Joe Douglas’ free agency hauls have weighed the New York Jets down, necessitating a big spring splash in 2022
Reveling in the misfortune of a former partner is a bitter concept. But as long as there are break-ups, it’s an acidic reality.
For the most hopeless romantics, it’s sometimes the lone source of consolation or even joy. New York Jets fans have based a majority of their most recent football-based happiness on such relationship schadenfreude, which has been the top import of Joe Douglas‘ tenure as general manager.
It was impressive enough when Douglas was able to turn Jamal Adams, who spared no words or social media characters to question the Jets’ dedication to winning in his pursuit of a big contract, into a pair of first-round picks from the Seattle Seahawks.
Already armed with enough vitriol that even Portland citizens would call excessive thanks to each Seahawks loss yielding draft board ground, Jets fans have fiddled while Seattle’s football foundation has burned. Adams got his desired contract but now finds himself trapped in another rebuild scenario after the Seahawks sent away Russell Wilson and Bobby Wagner.
The Seahawks’ would-be consolation for their first year as NFC also-rans could’ve been the 10th pick of the next draft, but that resides in Douglas’ hands thanks to Adams’ verbal arson that burned every bridge he had left in New York.
Douglas worked further magic through the dealing of another false metropolitan football prophet: Sam Darnold didn’t embark on such a war on his way out but Jets fans were still nonetheless pleased when the quarterback was sent south to Carolina.
The Panthers are already searching for Darnold’s successor in the franchise role, but they won’t find won’t find it with the 38th overall pick this spring. That choice likewise calls the whiteboards on One Jets Drive home.
But Frank Sinatra, born 15 minutes from the future site of MetLife Stadium in Hoboken, once declared that “the best revenge is massive success.”
Even if the Jets shouldn’t base their entire mission statement around making their ex-franchise saviors jealous, it says a lot about the state of the franchise when its greatest happenings of the new decade are losses in Carolina and Seattle – none of which Gang Green has bestowed.
Since Douglas took over the franchise in the summer of 2019, the Jets have won only 13 games, third-worst in the NFL ahead of only lowly Detroit (11) and Jacksonville (10). To put that in perspective, the Buffalo Bills matched that tally in one season en route to the AFC East division title in 2020.
Douglas can be excused for that seven-win mirage in 2019 and he can even be partly pardoned for the following season’s voyage of the damned. But last season’s latest disaster came with the proverbial concept of “his guys” at the helm, namely head coach Robert Saleh and quarterback Zach Wilson.
Though the season featured wins over postseason contenders from Tennessee and Cincinnati, it was another season that saw the Jets’ playoff dreams effectively ended before those of their metropolitan baseball brethren (even the hapless Mets).
To, again, defend Douglas, the Jets haven’t been penciled in any preseason playoff brackets, which is more of a testimony to how far back the previous regime(s) set back the organization. Patience is undoubtedly a virtue and it’s a necessity when rooting for a team like the star-crossed Jets.
The 11-year playoff drought, by far football’s longest, is undoubtedly a burden, but it’s unreasonable to ask the Jets to completely erase it during this latest period of reconstruction. Not only is the team packed to the brim with young projects – a result of solid dealing by Douglas – but the AFC is crowded with established contenders.
The dream of taking over the post-Tom Brady AFC East is long dead – that opportunity firmly seized by Buffalo – but even the expanded wild card picture is cramped.
It was bad enough when an 11-win Indianapolis Colts team would’ve missed the playoffs without the seventh seed in 2020-21, but a select few have already envisioned a full division going to the playoffs with Denver’s Russell Wilson joining the AFC West fold alongside Derek Carr, Justin Herbert, and Patrick Mahomes.
Asking the Jets to throw their green helmet into the ring is still a little too much at this point in time.
But it’s year three. Douglas is becoming a staple in Florham Park. This is officially “his” team, as only a single Jet under contract (long snapper Thomas Hennessy) has experienced life B.D. (Before Douglas). It’s time for progress of some kind.
Even if the playoffs remain a pipe dream, asking the Jets to win at least seven games and appear in the “in the hunt” column that NFL broadcasters use as football-themed Advent calendars shouldn’t be an arduous ask.
The only way for the Jets to move forward is to make a splash in 2022’s free agency period.
The Jets’ modern free agency endeavors have already gotten off to a good start. Braxton Berrios confirmed he’s back on Twitter while the team has also inked run blocker extraordinaire Laken Tomlinson of San Francisco to a three-year offer. But more is needed, necessary for Douglas to save his job.
Douglas has acquired some valuable pieces for the Jets’ future over the years, building blocks and capital to use on contributors. One of the Adams-produced picks, for example, has already given way to Alijah Vera-Tucker, a blindside blocking cornerstone-to-be in the interior.
Injuries stifled his rookie progress, but Elijah Moore is the Jets’ most realistic option as a homegrown big-play threat since Santana Moss.
The post-Adams secondary situation was manned by a hodgepodge of draft day Saturday arrivals, an environment where names like Bryce Hall, Michael Carter II, and Brandin Echols got to prove they have an NFL future.
On offense, the newly minute franchise quarterback struggled in the early going but his clean slate at the end of the year (162 consecutive throws without an interception) certainly inspired hope, as did the dual-threat talents of another Michael Carter at running back.
It’s great to see that the 2022 season can be one of further growth, hope, and opportunity for the Jets. But those projects are still works-in-progress, evidenced by the fact that they lost all but five of their 2021 games by multiple possessions (two of the outliers were only close because of late scores).
If Douglas wants to keep his New York post, his chances to do so improve not through the draft but rather through the experienced help available via free agency. Moving forward requires tailored, polished, ready-for-prime-time assistance.
While it’s great that Douglas amassed a four-pick haul within the first 38 selections in Las Vegas, does that drastically shift the Jets’ 2022 fortunes? Few draft classes single-handedly do so, especially the prospects of a team that’s spinning its tires in the proverbial mud of the NFL, one desperate for any assistance out of it.
What Douglas has previously done on the free-agent front has contributed to the Jets’ continued demise. While he has sought to atone for the offensive negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era, the bad-to-mediocre (Greg Van Roten, Connor McGovern, the called-out-of-retirement Ryan Kalil) have drastically outweighed the good (George Fant’s 2021 breakout in place of the injured Mekhi Becton).
Elsewhere, Douglas brought in Corey Davis to prove he can live up to the No. 1 receiver potential he never truly found in Tennessee.
It’s nice that tight end Ryan Griffin has been a solid blocker, but a $10.8 million extension granted in 2019 should yield more than the 261 yards earned last season, especially in the wake of his takeover from Chris Herndon.
Injuries partly ate away at that opportunity (similar bad luck likewise befell Lamarcus Joyner, who has since been re-signed), but it’s not like Davis provided any Nashville blues before his season ended prematurely. Nothing more, of course, needs to be said about the Jets losing supposed pass-rushing godsend Carl Lawson, whose New York game jersey has been worn for a single preseason game. Douglas’ latter draft picks have likewise been called into question – the Denzel Mims second-round gift has become a nightmare – but the more expensive free agency hires have been especially costly.
Douglas’ metropolitan path has been paved with good intentions and the condition that he’s working with an unattractive metropolitan setting that, again, hasn’t sniffed the AFC playoffs since the start of the last decade. But if good intentions won championships, every team would be getting ready to play on Super Bowl Sunday.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags