Does the perception that Joe Douglas has done most things right meet reality?
How could a general manager reigning over a 9-23 team receive near-universal applause for his efforts to date?
It’s not as if the Jets have experienced the Canyon of Heroes as of late. Hell, parties would break out from Clifton, NJ to Hempstead, NY if the team captures just eight wins in the NFL’s new 17-game regular-season schedule.
So, yeah … understanding the plight of the old-school, wait-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop Jets fan is important when evaluating the team Joe Benigno, Rich Eisen and Larry David root for with an anxious and neurotic undertone. Also critical, however, is the actual reality of the situation—one that judges Douglas’s moves from an objective standpoint.
While Bill Parcells’s “you are what you’re record says you are” holds true on a week in, week out basis, each NFL individual should never be judged based solely on a team’s current standing for one essential reason.
Not everybody starts at the same spot.
The man who served as the Baltimore Ravens’ Turk back in 2001 (as seen on HBO’s Hard Knocks) took hold of a franchise that hasn’t tasted tournament action since the 2010 season. He ensured that his deal was worth six years while knowing the usual shortcuts around these parts could only produce a tease rarely worthwhile.
New uniforms, Le’Veon Bell and C.J. Mosley headlining a Jets offseason won’t happen under Douglas’s watch. Signing an older (yes, 26 is older in running back years) running back to big bucks without yet having a firm grasp on the organization’s offensive line is a salary-cap sin beyond words.
So is not drafting a first-round offensive lineman since 2006.
To say Douglas walked into an unenviable situation would be an understatement. It’s why each move he’s made since arriving deserves objectivity and rational evaluation. It’s also why, despite the solid moves Douglas has piled up in two-plus years, the Jets haven’t yet moved the win-column needle to an acceptable level yet.
Jets X-Factor now ranks Joe Douglas’s best moves as New York Jets general manager.
NY Jets GM Joe Douglas has put together a collection of impressive decisions
Let’s first start with the poor moves.
Although the jury is still out on the Robby Anderson decision, as of this moment, Douglas opting to not re-sign Sam Darnold’s favorite professional target falls in the “bad move” category.
The Temple product signed a relatively affordable two-year, $20 million deal with $8 million guaranteed. Considering Breshad Perriman couldn’t stay healthy, nobody can argue this one.
Of course, this coming season will factor in the long-term decision that was allowing Anderson to walk to Carolina.
Ryan Kalil also falls into the “it didn’t work out” category, but was it actually a bad decision?
Having just taken over a couple of months prior, Douglas knew Darnold needed protection upfront. Kalil signed a one-year, $8.4 million deal prior to the 2020 NFL season.
It was “throw stuff at the wall and hope it sticks” time for the Jets—something Douglas recognized immediately. Without the opportunity to run free agency or the draft, an expensive one-year deal (with plenty of cap room) for a five-time Pro Bowler and two-time first-team All-Pro center was well worth the incredibly low risk the transaction presented.
If not Kalil, then what? Unless the argument that Jonotthan Harrison was a better player at the time is one that’s unveiled, the Kalil swing and a miss projected the right mindset that didn’t hurt the long-term development of the program. At that point in the summer, where else would the money have gone?
The Kelechi Osemele injury mess wasn’t Douglas’s fault, but the buck stops with him. Also, leaving the wide receiver cupboard bare for Darnold in 2020 wasn’t the best move either.
Notable good moves
- Morgan Moses signing
- Trading up for Alijah Vera-Tucker
- Marcus Maye hardball
- Ensuring himself a six-year deal
- Publicly backing Adam Gase
- Trading Leonard Williams
- Claiming John Franklin-Myers off waivers
Signing Morgan Moses isn’t just about the right tackle position; it’s about having that important third tackle. Suddenly, Mike LaFleur can roll with six offensive linemen if he wants. George Fant has played plenty of tight end (sixth offensive lineman) and the right tackle competition will only breed improvement as a whole.
More importantly, Moses serves as Mekhi Becton insurance—something that’s, unfortunately, a topic of concern. If Becton misses any time, Fant moves over to left tackle while Moses starts as the right-side anchor.
The jury is still out on the assets dished out to move up for Alijah Vera-Tucker, but it’s tough to argue against the move when really digging into the kid’s tape. Marcus Maye isn’t loving his current employer at the moment—and nobody should blame him—but Douglas is a man who doesn’t allow emotions to stand in the way of calculated and correct decisions (Safety just isn’t a position that warrants a significant slice of the salary-cap pie.)
Trading Leonard Williams was a smart move, even if the return doesn’t look tremendous right now. And publicly backing Adam Gase is something that probably ticked off a lot of the fanbase during the 2020 season yet serves a positive purpose moving forward. (Which quality football head coach would ever prefer Douglas and the Jets if they relented just an ounce of disappointment and/or uncertain future with an active head coach?)
It’s now time for the big show.
7. Open market responsibility
Folks, free agency sucks. It’s really that simple.
Carl Lawson’s recent ruptured achilles that’ll cost him his first season in New Jersey reminded everybody of the open-market horrors so many teams live on a yearly basis. But that’s not the takeaway here.
The idea that the Lawson deal is as far as Douglas has traveled on the open market is what’s really important.
Like clockwork, NFL free agency starts and the fanbase reacts negatively. “What are they doing? Why haven’t they signed anybody of note? Who cares about freaking Justin Hardee?” the fans will scream.
Well, although the present chaotic voice of the fan craves the star player, the cagey general manager knows better. Not until a true infrastructure is built should legitimate free agency ever be considered.
It’s the only path en route to a development and production ceiling equalling 100 percent. (Patience, one of the tougher attributes to come by in today’s fast-moving digital world, is the only thing required.)
6. Coaching staff conformity
“Where in the world are the cornerback signings?”
True. Douglas didn’t attack cornerback this past March. He allowed the big-money corners to go elsewhere. Not even a sniff of Jets interest in any of them surfaced.
Less than a week away from the 2021 opener and an unknown rookie will be starting opposite Bryce Hall in Carolina. Who? Nobody yet knows.
New York’s cornerback situation isn’t the most enviable. Yet, what Douglas gave up in cornerback stability he made up for in coaching staff conformity.
Take note of the defensive line depth. It’s a Robert Saleh calling card.
Although things look incredibly different now, courtesy of the Lawson and Vinny Curry injuries, the Jets defensive line was at least eight deep prior to the dreaded Green Bay joint-practice week. The strategy was designed to cover up some of the cornerback ills (four-man conventional pass rush) while seamlessly fitting Saleh’s 4-3 defense (one that worked wonders in San Francisco).
Obviously, Douglas understands corner will have to be addressed. But if just one or two of these youngsters can bust out in 2021, incredibly cheap options on rookie deals are in the building.
Douglas also tailored the offense to LaFleur’s system in a lot of ways. Zach Wilson is perfect for that east-west, edge-pressuring attack, as is Vera-Tucker and Elijah Moore.
5. Drafting Elijah Moore
Speaking of No. 8, here he is, popping up in the five-hole.
A good chunk of the pundits and fans out there had to perform a double-take when Moore’s name was announced at No. 34. Why go wide receiver there when so many other needs are still present?
It’s simple: Today’s NFL is a different beast.
As good as Jamison Crowder is from the slot, he’s not a 2021-type slot player. He’s not the explosive and shifty-type weapon that can assume jet-motion duties.
Moore, although he can do a variety of things while lining up pretty much everywhere, can be that guy.
New York desperately needed a hip-dominant weapon that can threaten the edge in this offense. Douglas recognized that and delivered.
4. The organization’s measured response to Jamal Adams, trade return
The 2020 offseason represented a lot of things in the NFL to a bunch of different people. One such “thing” was the Jamal Adams saga.
The man simply made up his mind that he wanted out and was willing to do whatever it took to get that done. Once a player goes down that road, all bets are off. Once he demonstrates that he’ll do whatever he has to in order to get his way, trust breaks down and repeat offenses are likely to happen moving forward.
Forget the trade return for a moment—as great as it was for a strong safety (two first-rounders and a third-round selection along with Bradley McDougald); the way Douglas and this regime never responded with a hint of emotion represents the key to the entire situation.
Remain professional, stay classy and never act in a counterproductive fashion by way of allowing feelings to get in the way.
3. Deciding on Zach Wilson, trade return for Sam Darnold
Obviously, the jury isn’t just still out; it hasn’t even heard the opening statement as of yet. Whether or not Douglas did the right thing by trading Darnold to the Panthers in order to select Wilson won’t be answered for a few years.
But hey, we’re in the projection business and Wilson was the right call.
The kid just does everything quickly. He doesn’t overthink things and features attributes that perfectly fit today’s high-flying, three-step league.
On top of the one-to-one comparison, Douglas received a second-rounder, a fourth-rounder and a sixth-rounder for a kid who threw nine touchdowns to 11 interceptions in 12 games last year. He added three picks for a quarterback that’s missed 10 games over the last three seasons.
The Darnold return, the sticky Darnold contractual situation, the idea Wilson is now on a rookie deal in a league that heavily favors such deals, and the notion that the BYU kid is as special as many believe is evidence that Douglas’s all-too-critical quarterback decision will turn up roses.
2. Not pushing tank mode
Who wouldn’t want the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft? Who wouldn’t want the right to select “generational” talent Trevor Lawrence?
Not even the Jets would turn that down. But what’s important to note is that Douglas would never push for such a situation if it meant failing in the integrity department.
Generally speaking, the organizations that usually do the right things are those that end up on the right side of winning. This isn’t to say Lawrence is a worse prospect than Wilson or that the No. 2 pick is better than No. 1. Rather, intentionally tanking games—even at 0-13—is something that carries tough-to-spot negatives.
For those Jets fans mourning the likely loss of Trevor Lawrence, remember this one thing: Doing the right thing, and conducting your business the right way, trying to win every game no matter the situation, usually works out the in the grand scheme of things. #TakeFlight
— Robby Sabo (@RobbySabo) December 27, 2020
Doing the right thing generally attracts the best people over the long haul. Would Robert Saleh have not come to coach the Jets if he thought they intentionally tanked games a year ago? I don’t know the answer. Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps the idea of Lawrence and the way he clicked with Douglas was more than enough.
Then again, players, coaches and Jets employees care deeply about winning. This isn’t the NBA where superstars make the world of difference in a team’s record. The NFL is a true team game that’s somehow gotten mixed up with social media—and the tank annoyance of the basketball world over the last half-decade—to a point of no return.
Team, development and infrastructure are what matters in this league—not which team LeBron James chooses next. Understanding that just one win after 13-straight losses to open the season matters to everybody involved goes a long way in attracting the right people and building an appropriate culture designed for long-lasting success.
Many have argued the Jacksonville Jaguars did, indeed, push tank mode just a bit. They now employ Trevor Lawrence.
Let’s see what unfolds over the next few seasons.
1. Choosing to go offensive line with his first opportunity
It’s not exactly about Mekhi Becton, per se. Sure, Becton could turn out to be the gem Douglas and the Jets hope he is; but the idea that this general manager ignored the noise that called for a highlight-making wide receiver tells fans everything they need to know.
He doesn’t allow the nonsense to get in the way—which is a welcomed departure from past regimes.
Remember, it’s never easy for general managers to go “boring” in the first round, especially when it’s the man’s first crack at it. Fans were inexplicably calling for Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III at No. 11 in 2020. The somewhat-gaining-steam idea that receiver is becoming a bit devalued thanks to the sheer number of them (and the idea that talented ones can be snagged later in the draft, mainly thanks to the offensive dominance of football today) is not yet widespread enough for the masses to understand value at the position is a goldmine later in the draft.
Douglas, remaining true to his vision, that “it starts with the quarterback and both lines,” unapologetically chose the Louisville product.
With one selection, Joe Douglas put one of the more inexcusable droughts in New York Jets history to bed: not drafting a first-round offensive lineman since 2006.
It was as important as it was symbolic, courtesy of the tried and tested idea that football has always and still begins in the trenches.