Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Contract, Scheme, Rex Ryan
Robert Saleh, New York Jets, Getty Images, Jet X Graphic

Tanking looks especially moronic in 2021

For some metropolitan area residents, no Christmas is complete without a trip to Rockefeller Center to engage in a green tradition, namely the viewing of an oversized Norway spruce that occupies the area through early January.

Alas, another green winter ritual is becoming far too common in these parts: the New York Jets tanking.

Other than perhaps the official hubs of Amazon and Target, it’s possible that no other website gains more clicks from the tri-state area during the holiday season than Tankathon, which capitalizes on the concept of “tanking”. It’s a site that updates draft boards across the major American sports leagues and offers optimism for the hopeless.

Jets fans have likely made extra visits since July 25, 2020, when disgruntled franchise face Jamal Adams was sent to Seattle in exchange for two first-round picks.

By now, everyone knows that the Jets themselves have done little to divert traffic from the site. Burdened with a 2-8 record and the apparent displeasure of the gridiron gods, the Jets are the current owners of the second overall pick at next spring’s draft. The shockingly quick collapse of the Seahawks’ Pacific Northwest empire has granted the Jets two picks in the active top five.

With playoff aspirations once again vanquished before Thanksgiving, some Jets fans are more than willing to give in to masochistic tendencies and root against their own squad.

It’s certainly not as dire as last year’s situation, when Jets fans were more than willing to let the team join the ranks of the winless in the endeavor for Trevor (Lawrence), but there remain some that feel like losing out by any means necessary would help the team in the long run.

That’s not the way to go.

Don’t Bank on the Tank

Let’s start out with the reminder that tanking in any sport, for any reason, is a ludicrous concept. While some may try to make a gridiron case for it, especially the lottery-free settings of the NFL, asking players to intentionally throw games in pursuit of sowing a reward they may never get to reap is misguided at best and cruel at worst.

The occupation of NFL football player is one of the rare, almost cursed, careers where one can be bar none one of the 32 best people in the world at his job and still lack long-term security in that role.

For the representatives of the Jets and several of their bottom-dwelling compatriots (including Sunday’s equally woebegone Houston hosts), the weight of the playoff chase is gone. Opportunities to secure their positions lie ahead in relatively consequence-free settings, ones that can be approached with healthily reckless abandon.

The Jets are armed with several players in such a position, units that will have to do anything in their power to prove their prowess on the professional level. They can prove to New York management why they deserve to stay for the potential good times ahead or showcase their talents to the other 31 teams and extend their careers.

Looking at the Jets’ future crop of free agents, it’s hard to say that most of the relatively young veterans (i.e. Jarrad Davis, Braxton Berrios) have proven themselves truly worthy of a long-term deal. Older veterans (i.e. Morgan Moses, Tyler Kroft) may never see one again and are destined to team-hop as a veteran mentor. To them, these final games mean everything.

Besides, no matter how hard amateur and professional analysts “lament” victories from teams far removed from the playoff picture, that’s not what they want at the end of the day. Philadelphia Eagles management was rightfully skewered for their decision to throw in the proverbial towel during their 2020 season finale against the Washington Football Team. If anything, the Jets’ late victories over playoff squads from Los Angeles and Cleveland were vindicated and redeemed thanks to Philadelphia’s folly.

Youth in Revolt

When was the last time the Jets had momentum as a franchise? When could one realistically say that the team was moving in the right direction?

For now, the answer appears to be the winter of 2018.

The Jets’ situation back then uncannily resembles one they find themselves in today: working with a developing rookie quarterback whose on-field maturation was delayed by injury.

Upon returning from a foot ailment that took away three games from his NFL debut, Sam Darnold was dealt a situation where the Jets could’ve torn themselves apart from the inside. They were 3-9, equipped with a starting lineup that employed little experience, and in desperate need of capping things off the right way.

Thanks to a little ingenuity, Darnold got it done and provided a fleeting vote of confidence to a team in desperate need of it.

Darnold’s return was heralded by a come-from-behind victory over the Buffalo Bills. Losing efforts awaited against Houston and Green Bay, but Darnold and Jets matched Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers blow-for-blow.

Others also emerged as potential building blocks for the road ahead. Robby Anderson appeared to be the long-sought homegrown big-play threat the Jets hadn’t had since Santana Moss. Jamal Adams engrossed himself into the New York culture through an uncanny ability to blitz from the secondary and a hatred of Pat Patriot any Jet fan could sympathize with.

Of course, that stretch lays forgotten because of the bewildering decision to hire Adam Gase. But these next seven games could end up becoming some of the most consequential of Zach Wilson‘s career.

Some of the Jets’ younger players have taken full advantage of their opportunities in the consequence-free settings. Michael Carter has become an established threat both on the ground and through the air while Elijah Moore has done away with the idea that he’s “only” a slot receiver.

With Wilson back in the lineup, it’s time for him to do the same and give the Jets and their beleaguered fanbase a sign that they know what they’re doing and that they’re heading in the right direction.

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It Starts at the Head

If the Jets are indeed going to embark on another stretch of consequence-free football, accepting a macabre gift from the football deities, there might be no better head coach to lead them through it than Robert Saleh.

It’s certainly fair to wonder if Saleh is indeed the long-sought long-term answer under the New York headset. But there are undeniable signs that the Gase era, one defined by a cruel sense of defeatism, is over at the very least.

With the exception of a bizarre opening for Mike White to steal the franchise quarterback job after a single game in the spotlight, Saleh has said all the right things during his infantile tenure at the helm of the Jets. When the boisterous Rex Ryan went after him on national television, Saleh cooly reminded him where they could have a conversation. Gone is the hopelessness of Gase, whose weekly availabilities were dominated by denials that he was fighting with his team’s main attractions.

The Saleh swagger, even if some feel it is unearned, has kept the mood at least somewhat upbeat. Saleh has admitted that moves like the rearrival of Joe Flacco were made for the immediate betterment of the team, made in the effort to earn wins. He has expressed regret for not playing with the sense of abandon on situations like punting on short fourth downs in the Jets’ recent losses to Buffalo and Miami.

But, most of all, he’s acknowledged that he’s not going to wait until 2022 to make moves that will benefit the Jets’ long-term plans.

“When you sit back and watch it from our perspective and the combination of veterans and youth, it’s definitely going in the right direction and eventually, while frustrating today, is going to be awesome when this thing gets flipped,” Saleh said this week, per notes from the Jets.

“I started joking around with somebody that one year in New York is like dog years. It is euphoria or disaster, there is no in-between. We embrace the expectation. We want to win.”

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags

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Geoff Magliocchetti is a veteran football writer with years of credentialed experience with the Jets and Giants. Email: geoffmags90@gmail.com

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