Potential and promise reign in New York, but is that enough for current Jets to stay?
Undergraduate students at Rutgers often enjoy longer stays in the tri-state area than modern members of the New York Jets.
As senior Jets fans prepare to graduate, only two players (Thomas Hennessy and Nathan Shepherd) remain on the team from their freshman year in the fall of 2018. Of the 22 listed starters from the Jets’ 2020 season opener in Buffalo, only five are still on the team.
The secret behind the turnover is anything but: when you go over a decade without visiting the NFL playoffs, it’s not like you’ll want any of the drought’s architects to stick around.
General manager Joe Douglas has presented a blueprint to make things right. Jets fans have heard it before, but it’s hard to deny the steady breadcrumbs that Douglas has left in the name of building a contender. He has made it a priority, for example, to atone for the offensive negligence of the Mike Maccagnan era.
Douglas’ ability to stockpile draft picks has also been a highlight. He turned disgruntled safety Jamal Adams into two first-rounders and draft night punchline-to-be Sam Darnold into a bundle that included a second-round choice.
Results of Douglas’ moves have been mixed to indeterminate. It’s great that the Jets have accumulated assets. It can be liberating to bask in the schadenfreude of watching Adams and Darnold get trapped in even more dire rebuilds. There’s hope and potential in names like Michael Carter and Elijah Moore, who, if granted full seasons of play, could be the Jets’ long-sought homegrown answers to their respective rushing and receiving woes.
There’s even hope at the vaunted quarterback slot, as the team is inspired by the way Zach Wilson played after returning from sprained PCL injury in the latter portions of the season. Wilson will begin the 2022 season on a streak of 162 consecutive attempts without an interception.
But if the path to the Super Bowl was paved with good intentions, all 32 NFL teams would be holding a sliver of the Lombardi Trophy every offseason.
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Take away the fact that New York football has been irrelevant for far too long, even if the 11-year postseason drought might as well be an eternity by gridiron standards. The modern Jets are in a toned-down version of win-now mode, one where at least some numerical progress must be made in the standings, even as the AFC’s established contenders get even stronger.
Things might get personal for Douglas, too. The 13-36 record accumulated since he took for Maccagnan in the summer of 2019 isn’t entirely on him, but it’s certainly not a case to extend his metropolitan employment.
To that end, the Jets have inserted themselves into the conversation for high-profile trade acquisitions. Tyreek Hill’s denial has done little to deter Douglas’ spirit of offensive adventure, as the Jets have now been connected to fourth-year talents like A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf, and Deebo Samuel. Provided Wilson capitalizes and builds on what he accomplished from late November onward, each would likely be worth a full win or two in New York’s 2022 fortunes.
But with such glory comes a price. Who…or what…should the Jets give up in this pursuit? Is any player on the current roster truly untouchable?
Conventional gridiron wisdom suggests that no one should be safe. Even Wilson, engaged in a vital position where patience is a necessity rather than a virtue, would be sent away if the Jets found an interested party. The high price used to obtain Josh Rosen did nothing to prevent the Arizona Cardinals from moving on when Kyler Murray became available, a decision no one in the desert is regretting.
The Douglas era has also done a solid job of not falling victim to contract year wonders or flash-in-the-pan brilliance often brought about by garbage time scoreboards. Foley Fatukasi, for example, was a nice silver lining in a mostly pacified pass rush. But it’s better for the Jacksonville Jaguars to foot his $10 million-a-year bill at this point in time.
Chris Herndon looked like he was getting it together at the end of the 2020 campaign, but that didn’t stop Douglas from shipping him to Minnesota for a fourth-round choice shortly before last season kicked off. Penciled starting cornerback Bless Austin was another late summer departure.
Simply put, the Jets are in a position where they don’t have the relative luxury of having untouchable players. This is a team that can’t be swayed by potential and the question of what could be. If there’s a way to make this team better now, one that would expedite Wilson’s professional maturation process and move this team further, and another team is willing to go along with it, something has to be done.
Like all exhilarating treks, it should be done in moderation – only a full team swap with the Los Angeles Rams would thrust the Jets into the Super Bowl conversation – but the time has come for the Jets to make visible progress.
Douglas, Robert Saleh, and the declining optimists amongst the fanbase can sing to no end about hope and potential, but the Jets have been burned by that before.
This time last year, Denzel Mims appeared to be a vital part of the organization. Now, he might not play another down in green unless he’s traded to the Packers.
Darnold’s rookie year ended on a hopeful note. His first December featured a comeback win over Josh Allen and the Bills before matching Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers blow-for-blow in respectable efforts against Houston and Green Bay. But the bottom fell out shortly after.
Even the Jets’ prized 10th overall pick, the last card to turn from the Adams deal, shouldn’t be off the table.
Frankly, that was made clear nearly a year ago, when a previous deal with the Vikings moved the Jets up from the non-“lottery” portions of the draft up to mid-evening selections on day one. It proved to be anything but a no rough stuff type of deal, as the Jets took interior offensive line building block Alijah Vera-Tucker with the 14th overall choice that came from up north.
There could be exceptions to this modern mandate though, alas, it has little to do with each representative’s on-field record thus far. Wilson, whose rookie struggles were far from entirely his fault, is safe if only because there is no better option at the moment. The prime territory and outside chance at landing one of the draft’s best athletes likewise leaves the team’s regularly scheduled pick at No. 4 overall off the table.
For the time being, the Jets’ most untouchable asset is Moore.
While there’s still work to be done if Moore is to be the team’s trusted No. 1 receiver, Moore could also hold the key to drawing the available receiving talent the Jets apparently desire. He, Brown, and Metcalf put up strong numbers together at Ole Miss, and keeping Moore around would likely be an attractive selling point in getting either of those names inked to a long-term deal.
But the hard reality is that no one has truly earned a spot through production on the field thus far. It’s great that Moore made the most of a rookie year cut short by injury, but if such an attractive, if not unlikely, deal presented itself, the Jets would be foolish to plunge themselves deeper into this rebuild any further.
Nostalgia upon departure must be earned. That’s a bittersweet luxury the Jets aren’t even close to earning.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags