Joe Douglas’ plan for the New York Jets creates mixed emotions
FLORHAM PARK, NJ—Cornerback is scary. Tight end deserves a star or two within the horror genre. Linebacker calls for Alfred Hitchcock or Wes Craven to take control of the situation.
The New York Jets’ current roster represents one of those clear-cut examples of a progressing NFL roster working alongside a football program intent on an extremely specific max-ceiling result.
It’s enough to bring both angst and comfort to a rabid Jets fanbase that’s been unusually optimistic over the last seven months and change.
It’s angst because a few positions have been left bare to start the 2021 NFL season, and comfort thanks to the Joe Douglas regime opting to bypass any of the familiar shortcuts witnessed in Florham Park over the last decade.
“We want to build this foundation the right way so that it’s a long-term success and not just a flash in the pan,” Douglas told the media Tuesday afternoon after the dust settled on his 53-man roster. “I feel good about where we are in terms of the foundation of this team moving forward.”
As it currently stands, the Jets cornerback situation features seven players, one of which is a special teams ace (Justin Hardee) and another four are rookies. Other than second-year starter Bryce Hall and Javelin Guidry, the rest of the cornerback room consists of first-year players.
No matter the future progression of Jason Pinnock, Michael Carter II, Brandin Echols and Isaiah Dunn, this is hardly an envious situation.
The tight end and linebacker situations are also bleak.
After keeping just one tight end on the initial 53-man roster Tuesday afternoon (Tyler Kroft only, while not counting fullback-dominated Trevon Wesco), Douglas brought back Ryan Griffin and Daniel Brown. Kenny Yeboah’s practice squad designation helps ease concerns, if only a little, but the position still belongs in the horror genre.
Perhaps worst of all is what’s popping up at linebacker. Two rookies, Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen, sandwich C.J. Mosley in the Jets’ base 4-3 defense. Not only is the defense throwing out two rookies at linebacker, but it’s also doing so with guys who played safety in college, alongside a MIKE that hasn’t played in nearly two full years.
Arguing against these concerns is a fruitless venture. It’s fair to label anybody taking that tact as a wide-eyed optimistic fan.
But forget optimism or arguing against reality for a moment. The specific and strategic route taken is what represents the callout in this situation.
If any positions should be left either bare or young initially—when an entire depth chart needs a major overhaul—it is cornerback, linebacker and even tight end (perhaps safety and most definitely running back). Inside-out should be the formula when max-ceiling potential represents the long-term goal.
Building the inside is just much more important in the early going. This is where the optimistic side of the coin comes into focus—the path better left for a Steven Spielberg or a Robert Zemeckis, a mind ready to unveil a feel-good triumphant story after a brutal road en route.
For all of its complexities, football is a simple game. It still starts in the trenches, no matter the level of passing seen in today’s professional and collegiate ranks.
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The offensive or defensive lineman’s elite production bumps up production for those on the outer parts of the field (such as cornerback, tight end or linebacker). It occurs to a degree that is rarely reciprocated in this league when like-to-like talent is compared. (The stud cornerback isn’t lifting the edge rusher’s production to nearly the same degree the other way around.)
While quarterback is the lone obvious exception, this trenches-out reality holds true today.
When starting from scratch, begin with the positions that best lift other position’s production ceilings. While it could hurt the franchise in the current time, it allows for more growth elsewhere and makes it easier to spot budding talent at the lifted positions (i.e. cornerback).
Naturally, the goal is to field a roster with no holes. Obviously, it’s not that easy when taking over a franchise that hasn’t experienced tournament play in 10 years.
There must be a starting point.
The young corners and linebackers have a much better chance to shock onlookers if the offensive and defensive lines get the job done.
“Obviously, there’s been a lot of resources put into both sides of the lines,” Douglas told the media when asked about the state of the trenches. “Look, what we’ve done the last couple of years hasn’t been good enough as a team, as a whole, 9-23. … (But) I think you’re really starting to see this group come into their own and add on top of it this scheme and this coaching staff. I’m excited to see how this group does.”
Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry’s season-ending injuries sting much more than Douglas would like to admit, but the idea behind his intent is tough to misconstrue. Day No. 1 is when he stated that “it starts with the quarterback and both lines.”
On top of the inside-out building strategy is the integrity play—the idea that allows organizations to properly identify the right people, players.
The cornerback who does the right thing within a Cover 3 defense but gives up the touchdown on a spectacular grab will be the guy the Jets identify as the player to keep over the cornerback who fails in the technique department yet picks up the pass defended thanks to a quarterback underthrow.
Results are the name of the game for NFL owners, but the process is what it’s all about when building organizations from the ground up. It’s the correct practicing process that garners long-lasting results—even if the present time looks shaky in some spots.
Douglas openly admits there are major questions marks as it currently stands, but it’s the eye on the long-term prize that has him fired up—part of the process that demands optimism.
“I can’t wait to see these young guys play; I really can’t wait,” Douglas said. “It’s been great seeing the veterans take all these young guys under their wing and I said chemistry a lot, but it’s really cool to see this chemistry develop.”
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Since arriving on the scene a little over two years ago, Douglas has preached culture and process ad nauseam. The man understands the rigors and restrictions the NFL’s hard salary cap creates, and he stays away from the hoopla (self-inflicting harm) as much as possible.
He and Jamal Adams didn’t see eye to eye, yet just one side hammered the other. He chose Zach Wilson over Sam Darnold, yet the words the now-Panthers quarterback heard on his way out were nothing but professional. The Jets were just three games away from Trevor Lawrence and the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, yet winning remained of the utmost importance.
The process that is doing the right thing usually yields the best long-term results. It’s what usually attracts the best quality people who care about the essential details along the way.
Even setting an example during the exhibition season matters to this regime.
“I think success is going to be watching us go out like we did in (the) preseason and play good, sound, fundamental football with a lot of intent, with a lot of passion, with a lot of explosiveness, (and) a lot of violence as coach (Saleh) says and watch us develop as the year goes,” Douglas added.
Owners care about wins and losses. Fans care about wins and losses. And, obviously, general managers and head coaches care deeply about wins and losses. But it’s the latter two (the general manager-head coach duo) that are most responsible for implementing the proper ingredients that ultimately garner what everybody in this league that plays for pay deeply cares about (wins and losses).
The Jets roster absolutely looks shaky in a bunch of spots. For that, heavy criticism is deserving if no positive surprises sprout in the weakened areas of the depth chart. (Forget the angst; that’s already present.)
At the same time, unusual optimism should accompany this familiar angst thanks to the boring yet integrity-driven process that’s been on display for two-plus years.
No more shortcuts that lead to a 10-win season surrounded by several awful campaigns on both sides. Forget short-term free-agent success that cruelly pumps up an entire fanbase via star power name.
This general manager, the same one who ensured that he received a six-year deal, isn’t having any of it. He’ll trade a little bit of hurt now for a much better chance at long-lasting success that yields the highest production ceiling possible.
Douglas had plenty of chances to sign a veteran cornerback. He decided against it. Why? Well, it comes down to the max-ceiling future. He’s banking on a breakout from one or two of the young corners that’ll allow him to secure the position in a cheaper and much more efficient fashion moving forward. That goes for linebacker and tight end as well.
The judgment of that gamble officially starts now.
The only quality required in order to hit the max-production ceiling Joe Douglas is seeking for his New York Jets moving forward is patience.
Considering nearly 40 percent of the roster is made up of first and second-year players—coupled with the Carl Lawson and Vinny Curry injuries—it’s fair to predict that a lot of patience will be required.
Just make sure you also take comfort in the idea that Joe Douglas—the lone director of this unique script—isn’t taking any shortcuts along the way.