hired and the rest is history.
In effect, the Jets were operating with two head coaches: one offensive boss and one on the defense side to boot. Football simply doesn’t work that way. The closest thing we’ve seen to that situation working was the 1985 Chicago Bears, but it’s a rarity.
Built football-tough, Douglas has already made it crystal clear that Robert Saleh has full control of his staff. The Johnsons have also made it clear that Douglas has full control of the football personnel decisions. Granted, ownership will be involved in many of the big decisions—as is the norm across all American professional sports—but there’s no James Dolan situation in Florham Park.
Righting that messy hierarchical wrong was a major step in the right direction.
Do the right thing
Sorry, Spike Lee. I know your New York Knicks are now down 3-1 in the series to those pesky Atlanta Hawks, but this one isn’t about you. It’s instead about Trevor Lawrence.
Just when you thought Jets fans couldn’t despise Adam Gase more, he goes out and wins a couple of games. Go figure. It wasn’t bad enough that he knocked off the playoff-bound Los Angeles Rams; he had to beat another playoff team in the Cleveland Browns, thus destroying any chance the franchise had at the Clemson golden boy.
To say Jets fans were upset is to claim Michael Jordan is just mildly competitive. They were beyond devasted. So much so that Northern New Jersey therapists had to have tinkered with the idea of Jets-only therapy. (Paging Dr. Melfi.)
One man who didn’t need therapy was Joe Douglas. Unapologetic (scroll above), the Jets front office boss felt as though those wins mattered. And as difficult as it is to see, especially in real-time, they do.
Winning in spite of the circumstances is always the best long-term move. It might not produce the perfect player in the short term, or allow for an opportunity to draft a “generational talent” (whatever the hell that means, I still don’t know), but not taking the easy route attracts the best people over the long haul.
That’s the top goal: attract the best individuals across the board. It’s never about just one person in football. Not even the quarterback can lay claim to such value. Unlike the NBA, where one player does make all the difference in the world, the NFL is a value league that clicks on all cylinders only when the proper process-driven environment is firmly entrenched.
For instance, one of the things flying irresponsibly under the radar at the moment is the organization’s brand-spanking-new Athletic Care and Performance Department. Suffering through a ridiculous number of injuries as of late, Douglas’s culture-environment speak helped along this new injury-prevention area of the organization.
Dr. Brad DeWeese is a world-renowned physician whose credentials sparkle.
We have hired Dr. Brad DeWeese to head our new Athletic Care and Performance Department.
"I want the New York Jets Athletic Care and Performance department to be the leading player development department in the NFL."
— New York Jets (@nyjets) March 11, 2021
“I want the New York Jets Athletic Care and Performance department to be the leading player development department in the NFL,” DeWeese proclaimed after his official hiring.
Doing the right thing, staying true to a company agenda, and never allowing one individual to trump the hundreds of people involved are just a few of the thoughts and goals that make it possible for forward-thinking and long-lasting dominance to unfold.
Do I think the Jets winning two games in 2020 would have led to DeWeese turning down such an offer? Of course not. But it’s never that simple, that black and white, that distinct. The idea involves a perception and overwhelming narrative that Douglas and the Jets are combating at every turn.
Would Robert Saleh have turned down the Jets’ offer if they had lost to the Rams and Browns? Again, probably not. Then again, who knows?
What if the Jets intentionally tanked those games to the point that the mainstream media hopped all over it with traffic-filled goals in mind? What if the narrative that the Jets are such a joke turned into a runaway freight train?
Yeah, of course that could scare away the most qualified people.
By many accounts, the Jacksonville Jaguars intentionally tanked for Lawrence. In comes Urban Meyer, a man whose style may not fit the professional ranks and who’s already turned to 33-year-old Tim Tebow. Both of these men work with and/or under Trent Baalke, a guy who couldn’t play nice in San Francisco with Jim Harbaugh and a dominant roster.
Oh yeah, all of this is happening under owners who are all over the place. Whether it’s their other interests in the AEW and the Premier League’s Fulham F.C. or publicly communicating with disgruntled Yannick Ngakoue on Twitter, much has to be proven before anybody can sufficiently envision a Jags dynasty on the horizon.
As difficult as it is to spot in real-time, aiming to accomplish the integrity-filled goal will produce the best results in the long run.
No criticism should fly in the direction of any pessimistic Jets fan. Buying a No. 14 jersey with the intent that it’s a decade-long piece of clothing only to see it turn irrelevant three short years later is no fun. Telling your friends that this is finally the Jets’ year, only to see laughing emojis relentlessly hit your phone after an 0-13 start is beyond depressing.
To invest so much time and emotional energy into something you love yet cannot control is more infuriating than any relationship that endures its ups and downs. Sudden bursts of enjoyment with long stretches of agony actually force fans to question their own sanity at times—even the diehards. At least a real-life relationship allows for control and tangible results that can be beneficial to both sides as long as both participants are willing.
Masochism and Jets fandom have always been tied a the hip, albeit in a joking manner. The fact that the previous sentence actually makes sense to a great percentage of Jets fans is an amazing thought in its own right. So, yeah, the pessimistic Jets fan who drives everybody else nuts deserves a pass.
At the same time, look to the actual change that’s occurred since Joe Douglas took charge. To even come close to matching such football-driven correct processes we’d have to go all the way back to the Eric Mangini-Mike Tannenbaum regime, and then Bill Parcells prior to that. (Rex Ryan, who coached well, caught a hot hand with a tremendous roster those first two seasons.)
For that reason, go ahead and get this receipt ready. Save it, screenshot it, bookmark it. Do whatever you must for the sanity of your own comfort.
It is different this time around, New York Jets fans. There’s more than enough evidence to spot it and confidently say it aloud.