Joe Douglas should not be blamed for the New York Jets’ brutal state of affairs — yet
New York Jets general manager Joe Douglas is in a unique position. Despite overseeing a team that has gone 3-19 across his two full seasons as the head decision-maker, he has not done an awful job when you unpack his individual efforts.
Douglas has certainly made his share of mistakes. He has not been great and arguably not even good. Quite a few of his blunders have contributed to placing the Jets in the position they are in: owners of the NFL’s worst point differential through seven weeks (-15.8).
With all of that being said, Douglas has not been terrible and is not remotely close to being wholly responsible for the Jets being the NFL’s worst team thus far. I would argue that his body of work should be considered “okay” for the time being.
There are a few reasons that Douglas should be absolved of blame for the Jets being this bad. The point here is not to paint him as a perfect angel of a general manager, because he is not that. Our goal is to merely absolve him for the Jets being a league-worst kind of brutal.
Bad luck with injuries
Injuries can be used as an invalid cop-out in some scenarios, but for this iteration of the Jets, injuries have legitimately been a massive, massive killer.
Here is a look at how many snaps the Jets have gotten out of various intended starters through six games:
- Carl Lawson: 0
- Jarrad Davis: 0
- Vinny Curry: 0
- Lamarcus Joyner: 9 (2%)
- Mekhi Becton: 48 (13%)
Football games are won in the trenches, and from the day he was hired, Douglas has publicly professed his vision of building the Jets’ roster around that mantra.
Yet, his two biggest investments in the trenches – 11th overall pick Mekhi Becton and $45 million man Carl Lawson – have not played at all, save for a few quarters of Becton in the season opener.
The loss of Becton triggered a domino effect that has crushed the offense and hung Zach Wilson out to dry.
Becton already looked like a top-10 left tackle as a 21-year-old rookie and was poised to climb higher in his second season. His forceful run blocking was set to be the engine of a run-first offense that set Wilson up for success.
While George Fant has filled in admirably for Becton as a pass-protector, his run blocking has been lackluster, contributing to the Jets’ woeful rushing attack. Without a reliable rushing attack, the Jets have placed too much responsibility on Zach Wilson’s shoulders, leading to a litany of mistakes.
Lawson is a top-10 edge rusher in the NFL. Without him, the Jets’ defensive line has been solid, but not close to the elite unit it likely would have been if he were healthy. Only a dominant defensive line could have hidden the Jets’ inexperienced linebackers outside of C.J. Mosley. With the defensive line being merely solid, the linebackers have been exposed.
Speaking of the linebacker position, Jarrad Davis’ absence has left the Jets to rely on waiver pickup Quincy Williams, backup/special teamer Del’Shawn Phillips, and developmental Day-3 draft picks Jamien Sherwood and Hamsah Nasirildeen to play big snaps. Certainly, Douglas never intended for any of those three players to play as much as they have for the Jets thus far.
Davis will return against the Cincinnati Bengals this week, so we can begin to properly critique Douglas’ approach at the linebacker position.
Vinny Curry, who is consistently one of the most efficient situational pass rushers in the NFL, also would have boosted the Jets’ pass rush and helped to take a load off of the linebackers.
In the secondary, Lamarcus Joyner’s injury was a major blow. With top backups Sharrod Neasman and Ashtyn Davis out to begin the season, the Jets had to rely on scrapheap pickups like Sheldrick Redwine, Adrian Colbert, and Jarrod Wilson to hold the fort down for a while, and those players were collectively bad.
To top everything off, the Jets have played two games without Marcus Maye, two games without Keelan Cole, and three games without Jamison Crowder. Mosley also missed the team’s Week 7 blowout against New England, and the players who replaced him were the primary culprits for the defense allowing 54 points.
Health is a crucial factor in a team’s performance, but it can barely be controlled. It is an instrumental variable that relies almost entirely on luck.
Every team is affected by injuries to a different degree, and this year, the Jets have suffered from the injury bug more than nearly every other team (if not all of them).
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Fighting the counterarguments for the injury excuse: Lack of depth
There are two counterarguments that people will bring up against the injury excuse: lack of depth and the addition of injury-prone players.
“Sure, the injuries hurt, but they have also exposed the team’s lack of depth,” is one main point that observers will make.
While I see where people are coming from with that claim, I do not think it is a valid counterargument against the impact of injuries.
Backups are backups for a reason. If a backup were good enough to start on one of the 32 NFL teams, he would be. There are very few teams in the league who have backups at any position who you could look at and say, “I’d be really confident if that guy had to step in.”
Losing a player due to injury is a damaging blow as a result of bad luck that can hardly be mitigated. That is the grim reality.
Few teams can adequately survive injuries – even the best rosters.
Let’s look at linebacker, for example, since that is the position where the Jets’ lack of depth has hurt them the most.
The Bills have the NFL’s best defense with an NFL-low 16.3 points per game allowed. They boast a solid starting linebacker duo of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano.
Buffalo’s primary backup linebacker is 30-year-old A.J. Klein, who held the role last season as well.
While Klein has plenty of starting experience in the NFL (77 starts), he was very bad for the Bills when called upon to replace Milano in 2020. Buffalo counted on Klein to start 11 games, and he had the fifth-highest missed tackle rate among all qualified linebackers at 18.8% (worse than the collective rate of the Jets’ backup linebackers this season, which is 18.2%).
Due largely to Klein’s struggles, the Bills’ talented defense dropped to 16th in points per game allowed in 2020 after ranking second in 2019.
Now that their starting linebackers have been healthy for most of 2021, they are back on the mountaintop.
Oftentimes, it’s that simple. Having healthy starters equals success and having injured starters equals disappointment.
How about left tackle, where the Jets have missed Becton?
The league’s top offensive team in terms of DVOA – the reigning champion Buccaneers – has tremendous veteran Donovan Smith on the blindside.
His backup? That would be world-renowned Josh Wells, who every NFL fan has heard of and sees as reliable.
Wells is a 30-year-old former undrafted free agent with 14 starts in eight seasons, most of those coming with the abysmal Jaguars. His career allowed pressure rate of 7.1% is well above the 2020 league average for tackles (5.3%).
The 7-1 Cardinals have star left tackle D.J. Humphries. His backup is Joshua Miles, a 2019 seventh-round pick who has never started an NFL game and got dominated when he played in the preseason this year (9.7% allowed pressure rate).
Those are just a few examples, but go ahead and look around the league. Even on the best teams, you will rarely see a name in the second-string column that you have heard of. And even if you have, he is probably not good. In fact, knowing the player actually makes it more likely he isn’t good, because if he is a recognizable name due to draft pedigree or past accomplishments and still can’t start, he is probably way beyond his prime.
It goes without saying that depth is extremely important, but there is no such thing as a team with “good” backups. There are a handful of teams in the league who are lucky enough to have a backup or two who could start for other teams, but collectively, all teams’ backups are below-average NFL players.
The difference between teams that can handle injuries and those that can’t lies in the quality of the core infrastructure. Teams with good supporting casts in the starting lineup and good coaches on the sidelines will put their backups in a position to be decent. Teams like the Jets do not have the infrastructure to put their backups in a position to succeed.
Douglas should not be criticized for “failing to build depth.” He has an entire starting lineup to focus on perfecting before he can worry about backups.
Perhaps you can criticize Douglas for relying on two Day-3 rookies as the primary backup linebackers instead of adding a veteran who could sit above them on the depth chart, but again, think back to Klein and the other examples I laid out. Just because a guy is experienced, it does not mean he is good. Backups are backups for a reason.
Once Douglas builds a strong core in the starting lineup and the coaching staff establishes a positive developmental culture, then their backups will start to look more respectable when called upon. Teams need to focus on building their starting lineups to the point that they can survive no matter who needs to be thrown in for an injured starter.
Fighting the counterarguments for the injury excuse: Adding injury-prone players
The second counterargument for the injury excuse is that Douglas has added too many injury-prone players.
That can be a valid complaint. Some players simply prove to be more injury-prone than others. If a team gambles and builds around too many injury-prone players, they will likely pay the price.
I do not think Douglas has done that, though.
Vinny Curry entered 2021 having played 92% of his possible regular-season games over the past seven seasons. Plus, it is a blood clot issue keeping Curry out, which nobody could have anticipated.
Lamarcus Joyner played 89% of possible regular-season games over the previous six seasons.
Jarrad Davis played 86% of possible games in his career entering 2021.
Mekhi Becton was not injury-prone in college. He missed one start due to injury, and that was as a freshman.
Ashtyn Davis and Denzel Mims each missed two games over their final three college seasons.
Carl Lawson was the one injury-prone player that Douglas gambled on this offseason, as Lawson already had two ACL injuries (one in college, one in the NFL) before he suffered his third this year.
One of the biggest risks that Douglas took was Bryce Hall in the fifth round of the 2020 draft, as Hall was coming off of ankle surgery, and yet Hall has been quite durable. Hall’s recovery left him out of the Jets’ first eight games of 2020, but since returning, he has played in 14 consecutive games without even appearing on the injury report ahead of a game.
Overall, injuries are mainly luck. You can slightly tilt the odds in your favor by valuing more durable players, but the football gods will always do whatever they please. When the Jets signed C.J. Mosley (not a Douglas addition), who had missed three games over five seasons, nobody could have anticipated he would miss 14 games in his first season as a Jet.
Awfulness of the team he inherited
Douglas inherited a roster that in hindsight looks horrifically atrocious. He has basically been tasked with building an entire roster from scratch.
Here are the Jets’ opening-week starters in 2019:
- QB Sam Darnold
- RB Le’Veon Bell
- WR Quincy Enunwa
- WR Jamison Crowder
- WR Robby Anderson
- TE Ryan Griffin
- LT Kelvin Beachum
- LG Kelechi Osemele
- C Ryan Kalil
- RG Brian Winters
- RT Brandon Shell
- DL Leonard Williams
- DL Henry Anderson
- DL Steve McLendon
- DL Bronson Kaufusi
- LB C.J. Mosley
- LB Harvey Langi
- LB Neville Hewitt
- CB Trumaine Johnson
- CB Darryl Roberts
- SS Jamal Adams
- FS Marcus Maye
The bolded players are still starting in the NFL today (Crowder does not have an official start this year but he has played over 60% of the snaps in every game).
That’s 9-of-22 (41%) starters who two years later are still considered worthy of being a first-string player on an NFL roster.
Of those nine starters, how many are even good in 2021? I’d wager Crowder, Williams, Mosley, Maye, and Adams – and Adams is actually a debatable one at this point.
Let’s just stick with Adams as a good player and call it five good starters.
Douglas inherited a team that had five quality NFL starters on it.
Although he was not a starter in the opening game, Quinnen Williams was also on that squad, so that makes it six quality NFL starters. You can throw in Foley Fatukasi to make it seven.
That group of seven building blocks includes no quarterback, no offensive linemen, no edge rushers, and no cornerbacks – the “core four” of football positions in the minds of many.
It takes more than two years to fix a team like that.
Trade victories and future assets
Douglas signed a six-year deal. He knew that he had a long process ahead of him to fix the puke-inducing roster that he was handed.
The Jets have plenty of room to keep growing as they move forward. They have the sixth-most projected cap space in 2022, according to Spotrac ($58.6 million) and the third-most valuable collection of 2022 draft picks based on the current projected draft order, according to Tankathon. New York has 10 picks, with two currently slated to land in the top-10, four in the top-45, and five in the top-70.
Douglas’ knack for winning his player-for-pick trades is the reason that New York has so much future flexibility.
Douglas’ ability to consistently make trades like these is a valuable skill that can help him achieve sustained success as a general manager.
Critics will say, “Great, more picks for them to waste!”
Pending health, Douglas’ draft pedigree has been solid.
In 2020, he got a starting LT (Becton), starting CB (Bryce Hall), and a good situational pass-rushing edge rusher (Bryce Huff via undrafted free agency) at the very least. Denzel Mims, Ashtyn Davis, La’Mical Perine, Cameron Clark, and Braden Mann all still have chances to develop.
The 2021 class looks even better. Alijah Vera-Tucker already looks like a star left guard. Michael Carter is one of the league’s most elusive runners and should prove to be a solid running back. Michael Carter II is already a solid starting slot cornerback. Elijah Moore’s potential is through the roof – he has been winning on his routes and just needs to develop chemistry with his quarterback(s).
Of course, hitting on the Zach Wilson pick is key.
People will say the same thing about the cap space: “Great, more money for them to waste!”
Douglas’ free-agent track record has been fine.
Letting Robby Anderson walk in 2020 looks like a smart move, as does refraining from overpaying for Marcus Maye, who has declined this season. The same goes for Brian Poole, who the rest of the NFL had no interest in paying for.
The George Fant signing has provided the Jets with valuable depth. Douglas’ pickup of John Franklin-Myers in 2019 was an enormous coup.
Corey Davis had a rough patch early in the 2021 season but overall has looked like a reliable, explosive weapon who improves the offense.
Douglas’ Keelan Cole and Sheldon Rankins signings look solid. Morgan Moses was a clutch late-offseason pickup – if that move hadn’t been made, Chuma Edoga would be starting right now.
Most of Douglas’ other big free-agent additions: Lawson, Joyner, Curry, Jarrad Davis – haven’t hit the field, so he can hardly be blamed for that.
Greg Van Roten was certainly a whiff. Connor McGovern is headed that way as well.
Remember, nobody is saying Douglas is perfect or even good. But he has not been hideous. He still deserves a chance to let his process play out and show what he can do with the assets he has accumulated.
It’s too early to call for Joe Douglas’ head
If the Jets finish the season with a 1-16 record while maintaining their league-worst point differential, then yes, at that point it will be time to panic and question whether Douglas is the right guy.
For now, there needs to be some level-headedness when analyzing every person’s role in the Jets’ wildly disappointing start.
Douglas has a hand in this. That is indisputable. From ignoring tight end, to whiffing on free-agent offensive linemen, to relying on rookie backup linebackers, to wasting the James Morgan pick, he has done his share of bad.
But when you look closely at Douglas’ body of work, it is clear that he has not just gone out and used up the Jets’ assets to build a 22-man lineup of scrubs who have the Jets looking like a joke.
Due to a combination of brutal injury luck and Douglas’ long-term philosophy (inexperienced players, inexperienced coaches, and a lack of all-in investment to winning now), his fairly-average work as a general manager has been turned into a league-worst product in the present day.
That last part has to change – the Jets have to be respectable over the next 11 games and show that they are at least progressing. Right now, the progress is not there. They must show that they are on the cusp – making it clear that they can reach contention with some more intra-roster development and a few more big additions.
Douglas should receive a monstrous amount of heat if the Jets fail to accomplish that goal.
As of today, though, Douglas has been a fine general manager, and we still need to be in wait-and-see mode regarding whether or not he is capable of leading the Jets to a Super Bowl.